Someone in the family had heard that was a place in northern Germany, just half an hours drive from the house, where you could watch the sort sol in the autumn evenings, where people would even drive from Copenhagen to witness it. None of us had ever seen this natural phenomenon, so at half past four, we dressed in our warmest clothes – layers of jumpers, scarves, coats, gloves – and piled into the car.

The gps took us across the border into Germany, and down country roads that became ever smaller, until the tarmac ran out next to a hastily erected sign that pointed down the track to “sort sol observation”. We parked and gingerly negotiated the muddy path in entirely unsuitable shoes, with rising anticipation. The flat fields spread out around us as far as the eye could see, towards wind farms and forests in the distance. In front of us, large expanses of reeds on the marshland danced in the cold evening wind and the sun sat low in the sky, casting a golden light over everything.

We joined a big group of Danish tourists sitting on an embankment, and eavesdropped on their guide’s stories of the birds, their habitat, the migration patterns. We watched the sky eagerly, passing the cheap binoculars between us at every sign of a bird – “There, there are six right there!” The sound of geese making their bedtime routines hidden in the reeds created a musical backdrop to our waiting.

An hour later and our toes had turned to ice, we were jumping and rubbing hands together to keep some sense of warmth in our bodies. The sun began to dip towards the horizon, when suddenly a larger group of starlings was seen in the distance, like a drone of bees, flying together in tight circles. In no time at all, they were joined by another fifty, another hundred, the size of their circles increasing with every new arrival.

Our expectations had been high but it is hard to express how beautiful it was to witness this annual dance of the birds before their long migration south. It was like a joyful thank you to the countryside for keeping them alive through the spring and summer. The flock grew and grew until there were thousands, tens of thousands (wiki tells me there can be up to a million) of birds diving and circling and dancing, and still more arrived. To be witnessing it felt like a great honour and there was a sense of awe amongst everyone watching, as people whispered in excitement to each other with every turn.

By now there were so many birds that it was hard to make them out individually. They moved as one group, somehow coordinating their dance above the reeds. They’d fly in one direction, black against the sky, and then suddenly all turn at once away, so that you thought you had blinked and they’d disappeared. But then they’d quickly turn again and blacken the sky with their movement.

And then suddenly, just as quickly as they arrived, they dived down in one movement into the reed bed, flattening the reeds with their combined weight into a floating bed on top of the watery marshland. The rushing sound as they landed in their thousands was incredible, like a mighty wind.

And then they were out of sight, the sky empty again and the sun already long gone behind the horizon, and we turned to make our way slowly back down the muddy track to the car, full of what we had just witnessed.

 

Photos all taken by Rasmus and I, until our camera battery died just as the flock was growing. These just give you a small impression of how immense and beautiful it was to see – use your imagination and if you ever get the chance to witness it yourself, make sure your camera battery is fully charged.

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