The beauty of flight
Since before mankind began keeping records, we have been fascinated by birds in flight. I’m no different, I’m fascinated by the flight of birds as well, and this post will be mostly photos of birds in flight.
First, I’ll begin by saying that I have no idea why the number of some species of birds fluctuate the way that they do. Great blue herons are common here in Michigan, but over the last two previous years, I didn’t see many of them, and even had a hard time finding them. That isn’t the case this summer, they’re everywhere! I see mostly juveniles…
…so the adults that remained from the past few years must have had a very successful breeding season this spring. That was one of the three head shots of three different herons that I shot in less than ten minutes time a couple of weeks ago. It’s rare for me to get that close to one, let alone three of them so quickly. It helped that they were chasing each other around which I supposed was part of their way of establishing the pecking order among themselves. I have no idea if they were from the same nest or not though.
But, this post is about birds in flight, so I’m going to begin with this series that I shot at the local park where I walk when I have the chance.
It’s much easier to shoot larger birds in flight, like this sandhill crane.
I have no idea why the crane took off as far away from me as it did, normally they allow humans to get reasonably close to them. The result was the typical butt shots of a bird flying away from me, and not very good ones at that.
Just a few minutes later, I was driving over a bridge across one of the drainage creeks when I saw a great blue heron flying along the creek. I was able to get set for the heron, and I fired these off as it turned away from me.
The heron continued on, and so did I, but I didn’t shoot any more photos of it because it was flying away from me, and out of range of a good photo. It was going to perch in one of the aeration cells at the Muskegon wastewater facility that is under going major repairs. However, there was already an adult in that cell, and it didn’t take to the juvenile joining it in the same cell, even though each cell is several acres in size. The adult chased the juvenile off, and then I lucked out, it came flying straight towards me. I was able to get a good focus lock on it, and as it got as close to me as it came, I fired off this burst.
If only there had been a better background than the aeration cell in those photos! Those aren’t cropped at all, I was able to keep the heron in the frame as it made its turn away from me. Every time that I get to shoot a series like that, I get a little better at it.
When it comes to small birds, you’d think that it would be easier to shoot a flock of them in flight…
…but then, they’re so close together that it’s hard to pick out just one.
I think that those are all juvenile tree swallows, as I saw a few adults in the flock at the time I shot those. However, I’m not positive about that, because of an event that you’ll see later in this post.
By the way, those were shot a couple of weeks ago. On the same day as I shot the great blue herons in flight, I stopped for a while at the man-made lake south of the wastewater facility proper. I was hoping to catch green herons in flight, but this was the best that I came up with.
There are a pair of adults and their young…
…hanging out at the man-made lake most of the time, but they’re good at staying out of camera range the majority of the time.
There was also a flock of barn swallows hunting insects over the lake, and occasionally dipping down to drink from the lake as they flew. I couldn’t resist the challenge.
It suddenly slammed on the air-brakes…
…and I think that it caught a flying insect…
…but you can’t see the insect in these images.
The swallow then went on its way.
I tried to get a shot of them drinking from the lake as they flew…
…but I missed it every time.
I did get a good reflection shot or two…
…before the swallows would gain altitude again.
The best part of those is that you can see how they use their tails for both drag to slow down, and for turning as sharply as they do.
Now then, back to flocks of swallows. I noticed a flock of tree swallows in a dead tree, they were coming and going as they paused to rest and digest the insects that they had caught. It seemed like a good place to hang out and try for a better image of a swallow in flight, so I did. However, the first swallow I shot wasn’t a tree swallow, it was a barn swallow…
…and as it approached the tree swallows…
…they exchanged a few words before the barn swallow perched in the same tree.
It was then that I noticed that there were a few other barn swallows mixed in with the flock of predominantly tree swallows. They were all chattering away, I wonder if the tree swallows and barn swallows understand each other’s chattering? I also wonder if in the chattering within one species if they are telling each other where the best insects are to be found, or if it’s part of social bonding, or part of establishing the pecking order within the flock? Occasionally, an adult would chase one of the juveniles off from the perch the juvenile had been on, but it happened behind tree branches whenever I attempted to photograph that behavior.
Since most of the photos have been of birds in flight, I suppose that it’s fitting that the latest species that I can cross off from the list for the My Photo Life List project is a least bittern in flight.
They’re not great, but at least you can identify the species, which is all that matters. I got these by standing in one spot on the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for several hours. The bittern made the mistake of flying about the same path each time it came and went from where I believe that it has its nest.
Smaller but chunkier than their cousins the green herons, they fly surprisingly fast for a member of the heron family. This one at least stayed just above the vegetation most of the time, making it even harder to spot and photograph.
I’m going to finish this post with three images of a bird not flying. It’s a juvenile grasshopper sparrow limbering up its wings…
…it had made a rough landing on the dead stump it was perched on…
…and I believe that it was doing some stationary practice before its next attempt at flight.
Well, that wraps up this post, sorry for so many photos of the swallows, but I love the challenge of trying to photograph birds as quick as they are.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!