Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summertime in D.C. = Swallow Photos

Summertime birding in the Washington, D.C., area can be a beast at times; it's hot and incredibly humid, and most of the neotropical migrants are somewhere up in the arctic working on that next generation.

The heat of summer, though, brings one of the rare reliable occasions for photographing swallows in our area. Not that they're not around during the spring or into the early fall, mind you--it's just that the many swallows you'll see outside of the summer are flitting about nonstop, zooming and arcing this way and that. I'm not a good enough flight photographer to catch them reliably in the air (nor, for that matter, is my Canon 300mm f4L lens up to the task, focus-speed-wise; perhaps the 400mm f5.6L, favored by many a birder for flight photos is better, but no one has fronted me the $6k to try one yet).

Last summer, I took my sister and her family out to my favorite birding spot in the D.C. area, Huntley Meadows Park in southeastern Fairfax County. It was nearly 100 degrees with stifling humidity to boot, making for fairly miserable birding--but one thing that stood out were the many swallows perched around the park's wetlands instead of zipping across the skies. Tree after tree held small flocks of the birds, many of them juveniles by their appearance, with some trees holding mixed groups of Tree and Barn Swallows.

Fast-forward to this summer, and again on a hot, stuffy morning, the swallows had come to perch in the park. Small groups of four to five Barn Swallows took to the elevated walkways over Huntley Meadows' wetlands.

I stopped to take several photos, and though the boardwalk didn't make for the most natural of backdrops, I got several fairly nice captures nonetheless. In the photo above, this youngster was begging for food from one of the adults flitting about in the air. Though he looked old enough to fend for himself to me, you can bet he wasn't about to turn down a mooched meal.

The focus point is perhaps just a bit behind where I'd have liked (ideally, on the bird's eyes), but the swallow's head is still in good focus, and the low shutter speed gave me some good blurring of the wing motion.

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