What the Flock?

Standing at the water’s edge, where ledges have formed, and various seaweeds adorn the shoreline in colorful masses, skimmers overwhelm the beach. No longer hoarding together in nesting sanctuaries, most of the babies are grown – though, a few still need tending. 

The moments before dusk are my favorite at Nickerson Beach. Everyone has gone home, everyone, except the setting sun. She still hangs around… for meseemingly, for she knows this is our time.

Walking towards the ocean, a cluster of skimmers part a path. I’ve no staff in my hand, but feel mighty amongst feathers. Cresting a cliff, an oasis of birds greet me. Hundreds, thousands, flying in painstaking unison. The group that parted joined them. It was as if they were dancing to a melody, toying with the winds, the salty mist, me… They didn’t appear to be feeding, just soaring in linear droves, truly one with the ocean pulse, like shadows, they mirrored each surge. More often, they’re broken into groups, some huddling together to block harsh winds, some feeding, some tending to young. I’ve never seen them all banding in one humongous focused group such as this. 

As their direction shifted, so, too, did this living kaleidoscope. The grandeur took my breath awaySplatters of red bills flashed amidst crisp brown and white feathers, creating whirling mosaics against a deep blue sky. Their rhythmic flight was so vibrant, no longer giving thought to why they were all together, I just soaked it in. With such close formation, it is a wonder they didn’t collide. Just above breaking crests, with effortless grace, they rode invisible roller coasters, up, down, around, spinning, turning, gliding, soaring – matching, quite literally, the misty fringe of every spray or curl.

The scent of salt and seaweed permeated my nostrils. Sand, caught in gusts, fluttered about my ankles. I refocused to continue my walk towards Point Lookout. After all, I was here to get exercise, not birdwatch. 

A commotion stopped me again. Skimmers were screaming warnings – but why? I looked to where my feet stood – nothing. I looked to the seaweed piles, thinking I might have gotten too close to hidden offspring – nothing. Yet, they continued to warn with resounding kaw-kaw-KAW’s. No longer flying in unison, a section of the flock was completely frantic. 

Then I saw, in the midst of that chaos – a hawk. It makes sense now, he must have been lurking nearby. Their flight behavior was a diversion to draw him away, from those not yet able to outsmart sharp wit or talons.

Ominous cries filled the air, as those directly threatened nosedived into the ocean. Entire bodies submerged under rolling waves. Between the seaweed and the birds, it looked like a strange ocean soup. The risk of breaking wings, or being fatally battered by churning water was there, but, for now, this was their safest haven. Once the coast was clear, those immersed, drudged their sodden limbs from the ocean’s waterlogged grip, to fly free and midair-shake the incident off. They were the lucky ones, but not far away, another section of the flock sounded kaw-kaw-KAW alarms. It was their turn to take the plunge. 

As the hawk charged, skimmer upon skimmer screamed objections and dove headfirst into churning waters. Lying flat, thrashing to and fro – any and everything to avoid becoming a meal. One poor soul, an unfortunate loner, tussled on the water’s surface. Wings and feathers flew, cries of premature success and defeat sounded loudlyMy breath and heart raced until the hawk lifted – empty handed. On this day, the skimmer had a second chance – if he was able to free himself from the grip of the wave. 

It took a few moments, but he did. Phew! Witnessing Mother Nature in action is amazing. Although, I didn’t know who to feel for more, the skimmers for surviving, or the hawk, who lost his meal? Skimmer diving tactics deterred the hawk’s pursuit this time, but they won’t forever.He continued along the shoreline, searching for fresh opportunities

Once the hawk was no longer a threat, the massive swarm broke into customary groups. They landed all around me, and, as I turned towards Point Lookout, once again, they parted a path. Hidden in a huge mat of seaweed was many, many babies still not ready for life on their own. My, my, my... the magnitude of parental sacrifice became immediately apparent. That cohesive flock was drawing the hawk as far away from their young as they could, hoping, against all odds, to send him off unsuccessful… and they did!

A skimmer, concerned about my presence, dropped before me feigning a broken wing. Yes, though the flock landed around me, I was now viewed as the threat. Such a theatrical performance to witness. Looking truly wounded, flailing about, it is amazing their self-scuffle doesn’t inflict damage. As soon as they have deflected attention, and sense their offspring are safe, they fly off, shaking their feathers back into position.

I quickly moved to the water’s edge, far away from any potential hiding places. There’s been enough excitement for this evening.

Note from Nancy:  This story is a sample reading from My Issues – The Creature Feature.  Yes… my official first book! 🙂   It’s now available through CreateSpace and Amazon. Click here for more info.   

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