Journey Home: The Story of Paton’s Birding Haven

“Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy” is the story about the kind and generous couple who welcomed strangers seeking to watch hummingbirds into their Patagonia, Arizona yard for decades, asking nothing in return.

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story about how this remarkable place, which became known as Paton’s Birder Haven, came to be and the legacy that it created, began in 1974 when Wally and Marion Paton moved from New England to Patagonia. They planted bushes and flowers around their yard and hung a variety of birdfeeders. Birds flying down the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek, in search of food, soon changed their flight path to check out this new oasis—and they came by the thousands.

Inspired by a visit, in the early 1990s from well-known wildlife photographer, Arthur Morris, who noticed the rare Violet-crowned Hummingbird at their feeders, Wally and Marion Paton opened their gate and welcomed the public into their backyard. A world-renowned birding mecca evolved and life around the Paton house was never quite the same.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, provided bird guides, and placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, provided bird guides, and placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But this is not just a story about birds and bird watching. It is also a story about the kind and generous couple who welcomed strangers into their yard for decades, asking nothing in return. Children of the Great Depression and World War II sweethearts, their early years were marked with hardship and sacrifice.

Instilled at an early age, the values of hard work, kindness, and a generosity of spirit stayed with them throughout their entire lives and would be the catalyst in opening their yard to a world of strangers.

Paton’s Birder Haven, now known as Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, remains an internationally renowned birding destination for observing migrating hummingbird species, as well as other elusive birds of the Coronado Forest.

The deserts of Southeastern Arizona around the small community of Patagonia is a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The deserts of Southeastern Arizona around the small community of Patagonia is a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In April 2017, Tucson Audubon celebrated the three year anniversary of their taking over the property by hosting long time Paton supporters who had been instrumental in “saving” Paton’s Birder Haven. For three days guests were treated to fabulous spring bird migration, tours of the property, talks by hummingbird experts, and a presentation by Bonnie Paton Moon on her recently published book.

Author Bonnie Paton Moon grew up in a rural New England town on a dairy farm with two brothers, a sister, a collie named Brigadoon and an assortment of barnyard animals. Upon graduating college, she and her husband, Richard, settled in Westport, Connecticut where they have resided for thirty-nine years, raising their son, Michael, and now enjoying three grandchildren who live nearby.

ThePatons put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

ThePatons put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonnie worked as the Business Manager for the Westport Public Library for 25 years before retiring in 2008. After her mother, Marion Paton, passed away in 2009, Bonnie embarked on a journey to preserve and protect her parents’ world renowned birding “mecca” known as Paton’s Birder Haven.

A frequent visitor to her parents’ home, Bonnie loved looking through the guestbook to see who had been visiting and from what corner of the globe they had traveled. On the day of her mother’s memorial service, while sitting in the yard enjoying the wonder of the place, she realized this magical site that her parents had created was not hers to keep, but instead, belonged to the thousands of bird watchers and naturalists who visited each year. This magical spot, this tiny piece of birding paradise that became “home” to thousands throughout the decades, needed permanent protection.

The Patagonia region hosts thick-billed kingbirds, zone-tailed hawks, green kingfishers, black-bellied whistling ducks, northern beardless-tyrannulets, black-capped gnatcatchers, elegant trojans, rose-throated becards, and vermilion flycatcher (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

The Patagonia region hosts thick-billed kingbirds, zone-tailed hawks, green kingfishers, black-bellied whistling ducks, northern beardless-tyrannulets, black-capped gnatcatchers, elegant trojans, rose-throated becards, and vermilion flycatcher (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Bonnie credits the inspiration for her book to a meeting in 2012 with Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, and to receiving the Connecticut Audubon Edwin Way Teale Writer-in-Residence Award later that same year.

The completion of Journey Home marks the culmination of a six-year labor of love which kept her parents close to her heart. She still enjoys the journey home whether to Massachusetts to reconnect with her farming roots or to Arizona to re-visit her parents’ legacy. She is currently working with Tucson Audubon on the history of the property, now known as Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds.

“Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy” is available at Amazon and at bookstores and birding retailers in Arizona and the Southwestern U.S.

While in the area be sure to visit Patagonia State Park. © Rex Vogel,

While in the area be sure to visit Patagonia State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Sonoita Valley in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a non-descript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird watching sites in the world.

―National Geographic News, Mathew Tekulsky, 2004

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