After photographing wildlife in the Wind River Canyon digitally for a dozen years, periodically I see a bird that obviously shouldn't be here. For whatever magical reason Mother Nature decided to drop this bird into the canyon, it's a real thrill to see a feathered creature that I've never observed before. It is astounding that some birds come so far out of their usual range to visit us here.
The very first avian that comes to mind when discussing birds that shouldn't be in the Wind River Canyon was the winter we spent with a wonderful Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). I'd never observed a Steller's Jay outside of Yellowstone National Park, when one afternoon something odd was with a group of Magpies. It was only a glimpse, nothing more than an eye blink, but I thought I saw a flash of blue among those Magpies. It was late fall and it's never unusual to see those black and white personable birds. We never have anything blue around here that big! My eyes are my best asset, and I trust my observations, but what the heck was that!?
A couple of days later, I had my first photographic encounter with the first Steller's Jay that had ever been seen in this isolated ecosystem. They are a foot from head to tail with with a blue that defies description, and feathers as black as night. This is the only western jay that has a crest; and boy what a crest! It was the first of our daily encounters with this beautiful bird, yet we have never seen another. As springtime approached he got an urge that only a female can satisfy, and none can possibly be found in the Wind River Canyon....and bang, he was gone, and never returned.
For three consecutive springs we had a bird stop by on his way to who knows where; this adult breeding male was really out of his usual domain. This was a bird that no one could possibly miss, and they are seldom seen west of central North Dakota! His rose-colored breast patch was something I'd only seen in pictures. How'd he get way out here? And he made great appearances for three years, the last one with a female. This bird was the gorgeous Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus).
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are a little bit bigger than a blackbird, with a beak made for opening things. He was not especially friendly, and it took years (all 3) for me to get a photo I was proud of. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are never seen in Wyoming, or shouldn't be anyway, but here he was again. How did he make this isolated canyon part of his route, and where was he going? We'll never really know, but the gift was ours to share with others.
Early last winter I had a close-encounter with a bird never seen before in the Wind River Canyon, and for good reason. The Red Crossbill (Loxia curviostra) has an unusual beak that is specialized for the opening of pine cones. Most of the trees in the canyon are cedar and junipers, with few pine cone bearing trees, and those at higher elevations. On the ground, by my backdoor, was this reddish bird with a crazy bill trying to open sunflower seeds with a strange sideways tilt of his head.
This Red Crossbill hung around the cabin for a few days, and was quite patient and friendly with my camera and me. He either tolerated my presence or didn't care, so I crawled on my belly in the snow till I could get one of my bird portraits. It's a striking image of a wild bird not much bigger than a finch; the afternoon winter sun brings out his fascinating colors.
I don't want to overwhelm the readers of my Wind River Canyon Blog, so this blog will be the first of a short series about Unique Birds of the Wind River Canyon; next week Part 2!
*All images by Michael John Balog & Hogbats Photography, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming----all rights reserved.
For more beautiful portraits of birds and wildlife from the Wind River Canyon ecosystem, visit HogbatsPhotography.com.