Patience and missed dinners: How the Lough Ennell murmuration picture was captured

“It was just so lucky and fortunate that they did it in a clear space, on a clear night” 
Patience and missed dinners: How the Lough Ennell murmuration picture was captured

A view of a starling murmuration over Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The photographer who captured the much-talked about murmuration of starlings in Lough Ennell has described getting the shot as an “amazing experience”.

The stunning picture shows a murmuration forming the shape of a bird over the Westmeath lake.

Patience, persistence and “about 50” missed dinners all came together on Tuesday when Inpho photographer James Crombie captured the image.

Explaining where the idea came from, Mr Crombie said that his friend – Colin Hogg – lives close to Lough Ennell and they both felt there was a “great shot” to be captured there.

The photographer told the Irish Examiner that they first started trying to capture the picture last November and they have since visited the lake around 50 times.

He said that the starlings go to murmurate "every night at sunset".

Mr Crombie said that he was told that from November to March every year, the birds go to Lough Ennell to roost.

“Before they roost, they’re waiting for everyone else to join but they’re also inspecting the area for predators.

“I noticed that if something shows up, say a sparrow hawk or a bigger bird of prey, they [the starlings] will start to create shapes.

“They’ll start to mimic a bigger entity. There’s an element of safety in numbers.” 

A view of a starling murmuration over Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
A view of a starling murmuration over Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The image he captured was “absolutely magical” to see in real life and he said that the murmuration last for “about 25 minutes”.

Mr Crombie said: “It was purely spectacular. It was so amazing. Just all of a sudden they formed this shape of a bird.” 

He said that the starlings created the bird-like shape for only a second.

“I don’t know whether they meant to do but it obviously looks spectacular. And it really was the shape of a bird.” 

Patience

Mr Crombie said that he kept going back to the spot for months trying to get the shot, knowing there was a perfect picture to be taken.

“I kept failing. I kept missing them. They’d be in another part of the lake, or it would be raining or it would be foggy.

“We went nearly 50 times and I kept persisting saying ‘no, I’m going again’.

“I’d be in Galway working [as a press photographer] and I’d drive back down to the lake just as [the murmuration] was finished.

I kept hammering away at it and eventually, we got it. I never expected the shot to be so perfect."

Mr Crombie said that some people would tell him he was mad to continuously go back to the lack.

“I missed dinner for about 50 nights," joked the father-of-four adding that his own father told him that the shot probably gave a lift to some of the people who saw it.

Mr Crombie’s patience paid off with the shot but there was a little bit of luck too, as he adds: “I was told by a local bird watcher that he expects them to finish this week. That’s more or less it.” 

He said that every night they were hoping something would happen.

“You never knew which night they were going to form that shape. They might have formed it in a place where there wasn’t a clean background.

“There might have been a house in the background or it could have been over trees or behind trees.

“It was just so lucky and fortunate that they did it in a clear space, on a clear night.” 

It isn’t the first time the photographer has teamed up with his friend on a shoot either.

Mr Crosbie teamed up with friend Colin Hogg for the picture of the murmuration and for this photo of a hurler on the moon last year. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Mr Crosbie teamed up with friend Colin Hogg for the picture of the murmuration and for this photo of a hurler on the moon last year. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Mr Hogg “did the maths” last year when Mr Crombie captured another stunning picture that put a hurler on the moon.

Mr Hogg Examinertold the last year that the hurler on the moon picture was “a coming together of sport, photography, and a bit of mathematics and geophysics.

“It certainly worked out well in the end. James captured the image superbly.”

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