Lazuli Buntings near the San Rafael River

/, Lazuli Buntings, San Rafael Swell area, Utah/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.



  1. Earl September 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Great shots, I love that place.

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 7:25 am

      Thanks Earl, it is a great place to camp & photograph.

  2. Tami Vogel September 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 7:58 am

      Thanks Tami, they are stunning birds

  3. Robert Mortensen September 28, 2012 at 8:13 am


  4. Tammy Karr September 27, 2012 at 11:32 am

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

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 7:59 am

      Thank you Tammy, it is a very beautiful place.

  5. Humming Bird Lover September 27, 2012 at 10:13 am


    I love your pictures & you 2

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 7:59 am

      Thank you Hummingbird Lover! Love you too

  6. Dan Huber September 27, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Absolutely stunning images Mia. what a beautiful bird, Wow

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

      Thanks dan, they are very beautiful.

  7. Jean Bjerke September 26, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:01 am

      Thank you Jean, I think they are beautiful too and wish I could photograph them more often than I get to.

  8. M. Firpi September 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    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. Larry Jordan September 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:02 am

      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. Azstu September 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Three amazing photographs Mia.

  11. Syl September 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    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..

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:04 am

      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. Julie G. September 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm

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

  13. Susan September 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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

  14. Jim Braswell September 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Thanks Jim, it is a great place to visit.

  15. Katie LaSalle-Lowery September 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Thank you Katie, the sandstone image really appeals to me.

  16. Carol Mattingly September 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Such beautiful creatures and you captured them so gorgeous. Carol

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Thank you very much Carol!

  17. Bob Bushell September 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:07 am

      Thank you Bob, they are super subjects to photograph.

  18. Beverly Everson September 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Gorgeous, Mia! Beautiful setting and beautiful birds!

  19. Linda Rockwell September 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson October 5, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Linda, it is a lovely place to visit and so peaceful too. Thanks for your comment on these images!

Comments are closed.