Glad You Asked… Paton Center FAQ
Updated March 2016
For all other questions and concerns, please contact us at:
Paton Center Coordinator
Is there an entrance fee to visit the Paton Center?
The Paton Center is free! We do have a Sugar Fund box for donations, which help us maintain the feeders and property.
What is the best time of year to visit?
It’s always a good time of year to visit! However, hummingbird visitors to the Paton Yard are at their highest numbers during spring (March-May) and fall (August-October) migrations. We also have many breeding hummingbird species throughout the summer. In the winter, hummingbird numbers are lower but you may still find rare species such as the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.
Are there public restrooms at the Paton Center?
We are not currently able to provide public restrooms. The septic system for the property was never designed to accommodate the large number of visitors we receive and because the Paton Center is located in a floodway, we cannot easily add new restrooms. Public restrooms are available nearby in the town park.
Why are there flags in the ground throughout the property?
All of these flags represent native plants that have recently been planted by our ecological restoration crew. Flagging them allows us to track how many of them survive. Many of them are still young, but very soon these areas will be lush gardens full of flowers that attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wildlife!
How do Tucson Audubon and the Paton Center engage with the community of Patagonia?
Tucson Audubon believes strongly that as an organization operating such a popular destination in Patagonia, we should actively engage with the local community. The Paton Center Coordinator is an administrative staff member who also lives on site as the property caretaker. The coordinator represents Tucson Audubon within the community, serving on official committees and collaborating with local partners in conservation, the service industry, and the arts. For example, we are partnering with local artists to create interpretive signage for our new trail linking the Paton Center to The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
What is Tucson Audubon's vision for the future of the Paton Center for Hummingbirds?
Wally and Marion Paton provided birders free and comfortable access to the diverse and rare bird species that frequented their feeders. Tucson Audubon will continue this legacy of access by continuing to provide visitors with free, intimate access to birds around the property. While the Patons primarily fed birds and provided seating for birders in the backyard, Tucson Audubon is developing two additional bird-viewing areas in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow on the western edge of the property and along the streamside at the eastern edge of the property. Hundreds of native plants and two significant water features, as well as bird feeders, will support birds in these areas where seating is being provided.
Tucson Audubon is also developing educational programs to further engage visitors with natural history and conservation. Our Seven Saturdays program runs one Saturday per month, October thru May (excluding December). Seven Saturdays offers a guided hike in the Patagonia area followed by a relaxed lecture on a local conservation topic. More programming is in the works!
Does Tucson Audubon plan to develop the Paton Center into a Visitor's Center?
Tucson Audubon recognizes the unique experience the Patons created over the years by opening up their small-town backyard to visiting birders. We intend to improve the site for birds by removing non-native vegetation, planting native plants that will provide food and cover, and recovering specific areas as wildlife-watching opportunities for visitors. We recently installed a visitor kiosk near the parking area and we also offer educational programming, interpretive signage, and a library of field guides for visitor use. While some of these activities create a short-term disturbance, we do not intend to change the fundamental Paton experience—we hope to build upon the legacy of access they established. Perhaps a good test of this was summed up by Bonnie Paton Moon’s delight with the work Tucson Audubon has performed at the Paton Center in this first year of stewardship.
What are the plans for the casita?
The casita is currently being occupied by the Paton Center coordinator as we explore options for the main house. The casita is a very versatile space and in addition to being used as a residence, Tucson Audubon has previously used it as a public gathering space for programming. Undoubtedly, the casita will remain an important component of our facilities as it can be used in a number of ways to suit the needs of the Paton Center and our programs.
Will there always be an onsite caretaker?
Because the Paton Center began as a family homestead where visitors had been invited to enjoy hummingbirds, Tucson Audubon would like to preserve this quaint characteristic by having someone live on site. Tucson Audubon feels strongly that an onsite caretaker adds immensely to the Paton Center experience. Additionally, having someone onsite allows for better care of the property and facilitates Tucson Audubon involvement with and support of the Patagonia community. For as long as possible we would like to ensure that an onsite caretaker remains.
What is the future of the house?
Tucson Audubon would like to preserve the integrity of Wally and Marion Paton’s legacy as best possible while being responsible with precious resources. The house is not in the best condition and efforts to update it would certainly prove costly. The Tucson Audubon Board of Directors, Paton Center Birders Advisory Committee, and many community members continue to explore our options for the future of the house.
What is the status of the trail connecting the Paton Center and The Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve?
The new trail has just been completed! It begins in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow at the Paton Center and winds its way through the foothills toward The Nature Conservancy’s Platts Trail. This moderate trail offers breathtaking views of the cottonwood forest and surrounding mountains. It is a .7 mile hike to reach the Preserve’s trails along the creek, and a 1.5 mile hike to reach the visitor center and parking lot at the Preserve. Benches and interpretive signs will soon improve the trail experience. Hikers should be aware that the TNC Preserve’s creek trails are open limited hours: Wednesday thru Sunday, 7:30am-4pm. However, the Platts trail is open dawn to dusk every day.
Why were the feeders removed from in front of the house windows?
While the Patons were comfortable with thousands of birders’ binoculars trained on their kitchen windows, not all residents of the Paton home feel the same. Removing the feeders from immediately in front of the windows allows for a higher degree of privacy and comfort for those living in the house. Bird tape was placed on the windows to discourage window strikes—a major source of bird deaths. Over time we may experiment with bamboo window blinds on the outside of the windows to provide a combination of privacy screening, protection from window strikes, and a more natural backdrop for photographers if feeders are returned to those areas. We are currently experimenting with a variety of feeding and feeder presentation strategies as we seek arrangements that support the varying needs of birders, photographers, and the home caretaker.
What is the thought behind general feeder placement around the property?
Our objective with feeding birds is to do our best to attract as many native birds as possible, both in terms of species diversity and abundance. We sometimes have to adjust our feeding strategies to discourage non-native and nuisance birds, but years of fine-tuning has allowed the Paton Center to remain one of the best places for finding rare birds in the southwest.
Currently, most of our bird feeders are clustered in the back yard where they have been since the Patons put them up decades ago. Some hummingbird feeders are placed along the back of the house to make it easier to see the hummingbirds against the white backdrop. Others are along the fence line where more natural cover is available, and it seems that hummingbirds tend to prefer these feeders the most. Seed, suet, and fruit feeding stations are also placed throughout the back yard.
We have begun developing two additional bird feeding and viewing areas on the property; one is in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow and the other is along the creek near the parking area. We have small numbers of feeders in these areas and we are currently determining their effectiveness in attracting more birds. Benches have been placed in these areas for visitors to comfortably enjoy the birds.
Why are some of the feeders empty?
The feeders are filled every morning and we refill them periodically throughout the day. We do ensure that food is always available to birds in most of the feeders. During certain parts of the year, it is impossible to keep every feeder full throughout the entire day but we do ensure that ample food is available for the birds.
Why was the giant reed removed along the streamside?
Giant reed (also known as arundo) is a non-native plant offering little more than cover to birds. Arundo chokes out native flowers, vines, grasses, and trees that provide nectar, berries, seeds, and nesting materials. When rhizomes from the plant break off they can travel downstream and set up new reed colonies, which further degrade habitat in the watershed. The giant reed was removed and replaced with hundreds of native plants, which will soon be large enough to provide significant cover as well as natural food sources for a variety of species. Many of the giant reed rhizomes were left in place to keep the bank stabilized until the new, native plantings develop roots strong enough to do the job themselves. The sturdiest reed canes were repurposed as a further stabilization system for exposed bank areas. Removing the reed also exposed a cluster of elm and velvet ash tree saplings to the light and allowed for the germination of Mexican elder trees. All of this new growth will benefit from reduced competition for water now that the strangling giant reed has been removed.
Why were the fences removed from the exterior of the property?
The chain link fences around the property were removed to improve access to bird viewing areas and make the property feel more inviting. It has also aided in the work being done by our restoration crew.
The interior fence surrounding the home has been kept and strengthened in areas to prevent javalina from entering this portion of the yard. Deer have always been able to leap the fences and coatimundi are likely too clever to be foiled by fences. As with other aspects of the property, the fences are a work in progress. If we discover a need for fencing around the exterior of the property, we will install it (This is indeed what has happened! Summer 2016). Interior fencing will likely remain, but the fencing materials may change over time.
How does the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow fit together with the overall vision of the property?
The area of the property now transitioning into the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow was previously home to horses and, at one time, pigs. The ground cover was almost entirely invasive horehound, London-rocket, and “sticky grass”—a nasty tangle of weeds filled with burrs that cling to anything coming into contact with them. Dense brush piles provided some staging for birds entering the backyard, but yielded little other ecological value.
The meadow is now becoming a rich and valuable natural resource for many birds including flycatchers, which are attracted to open spaces and have previously been less likely to visit the backyard. The crew is building a pond in the center of the meadow to provide both water and increased insects for feeding. The meadow will be filled with flowers to attract hummingbirds and southeast Arizona’s wide variety of butterfly species. Two benches offer tranquil viewing of the meadow while a loop trail around it provides an active birding venue.
How is Tucson Audubon addressing the needs of different visitors, especially disabled individuals?
A parking spot for disabled individuals has been designated next to the garage, closer to the backyard than other parking spots. The pathway to the canopy remains wheelchair accessible. The seating in and around the canopy remains flexible so that chairs and benches may be easily moved around to accommodate those in wheelchairs or with walking canes. As we move forward with replacing the canopy with a bird-viewing pavilion, universal accessibility is part of our design criteria and will continue to be so as we contemplate future designs for paths and parking.
How does Tucson Audubon intend to receive feedback from its stakeholders?
An advisory committee of birders, tour guide leaders, and long-time Paton supporters, both local and from elsewhere in the country, has been formed to provide feedback and suggestions to the Tucson Audubon Society. We also invite comments, suggestions, concerns, encouragement, and questions from our membership and the general public. If you would like to share your interest in the Paton Center, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is helping to guide the vision for the property?
From the day that the Paton Center came under Tucson Audubon’s stewardship, many members of the birding and conservation community have provided guidance for the evolution of the property: staff members, board members, Patagonia community representatives, long-time birders, the Paton Center caretaker, and others. More recently an advisory committee of birders, tour guide leaders, and long-time Paton supporters, both local and from elsewhere in the country, has been formed to provide feedback and suggestions to the Tucson Audubon Society.