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The sky above the small West Yorkshire town of Silsden was cold, empty and silent. I swear the sun was shivering as it shrank below the horizon.

‘Any minute now,’ said mum. She handed out binoculars. I handed out gloves, hats. Zipped up coats. Felt my toes starting to go numb, which doesn’t take long when you’re  standing still on a hill at 4pm in early January.

I got back in the car and blew on my fingers.

‘Just wait. Not long now. They’ll start coming in their little foraging groups, from all around.’

The boys kicked stones, climbed a gate and looked at stuff through the wrong end of the binoculars. A tractor went by. Two more cars appeared, parked up, and disgorged people who, like us, kept glancing expectantly at the sky.

Someone pointed. A small group of starlings was flying in. Then another. And another, another. They started coming in from all sides and converging above the fields nearby. Within 15 minutes, there were thousands of them, swooping, twisting, spinning, curling. The flock seemed to pour itself from one shape into another, one minute a solid, thick, vertical black band, the next a flat open-weave of whirring wings drawing itself over us like a living blanket.

Then, after about half an hour, the starlings congregated above a clump of trees. At some kind of signal, they plunged down. Many found a perch, many didn’t and flurried back up to re-group. It took three or four attempts before they all finally found a roost.

All of a sudden, the sky was  empty once again. But this time it was far from silent. As we trudged back to the car, raucous bird-chat filled the air as the starlings gossiped noisily about their day.

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