Alison Wilding

During January and February at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, starlings gather at dusk before roosting. From 4.30 pm for a period of approximately 40 minutes, small groups of birds flew in from all directions converging into an ever expanding swathe. Against a cloudy and darkening sky the starlings massed together flying above us like a continuous hail of arrows. At one point a sparrowhawk was amongst them and the bird cloud split in two – one half peeling off to the left, the other to the right; miraculously no two birds ever appeared to touch – a million separate dynamic marks in the sky. The bird formation described a drum, stretched into an elastic strip, then the funnel of a tornado, becoming invisible as they turned sharply in the air. It was an unpredictable display of shape-shifting geometry. As the starlings circled, flying lower and lower preparing to roost, the noise from the beating of their wings was thrilling – a huge engine flying over-head. The starlings came down suddenly, almost invisibly, as one body. The sky was empty. I had watched a drawing masterclass.

Alison Wilding, February 2005