The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had a group tour the first few days of 2015, so I went down to Pungo on New Year’s Day to scout things out. It was a cold and beautiful afternoon. The usual groups of Tundra Swans dotted the fields and there were a few small flocks of the increasingly elusive Snow Geese flying to and fro. As the sun started getting low in the sky, I drove over to the south shore of Pungo Lake, hoping to catch the geese coming back in to roost for the evening. Instead, I spotted their characteristic undulating waves of birds flying high over the lake, as if headed out to the fields to feed. I jumped in the car and drove out toward the refuge entrance in case they were headed to the corn fields for a late snack.
When I arrived, most of the geese were feeding in a wheat field several hundred yards from my position. I could see a half dozen cars of folks close to the birds, but I wanted the geese against the orange sky, so I stayed put, on the far side of all the action.
As the sun sank low in the sky, the geese continued to circle and land on the far side of the fields, giving me those silhouette images that I sought. Suddenly, the entire flock blasted off, presumably headed to the lake for the night. Instead, the mass of birds headed across the fields and swirled all around me, filling the sky with sound and the dark shadows of beating wings. Then, the entire flock landed in a corn field near the car.
The sound of that many birds feeding in a field next to you is unbelievable. It sounds like a giant machine of some sort, perhaps a huge industrial furnace. The flock, perhaps numbering 10,000 birds, moved through the corn like a feathered combine. I just sat and watched, in awe, at the spectacle of so many living things acting as one unified eating machine. Suddenly, as if one of the birds had realized it was getting late, the flock erupted from the field, turned, and headed toward the lake for the night. I stood there for a moment as the sound faded to the north. What a magical way to start a new year.