Dark figures in the branches, combined with a high-pitched whistling, drew me towards a patch of berry bushes at the edge of Glenmore reservoir. I squinted upwards through the harsh sun, trying to get a view of the bohemian waxwings’ brown-powdered face, with eyes enveloped by a black mask that disperses on the lower edge of a slicked-back head crest. The beauty and uniqueness of the bohemian waxwing is enhanced by the splashes of vibrant yellow and red that speckle the wings, forming the illusion of dipped wax that inspired their name. My belly filled with excitement at the prospect of photographing a bohemian feeding frenzy, a phenomenon where hundreds (sometimes thousands) of the birds gather on mass to feed on berries.
I struggled through deep snow, trying to position myself under the bushes, and suddenly, the whistling stopped. Somehow – I don’t know why or how – but somehow, I just knew the abrupt silence meant an impending mass exodus. Within milliseconds of that realization, the birds rocketed from the branches and flew off into the sky, forming a dark shape that softly ricocheted in unison for a few seconds before disappearing beyond the horizon.
The photographer in me thought, ‘well crap, there goes my photo opp for the day.’
The philosopher in me was left in awe, pondering the dynamics of group consciousness that seem to guide this flock of hundreds of birds. How could they all possibly know when to fly away? Who makes the decision and how is that communicated to the others? Or, do they all simultaneously make the decision and just go? How do they not all collide in mid-air?
As I was trying to reassemble a partially blown mind, I heard a soft waxwing whistle and some rustling in the bushes. Two lone waxwings were still there, left behind by their flock. One was fairly close to me so I fired a few frames, then continued on my walk. I was not optimistic about the quality of the photo, but I was certainly fascinated by the experience. I admit, I was a bit worried, thinking the two waxwings were accidentally abandoned, but I decided to put aside the concern and just appreciate what I had seen.
This happened mere days ago, but I completely forgot until I was recently examining my photos from the weekend. I came across a bland photo of one of the left-over waxwings and thought, ‘hmmmm, why not play with this a bit?’ I did my usual, crop, edit, lighten, and was surprised to see the beautiful details emerging from the shadows. Free from the constraints of bad lighting, a beautiful bird image appeared as the memory of the experience flowed back into my consciousness. I decided it wasn’t the photo itself, but the story beyond the photo that made me appreciate this image. So, I decided to post it.
This is the beginning of what I hope will be a new blog series: Beyond the photo – inspired by a conversation with my good friend Brendan. My plan is to continue to look beyond the photo, to explore the rich tapestry of visual elements that point to a deeper story. Why? I’m not sure to be honest, I just love the idea of going deeper 🙂
The next issue of Beyond the photo is (hopefully) coming soon.
Until next time, continue loving life and everything wild.