“This is amazing” exclaimed the young guy from South Wales filming the squadrons of starling performing a mesmerising murmuration almost right above our heads. We were on the Blackpool promenade, near the North Pier, sunset wasn’t the most colourful, but the balletic display of the starlings more than made up for it.
“Why are you here” I enquired
“I’m here for pigeon weekend” he explained, raising a smile, an obvious bird lover, enjoying this spectacular aerial show in a northern seaside resort.
We were part of a small crowd gathering to observe, photograph and video the event from the promenade, it had even attracted a professional film crew. Passers-by stopped to ask what we were watching, even though it appeared quite evident, apart from the aerial ballet, the noise was deafening.
Read about my last visit to the resort: Portrait of Blackpool – Winter on the Fylde Coast
The usual response to an explanation, was along the lines of “A murmur what?” Further explanation often resulted in them pausing for a moment before moving off towards the winter nightlife of Blackpool.
There are many reasons visitors choose to come to Blackpool, the spiritual home of the ‘kiss me quick’ hat, novelty joke shops and sticky rock. The Victorian resort, is my hometown so I always try to keep in touch with the developments of the resort. Once popular with families, it is now the stag and hen party capital of northern England, which appears to have an adverse effect on family tourism.
The resort needs regeneration and funding, but the seedier aspects of the traditional tourism of the town also needs addressing to bring back the families. It may not be blessed with a Mediterranean climate, but there are miles of sandy beaches stretching along the Fylde Coast.
It was pleasing to see the spanking brand new fleet of swanky looking trams, but it is impossible to miss the number of run down businesses and hotels along even the coastal road of North Shore.
However, it’s great to see people coming for other reasons, whether it be a weekend for homing pigeon enthusiasts or me, who was there primarily for the murmuration. Blackpool North Pier has become one of the best places to view these amazing events in the United Kingdom, attracting people from far and wide to witness it. If they also spend some money in the bars, coffee houses and shops of the resort, so much better.
A North Pier Murmuration
I had planned to arrive an hour before sunset, expecting to allow sufficient time to choose a good view point and set-up for the show. Nature true to form, was unpredictable and one her most beautiful displays had already started when I arrived. Two flights totalling several thousand birds were linking up and parting, their appearance almost choreographed, with still more birds arriving all the time.
Why I love pelicans: Brown Pelicans; Dive-bombers of the Sea – Photo Essay
The starlings perform these hypnotic murmurations before settling to roost, they fly around in ever increasing numbers, possibly to confuse predators. We still do not fully understand the reasons why or how starlings create such spectacular formation flying. It is believed that each bird can monitor several birds within a radius of them, and can react with breath-taking speed and precision to avoid collisions.
They often appear like a wave in the sky, flowing over the end of the pier, or balling up like the bait balls often seen in natural history documentaries. The birds often swarm over the pier like bees protecting their hive, then come together like colliding galaxies before parting again as if a giant has torn them apart like pizza dough.
Before the final act, I quickly picked up my tripod and ran around to the other side of the pier hoping for some shots from a different angle. The first birds eventually settled to roost and almost immediately the remaining starlings found their preferred perch and the show was over, just like that, in a matter of minutes.
As the final birds came to rest and the last dregs of sunlight drained from the sky, the colour changing from a watery turquoise colour tinged with soft pink to an inky blue I took a few shots of the pier. Darkness requiring long exposures ensuring even the slow-moving clouds took on an ethereal, mystical appearance and the sea became marble smooth.
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Possibly not the usual trip to Blackpool, maybe not eventful either, but memorable for this single event. It’s also fuelled a desire to shoot further murmurations, the UK still has a few to see and then of course there are the spectaculars over the eternal city, Rome. It seems my inner ‘twitcher’ is keener than ever to travel, why resist?