Thursday, August 14, 2014

Flashes of Mountain Blue

Last year, I went up to the White Mountains with two main goals.  One was to find as many of the specialty birds as I could find and the other goal turned out to be my main goal of the trip, which was to photograph the different plumage variations and study the Williamson's Sapsucker.  My goal worked out well for the Williamson's Sapsuckers, and all four variations presented themselves for me and camera.  This year, I had several goals also, and one of the smaller goals resulted in me focusing on a specific bird for photography, while the harder to find species became my main goal of the trip.  Before this trip, I have had photos that are very limited of this species, so I decided to shoot for and work harder for better photos on this trip.  When I had down time, I would often leave the cabin for 30 minutes and would attempt short photo sessions with this bird.  I did fairly well and I could've done better, and I'm grateful for what I was able to come away with.  And it is a bird that everyone is familiar with, and it is a bird that everybody likes.  Even though this bird perches on stop signs (that are convenient perches in the open fields and grasslands), a stop sign isn't needed to stop and look at the Mountain Bluebird.

And here we are, the Mountain Bluebird was my special photo target bird during this vacation.  This is a male Mountain Bluebird, and I photographed him on the southern end of Crescent Lake.  Crescent Lake had Mountain Bluebirds everywhere now that I think of it, it wasn't just this one single bird.  When I came to the White Mountains this year, I didn't really even have a bird that I was setting out to photograph, I just had it in my mindset that I would play this trip by ear as far as goals were concerned.  On the first day of the trip while my friends and I were looking at our state and life Pine Grosbeaks, we had this female Mountain Bluebird land at a curious distance behind us.  I think she was the spark for wanting to photograph this species more.

As in most brilliant songbirds, there is quite a big difference in the color of male and female with the Mountain Bluebirds as well.  The Mountain Bluebird is part of the thrush family, and their range covers the western part of North America, with their range reaching as far north as Alaska.  Mountain Bluebirds love open country in the high mountains, especially where there are convenient perches or where there are stands of trees near the meadows and grasslands they favor.  These birds are most often seen hovering over fields for insects or by hunting from a perch, such as a fence post or something like a stop sign.

Mountain Bluebirds are very skittish when one is approaching them on foot.  By looking at the shot above, that was about as close as I was able to get most of the time to the average Mountain Bluebird.  I think if a birder spies a food source that the birds may be coming into, the best chance to get up close views of them would probably be to just sit down and let them get used to human presence.  Otherwise, it'll be a field chase for several hours.

But there are plenty of places where Mountain Bluebirds are more used to people than other places.  I wish I would've stayed at the south end of Crescent Lake longer, because they were prevalent there, and they were also very showy at close distances.  I was on a crazy mission at the time, and I wasn't able to stay.  

There was one day that I was birding around the three Greer Lakes.  I spied a fledgling Mountain Bluebird perched on the ground, and it's mother was consistently coming into feed it.  

This juvenile Mountain Bluebird soon flew up into a ponderosa and joined his siblings, where they all took turns being fed by Mrs. Mountain.  

So far, this post has been under average, and it'll land in average.  It was a minor goal of my trip to photograph this species more, and I did so.  There was a particular Mountain Bluebird male that I was consistently photographing a lot during the trip.  I found him at the boat launch and parking area at Greer's Bunch Reservoir.  He dominated and haunted that lake and parking/boat launch area.  In fact, he was the only male Mountain Bluebird I saw out by that lake.  And there was a big reason why he was the only male Mountain Bluebird out there I'm sure..

He may look normal from a distance, but it turns out this Mountain Bluebird is a bit abnormal.  He's really a mutant, not a big mutant, but a semi-mutant.  A handsome monster.  It took me awhile to catch onto what he was really about, but when I noticed, I realized I had a Montaneious BlueShrike on my hands.

This bird, in reality, has a deformed bill.  But it's pretty cool-looking also.  When I started to get close photos of this bird, I said I'll have to find a normal Mountain Bluebird who acts like this now.  The Montaneious BlueShrike was very cooperative, and was fun to watch, observe, and photograph.  If you wanna see the Mountaneious BlueShrike (mutant Mountain Bluebird), then go to Tunnel Reservoir in Greer and hang out at the parking area and boat launch.  He's probably still hanging out there.  I wonder if Osprey leftovers have become part of this BlueShrike's diet?  Here are a series of photos of this "deformed" and amazingly cool Mountain Bluebird.

I hope you enjoyed this shorter post that highlights a very neat bird in the White Mountains and who resides in the western half of North America in high elevation grasslands and meadows.  There are two more posts coming from my trip up to the White Mountains.  And they will be long adventures to close things out!


  1. Awesome post and photos!!! Yes I have ran into my fair share of mutant birds! Once I was trying to get the best photos of the Sonoran Desert birds as I could, when I thought I photographed a Cactus Wren with some nesting material but it ended up being a Cactus Crossbill!!!

    1. Thanks Caleb, I would like to see a Cactus Crossbill sometime!

  2. I love this idea for a post - picking out a species and pursuing/studying it through a camera lens. Excellent, crisp photos - mission accomplished! I too like to spend time with a species that I enjoy Jane trying to get some good photos of it.

    Excellent subject too. It's such a pretty bird. My aunt in Colorado had a pair nesting in the eaves of her house, and they would land on her deck railing all day long. They'd even come when she whistled for them!

    1. Thanks Josh! Having subject birds for photography and posts is a lot of fun, and is certainly something I want to do more for other species also. Last year I did Williamson's Sapsucker. I also saw an article in birder's world magazine about a guy who spent about 12 hours with a Spruce Grouse and documenting it's life, which would be a fun idea too.

      That is amazing that your aunt has this bird nesting in her house in CO. She's a Bluebird whisperer, what a cool lady.