Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Paton Center for... Butterflies?!

By Nick Beauregard

As restoration and development moves forward at the Paton Center, it has become clear that this special little corner of the Sky Islands is outstanding for more than just hummingbirds. The Sonoita Creek riparian corridor is truly a pollinator hotspot, and there are dozens of species of colorful butterflies occurring here as well. For many birders, identifying butterflies is just as exciting, and we are happy to be accommodating that interest as much as we possibly can!

Recently, the Paton Center received two hundred native plants to be placed around the property as part of a grant with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and our local partner Borderlands Restoration. One hundred monarch-friendly milkweeds, in addition to one-hundred other pollinator plants, were planted throughout the property with the help of over a dozen dedicated volunteers.

Most of the areas that we planted were previously over-run by invasive horehound or Bermuda grass, species that offer little or no benefit to wildlife. After clearing out these invasives, Tucson Audubon staff and volunteers spent three mornings planting our new native plants and running irrigation lines to them to help them make it through the hot, dry summer that is just around the corner. Though these plants are fairly small right now, by this time next year they should be mature enough to flower and attract lots of butterflies and hummingbirds. Within a few more years of growth, they will have spread their seeds to fill in these areas even more extensively, out-competing the invasive species that we work so hard to keep at bay. This project helps complete one of the largest Monarch Butterfly waystations in the area!

We certainly couldn’t have achieved this without the incredible support of our volunteers. We had local Patagonians stop by to join in on the fun as well as friends from Tucson who were eager to get out of the heat of the low desert and into the shady riparian forest of Patagonia. Of course, it’s hard to think of a more beautiful place to volunteer than Patagonia, especially for birders! Our volunteers were treated to a dazzling display of birds enjoying the habitat that they’ve helped create!

If you haven’t been to the Paton Center recently, it’s definitely worth the visit now. Temperatures are still cool enough to enjoy hours of fantastic birding, and flowers are bursting with color! Also, don’t forget to bring a butterfly field guide in addition to your bird guide, because there are many colorful species to be seen!

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