BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST • MARCH/APRIL ’ 17 • birdwatchersdigest.com 97
shifting blob of fluttering wings.
With each wheeling turn of the
flocks, I could hear the hiss of
wind over a billion feathers.
A falcon appeared above and
I realized the cause of the birds’
panic. The dark raptor controlled the flock, pushing them
right and left with each dip of its
scythe wings. For a long moment
nothing happened. The shorebirds pulsed and the falcon’s
wings locked. The peregrine
collapsed and fell. No, it did not
fall: It plunged. It pumped its
wings a half dozen times, and
then pulled them half closed.
Gravity and aerodynamics came
together in a dark, bird-shaped
blur. In my peripheral vision I
could see the shorebirds impos-
sibly tight together, and for a
second I wondered how flight
was even possible in that chaos
of flapping wings and shifting
One sandpiper came loose
from the flock. Whether it was
an accident or a decision to
make a break for cover, I’ll never
know. It was a fatal mistake.
With a slight twist of its tail,
the peregrine shifted focus and
flattened out behind the fleeing
shorebird. There was no contest.
As the two forms merged into
Background: Millions of shorebirds congregate on the mud flats of
Alaska’s Copper River Delta. Inset: Black oystercatcher.