Cliff Swallow In Flight

Swallow flight shots may be my most challenging subject overall.  Their flight patterns are fast and erratic and it’s very difficult to get light under their wings.

For ethical reasons I do very little nest photography but I occasionally make an exception for communally nesting swallows whose nest colonies are very near human activity so they are much less likely to be disturbed.  This Cliff Swallow and many others of its kind were nesting under a pavilion in a parking lot at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and were acclimated to vehicles and fishermen on foot.


cliff swallow 0170 ron dudley

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D, 500 f/4, not baited, set up or called in

My best chance was to catch a bird flaring or hovering as it came into the nest.   I’d tried it before but could never get light under the wings so this particular morning I made a point of getting there very early when the sun was quite low as it came up over the mountains.  Problem solved.

The downside to this strategy is that this close to the nests there are usually many other birds hovering in the background and I had to remove bits of three swallows from the corners of this shot.  That’s something I really don’t like to do but to my mind full disclosure is the next best thing…

Posting a swallow in early February?  Yes, it’s something I needed to do as I’m truly ready for spring.  We were supposed to get more snow last night but when I got up at 5 AM it was 43 degrees F. and had rained all night so what snow we had is now gone.  And that got me to thinking of spring birds.

Prematurely, I’m afraid…


10 comments to Cliff Swallow In Flight

  • Jane Chesebrough

    Nice capture. I can’t even follow them with the camera-some day. Every one here is hankering for Spring after such a warm January (53F) Now thatit is -14F everyone is feeling a little wistful.But, that’s normal for here.Hope to get out to find some birds soon.

  • Patty Chadwick

    No ballet dancer, however famous, was ever more beautiful or more graceful than this little cliff swallow!!! What an exquisite pose!!!

  • deborah donelson

    As a rehabber, I usually only see Cliff Swallows (and Barns) in an injured state. It is glorious to see such an image, in full health and flight! Thank you… ah yes, baby bird season. EEEEEEK!

  • The effort of getting up early paid off very well Ron, as well as having the extra warmth of the sunlight at that time of day. Not surprised you had that high shutter speed! Very nice shot, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Paul. I worked hard at getting enough shutter speed but I also needed more DOF – always a tradeoff, depending on the flight position and angle.

  • Sharon Constant

    Fantastic! All my swallow images are just big blurs. The only image I got that was even close to sharp was an accident–I was photographing a duck and a swallow flew into the frame.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Amazing shot Ron Your technique is splendid! Thanks for sharing!