Bohemian waxwings feed recently in downtown Augusta. The trees near Market Square are full of birds eating berries in trees and on the ground. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

One numinous morning toward the middle of last month, I was driving the backroads to Belfast. Numinous, I say, because I woke up unusually early out of kaleidoscopic dreams on a date when, if something weird was going to happen, it would be that date.

Maybe my dreams were anticipating it and shaping the day.

I have no idea how to locate any of this. But from out of some cleared fields, a huge flock of gray birds swooped across the road in front of me and dived into brush and the branches of a thicket of gangly trees. Who the heck are they? I slowed down and watched some stragglers following. There were at least 100 birds, probably more.

I drove slowly past and watched in the mirror. Were they in the brush or had they continued on?

Between getting to my appointment on time and an apparition of unknown birds, the apparition seemed more important. I pulled over and turned around to get a better look. I got out of the car, looked up into the trees and saw they had settled in the branches with serious murmuring. Later, I wished I had paid more attention to the murmuring. But I was trying to see their feathers.

In flight, a bright yellow patch flashed off the tips of their tails. Otherwise, they appeared dark gray, about the size of a blue jay. When I finally got my birding glass out of the compartment on the door, I saw they had a distinct crest. Were they starlings? No, too big. Were they cardinals in winter plumage? No, it seemed to me this time of year was high color season for male cardinals. And these birds were a little puffy. Maybe against the March wind?


I watched them bounce around in the trees, on display. But too high up to get a sharp look at. A hundred or more of them. Weird.

Normally, if you have to ask yourself if you’re dreaming, then you’re dreaming. But the overcast sky, the snow-free March fields, the nipping wind and these birds almost weighed the other way. Standing there peering up into the trees and not getting any usable pictures with my useless cellphone, I was nonetheless OK to be driving. But why were these birds showing themselves?

Well, a longer story shorter and a bunch of text messages later with my backyard naturalist friend Steve, it appeared that this was a flock of Bohemian waxwings.

Bohemian waxwings near Bar Harbor. Photo courtesy of Wes Gapp, via GBIF

They are sometimes seen in central Maine, but not regularly. Their main range is western North America, breeding in Alaska and northwestern Canada. But they’re great travelers and irrupt sporadically as far east as New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Their primary food is insects, but they switch to berries in nonbreeding months. In the lifeless second week of March, maybe this flock were scanning trees and bushes for lingering, overlooked fruit.

They strongly resemble their cousins the cedar waxwings, who are more common hereabouts. But eventually I was pretty sure this flock were Bohemians because, as described in the birding literature, the Bohemian waxwings are a little larger and may appear all gray, with splashes of white under the wings. I think I saw this in the backroad Troy apparition. They are also said to lack a clear, defined song, which I can only remember not noticing.

I watched them for a few minutes in the wind. This was like a dream spilling over from sleep troubled by the synchronicity in a date near midmonth. Beware the ides of August. The waxwings were like a numen, a spirit, on the trees.


Space and time, we know from the physicists, are not separate. We live in four continuous dimensions, three of which are filled with birds and wind and places, and one of which is — for reasons unknown to human intellect — moving.

The waxwings moved in on my space-time from somewhere else. And wherever that elsewhere is, time does not work the same way it does here. The birds were a spirit of a moment, not a place.

I watched them for a few minutes filling the chilly brush and maples. Soon, they took off back across the overcast, March-harsh fields and were gone, barely more identifiable than last night’s confusing dreams.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at His book “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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