[Tweeters] Dunlin Flock Flight Symmetry

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Fri Mar 2 16:46:19 PST 2018

Hi folks,

With at least some sunbreaks (and no rain here), and a receding tide in late morning, I decided to go to Luhr Beach and see what birds were around, and try for some flight shots with a new camera. It wasn't particularly birdy and the only initial opportunities for flight shots were gulls - mostly immatures (Mew, Glaucous-winged, and GW/W hybrids). Then a flock of at least 500 Dunlin came rocketing by and landed on a mudflat just a bit down the beach. I got a ton of shots as they fed, relocated, fed and relocated again. The link below is to two shots that captured the situation pretty well. The first shows a part of the flock in context with the location - Puget Sound and Anderson Island in the background. The second shot was cropped in from the first image - I did this because it shows the amazing ability of these birds to fly virtually in unison. Notice how the flight/wing position of every bird is pretty much a mirror image of its neighbors. Of course, this phenomenon has been noted many times and there are theories (perhaps proven now) as to why shorebirds (and starlings in murmurations) are able to turn and wheel in virtual unison.

It was interesting to look through the other shots I took to see what happens as the birds take off and then fly for a bit. In the shots right after takeoff, there is a lot more chaos in position of the individual birds in the flock, and in the wing positions. They haven't had a chance to get in 'marching order' yet. Then shortly after takeoff (I was shooting in continuous mode so had a bunch of shots to look through) the birds' positions got more and more aligned and by the time the flock had wheeled around once and was heading in to another feeding location, they were all pretty much locked in.

I'll upload a couple other shots as time allows, showing them landing, and a feeding flock next to some Mew Gulls for comparison. The link below takes you to the albums page of my Flickr. Click on the Birds - Shorebirds album, which at this point only contains the two photos mentioned.


John Tubbs
Lacey, WA
johntubbs AT comcast DOT net

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