Contributed by Roger Outhouse
On October 15, 2020 I arrived mid-morning at the Big Meadow Bog trailhead and immediately got to watch a Belted Kingfisher repeatedly diving for fish in the water near the entrance to the trail. Then overhead, twenty-one Turkey Vultures appeared gracefully circling in the wind updrafts. I decided to take the boardwalk into the trail and immediately got a good view of three pairs of Mallard Ducks swimming back and forth in front of a Great Blue Herron who was stalking its prey. Numerous Black Ducks, Black-capped Chickadees, a Double-crested Cormorant, a Pied-billed Grebe and a number of unidentified ducks were encountered in the slow stroll along the way. Nearing the end of the trail I was surprised by a sudden swarm of American Goldfinch that flew in a tight swirling mass that revolved in waves as they advanced out of the bog.
I have been familiar with watching large flocks migrating before but never could I imagine the “organized chaos” in front of me. The flock was too tight to get any possible count but the swirling cloud I estimated to be about 30 meters long and 8 meters high. The swarm landed and took off several times as it advanced toward the more open area of the wetland. I was puzzled by the behavior and had no understanding as to the why. At that very moment the birds rose up again just as a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew past my left shoulder at full speed headed for the flock. The birds rose up higher than usual still in a tight formation. Just as the hawk closed in on what looked like a sure lunch the flock split into two groups heading in opposite directions. The hawk seemed to be mesmerized by the maneuver and did not chase either group. Both flocks again tightened formations and the hawk chased the one flying south. This group split again leaving the hawk frozen by indecision. Frustrated by its failures, the bird of prey gave up and flew off in the distance; maybe my “why” had been answered. I walked out to Jimmy’s Pond only to observe that schools of small fish were boiling to the surface being chased by some unknown predators. As I turned to depart I glanced upward to see about seventy Turkey Vultures with 7 to 10 birds in a group rising in a funnel shaped formations (called kettles). I had never seen so many at one time!
It was one INCREDIBLE DAY! My only regret is that I was the only person on the trail to see it!