In early January the eBird and Birdbrain reports started to fly: Mountain Bluebird in Hernando County! 3rd state record! I drove out there on my first available morning. I had to laugh as I pulled up to the GPS coordinates out in the middle of a rural road and found a number of cars parked on both sides of the road, with birders wandering around and binoculars pointed in every direction. “I hope the bird is still here!” was the thought on everybody’s mind. Then Sam called out, “there! behind you!” A small blue bird had quietly flown in and stood perched on a wire fence. Over the course of the morning, he darted along that fence, getting very close at one point, then staying farther out in the field. Birders who arrive at mid-morning saw only a dark spot against the rising sun. But for a few wonderful moments, the Mountain Bluebird hopped over to the right side of the light to the delight of the photographers…and when he grabbed a worm and devoured it in front of me, I think I might have actually done a happy dance.
Mountain Bluebirds are typically found in the Western US, with their breeding range extending into Alaska and their winter range going down into Mexico. Like the Hooded Oriole, Bullock’s Oriole, and Western Tanager that I’ve seen recently, this bird probably got swept off course during a cold front.
An Eastern Bluebird hopped onto an adjacent fencepost. She shows clearly the distinction between the western Mountain Bluebird and our normal Eastern variety. She wondered why the cameras pointed at her, snapped a few shots, and then moved quickly to the visitor as the photographers muttered “Wrong bird!”
I enjoyed catching up with some of the birders and observing some of the other birds in this grassy field habitat. As the houses build up close to my home, it’s getting harder to find these birds. A flock of a dozen or so Sandhill Cranes flew in. A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes perched on an electrical wire. An American Kestrel showed off his rainbow colors from the top of a fencepost. The clear tones of a Greater Yellowlegs sounded as the bird flew in behind us. Eastern Meadowlarks called from all over and came very close to the camera to show off. What a great morning!