Long Distance Traveler

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This week’s photo, taken October 20, 2014 at Point Robinson Park on Vashon Island, WA, features a NORTHERN WHEATEAR, a remarkable little bird known for one of the longest migrations in the world.

On Monday, I traveled two hours by car and ferry to Vashon Island to see a rare bird that was discovered there two days earlier. I began to feel some stress that morning, due to the commute traffic I encountered around Seattle, the ferry I missed by a few minutes, and the 25-minute wait I had to endure for the next one. But I stopped feeling sorry for myself after I learned about the annual journey of the species that I photographed that day on a driftwood-strewn beach – the NORTHERN WHEATEAR.

Northern Wheatears are Arctic breeders. In North America, Wheatears that breed in Alaska and the northwest corner of Canada will migrate west in the fall, through Asia and eventually to sub-Sahara Africa for the winter, a one-way distance of about 9000 miles. Meanwhile, Northern Wheatears that breed in the northeast region of Canada “only” need to fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, before continuing south to their African wintering grounds.

This Northern Wheatear, the third one ever reported in Washington state, probably won’t be spending the winter in Africa. Wherever it ends up, I wish it a relaxing few months filled with regular flight muscle massages, an endless supply of insects, and a safe return next spring to the northern reaches of North America.

Greeting cards for the holidays: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Red Lips

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This week’s photo, taken October 14, 2014 from the Edmond’s Pier in Edmonds, WA, features an adult non-breeding HEERMANN’S GULL.

Gulls can be notoriously difficult to tell apart, but the HEERMANN’S GULL is an exception. This good-looking gull, with its distinctive gray body and darker wings, easily separates itself from other gulls in the Northwest. The fact that the adult Heermann’s adorns its bill with bright red lipstick (and a dab of black on the tip) seals the identification.

This bird breeds on islands off the west coast of Mexico. Many then spend the summer and fall farther north, sometimes in big numbers in Washington’s Puget Sound. On Tuesday, over 200 Heermann’s Gulls congregated on the rock jetty along Edmond’s waterfront. Before winter begins, most Heermann’s Gulls will be heading south again.

If you’re looking for holiday cards with an avian angle, go to: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Gifts of Nature

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Would you like to share your love of nature with friends, family or yourself this holiday season? This week’s photo of a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD is just one of 24 images I have available at Fine Art America. My best bird photos can be purchased – as greeting cards, prints, posters, and even as phone cases.

If you wish to get a jump start on your holiday shopping right now, click on:

http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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3 Flukes

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This week’s photo, taken August 20, 2014 from Discovery Park in Seattle, WA, features the rear section of a HUMPBACK WHALE.

I often bird-watch from the westernmost point of Discovery Park (known fittingly as West Point) because one just never knows what might fly by or be sitting on the waters of the Puget Sound. One morning in August I spotted a spray of water about half a mile off shore. That was certainly something I had not seen before in the two years I’ve resided in Washington state. I thought, “Hmmm, could that be a whale?” Indeed, it was, and when its tail popped out of the water, I knew I had a tale to tell.

I saw three flukes that day in August. One definition of “fluke” is an ‘unlikely chance occurrence,’ and a Humpback Whale in the Puget Sound is definitely an unusual event. After my sighting, I did some brief investigation of whale anatomy, and I discovered that each of the two halves of a whale tail is known as a fluke. So, to sum things up: one fluke + two flukes = three flukes. I hope you’re keeping up with the math.

I have not probed any deeper into the world of whale anatomy. Instead, I have decided to keep my focus primarily on the birds of Washington. I’m looking forward to future visits to Discovery Park, where the next fluke I encounter might be of the feathery kind.

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

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Bad Moral Character?

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This week’s photo, taken September 9, 2014 at Discovery Park in Seattle, WA, features an adult BALD EAGLE standing on one of its favorite perches, as it begins to tear into a large fish.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous Founding Fathers of the United States, was upset when the Bald Eagle was selected as the national symbol. Franklin, who voted for the turkey (no kidding), said, “I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly.”

He’s referring to the fact that Bald Eagles often steal food from other birds or mammals, and even sometimes from people who are fishing. Maybe the eagle pictured above snatched the fish out of the Puget Sound with its huge talons; thus, obtaining its meal the old fashioned way, by earning it. Or perhaps it took its catch from a cormorant or an osprey. But, whether the eagle is a species of good or bad moral character, it’s enjoying a seafood breakfast now.

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

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Peeps

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This week’s photo, taken September 13, 2014 at Discovery Park in Seattle, WA, features a WESTERN SANDPIPER, in flight with its “peeps.”

Sandpipers, especially the small ones, can be notoriously difficult to tell apart. Often, we are forced to view them from a great distance, making it tough to detect much detail. Even if they fly close by, they move so darn fast and turn and bank so often that it’s mighty hard to figure out what specific birds we have in front of us. To make matters worst, many types of sandpipers look amazingly similar to others when they are not in breeding plumage, and most of us are likely to be in the presence of the non-breeding variety (unless you happen to live in the far northern latitudes where most sandpipers nest).

Small sandpipers are casually called “peeps,” and many people use that term when they have difficulty figuring out the exact species. Last Saturday at Discovery Park, a flock of “peeps” zoomed right by us. We suspected that the fast-moving birds were all one species, but when they landed conveniently close to us, we noticed a lone SANDERLING mixed in with the group of 24 WESTERN SANDPIPERS.

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

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Birds Gone Wild

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This week’s photo, taken September 4, 2014 in Mount Rainier National Park, WA, features a GRAY JAY on the offensive.

My second visit in less than 3 weeks to Mount Rainier National Park produces another incredibly scenic hike, as well as another interesting day of birding. This time, some of the birds (and one particular mammal) boldly go where few animals have gone before; that is, they fearlessly and shamelessly come toward us instead of dashing off for cover.

When we reach our hike’s highest point, on Burroughs Mountain, where we stop and relax to take in the magnificent view of the big mountain (Rainier), a chipmunk pays us a visit to help us eat our snacks. Even after we order it to back off, it refuses to take no for an answer. Fortunately, the relentless rodent doesn’t follow us during our return trek down the mountain.

Later on, we stop at a view point for a break, and the moment I place my bagel on a rock, a CLARK’S NUTCRACKER zooms in and lands a short distance away. Clearly, this member of the jay family wishes to add bagel with cream cheese to its diet. When I lift my camera to take photos of the brazen bird, it hops in closer, hoping to steal my meal while I have both hands on my camera and lens. I quickly cover the bagel with one hand, and the bird flies to a nearby tree. I lift my camera again with both hands, and the Nutcracker again flies in to seize the moment (and the bagel), until I once again protect my food with my hand.

The Bold Bird of the Day Award goes to a GRAY JAY that does more than approach us; it actually lands on my friend’s head and spends a minute nibbling at his cap. Maybe it’s looking for food, maybe it’s trying to intimidate us, or perhaps the jay just wants to pick his brain.

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

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