Darkness and a thick fog covered the valley and the temperature was 5° Fahrenheit (-15 Celsius) when my friend Eric and I set out to look for birds and other wildlife this past Saturday morning. We expected to find some wintering raptors, and we did, but the highlight of our morning came unexpectedly as the sun rose over the mountains and began to dissipate the thick blanket of fog. As the first rays of the morning sun shone on the some nearby Russian olive trees we found ourselves engulfed by a winter wonderland--every tree, stem, and blade of grass was clothed in hoarfrost. Tiny crystal upon tiny crystal had formed overnight as water vapor molecules from the fog turned from a gas to a solid state upon contact with the subfreezing surfaces of the ground and plants.
I took in the scene by looking northward toward trees that remained in the morning shade of the mountain.
And then turned to look southward toward trees in full sunlight. It was a moment I appreciated as much as I could because I knew that it would not last.
The quiet and impressive scene was soon punctuated by the bright blue flashes and morning calls of male Mountain Bluebirds flying into and feeding on the fruit of several Russian olive trees. We approached and waited. Waited and approached. Eventually we stood in awe as birds came and went and allowed us to observe them gorging themselves with the olive fruit. It was a feast for Bluebirds, a few Robins, and a lone Cedar Waxwing.
One bird allowed a sequence of images to be captured as it plucked, tossed, and swallowed the fruit of the Russian olive. I was pleased to capture the first action shot below with the olive midair and to see the tongue of the bird revealed in each subsequent image. The camera captured and froze moments in time that happen so quickly we miss them completely with the naked eye alone.
American Robins came and went in small numbers. They spent most of their time, however, feeding deeper within the trees where tangles of branches made it difficult to capture a focused image. One bird did allow a brief opportunity to capture an image that shows the beautiful contrast of colors I enjoyed while watching them feed in the frosted trees.
A color-muted female Mountain Bluebird with only a touch of blue in her wings struck me as rather content. She sat still in the same perch while other birds came and went busily. She was soft and fluffy, puffing her feathers to provide insulation against the frigid temperatures. Her still, soft, and calm presence represented warmth and brought a sense of peace to me. The bright blue color of the males was striking, especially against the white frost, but the lone female spoke volumes to me without all the activity and flashiness of the males.
What I saw and experienced that freezing yet beautiful morning will be forever visible in my mind. I've shared these images and my experience hoping that you might feel some sense of the peace and appreciation we felt. It was a blessing to witness.