Media > Film > Flying Birds

iFlying Birds

TV documentary commissioned by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), 1973.

Duration: 11 minutes

Music duration: 8 minutes
Music by Carey Blyton
Scoring: Saxophone Quartet
Performance: London Saxophone Quartet

Filmed by Dr David Urry
and Kate Urry

Directed and Produced by Anthony Clay,
RSPB Film Unit

Permission has been sought to host this video

Flying Birds

Flying Birds book coverThis RSPB film is an impressionistic study of wild birds in flight in Britain. Entirely visual, Flying Birds has no narration and its only accompaniment, other than natural sounds, is the music by Carey Blyton. The film highlights the flight of a wide variety of birds, both individually and in flocks, and also demonstrates their often significantly less graceful take-offs and landings in a range of habitats. The film concentrates on seabirds, but also includes inland species; birds include Gannets, Arctic Terns, Puffins, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Swans, Knots, Widgeons, Oystercatchers and Sanderlings. The photographers, David and Katie Urry, also published a book of black and white photographs on the same subject and with the same title, Flying Birds.

Carey Blyton’s music is performed by the London Saxophone Quartet and takes the form of a theme and nine variations. Although the music does not generally overtly depict the action, there is an entertaining exception in the form of Variation 4, played from 5:06 to 6:40, much of which is devoted to an increasingly frequent cascade of birds landing; the music depicts these landings very graphically.

The composer was sufficiently pleased with his music for Flying Birds that he published an edited version, still for saxophone quartet, for concert use as his opus 66; it is presented here in its entirety, as played by the Phoenix Saxophone Quartet, taken from the CD Carey Blyton: Miniatures (The Return of Bulgy Gogo), which is available to purchase from the online shop.

  1. Theme
  2. Variation 1: Gannets – Variation 2: The Arctic Tern (Slow Waltz)
  3. Variation 3: The Arctic Tern (hovering and dipping)
  4. Variation 4: Birds landing – Variation 5: Puffins & Friends (Slow Tango)
  5. Variation 6: Razorbills and Kittiwakes
  6. Variation 7: Swans taking off… and landing
  7. Variation 8: Knot, Widgeon and Waders – Variation 9: Oystercatchers and Sanderling (Finale)

Unsurprisingly, the very graphical depiction of birds landing, which is inextricably tied to the visual imagery of the film, is gone from the concert suite, and the concert variations 4 to 6 contain mostly new music compared with the film soundtrack. Variation 7 returns to the music of the film, however, and this continues to the end of the work, though the final movement is extended for its concert outing.

Please note that the original soundtrack of the Flying Birds film, as played by the London Saxophone Quartet, is available on the CD Carey Blyton: Film & Television Music (3/4), which may also be purchased from this site.


A very beautiful film, with a haunting score by Blyton played by the London Saxophone Quartet (in which the music comprises a theme – ‘bird flight’ – and nine variations)…

Hilton Gough, BFFS Film magazine, no 25, April 1975