I took my dog, Laika, to Degibna last week. At this time of year, there are fewer and fewer people who venture over to the area, leaving it quiet and a great opportunity to spot nature.
The clouds were thick and low, making it seem darker than it was. As we drove along the dirt track, a small flock of starlings flew alongside the car, about a metre above the window. For a moment, it felt as though Laika and I were amongst them, leaving me with the feeling that I was airborne, weightless.
I parked the car up and guided Laika into the field. Cows are grazed here during the warmer months, but as autumn sets in they are moved and the place is deserted, the grass left to grow in long clumps with hidden thistles nestled between the blades. There are three fields, connected by thick gorse-covered hedgerows and all sloping downwards, giving a beautiful view over Loe Pool. As I meandered slowly towards the bottom, I noticed some birds circling low over the grass, chattering to each other. I pulled back, watching Laika out of the corner of my eye as she headed in the opposite direction towards the gate. Her presence must have alerted them as suddenly, as if one giant beast, the birds leapt up from the undergrowth and into the air. Within split seconds, the same group of starlings I had seen earlier had assembled and begun to fly as one, creating strange and beautiful shapes; twisting and looping around one another. They reminded me of a dragon, an almighty beast traversing the sky. The being suddenly rose, swooped over the hedge and flew low over the valley.
I broke into a run as Laika excitedly galloped alongside me. The long, wet grass licked at my ankles and soaked through my boots, their waterproof sealant long faded. I came to a stop at the brow of the hill, breathing heavily, eyes searching wildly over Loe Pool. All traces of the birds were gone.
A heavy fog had settled over the water. The trees lining the water’s edge which were a garland of gold just a few days before, appeared dull, muted by misty grey filter that covered them. The gatehouse peeked through the vegetation. It had a light turned on upstairs which shone like a beacon in the distance, conjuring up the imagery of a cosy fire, woollen checked blankets and hot chocolate. I pulled my coat around me and just as I was about to call Laika back up from where she was sniffing, on the trail of a fox that had slunk through the night before, I heard the sound of a huge gust of wind – yet the trees did not ruffle. In the distance, a cloud of birds had begun to form over the water, gathering great height as though they were standing slowly up over the pool. The shape arced before swooping back down once more, skimming the surface.
I quickly made my way down the hill towards the water and hopped over a gate as Laika squeezed underneath it. Together, we walked slowly towards some bushes and hid. In front of us, just through the reeds we could see the shape as it skipped over the water, forming and reforming, dipping to just touch the water’s surface in the dusky light. More birds joined the furore as the congregation grew larger and larger, till it appeared like an apparition from a supernatural film.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of waves crashing against the shore. But as the water appeared calm, I snuck a little closer. Thousands of starlings hurtled towards me at an incredible speed. They were nestling down into the reeds that bordered the pool and the sound was deafening. As the birds settled, creating a black layer amongst the yellowed stalks, they chattered and chirruped to each other, sharing the information they had picked up for the day as they jostled to find their own space amongst the reeds. Above the din of their warbling, the sound of thousands of wings beating in unison resonated around the trees, making me feel as though I was stood at the top of a cliff on a windy day.
I stood in amazement, my mouth dangling at the spectacle. I had never seen so many starlings all in one place and had no idea that this was the place they flocked to at night. I motioned to Laika who was busily investigating the path, seemingly unaffected by the incredible performance that was happening in front of us, and quietly coaxed her out. I was terrified that the birds would see us and be frightened, unsure of what affect would take place should this amount of birds all take off at once.
I crept along the path as Laika bounded ahead of me. We made our way back over (and under) the gate and into the first field. Above us, they sky had had begun to darken. The night quickly settled in, oozing through the clouds. We hurried back up the hill, weaving through the fields to reach solitude. I felt as though the dark was chasing me, its hand reaching out, just behind me, aching to touch my shoulder. We pushed through the final gate and scrambled into the car. As I closed the doors, the rain began to fall.