On the Wings of Change - jwardenphotography
This article was first published in the Winter 2011 edition of Nature Alberta Magazine.
By John Warden

The merlin launched from the fence along our backyard, a dart shaped ‘arrow with eyes’ flying straight at our window. It was raining hard. She flared her wings just short of the house and perched on the railing of our deck, out of the wind, but not out of the rain.

I was flabbergasted. Never before had I seen a merlin so close. I could see beads of rain running off of her beak. She was no more than six feet away, just on the other side of the window from where I was watching. What should I do, enjoy the moment, for surely that’s all it would be, or should I run downstairs for my camera? I stayed with the moment and watched her, rain bedraggled, but beautiful. Suddenly, she was alert, on target. She hadn't stopped by for a visit. She had followed a large blue dragonfly out of the rain and now, she attacked. No contest. It was a dragonfly dinner for the merlin, translucent wings sticking sideways out of her mouth. Oh, my kingdom for a camera!

And so marked the beginning of a transition. The very first bird we saw from the window of our new home was this little female merlin, the magician of aerial combat, the huntress. She hung around for three days, allowing me to get a couple of nice shots from our back deck. Now that’s nature photography ‘close to home’. Then she was gone, on to a new place, like my wife Debra and I, migrating from one home to another.

Our new home is everything we had hoped for and more. It backs onto a couple of small storm water ponds, so there is an openness to our view. We are no longer hemmed in and overshadowed by other homes. We can see the sky. We can watch the morning sun bring our little ponds to life. We have sunrises and sunsets and oh, that gorgeous golden light just before dusk. 

Once the sun is gone, we have the inky blue blackness of night. There is a meandering path around the ponds and an observation deck built out over the water. We can stand on the platform and look out over the water, and up at the stars and the moon. We've seen both the harvest moon of September and the hunter’s moon of October, hanging low and orange in the evening sky and reflected by the surface of our ponds. I continue to be awed by the wonder of moonlight on water. Somehow it’s not something I expect to see. But I look for the opportunity now and when I do see it, it’s something special. The soft moonlight speaks of romance, but also of intrigues and creatures in the night.

We moved into our new home in mid August when the plant life was still green, leaves still on the trees and mallards and coots still on the ponds. But the geese were already starting to gather. On a westward approach to the ponds, the geese fly right by our back deck, almost at eye-level, so close we can hear the wind in their feathers and see the sunlight in their eyes. It’s exciting, and it just seems right that we live here, next to the ponds and under the moon and the stars. It’s like there was a plan out there in nature that we were always supposed to live here and now we do. Perhaps John Denver said it best, ‘coming home to a place you've never been before’ .

The weeks pass and as we settle into our new home, the season is transitioning along with the birds. The ponds are covered now in ice and several feet of snow. But still, there is life. Kids have cleared the snow from the ice and are playing shinny hockey nearly every day. And of course, there’s the waxwings. The mountain ash trees along the path by our ponds are heavy with berries and attract the waxwings of winter.

In the cold, quiet, desolate depths of an Edmonton winter the flashing brown and yellow of hundreds of waxwings moving in a single minded aerial dance is for me, not just a sign of life but a triumph of life over winter. So as the waxwings wheel and swarm in the icy blue winter sky, can the warming breezes of spring be far behind? Surely it can only be a few more weeks, or…months.

And with spring will come the geese and ducks and swans and maybe even our merlin. Transitions and migrations, opportunities - arriving on the wings of change.


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