Friday, March 27, 2009

This Just In: Tree Swallow

This morning when I took Phoebe out to the bus, dawn was barely breaking and there was a heavy dew on the ground. By the time I took out Liam to his bus, just after 8 am, the dew was still there, and it was joined by a heavy, filmy mist, which obscured the sun. As we walked to the garage, the silhouette of a bird sitting on the power line caught my eye.

"Is that a tree swallow?" I asked myself. Liam overheard me and said "Walll, you know what preddy-mush all the birds are Daddy, so, yep, it prolly is!" He was right! It WAS a tree swallow.

Now THAT'S a good sign of spring's arrival.

Bus duties completed, I tossed a handful of dried eggshell bits up onto the dark-shingles of the garage roof. The tree and barn swallows eat these eggshell bits all spring and summer. I know it's early, but it felt good to start yet another spring ritual: The Feeding of the Eggshells.

Also in full song this morning: eastern meadowlarks, eastern bluebirds, house finches, a red-shouldered hawk, and all the usual suspects (cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, song sparrow, wild turkey) joined by some het-up dark-eyed juncos who are getting a head start on their spring concertos.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Photographing Tree Swallows in Flight

Have you ever tried to do something that you knew was next to impossible and yet you could not stop yourself from trying anyway?

On my recent sojourn to east-central Florida's Space Coast region, I noticed large flocks of tree swallows foraging on the wing in several different birding spots. I was both bird watching and taking bird photographs, two activities which, in order to be done well, should be mutually exclusive. You can't enjoy birding if you keep dropping the binocs to grab your camera. And if you're trying to take the best possible photographs, you'll only get frustrated by all the shots you miss when you drop the camera for the binocs. This is one of the immutable laws of the universe.


As I was driving around Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island NWR on fine day, I found that the sun had climbed to its highpoint and the bird activity was beginning to slow. The daylight was getting a bit harsh for photographing water birds, so I moseyed along to a point where a tree swallow flock was slicing the air into a million pieces. The birds seemed to be taking advantage of some large hatch of tiny insects.

I stood and watched for a few minutes, mesmerized by the swooping of swallow wings (wasn't that a Joni Mitchell album?) and noticed that some of the birds were following a somewhat repetitive flight pattern. Oh it was camera time, baby! This would be my chance to totally nail a great shot of a flying tree swallow!

To dream the impossible dream.....

Over the next half hour I took approximately 650 shots. Most of these contained only grass or sky, digital frames completely innocent of the slightest hint of swallow. Some contained a tiny sip of swallow—a tail tip or wing edge.

A very few captured entire birds and were close enough to being in focus that you could even tell what kind of bird it was. These I will share with you here and now.










Photographing birds in flight is a thrilling challenge. Large birds are easier, obviously (see yesterday's post). Small, supremely gifted and speedy fliers like tree swallows are almost impossible to photograph well, unless you are patient, lucky, and in the right place at the right time with the right camera settings and light conditions. And you are not holding your binoculars. And your camera's lens cap is not still on.

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