“A Symphony Takes Flight”
There are defining moments in life, when one is truly humbled and finally able to grasp their place in the world as a participant, an observer, a protector…this one was mine.
(Excerpt only from Canadian Wildlife, Jul/Aug 2006 issue)
Moving as if to the sweep of a conductor’s baton, they flow off the beach like a tide of liquid mercury, then swoop into the air, a darkly ribboned smudge against the August sky.
As if on prearranged cue, they bank as one and the flock metamorphoses, revealing the flashing white of ten thousand underbellies caught in the glory of the setting sun. A dance of precision and grace.
Mesmerized, I float motionless in my kayak. Like a mirage, the flock turns toward me, skimming the glassy surface of the bay. As their sheer numbers wash over me, I feel the brush of wings on my upturned cheek….but perhaps it is only the breath of their passing.
Then, just as suddenly, they are gone…and I am adrift alone.
These, then, are the shorebirds of Fundy.
Each year, as the summer sun wanes, perhaps as many as three million of these aerobatic aviators stop at the Bay of Fundy while on migration from Arctic breeding grounds to the southern tip of South America. Their arrival begins in July; first the female flocks, then the males, followed by the juveniles in early August. Is their future path imprinted before their creation, or are they led by some unseen guide?
Here, in the upper reaches of a bay famous for the world’s highest tides, there is something less well known. A small, lipid-rich invertebrate found in enormous numbers on these tidal mudflats – the only location in North America – beckons the birds. Each flock spends a number of weeks gorging themselves until they have doubled their weight. At high tide, the birds rest on narrow strips of beach to conserve energy, then follow the ebb flow, heads bobbing as they gobble the mud’s bounty. This food will sustain them during the non-stop three to four day flight over open ocean to reach their winter destination.
As the flock pours past me again, I notice that individually, they are somewhat unruly, bodies hanging awkwardly below beating wings, but as a group with a purpose, they flow with lyrical beauty. My idle presence is afforded no more regard than a floating log as the birds return to the shore like metal shavings to a magnet. Perhaps ten thousand or more huddle together in a massive roost, their colouring a camouflage amongst the beach pebbles. A casual eye might not even detect their presence.
As reluctant as I am to disturb their rest, I long to see their dance once more….