Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cleanin' Up with The Blues

Western bluebirds arrive for their afternoon bath. The male has a brighter blue color on his head, wings and tail, with an orange breast and shoulder.

The adult females and the end-of-the-summer juveniles are blander colors. I can't tell the difference. Let me know if you have hints on how to tell them apart at this stage.

Although more dull looking from their front and top, these two birds are showing the brighter blue on the side of the tails and wings. (Double click any photos for a closer look.)

Birds prefer to stand in shallow water. Most birds don't really dunk their whole body under water when bathing. They dip their heads and wings into the water and fling it onto their back. Some flap their wings and wag their tails and spray water everywhere.

Keep their bathing technique in mind when picking out a good birdbath. The water bowl should be wide and shallow. The rim needs to be a good width (not too narrow or sharp) for gripping as they land or build up the gumption to step into the water. Birds like a rough bottom to the birdbath so they don't slip around. Some people put in sand. Remember to refill with clean water every day or so and scrub out about every week so the slippery goo doesn't build up.

The location of the birdbath may also be important. The birds like to have a tree or bush nearby to perch on before and after their bathing. But they also like a good view around the birdbath to feel safe from predators. Some birds seem to like sunny spots in the afternoon. Maybe the water warms up?

If you're gonna get old,
you might as well have The Blues.

Speaking of tHE bLUES, here's a partial setlist from the Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal concert on Monday, September 14, 2009 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California. What does this have to do with natural history at the Dipper Ranch? Well, it was "a-live" show in the Santa Cruz Mountains . . .

Sorry about the incomplete status of the setlist. I'm rusty at this and there was a lot of dancing going on at the end. The show was originally scheduled for the night before. Taj and his band got in their first set but then the rain started falling in earnest at this lovely outdoor venue, and they rescheduled for the next night. After all the drought warnings and fire news, I think most people were glad for the rain and for another chance to see these two fine blues musicians creating a show together.

On Monday, Taj returned first to the stage with the Phantom Blues Band and played a different set than the night before, this time seeming more impromptu with all the chatting and shifting going on between the band members. There was a casual freshness and international spin to it that reminded me of those New Orleans restaurants with music in their big outdoor courtyards. Are they still there? At Mountain Winery, you feel that close to the musicians. The Phantom Blues Band is stuffed with seasoned, tight-playing blues men. Johnny Lee Schell is a great jazz-blues-picking guitarist, no wah-wah pedal for this gent, he just pulls it out of the strings and even smiles sometimes. The brass men, Joe Sublett on sax (what a beautiful patina on that sax with sound to match) and Darrell Leonard on trumpets and trumpet-likes, were fantastic and playing fine in several styles (torch blues, smooth jazz, mexicali, careeb . . .) and looking hip the whole time. I was pleased to find out tonight that they used to play with Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Bonnie still has a clear and true blue voice, and plays all her slide guitar. Make that guitarS as she switches instruments constantly with the help of a strap-N-guitar assistant. She doesn't hide her Queen Bee status on stage. There are so many people out there talking about Bonnie, I am not going to say much more except her rendition of I Can't Make You Love Me that night was sorrowful. For someone to ask for one last night of loving and be so forgiving of a lover leaving, is a humbling thing and she sings it like a personal blues style bible story to you.

Not only did the two bands play apart and together, but Bonnie and Taj played a set with just the two of them. Bonnie sliding and Taj picking. I've never seen Taj live before and was surprised at what a great showman he is. That eye googling thing is a little strange but he is a huge man up there singing and shaking it out. I decided to check him out some more and if you go to, you can find his shows, huge discography and listen to many of his songs while there. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is April 23 - May 2 in 2010. Taj, are you gonna be there?

Set 1 - Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band
Going Up to the Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue
Here in the Dark
Queen Bee
Senior Blues
You Rascal, You
Rain from the Skies
Fishin' Blues

Set 2 - Bonnie Raitt and her band
I Sho Do
--- (are you really . . .?)
Nick of Time
Your Good Thing
Good Man/Good Woman

Set 3 - Bonnie & Taj together

Set 4 Bonnie and her band
Angel from Montgomery
I Will Not Be Broken
Love Sneakin' Up on You
I Can't Make You Love Me

Set 5 both bands
---(yah, you guessed it, dancin' at this point)

See Also:

western bluebird, Sialia mexicana


  1. Tchah - I'm jealous! Bonnie and Taj Mahal together, you lucky duck! Love the blue-burds, I miss them up here! Thanks again for your fantastic help on my app.

    Oh, and PS, I was thinking of you the other day, because the biggest faux deer helicopter head is senesced artichoke thistle - I have to look twice every time!

  2. and then, for what it's worth, from e-nature: Female sooty gray above, with dull blue wings and tail. Juveniles like female but grayer, with speckled underparts.

    From Cornell: Female Description
    Duller and not extensively blue. Head and throat gray. Back gray-brown. Abdomen and undertail coverts grayish. Blue wings and tail. Chest duller chestnut.
    Immature Description
    Juvenile with spotted chest and back, blue in wings and tail. Immature similar to adults, but duller.

    And just an interesting abstracr for no good reason at all:

  3. At the end of the summer, the fledglings lose their speckles so not as obvious of a difference. My guess is that the juvenile is the bird on the left side in the first few photos, and standing in the middle island watching so intently, then alone at the end because it has "fresher" looking feathers and eye looks different. A few days ago, I saw 3 similar looking bluebirds in the pasture below the house. Each was perched on top of a milk thistle seed head, flying out to get bugs, then returning to its perch.

  4. Nice! I have to remember to check back here after I comment and see your response, it's always interesting!


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