I have often wondered what exactly birds see in a landscape when they are returning to their breeding grounds during spring migration. Many travel hundreds to thousands of miles north from their wintering grounds in search of a good place to nest. How exactly do these birds make judgements about where to land and settle for the summer?

The Owyhee front.  Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

Approaching the Owyhee front in the air. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be able to gain some insights into this question while shooting some aerial footage for Bluebird Man. Our goal was to film Alfred Larson’s Owyhee and Jordan Valley bluebird trails from the air in Dennis Fitzpatrick’s Cessna 206. We wanted to put these bluebird trails in a wider context. To give people a visual representation of just how remote and beautiful they are.

The beginning of the Owyhee Bluebird Trail.  Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

The beginning of the Owyhee Bluebird Trail. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

The flight over the trail was amazing and really put into perspective how truly remote this slice of southwest Idaho is. As we approached the small town of Jordan Valley, Oregon where Al spent his childhood, no other towns or signs of civilization could be seen in any direction.

Jordan Valley, Oregon.  Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

Jordan Valley, Oregon. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

After our first pass over the trails, we quickly turned south and made the craziest backcountry landing I have ever experienced at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s 45 Ranch along the Owyhee River.

Myself and Mr. Fitzpatrick's Cessna 206 at the 45 Ranch.

Myself and Mr. Fitzpatrick’s Cessna 206 at the 45 Ranch.

The 45 Ranch along the Owyhee River.  Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

The 45 Ranch along the Owyhee River. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

As we lifted off from the ranch to make the return flight north to Boise, I began to see the landscape in a whole new light. Most of Al’s bluebird boxes are within a couple hundred feet of dirt roads that wind through the Owyhee’s, but he has always told us he imagines there are many other bluebirds nesting far away from his boxes and these roads. As we flew back over this remote stretch of the west, I came to realize the true extent of what Al had been telling me all along.

From the air: the Owyhee Bluebird Trail.  Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

From the air: the Owyhee Bluebird Trail stretching towards the horizon. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

In between patches of sagebrush and juniper trees were huge swaths of old snags, or dead trees. These snags are remnants of wildfires that swept through this country, torching many of these trees. What good can come from wildfires? After woodpeckers drill holes in these dead and decaying trees to nest and find food, the bluebirds move in.

Flying from a height of 10,000 feet, I could easily see this mosaic of living and dead trees. The living trees a deep green while the snags appeared as subtle grey dots across the landscape. This is what the bluebirds see when they are migrating. Sometimes we forget that there is habitat for these birds away from the human-constructed trails we build for them.

Literally thousands of snags dot the landscape of the Owyhee Mountains.  Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

Literally thousands of snags dot the landscape of the Owyhee Mountains. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.

In many places across the country, there is little habitat for bluebirds away from their nest boxes. Here in the Owyhee Mountains of Idaho however, bluebirds can take comfort in knowing they have plenty of homes created by Mother Nature herself.

 






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