The transfixing beauty of starling murmurs

It was an evening in late February 2020 and I was standing in the wetlands of Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. Over my head, hundreds of thousands of starlings swirled, swept away and submerged dramatically, blackening the sky.

The sound of its wings reverberated through the air, creating wind patterns on the surface of still water.

The fascinating scene was the three-year climax he had spent following European starlings along their migratory routes across the continent.

My only companion that night was a stranger who had also stopped to watch the birds: an elderly woman who witnessed the incredible spectacle for almost half an hour.

After the birds had settled in the large reedbeds, he turned to me with tears in his eyes. “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

I had to agree with her.

After a 25-year international career dedicated to photographing many of the world’s most famous musicians and actors, I recently returned to the landscape of my childhood in southern Denmark to photograph a visual phenomenon I first witnessed as a child.

I started by photographing the great murmurs of starlings that take place in the northern stretches of the Wadden Sea, an environment of coastal wetlands – the world’s largest uninterrupted system of sand and intertidal mud flats, according to its World Heritage List. UNESCO- which extends from the north. coasts of the Netherlands and Germany to the wetlands of southern Denmark.

Here, every spring and fall, the skies come to life with the swirling displays of hundreds of thousands of starlings, an event known locally as the “black sun” or “black sun,” as birds pass through their seasonal migrations.

Later, I expanded the scope of my photographic research to include Rome, England, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain.

There is no single definitive explanation for why starlings murmur, although most scientists theorize that behavior helps protect birds from predators. (Another possible explanation is that murmurs can help starlings stay warm in the evening by recruiting larger bedrooms.) Moving in tandem as a single large entity confuses predators and reduces the risk for each individual bird, a phenomenon called “dilution effect”. ”

Most of the dramatic performances I witnessed occurred when one or more hawks or hawks attacked the starling herds.

What is more difficult to explain, however, is how birds are able to move in such close proximity, with their movements so closely coordinated. Studies have shown that each starling responds to six or seven of its closest neighbors, a figure that seems to optimize the balance between group cohesion and individual effort.

As is true with the movement of schools of fish and swarms of mosquitoes, the movement of starlings shows characteristics of what is called a correlation of flawless behavior, that is, a change in the state of a single starling can affect -and be affected by- every other starling in the herd, no matter the size of the herd.

In creating this series of images, I was inspired by other art forms, such as classical landscape painting, calligraphy, and Japanese woodcuts. I was also inspired by the birds themselves.

When starlings move as a single unified organism and assert themselves against the sky, they create a strong visual expression, like that of a calligraphic brushstroke. Lines and shapes emerge within the swarm, giving life to physical abstractions and recalling patterns formed by interfering waves.

The graphic and organic forms of starling murmurs range from meditative to very dramatic, while performing an impressive ballet, with life or death consequences.

At times, the herd seems to possess the cohesive power of superfluids, changing shape in an endless stream.

From geometric to organic, from solid to fluid, from material to ether, from reality to dream: this is the moment I am trying to capture: a simple fragment of eternity.

Søren Solkær is a Danish photographer. His most recent book, “Black Sun” includes more than 100 photos of starling murmurs. You can follow his work Facebook i Instagram.

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