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Bob's Bluebirds

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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?

Me, too.

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.

More prairie smoke.

A shy larkspur

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.

last two photos: Bill Thompson III

18 comments: gorgeous! Thank you for sharing!

Hi Julie, looks like Scarlet Gaura to me. If you would have been here even just a week earlier it would have looked like winter. I led a bird trip outside of Great Falls the weekend before in a blizzard!

Ooh, thanks, John. Delighted to know it's a Gaura. I'm woefully ill-prepared for western wildflowers. Gotta fix that. Hey--I counted today--a dozen of my orchids are in spike right now. It's going to be a spectacular winter.

Envious. Enchanted.

Hmm...I wonder if prairie smoke would grow in a small patch of yard in Southwestern Ohio...

that was a gaura...probably gaura coccinea, a common prairie species


Hey, Julie in Ohio...
Scarlet gaura (Gaura coccinea), evening primrose family. It is also in my "prairie patch" in the back yard. (Van Bruggen).
Your photos of the Montana vistas are so western South Dakota as well. I always look for those "scraps of sky come earthward" all spring and summer around here. They arrive back at this elevation between March 5-8...we count the days, especially during those mid-winter blizzards. Contest for the "Honor of the 1st Bluebird" is hot between daughter #3, my son-in-law's dad and myself that time of year.

You write so beautifully. When you get tired of writing of birds, bees and things that bloom, you can make a career of travel writer. I'm off to investigate the cost of an airline ticket to Montana. In June, of course.

Yesss!! Be sure to visit and do a two or three-day float down the Missouri River. You will not be sorry.

Beautiful pictures, Julie. I saw my first mountain bluebird this summer while visiting my niece in western Alberta. What an incredible bird! That flourescent bright blue just glows! Thanks for sharing the pictures!

I understand about June in certain places. I was in Alaska in June this year. Their 'high summer'. Wearing capris and sandals, I marveled at the people swimming in a lake that had been ice a few weeks before, on one hot 85ish day. I gasped at a huge field of dark purple irises in full bloom and marveled at the miles of lupine growing wild along every roadside. (I also had to wait an hour in the road when a yearling moose blocked my cousin's driveway and I couldn't get to the house!)

I don't think I could deal with the dark winters but June seduced me. I very much fell in love with Alaska this summer.

I salute him, too. Everything is beautiful. Specially when Science Chimp can't keep her nose out of the bluebird boxes...

Great story to end my day ;-)

Looked like a Gaura to me too, but I only have the nursery variety. Why would I think it didn't have a wild counterpart? And what is prairie smoke?

Those rolling hills that go on and on. To me, almost like looking out over the ocean, getting lost in a swell.
I'd hang that on my wall.
And breath cool mountain air until spring returns.

I love the hovering bluebird photo and know how hard to catch one like that. I'm inspired to complete the box of bluebird houses thay lie cut out and ready for me. Perhaps you can help me identify the hawks at the beginning of my blog today. I'm going with coopers or sharp-shinned perhaps

Julie, your posts are always such a daybrightener. Thanks for your beautiful photos and simple words. You're a highlight of my morning break. The bluebirds are wonderful, and so is Bob for protecting them.

Posted by Anonymous December 2, 2009 at 9:18 AM

What a beautiful day and what amazing friends you have! The Bluebirds are lucky to have someone so dedicated as him!

Hi Julie, I just wanted to thank you for this post and your kind words. Bob was my father, and sadly we lost him this past August. But it is through you and people like you that his passion and his work will live on. Blessed Be - Lisa Niebuhr

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