The parking lot at the north gate shopping mall in San Rafael California,
has been much quieter since the pandemic began.
But this evening cars are pouring in.
Not for a movie at the multiplex which is closed,
but for a rare opportunity to see a murmuration.
It's a phenomenon I've always wanted to see.
For the past week, thousands of starlings have gathered here at dusk,
to fly in intricate synchronized patterns.
Judy and Bill Lauter have been seeing the birds from their house,
but wanted to get a closer look.
The crowds are birds, it's unbelievable.
We honestly are not very sure what we will see tonight.
We wanted to keep it a surprise so we didn't see a lot of videos.
Garji and Akshay make nature journals to document their experiences.
It's just given us a new way of looking at things around us like really noticing my new details.
As the sun sets, the show begins.
Starlings are social creatures and on winter evenings,
they gather together in large groups, says biologist Roger Harris.
They're probably making what we call contact calls,
saying I'm okay, are you okay, how are you doing and just sort of getting into sync.
You'll see maybe 500 birds all appearing to turn exactly at the same time.
But with the high-speed photography,
what is discovered is that one bird actually turns and then has a ripple effect.
Part of the nightly drama involves evading peregrine falcons that come to feed on the starlings.
When a predator comes the flock tightens up it gets denser.
It makes it more difficult more confusing for the predator.
But also from a selfish point of view, if you're in the flock,
you're going to try to get into the middle of the flock,
when there's a predator rather than being at the outside.
The birds seem to be having fun just like their audience on the ground.
So I've been here like four nights in a row checking this out.
I think the joy and wonderment that everybody is here for is a really good thing.
We all need something like this to feel good about.
And then like a curtain dropping on a stage,
the starlings descend into a grove of eucalyptus trees for the night.
Matt Dibble for voa news San Rafael California