Tuesday Tune: Swarm

photographs and text by Brian Willson

Cedar Waxwing (Beech Hill Preserve, 24 August 2014)

This the kind of lovely August Sunday that found me working all morning at the kitchen table, running errands in early afternoon here and there, riding my bicycle up to Camden for a specific bottle of beer and a certain chocolate and walnut brownie at Megunticook Market, and hiking Beech Hill Preserve with my dog before the sun went down. I.e., a damn nice kind of day.

It was nice for the Beech Hill waxwings, too, on account of a big fly hatch. I’d watched waxwings for the past week or so perching in the trailside birches and occasionally fluttering off to grab a flying insect or two before returning to the same tree. But I hadn’t yet seen the kind of big swarms like I did last year about this time—the kind they’ll take to hovering in, just hoovering up flies. Until today.


I didn’t see it until we reached the summit. The swarm was thick and churning and seemed to be stuck to one area just at the tip of the tallest tree in the spruce grove, where—sure enough—several waxwings were hanging out. This time, though, they didn’t have to flutter off and hover: the flies were thick enough that they were lighting on the branches the birds perched on. All they had to do was dip down and have a bite. Thoughtful.

Returning into the late-afternoon sun, we encountered loose clouds of flies along the trail, flitting and flashing in the bright backlight. We came down along where I’d watched a Yellow Warbler, a Red-eyed Vireo, an Alder Flycatcher, and some other waxwings hunting for tiny winged things. As we’d stood there quietly, a humming bird buzzed over and hung there in the air for a moment, sizing us up. In the distance, a Blue Jay screamed.

Tonight is lusciously cool.


Beech Hill List
Beginning at 5:45 p.m., I hiked the open trail.

1. Cedar Waxwing**
2. American Goldfinch
3. Black-capped Chickadee (v)
4. Song Sparrow
5. Gray Catbird (v)
6. Eastern Towhee
7. Blue Jay (v)
8. Common Yellowthroat
9. Yellow Warbler
10. Red-eyed Vireo**
11. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
12. Alder Flycatcher
13. Mourning Dove* (v)
14. American Crow* (v)
15. Northern Cardinal (v)


16. Tufted Titmouse (v)
17. Herring Gull
18. House Sparrow
19. American Robin
20. Canada Goose

v = Voice only
*Also elsewhere
**Voice only elsewhere