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murmeration of starlings

September 1, 2011

In East Providence the starlings appear year round but seem to congregate in the fall during the usual migratory period. East Providence is a town which boarders a wetland. A section of Rout 6 in Massachusetts is periodically invaded. It was there I first saw these birds in great numbers.  I find it interesting the electric wires serve as places for them to land.  At times the linear roost will stretch for a half a mile. The starlings sit wing to wing then fly in numbers to the ground or in the sky for moments of aeronautic precision flying.

In the fall of 2007 I stopped in front of a Dunkin’ Donut shop and shot the video below with a Flip standard definition pocket camera.  This was a rather random event. I tend to carry a pocket video camera everywhere and when I see something that tweaks my interest I stop and record.

Several years ago fits of insomnia caused me to awaken at four in the morning. During the winter of 2008 I left the house in the wee early morning looking for anything to record with my new pocket video camera. I began to notice life above.  A flock of pigeons would roost on a yellow house. My Portuguese neighbor had a bird feeder and hundreds of sparrows would sit in the bushes.  A stretch of wires that ran along Governor Street had the rubber insulation chewed away where starlings sat huddled for warmth. Seagulls soared in grand loops over the highway. A pair of swans would circle the bay with necks outstretched and wings laboring to keep the mass aloft.

After processing the video above  I began to set out bird feeders. I pruned the bushes in my yard making them branch for better habitats. Some of the bird feeders I would construct from scratch. These would be designed for “green screen” technique. In the early experiments I tried to motion track the birds and isolate them for future combinations in to collage like works.  I would prop the camera into the snow, turn it on and go have coffee with my wife. Upon return I would take the video and process it in Adobe  After Effects. In these videos I was fascinated with the manner these birds landed and took flight. I studied the works of Muybridge , Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Etienne-Jules Marey and subsequently read S. Giedion text Mechanization Takes Command.

This was the start of the “path” technique used in most of the works posted to this site.
For Murmerations of Starlings I spent a couple of days shooting. I chose to wait for an overcast sky to serve as a white backdrop. I recorded camera original with a Sony FX1. This is an early HDV camera and records to tape in 1080i. The tape was then digitized to a hard drive and from there processed in Adobe After Effects. When the individual clips are processed the collection of processed clips were edited in Sony Vegas on a Dell workstation. Exposures varied according to time of day.

The camera original is processed in After Effects. Since these are black birds I depend heavily on the “darken” blending mode. This is the usual filter set.

Tint – to make resolve the changing colors of sunset

Auto levels or levels – to drive the blacks darker and the lights whiter

Echo – at about 112 frames ;  The blending mode set to darken; I chose not to fade the tale as in years earlier because these birds seemed to take of and land rather randomly. Unlike the crows that seemed to trail off into a mysterious presence the starlings needed to be on or off.

October 2011

November 2011


From → video

  1. Valerie Evans permalink

    Hello, Dennis. We live in Dallas, TX and experience these same gatherings at a good number of urban intersections in the fall and winter. The activity of the starlings and grackles is probably our biggest bellwether of frosty weather just around the corner. We are avid bird watchers, and are thrilled that you found such beauty in such “common”birds, thought by most to be a nuisance. I would love to own a still of one of these images, if such exists. Please direct me to your gallery if it is so.

    Best regards,
    Valerie Evans

  2. DHlynsky permalink


    thank you for your note. I have some prints in the collection of the Front Room Gallery for sale. I am traveling at the moment but also have a few framed photographs if you wanted to deal with me directly.

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