jays-bird-barn-10-8-15For more than forty years, one of my favorite places to go bird watching in Arizona has been the small town of Patagonia, in Santa Cruz County. When it comes to bird watching, few places rival the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and the Paton Center.

Not familiar with the Paton Center? For decades, Marion and Wally Paton allowed birders to come onto their property to look at the birds in their yard. A coffee can was wired to the gate with a note that encouraged visitors to leave a small donation to help offset the cost of sugar for making hummingbird nectar.

There was one particular hummingbird species that put the Paton’s yard on the birding map-the violet-crowned hummingbird. For decades, people from all over North America (and the world) visited their yard to see this rare hummingbird. It is probably one of the most reliable places in the United States to see this species.

After the Patons passed away, the Tucson Audubon Society purchased their home, preserving this historic birding destination for generations to come. Recently, the property was designated as an Important Bird Area, or an IBA.

When I heard the Tucson Audubon Society would be dedicating the Paton’s property as an IBA, I immediately decided I wanted to be there for the occasion. After working all day last Friday, I drove straight to Patagonia-about a five hour drive-and ‘camped’ overnight in my car.

By 6:15 the next morning, I was happily enjoying the birds in the Paton’s yard-especially the hummingbirds. From their yard I heard, and then saw, a gray hawk! There was a lot of color in their yard-cardinals, summer tanagers and lazuli buntings-wow!

As part of the dedication celebration, Tucson Audubon hosted several guided bird walks, and I was able to join a group that was going to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. The guide, Vincent Pinto, a graduate student from Prescott College, was fantastic! In addition to looking at birds, we spent time looking at animal tracks and had insightful instruction on the various plants found in the preserve.

One of the highlights was a common black hawk circling directly over us. Another highlight was seeing several different sparrow species. You might be wondering why that would be a highlight. I actually like sparrows. A lot. There are over thirty different kinds of sparrows in North America, and I find their plumage to be very striking.

The challenge with sparrows, of course, is getting a good look at them. Most sparrows prefer weedy fields and thickets and are often hunkered down and hard to see. We saw several rufous-winged sparrows, a species I used to have in my yard as a boy growing up in Tucson. It was great to see them again.

This Saturday, Oct. 10, the Prescott Audubon Society will be leading a bird walk at the Highlands Center for

Natural History at their Walker Road facility at 8:30 a.m. The walk is free and open to the general public. Don’t forget to bring binoculars. If you don’t have any, come by the store and we’ll let you borrow a pair for the day.

Our annual Wild Bird Photo Contest exhibit is now open to the public. I invite you to come and vote for your favorite pictures. Also, Saturday, Oct. 17, at 10 a.m., we are hosting a special program on the birds of Belize and Guatemala in an effort to plan a trip there. The program is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served.

Until next week, Happy Birding!