Upwardly Mobile

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This week’s photo, taken July 19, 2014 at the Arboretum in Seattle, WA, features a BROWN CREEPER.

The BROWN CREEPER is an adorable little bird with a rather unique behavior. It forages for insects by creeping up large tree trunks, in search of snacks in the nooks and crannies of the bark. Since the creeper lacks a reverse gear, it only works the tree in an upward direction. So, when it runs out of trunk or it’s simply ready for a change in elevation, it launches itself off the trunk into a free fall (like bungee jumping but without a bungee). Then, just before it crashes into the ground and bursts into flames, it swoops up and attaches itself like velcro to the base of a neighboring tree. From this low point, it resumes its upward creeping, in search of more protein.

To see Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to:

http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

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This week’s photo, taken June 15, 2014 in Yakima County, WA, features our second RUFFED GROUSE of the day.

It’s day 3 of the 2014 Washington Ornithological Society conference, and the lead driver of our 4-car convoy has just noticed a RUFFED GROUSE up ahead on the gravel road. When all vehicles stop, I step out of our car to snap some photos, but the skittish chicken-like bird immediately explodes into the air and flies away. My one photo shows an over-exposed, blurry and downright lousy depiction of a grouse during lift-off. Nevertheless, it’s the best photo I’ve ever taken of this elusive species – because it’s the ONLY photo I’ve ever taken of this species.

A few miles later, we spot another Ruffed Grouse in the road, and this one has attitude. Instead of flying away, it stands its ground and seems to dare us to approach. But before we can make our move, a guy – who is not part of our group – makes his own move. No longer willing to wait in his pick up truck behind our last car, he steps on the gas and begins to pass our stopped caravan and head up the road. We figure that the grouse will fly for sure, but to everyone’s surprise and relief, it stays put as the truck rolls by.

With renewed hope for better looks and finer photos, we creep forward in our cars, a short distance at a time. Each time we stop and get out, you can hear rapid fire camera clicks from the paparazzi among us. Eventually, the bird runs across the road and disappears into the brush.

So, why’d the chicken cross the road? To get away from us, that’s why.

To purchase prints or notecards of Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to:

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The Far East

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This week’s photo, taken June 25, 2014 at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, south of Spokane, WA, features a fledgling PYGMY NUTHATCH.

During a brief visit to a far eastern part of Washington state, I spend a few hours birding at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. While walking a few trails and also driving the 5-mile auto tour route, I observe plenty of interesting species, including EASTERN KINGBIRDS on a nest, a BLACK TERN cruising back and forth above Kepple Lake, and a female RUDDY DUCK floating on the lake with 9 ducklings paddling close to their momma. At the start of the refuge’s newest foot path, called the Bluebird Trail, several WESTERN BLUEBIRDS perch out in the open. Apparently, they are employed as official greeters on their namesake trail.

When I return to my car and begin to leave the refuge, I only drive about 200 feet before I notice several PYGMY NUTHATCHES in a small tree across the road. Fledglings are being fed by adults, and a young Pygmy Nuthatch is sitting alone on a branch in an adjacent tree. It’s probably waiting for a food delivery from its parents. I stop my car, walk to the other side of the road, and capture a few images of the lone and quite cute nuthatch.

To purchase prints or notecards of  Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Alert Leader

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This week’s photo, taken June 14, 2014 in Yakima County, WA, features a SWAINSON’S HAWK, a new state bird for me.

On day two of the recent Washington Ornithological Society conference in Yakima, our leader is slowly driving our van along a gravel road when he suddenly spots a SWAINSON’S HAWK soaring above us. It’s nice having a multi-tasking guide who can drive and find birds at the same time. We’re fortunate that he notices the high-flying raptor because most of us are riding in the back of the vehicle and unable to see much of the sky. He quickly brings the van to a halt, we all climb out and watch the majestic hawk as it slowly circles in a thermal. After a few minutes, the hawk loses some altitude, glides toward us, and treats us to even better views.

During our time on the side of the road admiring the Swainson’s Hawk, we observe other soaring birds as well, including several COMMON NIGHTHAWKS, a NORTHERN HARRIER, an AMERICAN KESTREL and a TURKEY VULTURE. Our brief stop turns into a very productive stop, and it’s all because we have a very alert leader.

To view Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Bonus Birds

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This week’s photo, taken June 14, 2014 in Yakima County, WA, features an EASTERN KINGBIRD, one of Washington state’s Bonus Birds.

When I moved from the Southwest to the Northwest nearly two years ago, I knew there would be fewer bird species up here, but that fact didn’t bother me a bit. After all, the state of Washington offers enough “new” birds to challenge, excite and entertain me for years to come.

What I didn’t expect to experience in the northwest are a few species that I considered to be “eastern” birds. I now know that if you cross over the Cascades to the eastern half of our state, EASTERN KINGBIRD, GRAY CATBIRD, RED-EYED VIREO and VEERY can all be found during the breeding season if you explore the right habitat. Their presence here is a delightful and unexpected bonus to me.

To view Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Dracula

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This week’s photo, taken June 13, 2014 along Oak Creek Road in Yakima County, WA, features a LEWIS’S WOODPECKER approaching its nesting cavity with a few snacks.

I just returned from the Washington Ornithological Society’s annual conference, headquartered this year in Yakima, in the south-central region of the state. During the four-day event, more than 50 field trips were offered to various habitats, including mountain forest, shrub-steppe, canyon, marsh and riparian.

Although I didn’t add any birds to my life list, new additions to my state list are:

  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Williamson’s Sapsucker
  • Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Bank Swallow
  • Sagebrush Sparrow

My previous views of Lewis’s Woodpecker have been brief and distant, often consisting of a single bird flying away. But this past Friday the 13th, our group got lucky and enjoyed 15 – 20 sightings of this spectacular species.

“Lewis” is a strikingly beautiful and unique member of the woodpecker family. It has a reddish-pink belly and a deep red face. Except for the gray collar, its back side is completely dark (up close, a greenish iridescence is visible). When you observe this bird from a certain angle, it seems to be wearing a cape, reminiscent of Count Dracula. Because of its dark wings, large size and flight style, when the Lewis’s Woodpecker flies, it can easily be mistaken for a crow. On the other hand, if you get a good look at a perched Lewis’s Woodpecker, you probably won’t confuse it with any other bird on the planet.

To view Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Machine Gun Bird

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This week’s photo, taken June 10, 2014 at the Montlake Fill in Seattle, WA, features a MARSH WREN balancing on a cattail stem that’s as vertical as the wren’s turned up tail.

More often heard than seen, a MARSH WREN frequently hides in reeds while it sings its song that resembles the rapid-fire sound of a machine gun.

Tuesday morning at the Fill, I walk past a non-stop singing machine (also known as a Marsh Wren) that has no interest in hiding itself. It’s perched out in the open and next to a well-traveled trail, so I rattle off a quick series of photos, and then I continue down the path in search of more avian life. On my return, the wren’s still in plain sight, and it still has plenty to say.

To view Joe’s Best Bird Photos, go to: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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