Several things had attracted starlings into our garden during the first lockdown of the 2020 pandemic. A large, berry-covered mahonia shrub, well-stocked bird feeders and a bird bath kept topped up with water – particularly important during the warm, dry spell we had experienced. The concept of social distancing does not seem to have caught on in the starling world and at times our garden was covered with around 30-40 birds who seem to think they were at a holiday resort, eating, bathing, sunbathing on the lawn and squabbling.
The pandemic had resulted in several of my wildlife photography trips being cancelled so, photographically, this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Deciding how to make the best of the available light and backdrop in our smallish, suburban, west-facing garden, which is bordered by glossy leaved shrubs (specular highlights) and several tall trees (dappled shade), was a quite a challenge.
My main aim was to capture the birds’ numerous squabbles and interactions, so I erected my portable hide. Over the course of a few days the hide had to be moved several times before the most suitable location was identified. I also positioned a remotely triggered camera for some wide-angle close-up shots. The bird feeder was then relocated to a more photogenic location, away from its normal position which is next to an unsuitable backdrop of bamboos and a wooden fence. Whilst the location worked better the feeder was not working photographically. When they are squabbling, starlings tend to lift-off vertically into the air, so a lower feeding station with clear airspace above proved to be much more successful. Several iterations of setup later and I was beginning to get the shots I wanted although I continued to change and improve things. The birds adapted quickly to the varied setups, in fact they almost seem to relish each new challenge … wondering where and how the feeder would be set up next. Unfortunately, the starlings have now moved on and so must I.