Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mountain Bluebird

A day off and bright sun was enough to get me out to chase a bird - something I rarely do anymore.  Generally I'm not a chaser but the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) was only 40 minutes from home at Harvey Ensign Memorial boat launch on Lake St. Clair in Macomb County.  Plus I have my new camera and need practice with it.

As I was arriving a birder I didn't know was leaving and he confirmed that the bird was present at the tip.  I saw and heard american goldfinches and then saw and heard cardinals.  Scanning with my bins the mountain bluebird came into view perched on a low rock at the very tip of land.

For about 15-20 minutes I had this bird to myself.  There is something special in that kind of serendipity - birding's golden moments.

It's a startlingly beautiful bird - one of my favorites.  On one of my morning walks in northern Idaho last September I found several mountain bluebirds in a farm and livestock field.  To my dismay, those birds were too far away to even fake a photo.

Not so with this cooperative bird.  It appears to be a first year male.  I think the female bird would be overall grayer.

Above and below:  In sun and shadow.

It flew from perch to perch and I tried for a flight shot by switching to 4K burst shooting.  But my fingers were too cold and, as it turned out, 4K burst was turned off.  I couldn't fiddle.  I did take video and posted it at the end.

I lost track of the mountain bluebird when it flew into the weedy center of the tip that is surrounded by a fence.  I walked around the bird's favored area twice more before deciding to leave.  By this time, it was becoming more overcast and the wind, which had been present the whole time,  worsened.  

The bird hung out with the cardinals and goldfinches for the whole time I watched it.  There were also a couple of downy woodpeckers nearby.  I wondered if the mountain bluebird could endure the winter on this small spit of land.  Our eastern bluebirds remain throughout the winter.  Mountain bluebirds breed in northwestern states but migrate south during the harshest months in their most northern breeding locations.  Northern Idaho is extremely wintery but the birds migrate south in winter.  They hang out in flocks and together search for fruit. A few photos posted on eBird show this bird perched amongst large purple berries.  If they haven't already, the berries will run out.  I feel like its chance for survival would be better if it could hook up with some eastern bluebirds.

I don't enjoy seeing wayward birds - especially ones that have landed in harsh environments.  Years ago I drove up to the UP beyond Marquette to see a first year male Vermillion Flycatcher.  It was October and already cold, but snow had not yet fallen.  As I watched the little bird flit here and there to find bugs I knew it was doomed.  A few weeks after my visit the bird's dead body was found in a nearby barn.  I no longer chase vagrants in locations that require a lot of driving unless I am going to be in the area anyway.  It's too sad and it's one less bird that will become a successful breeder at a time when we have fewer and fewer birds.  It's much more fun to see birds in their  proper habitat.

The walk back to my car was directly into the wind and my face was freezing when I finally got in and drove away.   

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