Bill Martone’s story is too interesting to languish in the comment section of the Rusty Blackbird post. With his permission I have bumped it up. I wish I had been there….
Being a birder, as you are, I’m certain you’ve spent some time over at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge over in Vernon. Well, I pulled a permit for that 5,000 acre patch of land this winter to do some deer hunting and while we only took one doe, last week something really phenomenal happened that I want to tell you about.
It was shortly after sunrise and I was sitting on a log quietly listening and watching for sound or movement and trying to look inconspicuous in my blaze orange vest and hat. I was posted in the middle of a wooded mound that separated two large fields of cut hay. My buddy was about 100 yards away to the south. It started as just a strange background noise like the sound of something moving through tall grass or maybe like the wind through the leaves. It was a constant whitish pink noise emanating from the river behind me and growing in volume to the point of becoming a distraction. I turned to face the sound, but could see nothing. Just then my buddy radioed over to me asking if I knew what that sound was. As I was about to tell him that I’d been wondering the same thing when I saw it and all I could say was “Oh my God!”
At first I didn’t know what I was staring at because it was so immense. The giant whooshing sound I had been hearing for the last 15 minutes was being made by a huge cloud of black birds that were heading directly for me. Now, I’ve seen flocks of birds before, but this was nothing like I’d ever seen. It literally blotted out the sun and darkened the sky. I’d say this mass of black feathers had to be a quarter of a mile in diameter and flying at an altitude of about 100 feet…just above the tree tops. At first I thought they might be locusts and it completely freaked me out, but although I soon realize that they were birds, I was no lest concerned because I had never seen so many in one place in my entire life and they were bearing right down on my position. I felt like Tippy Hedron in a scene from “The Birds”. As the cloud passed over me the noise was deafening. What started out as a distant whooshing sound was now more like a freight train passing by. The birds weren’t chirping at all, so the sound they produced was generated from the beating of their wings. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen while afield and I’ll never forget it. When I recount the story for friends it just doesn’t do it justice. They’re like…”OK, you saw a flock of birds. That’s great!” No, this was no ordinary flock, there were hundreds of thousands if not millions of them. I didn’t get a really close up look at one, but my guess would be that they were Starlings. I don’t know of any other bird that’s that size and color that is indigenous to these parts. Of course, they could have been migrating through, but this was mid January and I thought most of the migrations were pretty much completed now. Anyway, I thought I’d mention it to you since you know so much about birds. I thought perhaps you could tell me a little more about what we experienced. The whole flock landed in the trees surrounding my buddy’s position and he said it was like the barren woods had suddenly come into full foliage.