Starling Murmuration

Last week I finally made it down to Brighton seafront to watch the starlings perform their magnificent murmuration display. Currently they are roosting under the Palace Pier, and they start to gather around 20 minutes before sunset. I joined many other photographers setting up on the pier and the beach to watch this amazing free show. The display started slowly, with small flocks of starlings beginning to circuit the pier, but these slowly grew and merged into larger groups, and then into a massive swarm of birds. That’s when the fun really starts.

starling murmuration

Murmuration of starlings at the Palace Pier, Brighton.

The shapes and patterns slowly merge and transform as new flocks join the mass.

starling murmuration

A second flock of starlings appears

starling murmuration

starling murmuration

Starlings over the sea with the Rampion wind farm in the distance

starling murmuration

Detail close-up of starling murmuration

starling murmuration

Starlings skimming the surface

The whole display lasted about 45 minutes, ending just before 5.30pm. But it’s a nightly event until the end of February (approx.), when the birds finally move away on their summer migration.

Photographically the main challenges are: (a) not taking too many photos, especially if you use burst mode, as I do; (b) managing the light, which is fading rapidly across the hour; (c) keeping the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action and avoid camera shake; (d) having sufficient depth of field to keep things in focus. I used my 70-200 lens (which is plenty long enough), and set it at around f/11 (this reduced to f/9 as the light dropped). I tried to keep the shutter speed above 1/250s which meant slowly increasing the ISO (it started on around ISO 800 and ended up on ISO 6400). I also dialled in about -1 exposure compensation (this improves the contrast and helps keep the shutter speed up).

Overall I was pleased with the results (though I did take too many shots). If you are in Brighton just before sunset then it is well worth stopping to watch.

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II and EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS II USM lens.

Posted in Birds, starlings, Wildlife Tagged , , , |

January Foxes

I’ve been very neglectful of the blog in recent months and while I can’t promise to post as regularly as in the past, I will try to keep things ticking over. So in that context, here’s a short update of January. And that means foxes.

The winter months can sometimes be quiet, but this year three of the regular foxes have continued to stay around through the winter months. This is unusual as in most years the younger foxes have been driven off in autumn. At the moment though there are two younger foxes still around, plus Wolfy the adult vixen. There’s also a large dog fox who shows up occasionally, but I’ve only sighted him on the trail cam. He’s big, but he’s shy.

two young foxes

The two young foxes. The one on the right has last part of his brush.

These two are last season’s youngsters. The one with the short brush is the bolder of the pair and therefore gets photographed more frequently. The other fox tends to sit at the back of the garden when I’m out there, minding his own business until I retreat to the house. Neither are nearly as confident as Wolfy, their mother, who ventures all over the garden and will quite happily tolerate me.


A typical shot of Wolfy near the front of the garden

And an ultra close-up shot of her.

But it’s not just been foxes. The mild winter has produced some earthstar fungi in a secluded corner of the garden. These are lovely little sproutings that open out into a puffball with fleshy wings forming a star around the centre. We have a little clump of them that appeared seemingly from nowhere!

earthstar fungi

Earthstar newly opened

The sky also offers great photo opportunities. This is the moon taken on a cloudy night. I shot it as a thin layer of cloud was passing in front of it, which allowed me to boost the shadows without burning out the moon itself. The colours embedded in the night sky are surprisingly varied. I’ve slightly boosted them in processing to create this image.

moon among clouds at night

This was a near full moon (99% illuminated), surrounded by clouds and giving a colourful halo effect.

I’ve also spent a little bit of time photographing local birds but I’ll save those shots for another post. Meanwhile here’s a couple more photos of the foxes.

young fox lying down

This is the fox with the shortened brush in a very relaxed mood.

fox at night

Wolfy at night

That’s all for the moment, but I’ll try not to leave it as long until the next post.

Posted in Foxes, fungi, Moon, Wildlife Tagged , , , |

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Posted in Wildlife