I was shooting with flash due to strong sunlight causing strong contrast in some of my previous shots. Using flash limits sync speed to 1/250. Auto FP flash at 1/320 is a waste of time because it weakens and extends the flash duration giving more opportunity for blur. the non flash shots were f8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600 and similar focus effects were observed. Lens mounted on a tripod with Wimberley head and VR in tripod mode. I will look for one or two pics taken without flash that show same effect and will also post one of the keepers that I got.
Regarding AF settings I use single point because aiming for the eye or head. If using 9 point AF the camera tends to pick up the breast of the bird which is slightly closer, or it picks up surrounding vegetation. At present, focus priority release is enabled so the camera is thinking it is in focus as you see the pic. this is why I think there is a slight front focus issue. My AF adjust setting is currently zero so there is plenty latitude for correction and I am not worried about it.
Heading for wintertime here and the days are short so I am not getting enough light to shoot before and after work ...will have to wait for the weekend to get some more test shots done.