Watching and photographing a starling murmuration

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.

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