A Vision in Azure

February 25, 2015

Last Thursday, during a visit to Perry Community Lake in Perry County, I photographed the bluest bluebird I’ve ever seen. I must have stumbled across the perfect combination of snow-reflected light bouncing off the bird’s feather structure to produce such a vibrant blue. It didn’t hurt that the little fella’s feathers were fluffed up to fend off the sub-zero temperature.

Bluebirds look different in changing light as their color is “structural,” which means that they do not possess feather pigment, as found in many other birds. In the simplest terms, bluebird feathers are designed to cancel out certain wavelengths of white light and isolate the blue wavelength that is reflected back to our eyes.

My intention was to photograph waterfowl, which I hoped to find in an isolated pool of water on the otherwise frozen lake. After consulting with my friend Mark Haas, who occasionally birds at the lake, I knew there was a decent chance that the aforementioned patch of open water would be close enough to the western shoreline for some decent waterfowl photography.

I arrived at the lake about 15 minutes after sunrise. A reluctant glance at my dashboard thermometer revealed an outside temperature of -8° F. I donned my heavy fleece overalls, pac boots, a couple of stocking caps and a neck gaiter, and started my walk across the dam.

I soon began to worry that my nose and cheeks might suffer frostbite in the arctic air so I started blowing warm air upward from my neck gaiter to keep my face warm. By the time I made it to the other side of the dam, my vision was blurry and it took a few seconds to figure out why. My eyelashes had become encrusted with ice from my steamy breath and distorted my vision. By that time I was warming up anyway so I ceased with the facial steam bath as I continued into the woods along the western shoreline.

During my walk, I could see my objective—a distant pod of ducks and geese in a rip of open water, right where I expected it to be. Upon arrival to the site, I found the birds to be a bit too far out for a good image so I just watched them for a while as they swam around in the steamy pool. I made several images but none of them were much to look at. Later, I decided to take my own advice and resist the urge to share photos of waterfowl and other animals that are far beyond the range of one’s lens.

Not to be dejected by the waterfowl situation, I set my sights on songbirds and it wasn’t long before I found a tiny seep beneath a sycamore tree that was serving as a watering hole. As I watched a large group of robins drinking from the puddle, I noticed a splotch of blue just above eye level in some nearby brush. A closer look revealed a stunning bluebird in vivid color. I planted my tripod as fast as I could and made a couple of images before the azure aviator disappeared into the woods.

The good photographers out there will know that this little bluebird is the real deal. It is easy enough in post-processing to simply increase the saturation of a drab bluebird to intensify its blue color. The problem with this technique is that increased saturation is at the expense of feather detail. As you can see from the featured image, the feather detail is as good as ever, and the intense blue color was simply a gift from Mother Nature on a brutally cold but sunny morning.

Thanks for looking,

Danny Brown

Email me at:  NatureFrames@Rocketmail.Com

A note about the WordPress template I use:

If you are new to my blog, you might be wondering, “What’s with all the different colors each week that surround the text of Danny’s posts?” I have used the WordPress template, “Duotone,” from the beginning, which changes the surrounding color of the text box to compliment the major colors of the featured image. That is why everything is “really blue” this week. I’ve played around with different templates for over two years, but I always stick with Duotone because it is exciting to see what the algorithm for color selection will come up with each week when I strike the preview key. I hope you like it too. 

4 comments on “A Vision in Azure”

  1. Wow, what a great story to go with the superb image! Thank you for the “Frozen” outings that give us such delectable sights.

    • Thank you Deepa. Extreme conditions often bring the best images. Looking forward to seeing you this summer.

  2. Stunning image, Danny. Bluebirds are so beautiful. I am glad they are our state bird! Thanks for teaching me about the structural color of bluebirds, too.

    • You are welcome. It’s all about the keratins left over from dead cells…….etc., but too complicated for me.

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