2023-07-13 Paton’s In Patagonia

Thick-Billed Kingbird - Tyrannus crassirostris
I spent a long, hot, Arizona summer day visiting‌ the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia. For much of this visit I experimented with camera settings (ISO), and I learned what *not* to do.

Broad-Billed Hummingbird - Cynanthus latirostris

Pipevine Swallowtail - Papilio troilus

My day at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds Thursday was lovely. I came early and stayed late. I spent some quality time with the site manager. He provided me with background information about what the Tucson Audubon Society has planned for this facility. 

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the Thick-Billed Kingbird, and the Plain-Capped Starthroat haunting the area of late. Folks had seen the Starthroat (a large hummingbird) here for about nine days. But though there were folks standing vigil all day hoping to meet this rarity, the bird never showed up during my visit. The kingbird was only slightly more cooperative, and limited its time with us to long-distance views. I took a few long-distance shots of the Kingbird.

I spent most of the day experimenting with various settings on my Z9 camera, and enjoying the ‘run-of-the-mill’ regulars on site. Unfortunately, I pushed the envelope for the ISO settings too hard, and the image quality suffered with many of the images I captured. It was a learning opportunity, and I know what not to do in the future.

Much of the grounds surrounding Paton’s are well shaded. And with these warm days, shade is a benefit. It was like a salve for us humans suffering under triple-digit temperatures. But shade can be a challenge when trying to photograph birds. The finer feather details of the bird’s continence are easily lost. I fear that, on average, the set I collected this day will be sub-par.

This was only my second visit to this iconic birders destination. Last March, as I was on the outbound leg of this year’s expedition, I stopped by and enjoyed my first visit here. During my March tour, I confined myself to the grounds surrounding the old home site. But there is an arroyo that runs along the southern boundary of the property. So on the advice of the site manager, I walked downstream of this now dry wash and found the outflow of water from the nearby treatment facility. I enjoyed the birds attracted by this valuable resource, so rare in this mostly arid land.

I returned to the residential compound, and I alternated between the feeders stationed at various locations on the property. When the heat became too much for me, I settled in under the shelter of the overhanging roof where the Starthroat vigil was being held. Most of the morning’s visiting birders had moved on. So there was plenty of seating available. I found a chair that gave me a view of the feeding hummingbirds, and snapped away when the mood suited me.

It is my standard practice to take a ton of shots, and delete (cull) most of the images, hoping that I can rescue enough shots to tell the story of the places I visit. If I can collect any images that ‘pop’, then it makes me happy.

I added a new species to my catalog during this visit. The Violet-Crowned Hummingbird attended the feeders where the Starthroat had been seen for the past nine days. The Violet-Crowned bird shots I got were as they perched on feeders. I hoped to get one perched elsewhere or in flight, but I was unsuccessful in that regard.

When I left Paton’s that afternoon, I headed southwest on AZ-82 to meet the I-19, then I turned north toward Tucson, and found a rest area at a location called Canoa Ranch. I found a wide dirt overflow parking lot south of Green Valley, and settled in for the night. I was closing in on the end for this four-month expedition, but I wanted just one more stop before I turn to the home-stretch. 

Madera Canyon was only a few miles away, but someone shared with me what seemed to be a reliable location to meet Five-Striped Sparrows. I had been hoping to see them for more than a decade. But I failed on all my previous attempts. I had to choose to revisit either Madera Canyon, or to follow the primitive road to Box Canyon, a little north of the Santa Rita Mountains. Ultimately, I plotted a course to the sparrows, and left the Madera Canyon visit for another day. I will tell that story on my next, and final installment of this 2023 expedition.

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