BRENT PENNINGTON Cedar Waxwings feed in the trees lining Fords Pond on the morning of 16 July 2015.

Cedar Waxwings, which I associate with the end of summer, and back at Fords Pond.  This year they’ve been there since spring; I first encountered the flock while paddling at the end of May, and have seen them on most visits since.

I got these photos two weekends ago, and then again last week, a few days apart.  The first visit was in the morning and the second approaching sunset, and both times they were in the same spot exhibiting the same behavior, although in both cases it was behavior that was new to me.

BRENT PENNINGTON Cedar Waxwings feed in the trees lining Fords Pond on the morning of 16 July 2015.

I should start with a few notes on Cedar Waxwings.  I first encountered them at Fords Pond, probably about five years ago.  I continue to find them there most often and, in every case, they are in flocks.  Waxwings are social birds; they interact with their flock mates a lot.  They feed together, move together, and generally give the impression of being jovial, if you can attribute that behavior to a bird.

But these last two visits, something was different.  I don’t know if it’s the time of year, or the conditions, or just these particular Waxwings.  But they were silent.BRENT PENNINGTON Cedar Waxwings feed in the trees lining Fords Pond on the morning of 16 July 2015.

I mean, completely silent.  I sat in the kayak, floating just offshore from the trees they favored.  From this point they launched sortie after sortie, winging off over the lake, diving in pursuit of insects, which make up their summer diets.  They moved in constant waves, at any given time several taking to the air, catching prey, and returning to perch.

And the entire time they remained silent.  All I could hear was the flutter of their wings, loud in the silence.  No calls, no chirps, nothing.  It was strange, almost eerie.

BRENT PENNINGTON Cedar Waxwings feed from a stand of pines on the shore of Fords Pond on the morning of 12 July 2015.

You see, most birds are vocal, especially when they are together in a flock.  Birds who have associations with each other will remain in contact as they move about.  A mated pair of Cardinals, for example, will make “check in” calls to each other every few moments, once calling, the other responding, then repeating, to ascertain that everything is alright.

Under these circumstances, I’d have expected at least some chatter from the flock, if only when they were perched.  But nothing.

BRENT PENNINGTON Cedar Waxwings feed from a stand of pines on the shore of Fords Pond on the morning of 12 July 2015.

If you really want to appreciate birds, an opportunity like this is a good one.  There’s the thrill of seeing something new – or new to you.  But there’s also a very visceral reaction to experiencing nature at such close range.

When you can hear a bird’s wing beats you’re in the presence of Nature.  Nature with a capital N.  You’re close, you’ve been accepted, if only for a moment, into a world that the vast majority of people never experience, or even think about.BRENT PENNINGTON Cedar Waxwings feed from a stand of pines on the shore of Fords Pond on the morning of 12 July 2015.

Both times I sat for almost 20 minutes watching the flock.  They accepted my presence as long as I remained still and didn’t drift in too close to shore.  They flew out around me and returned, surrounding me with the muffled beat of feathered wings.

And eventually I put the camera down and just watched, marveling at the wonder of flight.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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