As I made my way towards Burrow Mump in Somerset, I had thought of starlings. I knew that a little further north was where they congregate during the winter; vast numbers that will, when the conditions are right, dance together in the sky in huge, mesmerizing masses, known as ‘murmurations’. But this behaviour normally only happens around sunset, when they’re deciding where to roost.
I had (briefly) toyed with the idea of heading up to the Somerset Levels the night before and sleeping in my car so that I could see them swirl and then catch the sunrise the next day, but after hearing reports that it could potentially be the coldest night of the year I decided against it. (I was once frozen inside my car in the Welsh mountains. I got out but one leg muscle, having become glacial during the night, never forgave me).
So instead I traveled up early in the morning and I was overjoyed when, shortly before sunrise, flock after flock of starlings flew over my head and out across Southlake Moor. They were on their way to feed, so had no time for their aerial somersaults, but the noise of each pair of wings beating through the air; thousand upon thousand of feathers vibrating together, pushing them on through the crisp morning, was staggering. But quietly, in the way that moonlight reflecting off the surface of the ocean or an autumn leaf catching the afternoon light as it falls is staggering. There is nothing flamboyant about it. Moments such as these do not scream for attention or praise. But they are no less beautiful in their modesty. And it was the same with the starlings. They were hungry and were flying together, not to impress me or anyone else, but for their own safety, and nothing more.
But I am moved by such things. And so I stood beneath them, completely amazed.