Our three-month tour as hosts at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve has come to end, and so we’ve moved back to the Escapee park in Benson to finish up dental and medical appointments, visit with our friends Don and Betty, and get ready to travel.
The time spent at the preserve was a very special experience and one we’ll always rank at the top of our volunteer experiences. Luke, the manager, became a great friend along with his wife, Anna and of course Zeke, our nephew-dog. We had the opportunity to meet so many people; from serious “birders” to families just out for a walk along the creek. With one of the area’s few year-around flowing streams, the preserve gave us the chance to see birds and wildlife we’d never seen, and live and work in a wonderland of green trees, meadows, and wildlife. On one of our last days, we took a ride after closing, and watched as our local “troop” of about 20 Coati slowly worked their way down from the top of a huge cottonwood where they’d been resting during the heat of the day. While I couldn’t get a decent picture, I earlier caught this solitary male off in the distance as he crossed the creek.
Each day we were treated to the arrival of more hummingbirds as the spring migration continued. Broadbill, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Violet-crowned, and Rufus all put on a continual air show as they battled over the feeders. The visitor center was a perfect place to see the hummers up close – sitting at a picnic table, just a few feet from the feeders gave a great view but also put you in jeopardy of losing a piece of ear as the little suckers zipped by chasing one another.
As the spring progressed, we were frequently asked by visitors “have the gray hawks arrived?” We’d never seen one, so were also looking forward to their arrival. Then one morning we started hearing their whistle coming from the cottonwoods, and not long after, I caught this one as it flew from it’s perch.
One of our last projects was a visit by a class from the school where Anna teaches. The class was divided into three groups, and we took each group for a session of learning how to identify birds followed by a 1 1/2 mile bird walk. Brenda had developed a great guide for the kids, and we taught them how to use binoculars before taking our walk. We were a bit skeptical that 8th graders from a city school would be interested in birding, but at a dinner with Luke and Anna to say goodbye they presented us with a stack of thank-you cards. Reading them brought smiles and tears, but most of all gratitude to Luke for allowing us to share his beautiful preserve, and to Anna for being the type of teacher that inspires her kids to take on new experiences. Some of our favorite comments:
“I thought about the way you talked about nature and birds. I think it’s wonderful how you could be so patient with birds, because I’m not like that.”
“There are many types of birds and each has their own difference what makes them unique. Just like us. Each of us has something that makes us unique and special.”
“Thanks for giving me and my classmates your time and for having us over at the preservation.”
“I’ve never felt so relaxed and so peaceful watching birds fly and sing at the same time or even differently like they were talking to each other. I hope you guys keep making people feel peaceful and see the experience of how nature is.” (So do we!)
“Thank you for spending your time with us and teaching us about bird watching. It was calming and peaceful (except for the snake).”
If anyone ever asks why choose to volunteer our time, we’ll just show them our pack of thank-you cards from Anna’s kids!
Now that we’re settled in Benson we’ve had time to visit some of the local attractions. Brenda and I, with friends Don and Betty, drove out to the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area to visit the Empire Ranch. The ranch, dating back to the 1870s, isn’t one of those nicely restored buildings, in fact, the current ranch house doesn’t look all that different from the picture of one in the 1920s. But then, it never was picturesque, just a working ranch house that started small and had rooms added as the need arose. At it’s high point, the ranch included over 100,00 acres, had an operating silver mine, and over 40,000 cattle. Over the years, ownership changed hands and fortunately was finally purchased by BLM in 1988. Today, the 22-room ranch house is open to visitors and the ranch has areas for primitive camping, hiking, and bird watching.
While walking the birding trail, we heard this Black-throated Sparrow singing. It was in a nearby tree, and I walked up and took this image as it sat nicely, posing for me. Betty also tried to get a picture, but each time she moved, the bird moved, and they chased each other around the tree for a while until she finally gave up. So, for Betty, here’s my picture of that beautiful little bird. Knowing Betty, I’m going to pay for this….
We’ve planned some more visits around the area before leaving, so stay tuned!