Murmuration by Sophie Windsor Clive & Liberty Smith 2

On their Islands and Rivers website, Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith describe their video:

A short film that follows the journey of two girls in a canoe on the River Shannon and how they stumble across one of nature’s greatest phenomenons; a murmuration of starlings.

Imagine yourself in a car, in a long line, at a stop light. When the light turns green, all the cars move forward simultaneously, without waiting for the car ahead to move first — as if a group mind had taken hold. That’s a crude approximation of the magic of a murmuration.

As with many aspects of nature, we are better at categorizing a murmuration than explaining it. Wired Magazine reported on the physics of murmurations. It is worth a read.

To watch the uncanny synchronization of a starling flock in flight is to wonder if the birds aren’t actually a single entity, governed by something beyond the usual rules of biology. New research suggests that’s true . . . That phenomenon is known as scale-free correlation, and transcends biology.


Sophie’s lovely account for EarthDesk is as good a description of a murmuration as you are likely to find:

Liberty was making her graduation short film in the role of Production Designer in January 2010 and asked me to be her art director.   We drove from England to Ireland with all the props we would need for the production and my canoe trapped to the roof.  We were staying in a house on the edge of the River Shannon.  We had a break in shooting for an afternoon so the two of us set out in the canoe on an adventure  Our aim was to reach an island we heard about with a ruined church on it.

The island we found was not the one we planned to visit.  This one was covered in a carpet of one inch thick bird poo. Then they started to arrive–just a few at first–flying low over the tree tops, seemingly very surprised to see us. We headed back down to the beach.  Birds started filled the sky to the horizon.  Then they started to gather, rising and falling, each one catching onto to the same poem until they were all one great crescendo.  The peak of the performance took place once we set off back to the mainland.  It felt like they collectively decided to play with us, in both a joyful and territorial way.

At the time, I was filming everything and had two cameras on me.  The good one ran out of juice just before the grand finale hence the change in footage quality during the piece.  A great blessing is that Liberty was holding that 2nd camera rather than me!   You need nerves of steel and the focus of a lazar to get that fluidity of camera movement with the motion of the birds in a canoe in January!!!

It was a complete surprise, we had no idea it was going to happen – what serendipity and to share it over and over is such a blessing. Liberty and I are passionate supporters of the environment and any way we can spread a love and respect for nature we will do so! We hope our film can help raise awareness for our wilderness and creatures within it.

If you happen to be on the other side of the Atlantic, this is the season for murmurations. The Guardian newspaper is encouraging its readers to send photos and videos.

«« »»

Sophie and Liberty are independent documentary filmmakers based in London and New York.  Their past projects range from the educational to the experimental, a diverse body of work, that includes art department for feature films to award winning short documentaries. They have previously collaborated with The House of FairytalesFilm LondonOctober FilmsIdeas Tap and many schools and museums. They find inspiration from bike rides, being by water, making things and meeting people.

Learn more about Sophie, Liberty and their work at the Islands and Rivers website.
Follow on Twitter: @Islands_Rivers.
Follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IslandsAndRivers