Lazuli Buntings near the San Rafael River

Morning at the San Rafael River campground - Emery County, UtahMorning at the San Rafael River campground – Emery County, Utah

Utah has so many stunning places to visit, awesome views to see and has an abundance of birds and wildlife to observe and photograph.  The San Rafael Swell Recreation Area in central Utah is a gorgeous location that is far from towns and civilization. Locals call this area “Castle Country” and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the amazing rock formations as castles.

The San Rafael Swell is 2,000 square miles of public land and everywhere you look you can see stunning formations of Entrada and Navajo Sandstone. Some of the canyon walls are embellished with “Desert Varnish”, the varnish is the dark wash on the canyon wall on the right hand side of the image above.

Lazuli Bunting male with a sky backgroundLazuli Bunting male with a sky background – Nikon D200, f8, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not set up or called in

I have enjoyed photographing Lazuli Buntings (Passerina amoena) near the San Rafael River at the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. These images were taken in the spring when the males were high on perches singing to attract females. The males sport a sky blue head, a mantle tinged with brown, a dull orange breast and a white belly. They are the colorful relative of the Indigo Bunting of the east. The name comes from the semi precious gemstone Lapis Lazuli, one of my favorites for making jewelry.

I like the sky as the background in the image above but feel the blue sky competes with the blues of the bird. I still won’t pass up a shot of this bunting even with a plain blue sky in the background though.

Male Lazuli Bunting with Navajo Sandstone in the backgroundMale Lazuli Bunting with Navajo Sandstone in the background – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not set up or called in

In this frame the Lazuli Bunting is perched on a Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) shrub and has the Navajo Sandstone of the canyon wall as a background. To my eye the bird’s colors stands out better in this image.

That is just my own personal taste though.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Great shots, I love that place.

  2. These took my breath away, Mia. I love the contrast of blues in the 1st photo and how the white “bones” of the shrub complement the bird’s buffy areas. You’ve really captured a gorgeous bird.


  4. What an incredibly beautiful place and bird! Great photos Mia!!

  5. Hi!

    I love your pictures & you 2

  6. Absolutely stunning images Mia. what a beautiful bird, Wow

  7. One of the most beautiful birds. Like a little gem. Especially the mature males. They come to our feeder in Idaho in spring. Not real common, but we see them every year. Your images are really wonderful, so sharp and clear. Beautiful lighting and composition.

  8. I also agree the second frame of the bunting displays a better view of the plumage. But the blue sky in the first one didn’t even bother me at all. So both are good.

  9. I would love to wake up in a location like that Mia. What a gorgeous place. However, I must disagree with you on those incredible shots of the male Lazuli Bunting. Maybe it’s the pose on the first shot but it shows the contrast between the head and the breast and gives that head a turquoise hue to it. They are both tack sharp and both beautiful shots, but my fave is the first one.

    • Larry, you would love the San Rafael Swell area, hearing the wind rustling through the leaves & grasses, the gurgle of the San Rafael River, the birds and the awesome views. Thanks for commenting and letting me know which image was your fave!

  10. Three amazing photographs Mia.

  11. the landscape took my breath away.. and the birds are so beautiful..the color is just amazing..thanks so much for sharing..with all the politically messes and violence going on, I really enjoy your posts..escape from reality..I do this in my art too…thanks again..

    • Syl, nature for me a a brief respite from the world’s problems and I find it heals and soothes me. I would be lost without it. Or more than half crazy. Thanks so much for your comment.

  12. Gorgeous! I would love to see one of these blue beauties. All of your photographs are superb!

  13. Oh my what lovely birds, I love the view of the landscape at the top. Awesome!

  14. Gorgeous pix, Mia! Looks like a neat place to visit :o)

  15. Oh, I agree! The sandstone makes a striking backdrop for the lazuli bunting. Love the rich closeup details, color and contrast in the first photo, too. Beautiful work.

  16. Such beautiful creatures and you captured them so gorgeous. Carol

  17. A view of the Lazuli Bunting, lovely photos. I have never heard of it or seen it, cheers Mia.

  18. Gorgeous, Mia! Beautiful setting and beautiful birds!

  19. Such stunning photos of beautiful birds. A lovely place to visit!

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