"THE MAD SNOWBALL" (Mountain Bluebird)

It was early April, in the Pawnee National Grasslands of eastern Colorado. In the morning , I had discovered a Red Tailed Hawk nesting in a stunted tree, a rarity in that nearly treeless area. It was only about 25 feet of the ground and very approachable but directly behind it, the glaring sun wouldn't allow good photos. I determined to wait till the end of the day when the movement of the earth would bring the sun to shine on the front of the bird. Leaving, I explored the area for miles around seeking other subjects, which included longspurs and Mountain Plovers. As the afternoon waned, and I decided it was time to return to the nest, I saw my first Mountain Bluebird, perched on a barbed wire fence alongside the dirt road. When I tried to pull up near it, it flew further down the fence. Each time I tried to creep closer than about 150 feet, it would move away. Then when I got to a certain point it would turn around and go back the other way. It played its merry game with me going back and forth like this for about an hour. I finally realized that I'd never win this futile game and decided to return to the hawk nest. However it was farther than I thought and when I arrived, the sun was setting, and I could get no shots.

I continued on my journey into the Rocky Mountains. For a full week it was snowing almost all the time., and I couldn't get the many scenics that I'd hoped for. I kept trending south to get out of the snow. One day, when driving in blizzards had tired me so that I just wanted to get off the road and rest, I found a small dirt road that led nowhere. I pulled off to take a nap, when I saw that it was lined with dozens of Mountain Bluebirds, waiting out the April snowstorm that had stopped their migration. Unlike that first encounter, a week before, these birds allowed me to pull up alongside them and take pictures from less than 18 feet. I took a whole roll of a male on a barbed wire fence, which was joined by a female. I then noticed the individual in this picture, hunkered down on the ground. I crept forward carefully, without disturbing it, and got a nice series. After a couple of hours, the sun came out, and the flock of bluebirds came to life, catching insects in the melted snow. Cautiously, I emerged from my vehicle, but they were now oblivious of my presence and often landed within five feet. That wonderful day climaxed the previous week's frustration.

This subject has become my customers favorite, and shots have been used in Birdwatcher's Digest, the Birder's World calender and The Natural Moment feature in Natural History magazine.