Sole Duck

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This week’s photo, taken April 15, 2014 along the Sol Duc River in Olympic National Park, WA, features a male HARLEQUIN DUCK in breeding plumage.

One of the highlights of our glorious 3-day stay at Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resort in Olympic National Park is our walk along the 6-mile loop trail that follows the Sol Duc River to Sol Duc Falls and back. (“Sol Duc” is a Quillayute term that means “sparkling waters”). Occasionally, the route bends away from the roaring waterway and deep into the magnificent old-growth forest, where the most common sound is no sound at all. Now and then, a PACIFIC WREN appears on a moss-covered branch and serenades us with its wonderfully energetic song that seems to last forever.

When the path returns to the river’s edge, we spot a few AMERICAN DIPPERS dipping under the rushing stream, in search of food. Besides the Dippers, the only other bird we observe along the river is one HARLEQUIN DUCK lounging on a large rock in the middle of the fast-moving current. That lone bird must be the sole duck of the Sol Duc River.

Joe’s Best Bird Photos:

http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Playing with Its Food

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This week’s photo, taken April 7, 2014 at Meadowbrook Pond in northeast Seattle, WA, features a GREAT BLUE HERON juggling a fish that it just caught.

GREAT BLUE HERONS can be skittish, so they often don’t allow people to get too close. But a bird might tolerate us scary humans if it’s focusing on its next meal.

That’s what happens at Meadowbrook Pond when I surprise a nearby Great Blue Heron while it is stalking a fish. The heron, although aware of my presence, keeps its eyes on its prey, and a few seconds later it thrusts its long bill and its entire head under water. Soon, it surfaces with a tiny morsel.

Yes, it’s a very small fish for such a large bird, but this heron is a juvenile, so perhaps it’s practicing its hunting skills on anything it finds. Or maybe it just wants something to play with.

Joe’s Best Bird Photos:  http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Cool Hairdo Duck

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This week’s photo, taken March 31, 2014 at Meadowbrook Pond in northeast Seattle, WA, features a male RING-NECKED DUCK.

The RING-NECKED DUCK is a real stunner, with its unique pattern of white on the bill, its bright golden eyes, and its gray and white flanks. But what’s up with the name? Where the heck is the neck ring?

Actually, in the photo above, the ringed neck is visible – sorta. See the Chestnut color on the front of the neck? Look closely. Yep, that’s it. I hope you weren’t expecting it to be more obvious.

A better name for this handsome species might be “Ring-billed Duck,” in reference to one of its more distinctive features. Or how about “Cool Hairdo Duck?” Is it too much to ask that a bird have a name that could help us with its identification? I have no idea what somebody was thinking when they named this species, but if I ever meet that person, I probably will wring their neck.

Joe’s Best Bird Photos: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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400

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This week’s photo, taken March 23, 2014 at Semiahmoo Spit, near Blaine, WA, features a BLACK OYSTERCATCHER performing a one-legged balancing act along the shore of Drayton Harbor.

On Sunday, I carpool north, almost to the Canadian border, for a day of observing mostly water birds. All day long, we are blessed with sunny skies, and we are also blessed with COMMON LOONS, RED-NECKED GREBES and HORNED GREBES, all in breeding plumage. Other species of interest include LONG-TAILED DUCK, WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, and a rare-for-the-area MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD. I also check off two new state birds: DUNLIN and BLACK OYSTERCATCHER.

Have you ever noticed that when you are in a small group (2-4 people), usually everyone discusses one topic at a time? Yet, in larger groups, people often split into subgroups, with each mini-group engaged in its own topic of conversation. Sometimes, those multiple conversations can lead to amusing misunderstandings.

Today, we are a group of 10 birders. At one point, we are standing on a pier and using our scopes to scan the bay for birds. Soon, a debate develops about the number of loons floating on the water off in the distance. Then someone tosses out a question for anyone who cares to respond, “How many loons do you think are out there?” At the exact moment that question is uttered, a bird photographer who is oblivious to the loon discussion, looks at my long camera lens and says, “What size lens is that?” I have a 400mm lens, but for brevity’s sake, I simply respond, “400,” to which someone in the loon group replies, “Oh, I don’t think there are that many out there.” Then another voice states an opposing opinion, “Hmm, he may be right. Yeah, I also say there are about 400 loons.”

Joe’s Best Bird Photos:

http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Joe’s Best Bird Photos

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This week’s photo, taken in 2009 in Mexico, features a juvenile COOPER’S HAWK. Although I haven’t used this image in a previous blog posting, it’s one of my favorite shots.

If you wish to view and/or purchase cards or prints of my 24 best bird photos, go to:

http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

Although I work without a tripod, I often rest my 400mm telephoto lens on a bench, a fence, a branch, against a tree trunk, or any other stationary object I can find to keep the camera and lens as steady as possible. Photographing birds can be very difficult, but I have always liked a good challenge. Things go wrong far more often than they go right. Yet, occasionally, it all comes together nicely, and when it does, it makes all the effort worthwhile.

Since 2008, I have taken tens of thousands of bird photos, and on the Fine Art America site I have gathered my best images (so far), as judged by a select committee of one (me).

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Coots Can Be Cute

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This week’s photo, taken March 11, 2014 at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, WA, features an AMERICAN COOT.

Some of you may be thinking: “Gee, Joe, it must be a slow week for bird photography if your image of the week is an American Coot.” The coot, like Rodney Dangerfield, often gets no respect, perhaps because it’s such a common species in many regions of North America. Yet, this morning, while I am crouched at the edge of the shore of Union Bay at the Arboretum, there’s only one coot in the vicinity, and it’s the only bird of any kind that floats by for a visit.

The other water birds keep their distance from me. Even the MALLARD, a species that is normally quite tame, doesn’t approach my position. The lone coot, however, paddles right up to me.

When you examine a bird at close range, you notice details. A coot has some distinctive features, including its fiery red eyes that contrast with its solid black face and head, the reddish-brown mark on its forehead, and the marks near the tip of its mostly white bill. Almost any bird observed up close is a thing of beauty, or at the very least – interesting.

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Like a Fox

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This week’s photo, taken March 1, 2014 at Discovery Park in Seattle, WA, features a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL behaving like a fox. 

Perhaps you have watched an entertaining video of a fox hunting in extreme winter conditions. When it hears a rodent scurrying beneath the layer of snow, the fox leaps upward like a springboard diver and then plummets head-first into the snow.

On Saturday at Discovery Park, a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL’S approach appeared remarkably similar, although a few details were different. The gull was hunting on water, not snow; it was locating its prey not by sound, but by sight; and it wasn’t pursuing mice (unless rodents wear scuba tanks and weighted waist belts). Do mice even have waists? Probably not.

The photo above doesn’t tell the whole story. The gull did not plunge into the water from high in the sky. Instead, it sat on the water and intently scanned below the surface. When it spotted a morsel of interest, it rocketed up a few feet, propelled by an explosive flapping of wings, and then it abruptly altered its flight path, tucked its wings and dove headfirst into the water. It’s a good thing it never gained any significant height because the water was quite shallow, and the gull wasn’t wearing a helmet.

The seabird’s fox-like behavior seemed to work well. Many times the gull performed its “springboard dive,” and several times it surfaced with a tidbit in its bill.

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