Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023

The message went out.  “There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night.  The venue will be the roof of a shopping centre car park in Redditch, Worcestershire”.  This message was sent out on social media by Jim Panda who knows a thing or two about wildlife.  A few years back, he had organised a meeting where over 100 people attended a starling murmuration in the same location.  Now Jim let the social media world know that the murmurations were back (if they ever had been away).

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
A starling murmuration at its peak.

On a Sunday afternoon people gathered on the top of the shopping centre car park. The time was just after four o’clock.  The evening was beautiful and whilst there was initially some light rain, the main event for a while was destined to be a beautiful rainbow.  People had answered Jim’s call and were turning up to see the murmuration.  As we stood overlooking the southern aspect of the car park, very little was happening.  Two pigeons were spotted and even a couple of seagulls flew by teasing the assembled photographers and onlookers.  Besides this nothing else was stirring.  Jim remained calm and reassured people who asked that the starlings had been here for the last few nights.  The waiting did have its advantages as it gave many of us the opportunity to talk to fellow photographers. We caught up with the news and gossip in our local photographic community.  Behind us a beautiful sunset was gathering pace and the colours in the cloud began to deepen.  Occasionally one of two starlings flew past, teasing us as we waited for the main event. 

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
A rainbow was the prelude to the main event.

Without knowing how or when it happened,  a flock of around 10 starlings flew by.  Then a few more groups just happened to appear and the birds started to coalesce.  Then magically a larger group of starlings was in front of us with more birds joining the main group all the time.  The murmuration was in full flight.  Everyone lined up on the southern wall and watched the birds fly back and forth.  Everyone had their iPhones, cameras and eyes on the birds.  

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023


The colours in the clouds from the sunset produced a spectacular backdrop for the movement of the birds.  At last, I understood why it is called a murmuration. The spectacular flypast was accompanied by the noise of the flapping wings.   The event was mesmerising and a few times I stopped taking photographs and just watched the birds fly around. There were several good photographers on the roof and this was demonstrated by the excellent videos and pictures that have been posted after the event.

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Starlings against the backdrop of the sunset clouds
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Golden wings as the starlings fly away from the sunset.
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
The dramatic skies provided the colour to the silhouettes of the starlings.
(This picture was shortlisted in the Fotospeed #fsprintmonday competition – 21st Feb 2024)

I took some snippets of video for the family back home. I had my trusty Canon D5 MkIV and used both my standard 40-70mm and 200mm lenses.  I experimented with some long exposures which did not get a great reaction from the family! See what you think.  The iPhone was brilliant as I was able to take several videos of the Starlings plus a few wide angled shots.  The traditional pictures of the birds against the clouds worked well.  From a story telling point of view, I wanted to show the photographers on the wall taking pictures of the murmuration.  There was a long line of people who were captivated by the event before them.  The birds make different shapes and I saw an arrow. Also there was a snake’s head eating the other birds although you may argue the shapes are something else.

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
My long exposure experiment.
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Shapes – an arrow of birds
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Shapes – A possible head and mouth which is consuming the other birds.

Time passed quickly and the birds were coming to the end of their fly past.  The car park has a line of evergreen trees at the front entrance.  Groups of birds broke away from the main group and suddenly dropped into the trees.  There was a lovely fluttering sound accompanied by the rustle of the leaves as they finally came to rest. This was repeated over the next 5 minutes leaving a few starlings still flying in formation.  Then this final group disappeared into the trees and the murmuration was finished.  


Dusk had arrived and taken a firm grip of the last light of the day. The dark of the night was just around the corner.  We made our way back to our cars and drove off chatting excitedly about the event and rushing home to see and post our pictures. If you ever get the chance to witness a murmuration then you will understand that the words and pictures do not convey the atmosphere of experiencing one of nature’s great events.

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
A diagonal run of starlings.

If you want some photographic tips on how to photograph a murmuration then this Amateur Photographer article is very useful.

Views around Little Langdale, the Lake District, 2023.

Our base for our stay in the Lake District was Lowfield House in Little Langdale. The house was comfortable and spacious with remarkable views of the valley. I have taken the liberty of posting some of the incredible views that have created memories that the family will treasure in future years. The house was central to many local attractions and the ones we took advantage were based around several of the towns and villages in the area. We visited Ambleside, Bowness, Grassmere, Keswick and Hawkshead. Our favourite happened to be Ambleside for the shops and the many activities that could be done around the town including the pretty Lakehead area. I have created several blogs of our time in the Lake District and Lowfield house was central to our holiday. My final blog will be a few views in and around the Little Langdale valley.

Views around Little Langdale, the Lake District, 2023.
A rainbow forms amongst the rain and the sun.
Views around Little Langdale, the Lake District, 2023.
A beautiful day for a walk.
Views around Little Langdale, the Lake District, 2023.
Morning mist on the fells.

The house was excellent and the website provides all the information needed although I will focus on two features that we loved. The red squirrel at the entrance to the house was impressive. This stainless steel statue is heat tarnished to provide a red tint. The first picture is of the statue and the second is how we incorporated the statue into family photographs.

Views around Little Langdale, the Lake District, 2023.
Red Squirrel by Clare Bigger.

The CookCoo clock was a big success. The grandchildren loved it and every time we came close to the hour, they gathered in the kitchen to hear it chime. Last year the swing at Swinmoor House was the feature that the family loved most. This year, the “qoo ckoo” clock took on the same significance.

The qoo ckoo clock is above the Kitchen entrance. (Picture by Katie Morgan)

Here is the family photograph taken on the steps outside the house with the fells in the background.

Views around Little Langdale, the Lake District, 2023.
Family picture on the steps outside Lowfield House.

____________

Links to the complete series of my blogs around our visit to Little Langdale in the Lake District in August 2023.

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham

This was my first Birmingham Pride parade. I am not sure why I had not been before, and I suspect that I thought that it would be somewhat predictable. Far from it. The whole parade was a wonderful colourful spectacle with so many happy people around. These happy people were not worried about having their photograph taken either, which makes the event a photographer’s dream. Birmingham at the weekend has become a busy place. More so for the weekend of Birmingham Pride as there were many Coventry City supporters around making their way to Wembley. From Moor Street to Centenary square, there were street events starting up connected to the Pride Festival. The atmosphere was electric.

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Pride car.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Welcome to Birmingham Pride.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Birmingham Hospice.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Paul and his VW camper.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Pink is the word.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Colourful.

The day was going to be a warm one and already the sun was strong with no clouds in the sky. I had brought along my polarising lens as I was anticipating strong shadows with the bright light.  In Centenary square, people were already congregating and the Exchange which is now part of the University of Birmingham was one of several meeting points. There were several colleagues from both the University and the dental hospital and people were looking forward to marching in the parade. The police and the fire service were taking part and both vehicles and people were already decorated with rainbows and colourful signs. Birmingham Hospice had a float and they said this was the first time they had taken part.  Many other well-known companies and institutions were lining up their vehicles.  Some of the decorations were very imaginative.  I met Paul who was taking part by driving his prized possession. His VW camper was adorned with rainbow decorations, and he was happy to pose in front of the vehicle. As you see, I crouched down to get a dramatic picture. There were several other colourful people that I took portraits of in the square.  As it was getting close to the start of the parade, I made my way down to the Town Hall to get a good vantage point of the parade as it headed towards New Street. 

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The head and heart of the procession.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
These tapestries tell a story.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Detail of the Pride tapestries
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
It’s a sin.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The pride possession.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
There were so many colourful flags.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Everyone was very keen to have their photograph taken with the flag.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Rainbow umbrella.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Passing by Victoria Square.

The next hour consisted of picture taking in one location and then moving swiftly forward to take more pictures further along the route. I was told by a friend that the turning point at the end of New Street at Waterstones Book shop was a good place for pictures. When I got there, I cheekily went into Waterstones and made my way up to the second floor. It was relatively quiet and so I placed myself behind the lift, where you could look out over the New Street junction. I got some good pictures of the parade from this vantage point.

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Going down New Street.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The view of the flag from Waterstones Bookshop.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The Pride Drums
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The lead bus.

After several more pictures, I then moved to the walkway that overlooked Moor Street Station. This was a good lookout on the parade as it went under the tunnel towards New Street. I moved around the road between the Primark store and Moor Street station taking many more pictures.  I caught up with the University of Birmingham participants.  There were also many dancers, free chocolate from the Cadburys float and people who were just happy to be photographed.  The Drag Queens were very interactive with the crowd and very entertaining.  

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The University of Birmingham.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The Guild of Students of the University of Birmingham.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The NHS and pride.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
IKEA were there.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The sign says it all.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
It was a hot day, I am just saying this as you look at this colourful dress.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Just look at me.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Pride people with Selfridges in the background.

By now I was getting tired and I was needed back home. All the pictures that I had taken had to be processed and as I found out later, I had taken quite a lot. The time had been well spent.  Sorry about the large number of photographs and you will be saturated with colour but that was the story of the Birmingham Pride Parade.

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Happy people
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Happy people.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Colourful buses.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Blowing bubbles

Reflections – the colourful parade is a great celebration of the LGBTQ+ community in the City of Birmingham. I was so pleased to experience the atmosphere and see all the people who took part. A big thank you for those who let me take their photographs for this blog.

Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
The Pride flag in the Underpass leading to New Street.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Being interviewed.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Everyone wanted to be photographed.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Everyone was getting into the spirit.
Birmingham Pride Parade 2023, Birmingham
Proud.

More details of Birmingham Pride Festival can be found here.

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With the long summer nights upon us, the IgersbirminghamUK team came up with the idea for a photowalk that started…

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023

Scotland is a wonderful place to always visit and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a weekend on Loch Lomond in February with Sandy.  Having flown up on the Friday morning, we picked up our hire car and made our way to Duck Bay on the bonny shores of the Loch.  A magnificent rainbow greeted us set against the backdrop of Ben Lomond.  I knew then that it was going to be a lucky weekend.  

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
A rainbow at Duck Bay with Ben Lomond in the background.

So much to see around the shores and following Duck Bay, we headed over to the east side of the Loch. When we arrived at Balmaha, the low sun was reflecting off the water creating beautiful light reflections.  I love visiting such places out of season as the places are quiet and you have the place to yourselves.  Balmaha houses the Loch Lomond coffee house and the pub serves a tasty bowl of soup. After a stroll around the Lochside we drove back to Balloch.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
The lovely view over Balmaha on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond.

Our destination for the end of the day was Loch Lomond shores. Whilst it is very commercial and more concrete than aesthetics, it is redeemed by the views of the Loch. Also I saw that renovation of the Maid of the Loch steamer was gathering pace and that the paint work had been stripped off and the metal was showing.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Loch Lomond Shores
Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
The Maid of the Loch under restoration.

Saturday morning threw up some colours in the sunrise and an early morning photographic stroll allowed for some interesting long exposures.  We were staying at the Cameron House hotel and the grounds gave excellent access to the loch shore.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Early morning view of Loch Lomond.

After breakfast, we set off for Inveraray to visit the prison museum.  This attraction was excellent and gave an insight into the past society and the harsh life people led in the Highlands especially if they broke the rules.  There was a restored black Mariah which Bill one of the staff, showed us and also provided an excellent account of life at the prison.  It was an enjoyable drive along the Loch. After every turn on the road, there was spectacular scenery just asking to be photographed.  

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
This is Bill dressed up as one of the prison guards at Inveraray Jail
Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Bill telling us about the Black Mariah prison transport.
Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Inverary on the Loch Fyne shore.

My favourite picture of the day was stopping at the layby “Rest and be Thankful”.  There was a glimpse of the sun which lit up the valley and highlighted the old military road and the roadworks on the side of the mountains.  I just stood there for several minutes taking in the beautiful scenery.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Rest and Be Thankful.

On our last morning, the weather was dull with a great deal of cloud cover.  As I wandered along Duck Bay looking for photo opportunities, I passed by many people huddled together talking in low voices. I wondered what they were doing.  Undeterred, I found a good spot on the Loch shore and set up for a long exposure.  I found an interesting stone in the water and lined it up with the island in the background.  A very peaceful scene.  As I was taking the photograph, two women in wet suits ventured into the loch and I found out that they were freshwater swimmers.  They agreed to have their photograph taken.  Whilst they were well prepared for the cold waters, a man followed soon after and he looked unprepared and a likely candidate for hypothermia from the low temperatures.  

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
A Sunday morning swim in a cold Loch Lomond.

On my way back I then realised that all the people who were standing in huddles had transformed into swimmers.  I realised that a favourite Sunday morning pastime is to venture into the cold waters around the Loch. This is not something that I would enjoy.

My final picture is from Firkin Point which I had not stopped off at before on my visits to Loch Lomond. I discovered the lone tree over the Loch. The afternoon had closed in and so the picture leant itself really well to a black and white processing.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
The lone tree at Firkin Point.

I you enjoyed this account of Loch Lomond then be sure to read these as well.

National Memorial Arboretum

Instameets are friendly photographic get togethers where you meet like-minded people for a social chat and take pictures.  The meetings are also held at fascinating venues around the West Midlands.  My usual patch is IgersbirminghamUK or the Westmidlandsphotocollective. Both hold meetings at venues which provide a multitude of photographic opportunities.  Igers_staffordshire is a group that hold Instameets around the Lichfield area.  The venue for this meeting was the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  The Arboretum occupies a large swathe of land just North of Lichfield and is well signposted off the A38.  However, it is a place that I always pass by and think to myself that is somewhere to visit in the future.  When Igers_staffordshire advertised the event then I quickly signed up.  The meeting started in the car park which is one of the strategic places in the Arboretum.  Whilst entry to the site is free, car parking is strictly controlled and must be prebooked.  The entrance and the welcome buildings guide you through to the main body of the Arboretum.  I was greeted by the organisers and it is easy to work out who the photographers are as you will not miss the tripods, backpacks and cameras on display.  Once through the entrance we made our way to the most commanding monument which is the Armed Forces Memorial.  It is not difficult to miss as it sits as a raised structure with an attractive circle of trees.  We posed on the steps for the picture of the group and then started exploring.

National Memorial Arboretum
The inside of the Armed Forces Memorial

You find yourself pulled towards the Armed Forces Memorial, up the steps and into the inner parts.  It borrows heavily in architectural design from the Greeks and Romans.  It is impressive, and it was here that I met Kenneth who is a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum. We got talking about the Arboretum and Kenneth outlined some of the major features about the place. He showed me where a shaft of sunlight shines through the gaps in the southern walls onto the central bronze wreath on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month #Armistaceday. Kenneth does two days volunteering and is out in all weathers, greeting visitors. His welcoming smile and enthusiasm help visitors to get the most from their visit. Kenneth is one of many volunteers who I met during my time at the Arboretum. I explained to Kenneth about my ‘100strangers’ project and he agreed to being photographed. This picture shows him standing in the centre of the #ArmedForcesMemorial near the central wreath with the #cenotaph in the background.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVqFBz6DwvR/
Kenneth, Volunteer

Next, I set off to visit the rest of the Arboretum.  There were several memorials that I passed along the way including those to the Iraq war and The Polish War memorial.   I did like the Irish Infantry Grove.  The paving stones are set out with a map of Ireland.  From there, I wandered into the trees and was taken with the numerous discs with messages on them.  There is so much to take in and this blog only touches the surface.  I posted several sets of pictures on Instagram.

National Memorial Arboretum
Looking through and remembering

The first is a set of lines and colours that made an impression on me. The #shotatdawn memorial by artist #AndyDeComyn was particularly moving.  Consisting of stakes in the ground representing the young men shot by firing squad.  There are several other memorials captured here.

My other reflection from my visit was the numerous Connections in the Arboretum and this is the link for this series of photographs including pictures with permission of soldiers remembering people behind the names. The sun and the rain connect with the memorials to enhance their stories.

It was a moving day out and I covered a fair amount of the Arboretum.  There is still much more to see.  These are the best of the pictures although there were many more to discover. Several of the memorials have been cleverly designed to catch the natural elements such as the sun and rain providing reflections and opportunities for carefully taken pictures that bring out the best in their design.

Finally a big thank you to @igers_staffordshire for organising this instameet. I also met such great fellow photographers.  Follow #igersstaffordshire_nma for all the pictures taken by the group on the day.

National Memorial Arboretum
A rainbow brings hope and joy
City of Culture 2021

Coventry is the City of Culture for 2021.  This prestigious title runs from  May 2021 to May 2022 and it follows on from Derry/Londonderry in 2013 and Hull in 2017.  Taking my first train for over a year, I set off from Leamington to Coventry.  So let’s be brutal, Coventry is not a place you would first associate with culture but do a little digging and you will be pleasantly surprised.  The home of the Specials and Ska music offers up several delights.  Autumn 2020 was my last visit to the City.  Then my pictures were taken around the two Cathedrals and a brief stroll around town.  This visit began at the train station and we moved through the city to the Canal Basin.  The train station is sixties architecture which has seen better days.  Leaving the station area we moved into the Plaza towards the much loved Trigger statue.  Trigger, a metal horse, was put together by Coventry University student Simon Evans in the 1980s using scrap materials.  Lots of photo opportunities around Trigger whether it is close up details or the interaction of people around it.

Trigger
Trigger, the metal horse
City of Culture 2021
Bustling Street Scene

Moving on through towards the shopping centre, next stop the rainbow street or better known as Hertford Street.  Here the Coventry City of Culture offices are situated.  I asked the volunteers if they did not mind having their photograph taken to which they were a bit taken aback.  I love their jackets!  The street is colourful and a haven for Streetphotography as you will see from my photographs. I had my polariser filter on the wide angled Canon 5D which brought out the colours as people wandered past.  We could have spent hours there but we moved on into the central shopping area. 

City of Culture 2021
City of Culture 2021
City of Culture 2021
Rainbow colours

We took a look at Pepper Lane that had been spruced up with colourful paint.  The street art mural by @mattchuuk dominates the far end.  The mural is a past, present and future dreamlike composition representing the spirit of Coventry.

City of Culture 2021
Pepper Lane with the mural by Matt Chu
City of Culture 2021
Matt Chu’s mural representing the past, present and future looks onto the Holy Trinity Church

Moving on to, through and past the Cathedral Square. We hit upon the tired and brutal architecture of the Britannia Hotel and moved swiftly onto the Whittle arches around Hale Street.  Their imposing shapes fits in well with the surrounding area.  Everything is blue including the buses and the spiral overpass into Lady Herbert’s Gardens and Volgograd place.  So good to take pictures and another place where you could spend a great deal of time people watching and taking pictures. 

City of Culture 2021
Reminder of Brutal Coventry
City of Culture 2021
Blue bridge and cyclist
City of Culture 2021
Old and new of Coventry
City of Culture 2021
On the bridge

Moving on our next destination was the Coventry Canal basin.  I warned my photo buddy not to expect much as at my last visit, there was not much to see.  I was glad to be proved wrong as there was activity around the basin and a few long boats were moored up.  By chance I noticed people sitting outside a café near the canal bridge.  Playwright’s café turned out to be a hidden gem.  Scones were lovely and the coffee just right.  Great service from the owner as well.  So my opinion of the area is changed now! 

City of Culture 2021
on the way to the Canal Basin
City of Culture 2021
Coventry Canal Basin

Time to make our way back through the City to the train station.  So lots to like about Coventry in its new clothes as City of Culture.  There is still the awful Brutalist buildings, the bad architecture but there is also a sense of optimism around the place.  The Specials sang in 1981  “This town is coming like a ghost town”, to which I would have agreed a few years ago.  Now “the good old days before the ghost town” are slowly returning.  I really hope so!

City of Culture 2021
No Ghost Town on the left but maybe on the right

Here are some more pictures from our walk

City of Culture 2021
My good friend and photo companion, John Bray

There is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It is the feel good factor that thousands of children across the country have drawn a rainbow and put in their front windows.  Other children have drawn the rainbows in chalk and they brighten up the pathways outside houses.  These are a few examples from our village of Knowle near Solihull.  Chasing the rainbow brings much hope to people and is a way of connecting everyone through this terrible crisis.