Aerial Artists

Perhaps you read my recent post entitled, Action Birds, where I managed to capture a couple of good shots of Tree Swallows in flight. This past week-end I thought I would try my hand at this again, this time with Cedar Waxwings. They were fun to watch as they darted back and forth over a creek catching bugs. These photos came out so well I decided to present them on their own page (all the photos are of males, though there might have been females present).

We discovered a flock around 9:00 AM working their way upstream at Oatca Creek that runs East/West through the park of the same name. There is a moraine along a portion of its south bank that provided a backdrop of heavy, shaded foliage, while the birds over the creek reflected the morning sunlight. The underexposed background really accentuated the birds and their colors. They took frequent rest breaks, each bird often on the same spot, allowing for good portraits.

I took nearly 200 photos using the rapid-burst setting on my shutter’s drive. This resulted in a few good photos, some shown here. For the aerial shots I set my 100mm-400mm lens to 300mm for a greater field of view; and I used a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. @ ƒ5.6, ISO 1000 with center-metering and autofocus. Although autofocus is normally great for action shots, it could not keep up with these fast-moving birds’ and their erratic movements. Instead, I switched the lens to manual focus set for the distance where they would most likely be.  The result was a lot of blurry shots, along with a few sharp ones. Within the sharp subgroup, a few provided fantastic flight configurations.

The following image is the best one of the lot in my opinion. I printed this in 13 X 19; it will certainly find its way into a photo contest.

This next shots shows a Waxwing as if it is suspended in mid-air. Instead, he was  darting upward to catch one of the several bugs, seen here as dots of reflected sunlight. Pretty cool. Although this shot is not as sharp as one might like, it’s quite an aesthetic view.

The third shot shows a bird in high-speed flight. Notice how his body is fully straightened,  and his legs and tail feathers fully retracted to reduce drag.

This last shot shows a bird slowing to catch a bug, seen here as the out-of-focus light spot on the right. Just as aircraft have to deploy their landing gear and wing flaps, and pitch-up to land, so you can see the bird entering the same configuration (this configuration increases drag and wing-lift, allowing the bird to slow without quickly sinking).

I’m still not convinced I’ve figured out the best way to focus for these shots so I’ll continue experimenting.  In the meantime if you have developed an effective technique for shooting under these conditions, do let  me know.

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