The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Starling Murmurations over Castle Douglas

I've been trying to put together a blog post about the starling murmurations in Castle Douglas for a several weeks now, but it's not been easy.

For some reason, these small birds have been gathering in their thousands over this town, in a way I haven't seen in the 15 years we've lived here.

And as the sun disappears over the horizon, they flock together in larger and larger numbers, all swooping and diving across the sky in apparent synchronicity: smaller groups joining bigger ones, then sections break away only to turn back and rejoin.

Suddenly patterns emerge – shapes in the sky stretch, contract, and flow. It looks like a mushroom, a boomerang, a manatee, a shark, a seahorse, a question mark – and then they spread out like an undulating blanket.

It is absolutely hypnotic.

I've seen this kind of thing on TV nature programmes, but to experience it first hand induces a whole new level of wonder.

We have sometimes seen them from the kitchen, but there's a great big tree in the middle of the view, jutting up from our neighbour's garden so I've kept running upstairs to look out from Meg's bedroom window, for a better view. But the tree still dominates.

I'm not a wildlife or landscape photographer. People are my speciality: people I can talk to, interact with, ask to move in this direction or that while I tailor the lighting to sculpt the mood.

This is not my realm, so I feel hopelessly inadequate to capture the look, feeling and sheer scale of this nightly event.

I heard of them gathering just outside of Castle Douglas, on the edge of town, just before Christmas, and kept thinking I ought to go and take a look. Then on New Year's Day I saw them briefly out of the window and rushed outside with my camera, but I couldn't see the large numbers people had been talking about, and the street itself was limiting the amount of sky I could see anyway.

Between 4pm and 5pm I was often too busy to look, but periodically over the next few weeks I went out with my camera, from different angles in the town, trying to capture some kind of iconic image that encapsulated the wonder of witnessing these birds in action, but there were always buildings, trees, and telegraph poles and lines in awkward places that spoiled the composition.

Or often the sky was really dull, which made for a bland photo, or it was broken up with clouds in a way that made it difficult to really see what was happening in a static image.

Eventually I realised I had to accept I was never going to be able to get the definitive photograph to generate the sheer size, power and wonder of the murmurations, because it's all about movement.

There isn't a single moment where you can say "That's it! That's what it looks like!"

The awesome experience of watching them comes from how they change from one fraction of a second to the next.

What I needed to do was video them (see below).

The first half is where I literally pulled over to the side of the road and leapt out of the car with my camera. The second half I went back to the same area, but climbed a small hill to get a better view, with more sky (including the moon), and was rewarded with some of the most amazing patterns.

It's not of a BBC Nature programme standard - even a David Attenborough voice over wouldn't improve the quality.

However, if you have not really seen this kind of thing before, then sit for the next 4 minutes and be mesmerised by the movement.

And if you turn your volume on for the last few seconds, you'll hear the almighty racket they make once they're settled into the trees


Mary Smith said...

Fabulous, Kim. I see them almost every evening yet I was still just as mesmerised watching your video. I don't know what made them choose to come to CD but I'm very glad they did. My friend who lives where they roost says she woke one mornign thinking it was blowing a gale but it was the noise of the starlings taking off from their roost. No aerobatics then just up and off.

Kim Ayres said...

Mary - I still find it a bit difficult to believe we're getting this literally right in front of us, over our heads. Every time I see them it feels like something exotic that ought to be happening somewhere else in the world not here in Castle Douglas!

Hindsfeet said...

Unbelievable!!!! Absolutely mesmerizing, Kim!!!!!!

Kim Ayres said...

Hindsfeet - thought you might enjoy this one :)

Hindsfeet said...

Just a hello to you over there..... Thanks again for all this beauty..... bore repeating tonight : )

Kim Ayres said...

Hindsfeet - you're always welcome back here :)

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