Finally

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This week’s photo, taken November 26, 2014 from the fishing pier in Edmonds, WA, features an extremely cooperative BRANDT’S CORMORANT.

Until recently, whenever a Brandt’s Cormorant would fly past me, I’d say to myself or to anyone nearby, “That was a Brandt’s Cormorant, I think.”

When that particular bird is in flight, I’m not too certain about the identification; after all, at a glance a fast-moving Brandt’s looks a lot like the more common Double-crested Cormorant. Yes, the Double-crested has an orange chin and the Brandt’s has a pale chin, but cormorants fly darn fast, and it’s not easy, at least for me, to distinguish between the different colored chins when the bird passes by quickly and usually at quite a distance.

About 3 weeks ago, I got great looks at the species that had been eluding me for a long time. A BRANDT’S CORMORANT was floating on the water next to the Edmond’s pier, and it lingered there during the entire 3 hours I was birding from the pier that day. It was so close that I could almost reach out and touch it, and it was in plain sight the whole time, except when it was diving for fish. Finally, I was able to announce to the world, “That is DEFINITELY a Brandt’s Cormorant.”

Greeting cards for any occasion:

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Flaring with Flair

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This week’s photo, taken November 24, 2014 from the fishing pier in Edmonds, WA, features the SNOWY OWL flaring its wings for a soft landing.

I figure that few people will complain if I post a photo of the SNOWY OWL a third week in a row. After all, it’s worth viewing this marvelous creature from a few different angles, don’t you agree?

Here’s a Snowy Owl update: Apparently, for about 7 days, no one saw the Snowy Owl (or at least no one reported seeing it), until a local birder spotted it in Edmonds on Friday, December 5, perched on the roof of a house. The owl was on top of the house, NOT the birder. The owl may have plans to spend the entire winter in the Edmonds area, and we welcome it to linger as long as it wants.

I plan to focus on another bird species next week. That is, unless the Snowy Owl lands on my spotting scope, spreads its wings and says, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Birder.”

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Snowy Owl and “Friends”

11/24/14 Edmonds Fishing Pier, Edmonds, WA

This week’s photo, taken November 24, 2014 from the fishing pier in Edmonds, WA, features the aforementioned SNOWY OWL, along with a few of its “friends.”

Last week, when Edmond’s SNOWY OWL took flight over the cold waters of the Puget Sound, it certainly didn’t feel lonely since it was accompanied by 4 AMERICAN CROWS and 4 GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. The owl and its entourage flew about half a mile out over the water. When the owl decided to turn around and head back toward the breakwater, most of the gulls kept pace. Either the crows couldn’t keep up, or they simply lost interest.

For about a week now, the Snowy Owl has not been seen, neither from the Edmonds waterfront nor from anywhere else in town. Perhaps it has moved on, or possibly it will reappear – to once again excite the humans, the crows and the gulls.

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Here It Comes!

11/24/14 Edmonds Fishing Pier, Edmonds, WA

This week’s photo, taken November 24, 2014 from the fishing pier in Edmonds, WA, features a SNOWY OWL returning to land after a brief flight over the Puget Sound.

Only 3 SNOWY OWLS have been spotted so far this season in the entire state of Washington. One of them has been hanging out in Edmonds for about a week and, conveniently for me, it’s now being seen from the fishing pier where I’ve been doing most of my birding the past several weeks.

On Monday morning, the owl is perched far out on the rocks of the breakwater, but even from a great distance this magnificent creature is an impressive sight. As other bird photographers begin to arrive, no one feels any sense of urgency because Snowy Owls are known to sit still for hours at a time. Everyone will get a photo, for sure.

I watch one veteran photographer as he calmly and methodically sets up his tripod and attaches his camera and enormous lens. My 400mm lens seems rather puny by comparison. He’s finally ready for action, but when he points his lens toward the bird, he says, “Where’d it go?”

We can’t believe it. The owl has disappeared, and none of us was keeping a constant eye on it to see where it went. Did it fly? Did it hop behind a rock? We don’t know, and we’re all feeling pretty foolish for taking our eyes off the prize. The guy with the monster lens expresses his frustration by uttering, “This is the story of my life.”

A long, agonizing minute later, a birder behind us anxiously yells, “Here it comes!”

I spin around, just in time to see the Snowy Owl coming straight at us, flying low over the water and remarkably close to the pier. I’m totally caught off guard and also so excited that one of North America’s most revered birds is on a flight path directly towards me, that I struggle to find the shutter button on my camera. As the large white owl cruises by, I fail to capture even one photo, and I manage to miss one of the most significant photo opportunities of my life.

Luckily, a few minutes later the owl takes flight again, heading out over the water and then turning around and returning via the same route as before. This time I’m ready and very thankful for second chances.

Holiday greeting cards:

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Out of the Tropics

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This week’s photo, taken November 7, 2014 in Neah Bay, WA, features a TROPICAL KINGBIRD.

The Tropical Kingbird, as its name implies, hangs out in the tropics of Mexico and Central and South America. Normally, this flycatcher with the bright yellow breast and belly, barely makes it into the United States, most likely occurring in the southern extremes of Arizona and Texas.

So, what the heck was one doing in Neah Bay, WA two weeks ago, in the far northwestern corner of the most northwestern state of the continuous United States? Why, it was busily chasing down aerial insects, just as at least two other Tropical Kingbirds were doing in the same vicinity. If they haven’t headed south yet, they might be doing so soon, since their primary food source (flying critters) is decreasing this time of year in the Northwest.

Bird-watching would be way less interesting if birds only showed up where they are expected. Fortunately, our feathered objects of desire have wings and occasionally they exercise their right to wander off course.

Holiday greeting cards: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Neah Bay

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This week’s photo, taken November 7, 2014 in Neah Bay, WA, features a BRAMBLING, a highly migratory bird of Europe and Asia that occasionally turns up in North America.

Neah Bay instantly became the hottest birding destination in Washington state when someone discovered an Eurasian Hobby there on a Sunday in late October. Birders flocked (pun intended) to the most northwestern spot in the Lower 48 states, hoping to see a species that is extremely rare in our hemisphere. The following Saturday, 150 birders converged on the area, providing a nice boost to the local economy. The bird-watchers also discovered more rare birds in the area.

I didn’t make the long 4 1/2 – hour journey to Neah Bay until several days after the Hobby was last seen. Although I missed the Hobby, I did add several great birds to my life and/or state lists:

BRAMBLING (life bird)

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (life bird)

ORCHARD ORIOLE (new state bird)

CATTLE EGRET (new state bird)

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (3 of them!) (new state bird)

It’s a looooong way to Neah Bay, but I can’t wait to return.

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A Fly By

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This week’s photo, taken October 27, 2014 from the Edmond’s Fishing Pier in Edmonds, WA, features a BONAPARTE’S GULL displaying an attractive wing pattern.

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