MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD: A Slice of Western Sky

Mountain Bluebird males are a perfect cerulean blue, vivid against the sagebrush-steppe landscape where they often nest. These were photographed at Whiskey Dick Mountain in central Washington State.


Sublime beauty in a small bird

The color is startling: a pure cerulean blue that mirrors the vast dome of sky stretching over the sagebrush.  A color so achingly intense, when the light illuminates it just right, that it renews my appreciation for the wild palette every time. That is the powerful attraction of the male Mountain Bluebird.

I photographed these bluebirds near a pair of nest boxes along a fence bordering Washington State wildlife lands on Whiskey Dick Mountain. This is hot, dry country in the sagebrush-steppe lands near the Columbia River,

Sagebrush, barbed wire, and windmills in the land of the Mountain Bluebird

where Big Sagebrush and Bitterbrush dominate the landscape. In spring, the earth between the shrubs is filled with wildflowers, and the cooler temperatures of the early season make hiking bearable. During my visit, the Mountain Bluebirds had paired off and were defending their nest box, but no eggs had yet hatched so the adults were not incubating or carrying food.

An interesting fact: the Mountain Bluebird has NO blue pigment in its feathers; the intense blue is created by the structure of the feathers themselves, which scatter light in the same way that the deep blue western sky scatters light. I find that the bluebird blue is most intense when the sun is at a low angle, directly behind my back. But these birds are breathtakingly beautiful anywhere, anytime.

Female Mountain Bluebird on Bitterbrush

Defending its nest box against swallows and other invaders

Male on Big Sagebrush, the dominant plant of the shrub-steppe ecosystem

Female staring intently at the intruder

Alert male on Bitterbrush

Master of his domain

The cerulean blue is a perfect match for the vast western sky

An impressionistic view of the Mountain Bluebird near its nest box

Female Mountain Bluebird on Bitterbrush

Mountain Bluebirds are relatives of robins and thrushes

For more information about Mountain Bluebirds, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology is a good place to start.  Go to All About Birds.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

THE BLACK ANGELS: Ravens Practicing Aerial Maneuvers

Perfect synchronization of Common Ravens in flight

Six of them blazed by, wingtip to wingtip, making constant loud noise as they practiced intricate aerial acrobatics. Climbing rapidly, then hurtling into steep dives, coming within feet of the ground, only to pull up into the heavens again. This air show went on for about five minutes, at which point the fliers were running low on fuel and sped off to replenish themselves.

We were hiking on Whiskey Dick Mountain in central Washington State, when we came upon this spectacle. Given the time of year (mid-May), it seemed too late for Common Raven pair bonding and too early for this year’s young with their parents. So the reason for the spectacular flight will remain a mystery, unless a knowledgeable reader can help.

Flying wingtip to wingtip in an aerial ballet

We have seen Common Ravens in the mountains and the deserts over much of North America, and it is always amazing to see them–even when they are scavenging in a national park parking lot. But this is the first time I have been so thrilled to observe these incredible birds in flight. I saw a stick being dropped by one of the birds, but it happened so fast and so close to the ground that I can’t provide an accurate description. Other naturalists have observed these incredible flights, and one person described a raven flying upside-down for half a mile! These bulky black birds are truly masters of flight.

Unexpectedly graceful in flight together

Masters of precision flight

For more information about Common Ravens, go to the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s excellent website: All About Birds.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.