It is a rare privilege to be shown a place that is special to someone. Visiting Bob Niebuhr's mountain bluebird trail not far from Great Falls, Montana, I think we may have seen the most beautiful bluebird box trail on the planet.
The Man himself, author of beauty and grace, written on the land in bluebirds fledged from his boxes.
A caravan of cars snaked from the Mountain Bluebird Trails conference site to Bob's turf, and we hopped out to check boxes along the way. And to breathe. Oh, the air was so sweet and cool.
Mountain bluebirds are bigger than either western or eastern bluebirds, and they often lay clutches of six pale blue eggs. Being broad of shoulder, they need an entry hole that's 1/8" bigger than their smaller relatives, too.
Some three-day-old mountain bluebirds.
Mountain bluebird babies are lovely, smoky brown and even-colored, unlike our dappled gray eastern bluebird babies. These are about 13 days old.
I loved seeing my first mountain bluebird babies, but I was blown away by their surroundings. What heaven it would be to have an excuse to drive Bob's route once every week.
We compared notes on development and predator deterrents. The Science Chimp always loves to talk shop with other bluebird box landlords.
And of course, she had to get her nose into every box.
As did Science Chimp Junior (this was taken in North Dakota.)
Everywhere on Bob's trail, wildflowers nodded in the breeze. This was the finest stand of prairie smoke I'd ever found. A few lupines add their blue.
Not sure what this is. It looks a lot like a Gaura I planted in my garden this year, but it's much denser and more compact. Yoo-hoo, Caroline from South Dakota?
A natural garden.
Ever dream of having that Montana ranch, brushing out a brood mare's tail, and riding out each morning to watch the sun ascend over the rolling hills?
Tree swallows were gettin' busy, too, enjoying Bob's lodgings.
Mountain bluebirds hovered and dove on grasshoppers.
Heavenly, the only word for their blue. Well, maybe celestial. Same meaning.
Wonder if anyone would pay me to live out here and run these boxes when Bob got tired of it? No, he already has good volunteers who help. Rats. And he doesn't show any signs of getting tired of it.
I'd do it for nothing, anyway.
A northern checkerspot stops in its meadowbouncing.
and some lupines.
A neighbor brings two little grandsons, still in their jammies, on his four-wheeler, to chat with Bob, who seems to know everyone. Liam looks on in envy.
Bill of the Birds gazes out over the expanse.
I try not to imagine this place in the dead of winter
preferring summer meadows and birdsong to howling blizzards.
And so it will stay in my memory, always June, with the song of warbling vireos
and lonely barns against the sky
and Bob fixing a loose roof on a bluebird box
sending thousands of new bluebirds out into the Montana skies
making the world a more beautiful place with every mile he drives.
I salute you, Bob Niebuhr, and all those who work for bluebirds. Thank you for bringing our little family to Montana, to find ancient runes and hunker down in tipi rings, to float down the Missouri River. You've made a place in our hearts that we will always come back to. Thank you for all you do to bring beauty to the land. You are appreciated.