Southeastern Arizona Birding Jewel Saved

In mid-September (2013) I reported on the fund-raising effort that had been launched to purchase a landmark birding property located in bird-rich Southeastern Arizona.

Paton's Birder Haven
Paton’s Birder Haven

Anyone who has spent time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

The community of Patagonia (population 913), in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (4,050 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who traveled to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton
Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

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. They 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.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, and the surviving family members opted to liquidate the property.

That’s when American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours stepped in to join forces in an effort to purchase the Paton property and together contributed about a third of the purchase amount and entered into a contract with the Paton family.

The remainder of the purchase price—around $200,000—was the goal of the fund-raising effort, which successfully ended October 15. Thanks to many hundreds of generous birders, the Paton property will now be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—in keeping the tradition Wally and Marion Paton began.

Additional funds will continue to be accepted by Tucson Audubon for repairs to the building (including reroofing and rewiring) and the associated property (including much-needed landscaping with native vegetation).

To make a contribution for this additional work, click here.

The associated groups are scheduled to close on the property in early 2014. Once the sale is complete, Tucson Audubon will assume ownership and management responsibilities of the Paton property, and maintain an office there.

In addition to some of the Paton’s favorite hummingbird species like the Violet-crowned and Broad-tailed, along with the rarer Cinnamon hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat, the Patagonia region hosts thick-billed kingbirds, zone-tailed hawks, green kingfishers, black-bellied whistling ducks, northern beardless-tyrannulets, black-capped gnatcatchers, and rose-throated becards.

header_MOQUAnd of course, there’s the exclamation point on every Southern Arizona birding visitor’s list, the elegant trogon.

And thanks to generous birders, the Paton legacy will continue far into the future.

Details

American Bird Conservancy

Website: abcbirds.org

Tucson Audubon Society

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Website: ventbird.com

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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Saving a Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspot

Anyone who has spent any time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

Paton's Birder Haven
Paton’s Birder Haven

The many unique and special places in this region offer a spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds including species at their extreme northernmost migrating range.

These birding hotspots include Sabino Canyon, the Chiricahua and Huachuca mountains, Saguaro National Park, Madera Canyon, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Coronado National Monument, Santa Catalina Mountains, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, Whitewater Draw, Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, Buenas Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Mountain Empire of Patagonia-Sonoita.

The Mountain Empire contains important conservation areas, including one of the only remaining high desert short-grass prairies in America, the San Rafael Valley.

Visitors come for the spectacular scenery of the valley in which Patagonia is nestled, and the clean air that beckons hikers into the surrounding canyons.

The community of Patagonia, in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (Patagonia is 4,050 feet, Sonoita is 4,885 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton
Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains, not far from the Arizona/Mexico border. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who came to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

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. They 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.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, creating an uncertain future for this birding landmark as the remaining family has opted to liquidate the property.

With your help, the property can be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—a fitting tribute to the Paton’s legendary generosity. And you will be able to visit to see the birds too!

As a result, American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours have joined forces in the effort to purchase Paton’s Patagonia Birder Haven and have jointly contributed about a third of the purchase amount and have entered into a contract with the Paton family.

Paton feeder
Paton feeder

It is hoped the remaining two-thirds—about $200,000—can be raised through contributions before October (2013).

Once the property is successfully procured, Tucson Audubon would assume long-term management, while maintaining the home and property as a public birding site.

Details

American Bird Conservancy

Website: abcbirds.org

Tucson Audubon Society

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Website: ventbird.com

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

10. Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan

Photographers do a wonderful job at capturing the beauty of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. (Credit: fws.gov/Dawn Kopp)
Photographers do a wonderful job at capturing the beauty of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. (Credit: fws.gov/Dawn Kopp)

Seney National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.

The refuge is located in the east-central portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, halfway between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.

A seven-mile ride along Marshland Wildlife Drive leads past wetlands and open water and through deciduous and coniferous forests in the Great Manistique Swamp, an old lumbering area. The road passes three wheelchair-accessible observation decks with viewing scopes.

The tour route is open during daylight hours from May 15 through October 15. The route does not accommodate large recreational vehicles. Bicycles are permitted on the auto tour route.

Wildlife to Observe: Beaver, river otters, bald eagles, osprey, common loons, Canada geese, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, black bear, turtles, and songbirds.

Phone: (906) 586-9851

Website: fws.gov/refuge/seney

9. Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota

The diverse habitat types found on Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge—mixed grass prairie, river valley, marshes, sandhills, and woodlands—support an abundant variety of wildlife. (Credit: USFWS/Marlene Welstad)
The diverse habitat types found on Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge—mixed grass prairie, river valley, marshes, sandhills, and woodlands—support an abundant variety of wildlife. (Credit: USFWS/Marlene Welstad)

The 19-mile Refuge Backway follows the gently rolling hills of upland prairie, offering excellent views of the wooded draws of the Des Lacs Valley with great scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. More than 250 species of birds, including waterfowl, raptors, and many other migrants, have been seen there, along with deer, moose, and other mammals.

Also along the Backway is the trailhead for Munch’s Coulee National Recreation Trail, a mile-long loop with a universally accessible section; the trail provides panoramic views and opportunities to see wildlife close-up.

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge was officially named one of America’s top 500 Globally Important Bird Areas (IBA) by the national non-profit organization, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), in recognition of its significance in the ongoing effort to conserve wild birds and their habitats.

Wildlife to see: Mergansers and snow geese in the spring and fall, several species of grebes in summer, as well as wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and moose.

Phone: (701) 385-4046

Website: fws.gov/jclarksalyer/deslacs

Details

National Wildlife Refuge System

The 2013 Federal Duck Stamp. Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, Calif., is the winner of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. (Credit: fws.gov)
The 2013 Federal Duck Stamp. Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, Calif., is the winner of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. (Credit: fws.gov)

The National Wildlife Refuge System protects wildlife and wildlife habitat on more than 150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Maine to Alaska.

National wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish. More than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals are protected on wildlife refuges.

Each year, millions of migrating birds use refuges as stepping stones while they fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes.

The Refuge System is a division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Department of the Interior.

Phone: (800) 344-WILD (9453)

Website: fws.gov/refuges

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Eagle

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Birding Hotspot: Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, NM

UFO sightings may have put Roswell, New Mexico, on the map, but at nearby Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, strange creatures are more than visitors.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. Visitor Center can be seen in the distance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They inhabit odd sinkholes, playa lakes, seeps, and gypsum springs fed by an underground river.

Straddling the Pecos River the Refuge consists of an assortment of water habitats. Numerous seeps and free-flowing springs, oxbow lakes, marshes and shallow water impoundments, water-filled sinkholes, and the refuge namesake, Bitter Lake, make up these unique environments.

Scattered across the land are over 70 natural sinkholes of different shapes and sizes. Created by groundwater erosion these water habitats form isolated communities of fish, invertebrate, amphibians, and other wildlife.

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system. Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the Refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the desert southwest.

The Refuge falls into three distinct areas along the Pecos River:

  • The 9,620-acre Salt Creek Wilderness to the north protects native grasses, sand dunes, and brush bottomlands.
  • The middle unit features refuge headquarters and the auto tour, which winds among lakes, wetlands, croplands, and desert uplands.
  • The southern part of the refuge belongs exclusively to wildlife and is closed to all public access. Here refuge croplands support tremendous flocks of wintering birds.
Solitude and contentment that is Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 10 miles northeast of Roswell, Bitter Lake is truly a jewel, a wetland oasis providing habitat for thousands of migrating sandhill cranes, Ross’s and snow geese, and about twenty duck species such as pintails, mallards, canvasback, gadwall, shovelers, and teal.

Arriving in November, most sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other waterfowl depart in late February for their long flight to breeding grounds in the north.

An 8-mile, self-guided auto tour around the lakes starts at the visitor center near refuge headquarters.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is designated by the American Bird Conservancy as a Globally Important Bird Area.

At first glance, you might see only the 10,000 or so wintering sandhill cranes and 20,000 snow geese. But take a deeper look.

The Refuge also protects and provides habitat for some of New Mexico’s rarest and unusual creatures such as the least shrew, Noel’s amphipod, least tern, and Roswell spring snail.

Barking frogs nestle in limestone crevices or burrow in gypsum soils. Their yapping chorus can be heard in June and July. These odd frogs, found in New Mexico only in Chaves, Eddy, and Otero counties, join other wildlife, some of which are relics from millions of years ago when the refuge was once a Permian shallow sea.

Within the sinkholes and springs, tiny native fish thrive, like the Pecos pupfish, green-throat darter, and the endangered Pecos gambusia.

Pecos pupfish males change from dull brown to iridescent blue in breeding season.

Courting greenthroat darter males rival them in brilliance, transforming from olive to emerald green with reddish fins.

The White-faced Ibis is one of more than 350 species of birds that inhabit Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the Refuge’s 24 fish species are native to the Pecos River drainage waters.

In summer, the interior least tern nests on refuge salt flats, the only place this endangered species breeds in New Mexico. Snowy plovers, killdeer, avocets, and black-necked stilts raise their chicks as well.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Part 2: Dragonflies Habitat: Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, NM

Worth Pondering…
I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather heave birds than airplanes.

—Charles Lindbergh

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Birding Hotspot: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

As the sun reddens the sky, thousands of snow geese scattered on a big pond begin to waken and disrupt the quiet air with loud honks.

The best times to see the birds fly in their massive formations are dawn and dusk. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors perched on embankments, observation decks, or inside parked vehicles see and hear the communication that eventually gets the flock into the air and headed north to fields where they feed all day.

The snow geese are soon joined in the sky by flocks of sandhill cranes.

Much later in the day near sunset, birders and photographers alike stand under a stream of flyers heading back to the relative safety of the ponds and marshes to roost.

It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead. This vast haven is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

If you’ve never witnessed—or heard—the morning fly-out and the evening fly-in of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese, then you’ll want to head on over to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, located midway between Albuquerque and Las Cruces just south of Socorro. And if you’ve seen it all before, then I don’t have to recommend that you return to see it again—and again.

It is no wonder RVers, birders, photographers, and all lovers of nature and the outdoors are attracted to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese arrive for the winter each November amid a backdrop of purple mountains clothed in autumn colors and bathed in the light of New Mexico’s spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

If, like us, you combine RVing with birding and photography—both natural fits—then a trip to Bosque del Apache is a must.

Along the loop road are spots to stop, get out, and walk to a viewing deck, boardwalk, bird blind, or nature trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Chihuahuan Desert’s northern edge and straddling the Rio Grande River in Socorro County, Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States.

The Preserve’s name means “Woods of the Apache” in Spanish, after the cottonwood forests indigenous to this part of the Rio Grande Valley and the native people the first European explorers often saw camped in the area.

The Bosque (pronounced ‘BOS-keh’) provides habitat to over 300 species of birds and more than 135 different animals, including mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, and is internationally famous for sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Ross’ geese.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is designated by the American Bird Conservancy as a Globally Important Bird Area.

In 1846, when naturalist Lt. James Abert camped there, he observed and reported large flocks of sandhill cranes. These migratory birds followed their ancestral routes south in November and left in February or early March, returning north to breed.

In the 1930s, the population of sandhill cranes severely declined as a result of habitat loss due to land use changes. By 1941 the great migrations had almost ceased with only 17 sandhill cranes returning to the Bosque.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 to provide refuge and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife, and to develop wintering grounds especially for the sandhill cranes.

As sunset approaches sandhill cranes and snow geese head back to the relative safety of the ponds and marshes to roost for the night. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on the weather to the north, the rough honk of sandhill cranes is heard as early as September, when the vanguard flocks first arrive. By mid-to-late-November approximately 12,000 to 17,000 cranes share the 57,191-acre refuge with tens of thousands of migratory snow geese, Ross’s geese, Canada geese, pintails, shovelers, mallards, and a host of other waterfowl.

Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Part 2: Woods of the Apache

Part 3: Festival of Cranes

Worth Pondering…
I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

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