Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow birds

One of the great privileges of being a bird-know-it-all is that now and then someone lets you into a moment of grace that flies or sings its way into their day. It happens on Birdline, the CBC phone-in show I help with every couple months on CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky. It happens when I run into people who have a bird they want to tell me about. And it happens by email.

The day before yesterday, I received a note from Swift Current artist and writer, Phyllis Nakonechny. Last year, Phyllis's beautiful book, Vidh: A book of Mourning came out, garnering a nomination for Saskatchewan Book of the Year. (Here is a page from her publisher, Hagios, on Vidh.)

Phyllis, as you will see, when you read her message reproduced below with her permission, is a deep soul whose closely observed writing comes through even when she is just firing off a quick email to a friend.

Hello Trevor,
I had the most amazing, lovely experience this morning. I went out my back door to sit on my winter bench to enjoy my coffee on this blue sky morning.

As I sat I became aware of the sound of birds.... I knew it was birds because it's winter and I don't live near a pond/marsh, because truthfully the sound was more like that of summer in the country than of January in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I want to say it was like the incessant singing of frogs in the dark, but it wasn't croaking, more like very loud humming and buzzing in a continuous sound - no breaks -like the constant sound of grasshoppers on a hot August day.

But before I could look around to find the source of this -what I knew had to be a - flock of birds somewhere nearby, suddenly directly ahead and above 8 large white-winged birds started making beautiful soaring formations in wide sweeps across the sky - I could actually hear their wings flapping - and I thought to myself: they look like the Canadian Forces Snow Birds practising their aerial tricks. They made about 6 different aerial dances and then flew off.

I don't know what they were, but I was grateful to have witnessed their great white wings soaring above me. I knew the sound of the birds hadn't been coming from them, but maybe they were reacting to the loud sound of birds that still filled the air.

I could still hear this loud metallic humming and I turned now to look for the source. Two lots down from my back yard there they sat high up in the bare branches of the trees: I have no idea what they were. I have never seen such a group of 40 (?) VERY LARGE birds. I mean I have seen one hawk sitting on a fence post, but never so many such sized birds all together in a group.

I ran indoors to get my(unfortunately) small binoculars and tried to see them close up. They were basically a brown but their inside tail feathers seemed darker and a different shade altogether. So then indoors again for the (unfortunately, again)small Sony cyber-shot camera. Here they are with the first photo cropped a bit so as to bring them closer to the eye. I came indoors again to get more coffee, hoping to sit outside for a bit longer to see what they looked like if they flew, but alas, when I went back out, they had all gone. I don't know how long they had been there before I went outdoors, but the time that had passed had been about 10 or 15 minutes from when I had first heard them. I know you can't see them well, but do you have any idea what they could have been?

Best Regards,

Phyllis Nakonechny
Swift Current

And Phyllis's birds? Bohemian Waxwings, but, as my wife often reminds me, putting a name to someone's bird is not nearly as important as naming their experience. In this case we could call it "a mid-winter epiphany."


  1. Trevor, I am grateful to find your wife's reminder at the end of this great post. It gives me permission to fail at remembering the names of birds and many other species types. My brain has never worked well at cataloging certain kinds of data, and many names I have to re-learn each season. My personal database grows so slowly. But I do have an unforgettable catalogue of experiences, just as she says, of sighting living marvels that I cannot always name later, yet make me feel a part of the natural scheme of things. Like that large moth I saw at dusk on Reindeer Lake among the labrador tea, the one that can be mistaken for a hummingbird. It's on the tip of my tongue . . . oh well.

  2. Thanks for sending along that insight, Allan. Hope you are wintering well and writing up a storm.


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