Thursday, June 2, 2022

Barn Swallow in flight

As always, click the image to enlarge

A Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) rockets past my position. These charismatic birds are no harder to shoot than about anything else when perched, but their true character emerges when on the wing. Barn Swallows - and all other swallows - are consummate aviators, completely at ease in flight and capable of blistering speed and jaw-dropping aerial maneuvers.

Of all our swallows, this one is my personal favorite. Barn Swallows are full of personality, and seemingly without fear. They'll strafe the immediate wake of tractors that are kicking up insects, or rocket right through a group of people at knee level at top speed. This well-named species is often a close associate of ours, as the overwhelming majority nest in barns and other man-made structures. Most people who host them - and have bothered to learn anything about the hard-working swallows - are glad to play landlord. Barn Swallows catch legions of flying insects, and that's a service that most people probably appreciate.

One problem with photographically depicting a Barn Swallow in flight is getting the photo. Ever-evolving camera technology has certainly made that task easier. Last October I got a Canon R5 mirrorless camera, and it is just short of magical. It'll fire off 20 frames a second and has an Auto Intelligence focus mode. The camera recognizes eyes, even those of a swallow blurring by at xx mph.

All of this helps immensely with trying to freeze a fast-moving bird on the wing. The photographer still has important responsibilities. One must find a good spot with plenty of birds and frequent flyby opportunities. When I saw a colony of Barn Swallows nesting under a foot bridge at Howard Marsh, a metropark along Lake Erie near Toledo, on May 10, I couldn't resist the opportunity. Flybys were plenty, and I managed a number of keepers. While the light wasn't optimal - near midday on a mostly sunny day - the watery backdrop was okay. The other important task for the shooter is to try and smoothly track the subject while clicking off shots. It's a lot like shooting skeet - same principles apply.

This image was made at f/5.6, ISO 640, and 1/2500 seconds. The lens used was the Canon 400 DO II, and in my opinion that is Canon's best birds-in-flight lens and possibly the best BIF lens in the business. It focuses with lightning speed and is extremely light and thus quite easy to handhold for extended periods. Shooting birds in flight off of a tripod is in most cases much harder than handholding the rig.

I will continue my quest to get all of the North American swallows in flight. 

1 comment:

Jack and Brenda said...

That's an amazing photo of the swallow! Beautiful color and clarity.
My best luck with barn swallows in near the shelter house in Kellys Island campground. Many nest and they are used to people being nearby.