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This week’s photo, taken February 1, 2016 from the pier in Edmonds, WA, features 2 DUNLIN in flight.

I’m focusing on DUNLIN for a third week in a row, and for a good reason. While my original Dunlin image showed the species in motion, and last week’s photo displayed the bird in big numbers, neither image indicated what a Dunlin really looks like.

As you can see, this shorebird’s winter plumage is mostly brown on top and mostly white underneath. Since the hundreds of distant Dunlin in last week’s photo were flashing their light-colored undersides, that explains why they resembled small white specks.

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A Numbers Game

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This week’s photo, taken February 1, 2016 from the Edmonds, WA pier, features a “few” DUNLIN, the same species mentioned in last week’s post.

Actually, there are far more than a few DUNLIN in this photo, and your assignment, if you wish to accept it, is to estimate how many Dunlin are in this flock. Take a few seconds, but no more than a minute, and come up with your best guess. Don’t try to count them individually, because that attempt would be quite stressful. Believe me, I know. After you come up with an answer, then look at the bottom of this post for the number I arrived at after two separate counts.

Whether or not you choose to play the game, appreciate how synchronized Dunlin can be when flying as a group. When I took this photo, every bird was flying to our left, and virtually all (except for maybe 10 rebellious individuals) were banking to the right and exposing their white underside to the camera.

Nope, there’s no prize for winning the contest, other than the tremendous pride you will feel for an accurate estimate, and the thrill you will feel for participating. At the very least, appreciate how difficult it is to calculate the number of tiny birds flying in a tight formation.

By the way, I know that my answer is not precisely correct, but I think it’s reasonably close, or at least in the ballpark. If you take the time to count every bird, so you can tell me exactly how inaccurate my count is, then you have way too much time on your hands.

Cards and prints for sale: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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A Mighty Wind

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This week’s photo, taken from the pier in Edmonds, WA, features a small fraction of a large flock of DUNLIN, a common wintering shorebird in the Puget Sound area.

More than 1000 DUNLIN are hanging out along the Edmonds shoreline this winter, and their synchronized flight demonstrations are exciting to watch. Sometimes, while I’m standing on the pier, I will see a huge flock speeding towards me. As the Dunlin zoom past the pier in an amazingly tight group, almost touching the water surface and each other as they sprint by, I think back a few decades, to a summer day when I was a spectator at a cycling competition in the state of Georgia. As I stood on a sidewalk, about 50 cyclists raced by just a few feet away. The athletes on 2 wheels created their own wind, and we bystanders could feel and hear that rush of air as they passed.

When several hundred Dunlin fly by, although I don’t feel the sensation of wind that I did with the cyclists, I do hear the whoosh of air produced by those tiny birds, and that sound is an incredible thrill.

Cards and prints for the new year: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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BRANT!

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This week’s photo, taken January 2, 2016 from the Edmonds Pier in Edmonds, WA, features a couple of BRANT, a common wintering goose in the Puget Sound area.

Have you ever had this happen? You’re looking at a bird, and while you’re trying to figure out what species it is, a total stranger appears out of nowhere and calls out the name of the bird for you. I’ve experienced that a few times. I usually appreciate the unsolicited help, but the most recent incident was strange, confusing, and then finally amusing.

Early yesterday morning, while I was unloading my camera and spotting scope from my car in the parking lot by the Edmonds pier, a flock of geese flew by, directly above my head. As I cranked my head back to look at the fast moving birds, I figured they were probably Canada Geese. Another common goose this time of year is Brant, but I think these were Canada Geese.

As I watched them fly by, from the far end of the parking lot a female voice loudly called out, “BRANT!”

I didn’t immediately look at the person who was identifying the geese. I continued to stare at the soon to be out of sight geese, while I wondered how that person could be so certain about her identification.

Then she said it again, even louder than the first time: “BRANT!!”

When I turned my focus to the woman, she was not a birder with binoculars hanging from her neck; she was a runner. She jogged past me without even giving me a glance; she crossed the street and approached a male runner on the sidewalk.

Sounding a bit agitated, she said, “Brant. Where WERE you? I was looking all over for you.”

What were the odds that the guy’s name would be Brant? And what were the chances that the woman would yell his name at the very instant that I was watching a flock of geese overhead. Wow. Events do not always play out in the way that we think they should.

But, I still think they were Canada Geese.

Cards and prints for the new year: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Rare Bird on the Rocks

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This week’s photo, taken December 28, 2015 from the pier in Edmonds, WA, features a SURFBIRD, a shorebird usually found in Washington state along the rocky shores of the outer coast. However, for the past few weeks, Surfbirds have been observed feeding along the inland waters of the Puget Sound. Apparently, the word is spreading within the Surfbird community that the barnacles on the Edmonds jetty are quite tasty, and 3 – 6 Surfbirds have been seen daily during low tide, when the lower water line exposes those yummy barnacles.

Cards and prints for the new year: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Last Bird

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This week’s photo, taken December 31, 2015 from Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington state, features two adult male HARLEQUIN DUCKS.

Every 12 months, countless birders await the arrival of January 1st, when they venture out with boundless enthusiasm to find their first bird of the new year. Perhaps you know a few birders who have already announced their first species of 2016.

As a twist on that popular practice, I’m sharing with you my last bird seen in 2015, and it’s a beauty. Many people consider the HARLEQUIN DUCK to be North America’s most attractive sea duck, and I’m not going to argue with any of those people.

During the remaining minutes of daylight in 2015, these ducks are enjoying a New Year’s Eve meal consisting of crabs. The duck on the left, ready for another tasty morsel, performs its next dive to the crab buffet at the bottom of these shallow waters. In a few seconds, the other Harlequin will follow.

Cards and prints for the new year: http://joe-sweeney.fineartamerica.com

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Hybrid

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This week’s photo, taken by Laura on December 26, 2015 at the Woodland Zoo in Seattle, WA, features what sorta looks like a Snowy Owl.

A few readers of my blog have asked me lately if any Snowy Owls have shown up so far this winter in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t know of any, but not wanting to disappoint anyone, I tried really hard last Saturday night to find one at the local zoo. Well, the body looks like a Snowy Owl, and it does have a familiar face (at least familiar to me when I look in the mirror), yet I suspect the American Ornithologists’ Union would classify this individual as a hybrid.

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