A Focus On Nature

A Focus On Nature

A Rekindled Love of Bird Watching. By Ed Marshall.

Born and raised in Birmingham, until moving to Tamworth, Ed was always surrounded by a bit of a concrete jungle. This is one of the main reasons why he has always taken such an interest in the natural world. He studied a BSc (Hons) degree in Zoology at the University of Nottingham, which saw him travel to Portugal, Ireland, and (more exotically) to Bolivia. His love of watching wildlife is what led him to pick up a camera roughly 5 years ago and start taking pictures of the various natural wonders that he experienced, and his scientific background allowed him to further understand the images that he captured. He went on to hone his knowledge and passion for wildlife photography by gaining a Distinction in the MSc course in Biological Photography & Imaging, also from the University of Nottingham. He currently produces blog posts for the RSPB, as well as producing work for “WatersideCare”, a branch of Keep Britain Tidy.

For the past three years now, I have always considered myself a wildlife photographer first and foremost. When someone asks what I do I always answer with “I’m a wildlife photographer”, but it seems that I have forgotten exactly why and how I came to do what I do in the first place. A simple love of watching wildlife. I, like many others in this sort of work, was always into nature when growing up. I was glued to the television set when anything remotely natural history related came on and the first one off looking for wildlife when I was out and about. Even though I still do a lot of this, I’ve forgotten to just take the time to enjoy being out in the natural world, to watch through a pair of binoculars rather than think in terms of photography, and to just enjoy whatever there is to see. Last weekend saw a great return to my old habits with a trip down to Somerset with a group of fellow nature lovers, conservationists, photographers, all-round great people from the fantastic nature network A Focus On Nature.

Upon our arrival in Somerset, I was greeted by none other than Stephen Moss, naturalist, writer, TV producer who has worked on shows such as Springwatch, and all-round great guy. Be sure to check out his article in the next issue of Natures Home magazine! Once we had all settled into where we would be staying for the weekend, we prepared for the first day which would be largely based around a bird watching competition….


One of the members of our team, Simon Phelps, keeping a sharp eye out for new species to add to our list.

Once out on the Avalon Marshes, our group split into two teams, with each team trying to identify as many different species as possible. The team I was in headed out into Shapwick Heath, a vast expanse of natural habitat dominated mainly by reed marshes, with just enough woodland and grassland to see our species list climb with thanks to birds such as Lesser Redpolls, Treecreepers, and various species of tit. Our opponents went in the other direction to Ham Wall, but we would only find out how they did at lunch so the pressure was on. It leaves me proud to say that our team won with a total of 48 different species (before 1pm!), just beating our opponents to the post who spotted an equally impressive 45 species.

Shapwick Heath panorama

One of the large wetland areas at Shapwick Heath, dominated by expansive reed beds, perfect for many species of waterfowl, waders, and even the odd Great White Egret!

All that was left afterwards was to just enjoy the rest of the day, with some of the highlights including Great White Egrets, Marsh Harriers, Kingfisher, and even Bittern! That evening we set up in a hide that was tipped to be the spot where the starlings would be coming to roost. Never having witnessed the event myself, yet always wanting to, you can imagine my delight as the first flocks of starling began to appear, and my immediate sinking feeling when we all watched them fly past us to the neighbouring roost site at Ham Wall. That left us with one more evening to try and see it, all I could do was hope for everything to come together…

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The second day saw us venture out to Westhay Moor to focus on photographing the wildlife that was on offer. A bittern was seen flying around the reserve, but always at some distance. It wasn’t until a passing Marsh Harrier flushed it out of the reed beds that we got our first clear view of it. The excitement was only matched in intensity by the clicking of camera’s, all capturing this odd yet wonderful moment. As the day went on, we headed out onto some boggy meadow in the hope of seeing jack snipe. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to add these to our species list, but you can imagine the surprise when a member of our team (Bob Bosisto) practically walked past a Short-eared Owl! It took flight at the last second and was away before I could even realise what had happened! It was a great way to round off our bird watching and left us in high spirits to see the starling murmuration later that day.


One of the many shots that I took as this Bittern took flight after being flushed out by the Marsh Harrier (also pictured). I like the portrait composition of this image, showing the dense reed beds that Bitterns so typically hide within.

We headed to Ham Wall, the location we had seen the flocks heading to the night before, and waited. The crowds started to gather which gave us confidence that we were in the right place, and sure enough, just as the sun was starting to set, the starlings began to arrive.

Starling onlookers

The crowd of onlookers grew and grew.

Coming in to roost

One of the “smaller” flocks of starlings heading from their feeding grounds at sunset.


I played with some camera settings to get some motion blur of the murmuration itself, this being one of the shots I was happiest with. You can just see Glastonbury Tor on the horizon, being dwarfed by the sheer size of the murmuration.

The first few flocks themselves were impressive, comprised of thousands of individuals, and it wasn’t before long that they combined to form the infamous murmuration, that was ever growing in size.I was constantly looking this way and that to watch them swirl and twist into all sorts of shapes across the sky. The noise was incredible as well, the sudden whoosh of wings overhead adding to the atmosphere. As the murmuration peaks in size, the flock floats down to the reed beds, pulsating in waves as they skim the surface of the reeds. Then, in the blink of an eye, they’re gone. Anyone who hadn’t just seen what had happened would have had no idea that a million birds or more were sat in the reeds right in front of their eyes. It was the perfect end to an amazing weekend, and one that I hope to repeat for many years to come.


One of the many spectators watches as the hundred’s of thousands of birds settle amongst the reed beds in front of us.


The star of the whole weekend in my opinion, and one of the most overlooked birds in the UK, the starling.