Black Magic

June is the month to raise your eyes to the heavens and search for one for the rarest and most beautiful birds of the Fill: Black Swifts.

I do not see them every year. But when they come, the Black Swifts appear out of nowhere, conjured by Mother Nature as a special gift to the Fill. One second the skies are empty, the next they are crowded with black, swooping birds. They knife through the wind but make no sound, like aerial scimitars brandished high above the landscape.

Black Swifts are one of the latest migrants to arrive from the south. This year, they reached the Fill on May 27, when 24 soared overhead in the most wondrous show I have ever seen. For almost an hour they swirled – first over the fields, then over the alder grove, out to the lake, and back again. As they passed by each other, now and then two would engage briefly in flight. A mated pair? I think so, for Black Swifts live on the wing, mate in flight, hunt together in flight.

Black Swift in flight

For the past week, half a dozen have come in the early morning hours to draw fractal patterns among the clouds like the brushstrokes of a celestial sumie calligrapher, whose ink paints an avian phrase against one cloud, then fades to memory, only to write another phrase in the next cloud. What is being written? We are not privileged to know.

Black Swifts are birds of mystery, rumored to build their nests behind mountain waterfalls in the Cascades and on the sheer faces of cliffs where the moss grows strong. No one knows exactly where the nests are, or if people do, they keep the secret. As do the swifts. It’s black magic.

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