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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Search of a Mountain Bluebird by William Joe Lewis

Facebook friend William Joe Lewis set out on January 19, 2016, in an attempt to spot a mountain bluebird in Pennsylvania. Mountain bluebirds are sky-blue birds usually found west of the Mississippi. Through electronic alerts sent out by birders, William heard of one near his home in New Jersey.

William hosts the NEST – Nurture Environmental Stewardship Today Facebook page here.

Tinicum Pennsylvania. Why So Blue?

By William Joe Lewis

January 19, 2016

He set his departure time to be 9:30 am with a 1 hour and 15 minute one way drive. As he made preparations to depart the thought came to mind if there was someone else in the area that would want to go with him? Is there anyone crazy enough about birds that would want to brave the cold to go find a mountain bluebird?

No one seemingly came to mind but he never shied away from a solo trip especially for a life bird. After all he was one of those people. The quiet one that sat at a table in a crowded party only speaking to those that made direct small talk with him.

Making several trips to the car from the house loading the gear, spotting scope and camera bag, had already pushed him past his planned departure time of 9:30 to 10:00 am. He went back to grab the camera in hopes of getting a snapshot of the focus of the hunt- a lone out of place mountain bluebird. In addition to the checklist of digital gear he had to mentally tick off the clothing checklist knowing he would need layers of clothes, to include selecting the right gloves and hat. It was a blustery 27 degree day and he was heading to a field in the corner of Pennsylvania sure to feel even colder in the face of the wind chill.

Once the iPhone map app was set he was off with no second thoughts as to how cold it would be and that he was making the trip alone. The route along the Delaware River and up the valley roads that gave way to open fields of Eastern Pennsylvania was breathtaking. Stone chalets tucked along the mountainside and at each turn of the road he saw houses sprinkled here and there along the water’s edge.

He checked his phone on occasion at a stop sign to see if the original finder of the mountain bluebird had responded to his email hoping for more insight to its whereabouts. Finally as he turned onto Tory road the destination spot ahead he saw a small well-traveled foreign car parked. He eased his car off the road to a nonexistent shoulder and went to put on his winter coat only to find that he had left his binoculars home on the kitchen table. Oh well he thought he had his scope and there was another birder seeking the same prey that he was. And he was an hour away and not going back to get them.

The stranger approached and said he had just got there a few moments before 11 am and his name was Russ. This guy could be his twin if it wasn’t for the 15-20 year difference in age. Full beard, donned a Gore-Tex winter coat, and wore gloves with matching crazy hat. That was the end of the lengthy dialogue. The rest of the words were saved for general logistics question and answers.

“Last time the bird was seen the log says was this morning.”

“Two other guys came and left for coffee not seeing the bird.”

“I drove 5 ½ hours to get here”

“and I drove 1 hour and 15 mins.”

At one point the man left his spotting scope valued at over two thousand dollars behind closest to Russ and walked east down the road a few hundred feet. Only once did the thought enter his mind of whether Russ was trustworthy as he looked over his shoulder towards his scope and the other full bearded loner.

Midway between the 4 hour struggle with the weather and the quested bird hunt our NJ birder asked his newest friend if he wanted coffee as he was running out to get coffee. Russ asked for tea instead.

He traveled backwoods roads and crossed a creek on a one-way bridge while continuing to scan the countryside through the car windows in hopes the two toned blue and white of the mountain bluebird would be seen. Nothing but a redtail hawk and a field of 6 or 7 crows were sighted along the way to the coffee shop.

He had used his IPhone selecting from his apps list Foursquare to locate the nearest coffee shop and he knew he hit the jackpot when he entered the Brig O'Doon Coffee House in Ottsville PA.

Shortly after he arrived back with the coffee and tea and homemade green apple pound cake slices for both himself and Russ did he receive a call from the original birder who first sighted the mountain bluebird. She offered up encouragement as the bird was seen today at 8 am and more details of the most recent location along the field edge and what direction the flock of eastern bluebirds tended to move along the back hedge foraging for cedar berries.

As this lone mountain bluebird was congregating with a large group of eastern bluebirds it would be best to look for the flock of birds. Even with these new pearls of wisdom both Russ and the NJ birder still could not locate the mountain bluebird. A man from New Jersey and a man from Pennsylvania spent four long hours along the roadside of Tinicum Township peering out across the field being greeted only with 15 mile per hour winds. Each would scan the tree line every 10 minutes or when a bird any bird would take to the sky.

Robins, Turkey vultures, bald eagles, various woodpeckers, and even a sole eastern bluebird were seen but no mountain bluebird. The man from New Jersey had a 4 hour window to spend hunting this PA mountain bluebird but the days fruit still went unharvested.

When he left he said good-bye to Russ and wished him good luck and hoped the birding gods would drop the mountain bluebird along the field closest to him. After saying his farewells he thought to himself how strange the encounter was. How few words were spoken but he knew both shared the same passion for birds and the hunt and that there was a deeper shared experience that did not need verbal communicating. The connection the two shared in that time and that place on Earth was a volume in the library of what millions of others today call Birding.

You can read more about mountain bluebirds here.


  1. Thanks for sharing Danusha! It was a memorable experience acquired by just the cost of a tank of gas.