Filming the starling murmurations of Aberystwyth
Guest blogger: Autumnwatch cameraman Lindsay McCrae on his experiences filming the starlings of Aberystwyth pier.
I thought nothing could top a week watching massive sea eagles soaring against the scree-covered mountains during this year's Autumnwatch. However, a few little speckled birds and a bit of autumn light changed everything...
We arrived a few nights before and saw the starlings leaving the roost at dawn.
Starlings roost together from late autumn right through the winter, but to get the shots we were after we needed to be able to guarantee seeing the birds finish for the day. Reed beds are a favourite for roosts but throughout the season the murmurations move around too much for us to be sure our remote cameras were in the right place. So a pier where the birds line up along the structure was a much more reliable bet.
I arrived in Aberystwyth along with wildlife cameraman Pete McCowen and minicam guru Nigel Bean hoping to film inside the roost for a couple of evenings and get a unique view of this tremendous seasonal spectacle.
Me heading down through the hatch.
On Saturday morning we gained access through a small room and trap door onto a gantry under the pier. With the birds having left for the day there was no risk of us spooking them. Evidence of their presence however was more than obvious: literally all the metalwork was drowned in droppings from years of roosting. An awesome sight!
The sub structures of the pier are drowned in guano.
Rigging such expensive cameras in a place like this was a little worrying, but what we expected to get would more than make up for that. Forgetting the unhygienic conditions, this was quite a nice spot to place minicams: a solid structure to attach them to which is protected from the weather and all just feet from where we could monitor them.
The starlings filled the sky above Aberystwyth pier.
As the sun began to drop, Chris and the team started filming the birds arriving from the pier. The light was unreal and the birds were appearing in masses from everywhere. It was fantastic! Nigel was inside monitoring the minicams ready for when the birds began to roost so we had to be quick filming the piece with the starlings up above.
As they got lower and lower they filled the sky and the whole crew were hypnotized. All of a sudden the birds began to drop out the air as if they'd been shot. A constant stream followed as they piled in to roost. The noise was incredible.
Chris being filmed above the pier as the starlings swarmed in.
Nigel was inside monitoring the roost minicams so we dashed in to capture the action as the starlings were still restless. What we witnessed was something very few people had seen before, let alone filmed.
Watching them jostling for positions, gossiping between each other and mimicking other bird species was fascinating. Even for our expert, Chris Feare, this intimate view opened a whole new world of behaviour he'd never seen.
Having spent a few hours filming the birds settling down, we started to pack up for the evening. Moving a few camera cases I spotted a small hole in one of the floor boards. As I lay down and put my eye to the hole I was glared at by a line of starlings less that five inches from me.
Weird as it may sound lying face down on a dirty, wooden floor staring through a small hole 60ft above the water was the perfect end to an amazing evening.