Today is the day.  Now is the time.  

I thought at first they were fieldfares.  One of the gangs of noisy feathered yobbos that lord it over the local parks and who in good berry years move into the suburbs to strip the rowans and whitebeams.  Only when I got close enough to hear the noise was it clear that waxwings were back in town, and that winter had truly begun.

Extravagant in plumage, number and voice, a flock of waxwings is a living, flowing proof that a whole can be incomparably greater than the sum of its parts.  Traditional nature photography invariably pictures waxwings as individuals.  Admittedly they do have those cute tufts and wing flashes, and like literally to hang out on photogenic clusters of red berries, but in the life they are a noisy gregarious bunch and you usually meet them as a flock.  No photograph can truly convey the immersive experience of being in the middle of such a skittish mass of twittering, feasting birds.  A treefull will rain twigs, leaves and droppings on a cautious observer and then on no obvious trigger will rise up in a great flustered wheeling and flapping, before settling one-by-one in a nearby tree to restart the plunder.

Today’s was a small flock, only a hundred birds or so.  Some years ago our flats were surrounded at dawn by a couple of thousand, a fantastic sight and sound, and unignorable for even the most curmudgeonly naturephobe.  So many small birds in one place was equally irresistible to the local raptors, and even the acutely shy farmland harriers were tempted into town to join the urban small hawks in splitting and dispersing the huge flock.  By lunchtime a ragged end-of-party feel had descended, complete with waxwings drunk on bletted fruit stunning themselves and breaking their necks against our windows.  At sunset the birds and the berries were gone, with only leaf debris and a few sad casualties on the ground to remind us that they had been there at all.  All the following week I would see small raiding parties in individual trees around the town, but once the last fruit had been taken, the birds moved on elsewhere.

Photography has made me take proper notice of the seasons.  It has highlighted the significance and the uniqueness of rare confluences like that improvident waxwing morning, and it has reinforced my gut instinct that the supposedly timeless is made up of an infinite succession of unique moments.  I feel no great angst if I do not photograph everything interesting that happens in my life, but my eyes are open even when the lens cap is on, and I avoid the urge to scurry past with a white lie that I’ll pay attention next time.