Tag Archives: starlings

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 Also tagged , , |

Out and About Around Brighton

In between all the foxes I’ve been spending a little more time out and about with the camera. Still all in the local area, but finding new subjects and places to explore. A few days ago I decided to explore the area opposite one of my usual haunts (Sheepcote Valley) and took a wander along the tracks that run between the meadows on the north of the main road. It was an eye opener. There were some lovely views across the valley, and loads of horses in paddocks.

horse in paddock

Horse in paddocks around Woodingdean, East Sussex

portrait of horse's head

Portrait shot

white hrose

White horse with view of houses in the distance


Loved the colours on this horse and the soft reflected sunlight on the distant hill

That’s an area I’ll certainly be re-visiting.

A few days later I was really bold and wandered down into Brighton proper. I did have a particular subject in mind… the murmuration of starlings that takes place at sunset around the Palace Pier, but I was there much earlier which gave me some time in the afternoon. Apart from the usual shots of the i-360, I spend an age watching the Brighton Bubble Man entertaining the small crowd alongside the West Pier. The bubbles he creates are huge. Here’s just a few shots that worked out ok. Worth stopping by if you are ever down there.

giant bubble

Child’s hand reaching up to a bubble

Giant bubble framing the West Pier

Bubbles over the West Pier (by The BubbleMan)

A cup of coffee and a slice of cake later, the sun was beginning to go down and I got ready for the main event. Sunset was at 5.16pm and at 5.00pm I was still wondering whether anything would happen. There were starlings to be seen. But nature knows its stuff and as the sun went down below the horizon, small flocks of starlings started to gather and very quickly merged into a massive flock. And then they started the sky painting. This was my first attempt at murmurations and I made a few mistakes. I should have had more of the western sky in the shot (better colours), but my aim was to also grab plenty of the pier itself for context. I tried to keep the shutter rate high (above 1/250 with a decent depth of field). Inevitably it gets more difficult as the light disappears. I’ve included shots where the classic shape of the murmuration is more evident.

murmuration of starlings at Brighton

Murmuration of starlings at Brighton Palace Pier

murmuration of starlings at Brighton

Murmuration of starlings at Brighton Palace Pier

murmuration of starlings at Brighton

Murmuration of starlings at Brighton Palace Pier

I mentioned the advantage of looking west to catch the true colour of the sunset. These were taken shortly before the sun disappeared.

sunset brighton beach

West Pier (and i360) at sunset

sunset brighton beach

West Pier (and i360) at sunset

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II. I used the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for the horses and the EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS II USM lens for everything else.

Posted in Birds, coastal, horse, Landscape, Seaside Views, starlings, Sunset, Wildlife Also tagged , , , , , |

Up in the Sky

I’m still playing around with the 7D Mark II and spent some time today calibrating the 400mm lens, which had felt a bit soft. I’d had to do the same with the previous camera and my method of calibrating is none too exact, though making the in-camera adjustments is easy. It may take me a few attempts to get the lens working to its maximum capability. That said, the settings are not too far off.

The first sequence (with the uncalibrated 400mm lens) is a sparrowhawk flying over the garden this morning, startling (but not attacking) a small flock of starlings.

sparrowhawk and starlings

The sparrowhawk flies close to the starlings

The starlings wheeled away. The sparrowhawk was searching, but not hunting. It hung over the garden for a while longer.




The next shot, of a helicopter, was taken with the 100-400mm lens.


Now a herring gull (I’d calibrated the 400mm lens by this point and was using the 1.4 extender).

Herring gull

There’s one other regular feature in the sky that is hard to miss. It appeared mid to late afternoon.


Moon before nightfall – 400mm lens

And it was still there tonight.


Moon after dark – 400mm lens + 1.4x extender

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 7D Mark II. Lenses are the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM IS lens, EF 400mm f/5.6L USM and Canon EF 1.4xIII extender as indicated.

Posted in Bird of Prey, Helicopter, Moon, sparrowhawk, water birds, Wildlife Also tagged , , , , |