A murmuration of smoke — who cares about starlings?

Contrarian friend Dave Atkinson one-ups that video of a starling flock’s undulations.

Walking home the other day from my work at the University of Prince Edward Island, I saw two men ahead of me on the Confederation Trail. They were mesmerized by something in the sky. One of them was taking photographs with his phone.

At first, I thought they were watching an eagle, as they’re not uncommon in Charlottetown. When I caught up to them, they asked if I could see the magic smoke.

“Magic smoke?” I asked, wondering if they’d inhaled some.

“Yeah, look!”

Low on the horizon, a few hundred metres away, whisps of grey and black danced back and forth above the trees. “See how it breaks into groups, moves up and down and sideways and backwards? Sometimes it splits into two different clouds, then joins back together. Crazy!”

It was an amazing feat. But it wasn’t smoke.

“Starlings,” I said. “They start to move in big flocks at this time of year. They move like a school of fish. It’s amazing.”

I stood watching with them for a few moments. One of them men got on his bike and started peddling away.

“I’m not wasting my time watching a bunch of birds.”