At midday, while hiking along the river, I saw trout rising in a bubble line flowing below a fallen white pine. It is always exciting to see rising trout, but, ambivalent about fishing for trout on a summer day, I did not have my fly rod or waders with me. Still, overcome with temptation, I decided to return in the cooler evening to fish the same long pool, and I’m glad I did — not because I caught fish, but because the cedar waxwings caught drakes.

The green drake is a large mayfly that hatches from the river. It is by far the largest such fly I’ve ever seen, and in the waters where I fish, such a hatch is rare.
But the drakes appeared in the evening. If you are used to fly fishing with small flies — nothing bigger than, say, a flying ant — then the green drake is wow-inducing. It looks like a 747 among Piper Cubs.

What an angler hopes for is this: Green drakes appearing in the bubble line, trout rising to eat them; maybe, if you’re lucky, you can fool one into taking your imitation of a drake.
But this did not happen. The drakes appeared sporadically, not in big numbers, and when they did, the cedar waxwings got them. I have never seen such a dazzling display of killer aeronautics.

A drake would appear on the river surface, then start to ascend into the air, a beautiful sight. Suddenly, a waxwing would dart from a tree and snatch the drake in mid-flight. Sometimes two waxwings would go after the same drake. The ability of the birds to see their prey was not surprising, the drake being so large. But the speed of the attack, the accurate snatch of the ascending drake — all that was wow-inducing. And there was nothing for me to do except stand and watch. I always feel so fortunate to be there when nature happens.

Today would have been my brother Eddie’s 66th birthday. He loved birds, and I wish he could have been there to see this with me.

6 thoughts on “Air show: A squadron of cedar waxwings caught a lot more than I did

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