Brighton's Starling Murmurations

Thursday 8th November 2012: An estimated ten thousand starlings gathered around Brighton Pier at sunset this afternoon. I had little time to grasp the sheer magnitude of the display. Within fifteen minutes, my 16GB memory card was full up. The murmurations can only get bigger and more spectacular each afternoon, as thousands of starlings arrive in Brighton for the winter.

Starling Stunset

Starling Murmuration, Brighton

Iridescent Starlings

Starling Murmuration

Starlings, Brighton

Starlings and West Pier, Brighton


Wednesday 14th November 2012: One would normally expect clear skies to be accompanied by cold, crisp weather, but today's maximum temperature of 12.5°C  was an exception to the rule. Unfortunately, clear skies don't provide any kind of dramatic backdrop. Therefore, despite taking 600 shots, only one was good enough to show other people. After the standards set last Thursday, keeping up with expectations is becoming increasingly a challenge! 

I was delighted to meet Fine Art and Photography student, Suzanne Carr on Sunday afternoon, after being contacted by email. Suzanne is in her final year at Winchester College of Art; she asked me to assist in the creation of a 15 minute film on Brighton's starling murmurations. I was glad to enjoy Suzanne and her daughter's company from the start and equally pleased to make their day out fun and enjoyable. Once again, it was lovely to combine photography with meeting people; Andrew Bertram joined us on the beach as the sun went down. Alas, for Suzanne, the starling murmurations were a let down, but when we meet again in a few weeks time, I am sure this occasion will prove an anomaly.

Starling Murmuration and Sunset, Brighton


Thursday 15th November 2012: Visited Brighton Pier again this afternoon, to find Alex Lawrence, back from New York, tracking the starlings with his 500mm lens and Canon EOS-1DX. More birds have arrived in Brighton for the winter; around 15,000 starlings gather in several murmurations. We observed three clusters, consisting of perhaps 1000 starlings each, arrive on Brighton seafront, before departing for trees in parks and gardens around the city. Clearly, there is insufficient space underneath Brighton Pier to accommodate all migratory starlings. I was delighted to capture a few hundred starlings roosting on the pier; they are sweet little birds, with lovely iridescent feathers and complex social behaviour. While they are on the wing, starlings can resemble Morse code or as my mother put it, "Squiggly doctor's writing on note paper".

Starlings roosting on Brighton Pier


Wednesday 28th November 2012: After a refractory intermission lasting nearly two weeks, I returned to Brighton Pier on a rather cold afternoon. I pointed out to a friendly onlooker, that today's fitful murmurations weren't a patch on early November, despite the starlings numbering 20,000 birds. He said, "I thought they were stunning, but if this was a poor display, then I look forward to seeing them on a good day".

Starlings alighting on Brighton Pier


Friday 7th December 2012: I will have to give the 300mm lens back to Alex on Sunday. Using a lens of this calibre has been a great privilege and I'll have to buy Alex some real ale, to say thank you. I have a cunning plan to substitute the lens with four beer bottles inside the case; a Ford Escort XR3i will be parked nearby for my getaway. The optical and AF performance has been second-to-none and the lens pairs very nicely with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III. I have received many emails from people, who have been inspired to visit Brighton Pier, from afar, having first seen my photos online. Perhaps the city ought to employ me, as a full-time Tourist Magnet. I would happily accept the challenge. On a rather wintry Friday afternoon, I was pleased to capture the starlings in flight, with the Brighton Wheel as a backdrop. The wheel is a much photographed Brighton landmark, but, until today, no-one has attempted to combine it with the famous starling murmurations. I hope you like it and of course, I hope you've enjoyed looking at my photographs as much as I've enjoyed taking them.

Behind the Wheel


damien c. said…
I've been on your website for hours, now. What a great pleasure.
Alan MacKenzie said…
Good to have you on here, Damien! I'll be photographing the starlings at every available opportunity, so please follow this page.
Suzanne Carr said…
Simply breath taking! I keep visualising these images on a large scale projector, they are beautiful Alan and you have captured the murmurations perfectly...what a magnificent spectacle of nature.
Alan MacKenzie said…
Thank you, Suzanne. I'd like to see them projected onto the side of a large building, like you mentioned to me a few weeks ago.

Thursday's murmuration was the best I've seen for a long time; it helps that I have £10,000 worth of Canon equipment to aim at the starlings every afternoon!
Leah said…
Fabulous images, thank you. I'm tempted to take a trip to Brighton just to see them for myself. Do these murmurations happen in December?
Alan MacKenzie said…
Hello Leah, the murmurations continue until late February. Make sure you are on Brighton Pier about 30 minutes before sunset, which, in December is at about 15:50. Be prepared to wait around for a bit; a few hundred starlings can become a few thousand in just ten minutes. Might see you down there!
Leah said…
Thanks Alan! It's about time I saw the sea again anyway. I guess I'll look out for the guy with the impressive kit :)

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