Having run out of ideas on improving the first piece, I pinged my teacher. As soon as she saw it, she knew right away what was wrong. Her suggestion was to move the center bird over to the right.
The during: (there is of course no way to "move" the bird - it entails stitching another one and then removing the first):
It looks so much better - thanks Laura!! Now I know why I signed up for Challenge with a Twist - the twist - which is teacher advice - definitely helps! The bird is now more visibly the focal point, against the darker sand, and the positions of the three birds are balanced. Yay!! I am happy now.