Close Encounters

I don’t quite have the words and I think that is the way it is supposed to be.

I was photographing the sunrise at the pond in the magical fifteen minute period just before the sun appears.  It is still dark out for all eyes except the lens.  It has become almost a ritual with me since September began to go the pond to photograph the early skies that bring morning in ever-increasing spectacular ways.  This is the first time, though, that I knew I was not alone.  The birds in the surrounding trees began to stir.

I couldn’t see them.  They were behind me in a stand of trees across the parking lot when suddenly they flew en masse over my head in two waves, seconds between intervals.  They felt just feet from my head but I know it was not that close.

The sound of their wings in motion is still in my ears now as I write this hours later, but at the time, this sound simply commanded that I look up, not in Hitchcockian fear–no, far from it—this was awe, pure and simple.

It was the spaceship door opening at the end of “Close Encounters of a Third Kind”, the 1977 Steven Spielberg film.  I was swept on to the rising ramp and disappeared with them into the morning light and storm clouds.

I imagine that National Geographic Nature Photographers must feel these extraordinary moments as they encounter nature and wild life in the furthest most regions of the world, but here in Franklin, Massachusetts?

I am still a bit shaken to realize I am back on earth and not entirely sure people will believe my tale.

©Pat Coakley 2009


10 comments on “Close Encounters”

  1. Otherworldly.
    One of the benefits of getting out of bed so early is exactly what you caught here.
    Wow Pat. The variety of T-shapes, torpedo shapes, the size of the visible portion of the flock and the distant, smaller, gray-er specks in the barely seen background is overwhelming.

    Hitchcock did for birds what Spielberg did for sharks in Jaws.
    But YOU. You’ve made an indigo batik of flapping wings in unison.

  2. Great image.

    We had a similar experience reacently in Carcassonne, France. We were out taking photos in the twilight and very large flocks of starlings came from all directions to roost in nearby trees. It was an amazing sight as they would sometimes all take off enmass and land on a nearby rooves and each time it happened I almost expected the houses to collapse there were so many of them.

    • And the way they suddenly swoop and then soar…seriously, my heart was racing at the sight. Gerard Manley Hopkins material.

  3. And you had the presence of mind to point the camera up to catch those birds in flight! A wonderful image. Don’t you wonder sometimes what moves them all, in unison, to leave their perch and fly away together? As if they had planned it on the count of three.

    • Presence is the right word, Don. This was a case of limbs and wings all being in the same moment. I’ve never swooped like that in my life!

  4. Pat, at the rate you’re going with your photography, National Geographic should hire you. This is an AWE-some image and somehow I can hear the birds’ wings flapping.

    • Thanks, Epic! But, I’m afraid my composite photography, regular use of multiple images would never pass the National Geographic purist test…This said as I await today’s delivery of my upgrade to the Photoshop C4 software (imaging software for those unfamiliar). As important to me as my camera.

  5. That is a very amazing photo!

    It reminds me of a WW2 documentary for some reason.

  6. Wonderful Shot, Pat! Hope you’re enjoying CS4. If your computer has new enough hardware in it, you should notice a marked increase in performance from it!

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