It was late February evenings in 2020, and I was standing in the swamps of Friesland, a northern province in the Netherlands. Above my head, hundreds of thousands of starlings were hovering, swooping and diving in a dramatic fashion, blackening the sky.
The sound of their wings resounded through the air, causing wind patterns to appear on the surface of the still water.
The astonishing sight was the culmination of three years I spent following European starlings along their migration routes across the continent.
My only companion that night was a stranger who also stopped by to watch the birds – an elderly woman who had witnessed the astonishing spectacle for nearly half an hour.
Having settled in the large reed beds, the birds turned to me with tears in their eyes. “It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my entire life,” she said.
I had to agree with her.
After 25 years of international work spent photographing many of the world’s most famous musicians and actors, I recently returned to my childhood landscapes in southern Denmark to photograph a visual phenomenon I first witnessed as a boy.
I began by photographing the great grumbling taking place in the northern stretches of the Wadden Sea, a humid coastal environment – the world’s largest uninterrupted system of sand and mud, according to the UNESCO World Heritage List – that stretches from the northern coasts of Holland and Germany to the swamps of southern Denmark.
Here, each spring and fall, the skies come alive with the swirling displays of hundreds of thousands of starlings – an event known locally as “sol sorting” or “black sun” – as the birds pass on their seasonal migrations.
Later, I extended my photographic realization to Rome, England, Holland, Ireland and Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain.
There is no single definitive explanation for why starlings mumble, although most scientists believe this behavior helps protect birds from predators. (Another possible explanation is that puffs can help starlings keep warm in the evening by recruiting larger roosts.) Moving in tandem as one large entity confuses predators and reduces the risk for each individual bird, a phenomenon called the “mitigating effect.”
Most of the dramas I’ve seen happened when one or more hawks, falcons, or more were attacking flocks of starlings.
Even more difficult to explain, however, is how birds are able to move in such close proximity, tightly coordinating their movements. Studies have found that each starling responds to six or seven of its closest neighbours, a number that appears to improve the balance between group cohesion and individual effort.
As with the movement of groups of fish and flocks of midges, the movement of starlings exhibits characteristics of what is called scale-free behavioral correlation, meaning that a change in the state of a single starling can affect—and be affected by—all other starlings in the herd, whatever the size of the herd.
In creating this series of portraits, I drew inspiration from a number of other art forms, including classic landscape painting, calligraphy, and Japanese woodblock prints. I was also inspired by the birds themselves.
Travel trends that will define 2022
I look ahead. As governments around the world ease coronavirus restrictions, the travel industry is hoping this will be the year when travel comes back again. Here’s what to expect:
When starlings move as one unified being and assert themselves against the sky, they create a powerful visual expression, like a calligraphic brush stroke. Lines and shapes appear within the swarm, bringing to life physical abstractions and calling to mind the patterns formed by interfering waves.
The graphic and organic hues of starlings range from meditative to highly dramatic as they perform a breathtaking ballet, with life-or-death consequences.
Sometimes the flock seems to possess the cohesive force of a superfluid, changing its shape in an endless flow.
From geometric to organic, from solid to liquid, from matter to ethereal, from reality to dream: this is the moment I try to capture – just a part of eternity.
Soren Solker He is a Danish photographer. his latest book, “black sun,” Featuring over 100 photographs of arrogance starlings. You can continue his work Facebook And the Instagram.