Great frigatebirds on the wing

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Freedom.’ See more offerings here.

When Terri posts the Sunday Stills challenge themes for the month ahead, I usually check out what’s coming up. That way I can see what photos I have that fit the themes, or come up with ideas for what I could shoot.

When June’s themes were posted, my first thought for this one was of flying. Since the earliest of times, people have looked to the skies, watched birds, and envied their freedom of flight. Of the various birds I see here, the great frigatebird most epitomizes that freedom. These large birds cover great distances, gliding effortlessly across the sky, rarely flapping their wings but using the wind to maximum advantage.

I picked a couple of photos from my archives, expecting to use them since I hand’t seen any frigatebirds for many weeks. But a couple of days later, I saw one, though I didn’t get any good photos. That’s the other thing about these birds: they seem to have a knack for sneaking up on me, so that I usually notice them disappearing into the distance.

Over the next week or two, I saw a few more birds in similar situations. Then, one day, as I neared the coast below Upolu Airport, I saw a frigatebird flying into a strong wind. By the time I had my camera ready, it was again getting smaller. Still, I took photos and as I did so I saw a second bird, then a third. They continued heading east and I carried on down to the coast.

I hadn’t been there more than a couple of minutes when one of the birds shot by in front of me. It was pointing east, but heading north of west riding the stiff northeast trades that were blowing. A second followed, then a third, and a fourth that I hadn’t seen before. I expected them to quickly disappear on the wind, but once over the water, they regrouped and held their position, circling and gliding up and down. Then I noticed them edging back into and across the wind, heading my way. Slowly they came closer, still appearing to make little effort.

Eventually, the four of them passed directly overhead, the lowest maybe 20 feet above me. Almost immediately they turned and slipped back they way they came, only this time they kept going, gliding sideways in the general direction of Maui. I watched until I couldn’t see them anymore. The whole episode probably lasted no more than 15 minutes, but it seemed to last much longer.

I’m not much of a poetry buff, but these birds made me think of the opening lines of a poem called High Flight, written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr. when he was 19 and a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in England. They read:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

13 thoughts on “Great frigatebirds on the wing

  1. naturebackin

    Great that it all came together like that. It must have been exhilarating to see them and to be able to catch them on camera. I also like the flying quote, though poignant and sad given the death of the poet soon after writing the poem.

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    1. Graham Post author

      It was very uplifting. I was glad some photos came out, but was happy just to be there and see them flying. The pilot was just 19 when he died, one of many casualties of that generation. I need to remember that next time I get outraged because my internet connection is slow!

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      1. naturebackin

        You are so right on how finding a broader perspective can be somewhat humbling. I recall reading a book by a former RAF WW2 pilot, one of the youngest to qualify, who survived the war though severely traumatised as he had to carry on flight after flight while living with the grief and shock at the many losses of friends and colleagues. It is salutary to reflect on how very young many of them were.

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  2. Terri Webster Schrandt

    Fabulous captures of the frigate birds, Graham! It is wonderful to see them up close even in the images! Thanks for the freedom theme idea this week. Normally I would link to your page to acknowledge your contribution but world events being what they are now, I figured I would take the blame if it went sour. I’ve seen some negative comments on some other posts about world events and just wanted to keep it positive as we celebrate freedom in time for Independence Day. The freedom of flight must be exhilarating for birds and for humans as stated in that wonderful poem. I used that poem a while back too. It is very touching and lets freedom ring! Have a great week!

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    1. Graham Post author

      Ha, I totally forgot ‘Freedom’ was one of the themes on that list. Feel free to blame me though! There’s a lot of negativity around right now, some of it justified, some of it not. It would be nice if our leadership, at all levels, listened to and worked for everybody instead of scoring points for themselves. Enough said. Enjoy your week, too.

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    1. Graham Post author

      That must have been so frustrating. My favorite frigatebird miss was when I was watching a turtle in the water and it suddenly got darker as a large shadow covered me. The bird went right over my head and not that far up either. I just had to laugh about it.

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