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Posts Tagged ‘swallow’

It was great on Tuesday to see that some Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have returned to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. One was even checking out the local real estate market and was shocked at how expensive housing rentals are in this area.

In the wild, Tree Swallows nest in tree cavities, but they seem to adapt readily to using nesting boxes, like the one in the final photo. At this spot of the refuge there are two nesting boxes and each year there seems to be a competition between Tree Swallows and Easter Bluebirds for their use.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Tree Swallows winter farther north than any other American swallows and return to their nesting grounds long before other swallows come back. They can eat plant foods as well as their normal insect prey, which helps them survive the cold snaps and wintry weather of early spring.”

Welcome back, beautiful little swallows.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Last weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) seemed determined to scare off potential competitors by screaming loudly and vigorously flapping its wings as it sat atop a pole to which a nesting box was attached. The swallow spent a lot of time looking upwards, scanning the skies for rivals. I couldn’t tell if the swallow’s mate was inside of the nesting box or if it was simply staking a claim to the box for future use.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When some birds zoomed by me this past weekend, I could tell they were swallows by the way that they flew.  Their coloration, however, didn’t seem to match the Barn and Tree Swallows that I have previously seen at Huntley Meadows Park.

One of them finally perched and I got this shot of what appears to be a Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis), a bird that I had never seen before. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The species derives its name from the outer wing feathers, which have small hooks or points on their leading edges.”

The bright sun made for a pleasant day, but made it tough to properly expose for the brilliant white feathers on the swallow’s chest. I was happy that I managed to capture a few details of the feathers despite the rather harsh midday sunlight.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper and deeper into spring, more birds are starting to arrive at my favorite marshland, Huntley Meadows Park. Last weekend I spotted my first Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) of the year. Actually I had spotted a few of them a bit earlier zipping around the sky, but this was the first one that I saw perched on the ground.

The Tree Swallows seem to enjoy using the nesting boxes scattered throughout the park and this one was checking out one of the boxes. I was happy also to be able to get a shot of the swallow perched in a tree—despite their names, I rarely see Tree Swallows in the trees.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are fast and erratic fliers as they chase after insects in mid-air. It’s tough to track them in my camera’s viewfinder and even more difficult to get shots that are in focus.

Last Friday, however, I managed to capture some images of a Tree Swallow at Huntley Meadows Park as it swooped so low above the surface of the water that it cast a reflection. It was an overcast day in which the sky and the water seemed to have the same gray color,, making it hard to tell where the sky ended and the water began.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The winds were blowing hard at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday and I watched as a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) struggled to stay on its perch high in a tree. The determined little bird kept changing wing positions in an effort to maintain stability.

Eventually, however, the swallow lost the battle and appeared to be blown off of its perch.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Tree Swallows have been flying about for several weeks, but it was only this weekend that I finally observed one of their multi-colored brethren, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Last year, the Barn Swallows built a nest underneath a raised observation platform of the boardwalk at my local marsh, and it looks like they are doing the same thing this year.

I was able to photograph this swallow as it perched on a small branch coming out of the water directly opposite the platform. The sky was mostly overcast during the day, which caused the reflections in the water to look mostly white. As I made a few adjustments to the image, the background essentially disappeared, resulting in a photo that looks almost like it was shot in a studio.

I really like the swallow’s serious pose and the fact that I was able to capture its signature swallow tail. It won’t be long before I see swallowtails on some of my favorite butterflies.

barn_swallow1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s springtime and love is in the air. Two tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) seemed intent on getting to know each other better, but kept getting buzzed by a third swallow. A couple of times, one of the swallows, which I suspect was the male, took off and chased away the potential rival.

swalow_couple2_blogswallow_couple1_blogswallow_couple3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was a little surprised to see some Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) on Saturday when I visited Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, a freshwater tidal wetlands on the Potomac River. I thought it was a bit early for these little aerial acrobats to be here, given the fact that there are not yet many insects for them to catch, but they were flying about and checking out a nesting box.

Sometimes I get cool shots of birds in flight by accident, like this shot of a Tree Sparrow, which took off as I was photographing it. The angle of view is one that I have never before captured in any image.

swallow_flight_blog

Two of the swallows seemed to spend a lot of time together and I suspect that they are a breeding pair, though they were periodically buzzed by other tree swallows, which could be other potential suitors for the female. One of the swallows eventually entered the box and I suspect that the swallows are constructing a nest in it, though I didn’t see any of them actually carrying in construction material.swallow_entrance_blogIt’s a good sign for me that spring is almost here when I see birds reappearing (even as I shovel away eight or so inches of snow that have fallen in the last 24 hours).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I don’t usually think of photographing birds with a macro lens, but that’s exactly what I did when I encountered this Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) perched on a small branch, with a beautiful blue sky in the background.

Of course, I probably should note that the macro lens in question is 180mm in focal length, so it has good telephoto capability—I had just never tried to use it in that way. My experience photographing birds this past winter suggests that this lens does not have enough reach for most birds.  I was really happy, though, with the detail it was able to capture in this situation, when I was standing almost directly below the bird.

Mentally it was an adjustment to be shooting with a prime lens and I had to keep reminding myself that if I wanted to adjust the composition, I had to change my position and move closer or farther away. That’s probably a good thing to remember when I am using a zoom lens, which has a tendency to make me a little lazy.

swallow2_blogswallow1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I watch Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying, I am amazed at their aerial acrobatic skills. They change direction in such unpredictable ways and swoop up and down so quickly that I thought that I would never be able to capture them in flight.

However, one day this past weekend I spent some time observing them more closely and eventually I decided to try to get some in-flight shots. Most of my shots were either blurry or the swallow was only partially visible in the frame, but I was able to get a few decent (or at least recognizable) shots of a swallow swooping down over the water.

flying_swallow2_blogflying_swallow1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Thanks to Tropical Storm Andrea, it rained all day this past Friday, and this juvenile Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) was wet and hungry and decided to express its unhappiness in a very vocal way.  Shooting from under an umbrella, I was able to capture this moment of pique.

Swallows eat flying insects and I have to believe that the rainy weather made foraging tough for them. Fortunately, the continuous rain last for only a single day and this little bird probably was able to survive its day of reduced rations.

wetbird1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What happened to this swallow to cause it to be so drab looking? That was my first thought when I looked at these images.

The bird was perched at a location where I had previously seen a lot of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), but it looked more like a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). However, all of the Tree Swallows that I have seen before have been a shiny bluish-green in color. Was this a different kind of sparrow?

It turns out that the answer to my mini-mystery is quite simple—juvenile Tree Sparrows are not the same color as the adults. I guess that I had been assuming that the young Tree Sparrows would be miniature versions of their parents.

The little swallow seemed quite content to pose for me and allowed me to get profile shots and head-on shots without any instructions. Perhaps a modeling career is in its future.

swallow1_blogswallow2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I was a boy, I had hair that would stand up in a cowlick and refuse to lie flat, and that’s what I immediately thought of when I saw this Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) with frizzy feathers.

My Mom’s solution to my hair problem was a little saliva on her fingers that she would apply to my hair and smooth it down.

I thought of doing the same to this little bird, but I am not sure that it would appreciate my efforts.

frizzy_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I never saw the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) enter the nesting box, she poked her head inside of it and was checking it out as a prospective home.

box1_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although it is usually best not to take head-on shots of birds, I can’t help but post this image of a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) looking at me with angry eyes. I don’t know if the swallow qualifies as an Angry Bird, but there is no denying the intensity of the stare.

I grew up with the music of Loggins and Messina and one of their popular songs entitled “Angry Eyes”  opens with these words:

Time, time and again
I see you staring down at me
Now, then and again
I wonder what it is that you see

With those angry eyes
Well, I bet you wish you could cut me down
With those angry eyes

(Lyrics from www.elyrics.net)

What does go on in the minds of barn swallows when they encounter us?

eyes_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I hadn’t intended to do a head-and-shoulders portrait of this Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), but my telephoto zoom was near the far end when I carefully placed my tripod on the boardwalk and focused on the swallow.

Sensing that the bird was not going to remain perched for very long, I quickly snapped off a few exposures. My left hand was adjusting the ballhead of my tripod and my right hand was pressing the shutter, so zooming out was not really an option at that moment. The image that you see is as much of the bird as I was able to capture.

I did manage to get some good detail in the eye (and I recommend clicking on the photo for a higher resolution view) and I am happy with the background, which once again looks like a studio setting—it may not be very exciting, but it sure is uncluttered.

I suppose that the lesson for me is to have my camera fully adjusted as I am sneaking up on birds, but sometimes “mistakes” turn out pretty well too.

headandshoulders_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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With the arrival of blue skies, I was finally able to a close-up shot of a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) with a natural backdrop (vice the white background of the overcast days).

The lighting was beautiful and the swallow cooperated by turning its head slightly, enabling me to capture the catch light in its eye. The shadows are pretty minimal, but help to keep the image from being too flat.

I even like the serious expression on the swallow’s face, as though he had decided that this was a formal portrait.

barn_sky_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Today I got this shot of a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) gathering materials for a nest. I suspect that the swallow is using the nest that is attached to the metal pole on which it is perched, although I never actually saw the swallow enter the box.

nesting1_blognesting2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Are Barn  Swallows normally hostile toward each other?

As I was looking over once more the shots that I took on Monday, I came across this little series of images of two Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) interacting. I had passed over these photos when I did my first sorting, because they were seriously underexposed. Unlike the photo that I posted earlier this week of a confrontation between two swallows, I was not using a flash for these photos, which meant, however,  that I was able to take a burst of photos. (When I used my pop-up flash, I had to wait for the flash to re-cycle in order to shoot again.)

I tweaked these photos in Photoshop Elements (and cleaned up the background a little) and was amazed to discover that this confrontation seems to have escalated a bit beyond the previous one. The flying swallow seems much more aggressive and threatening, going beyond the squawking I had seen before, and looking more like he was ready to attack the sitting swallow, who seems to be paying attention to the incoming bird.

These photos would have been better with a higher shutter speed and better light, but I am amazed that I was able to capture this moment. I love interactions between members of the same species (and between different species) and I enjoy trying to catch those moments.

scream2c_blogScream2a_blogscream2b_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This portrait of a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) looks almost like it was shot in a studio, but I am pretty sure that if it had been, I would have chosen a more attractive item on which to have her perch.

The green rusted metal post holds up a nesting box and this swallow may be building a nest in it or in one of the other nearby boxes, because she had a long piece of grass in her mouth when I started shooting. I think it might be a female, but it’s hard to tell, because males and females look a lot alike, though, according to my Peterson bird guide, the female is “slightly duller” than the male.

This was another shot that I took this past Monday, when the sky was heavily overcast. I made an effort to frame this shot with the swallow up against the sky and I think that I used my pop-up flash to add a little light. I probably will continue to experiment with the technique, especially when it’s really cloudy,  for I like the result that I got here. It does looks a little sterile and unnatural, but so often the background gets really cluttered and distracting.

treesparrow_post_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Here’s a photo of the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) that I took today just prior to the confrontation that I featured in my previous blog entry. The sky was almost completely white, because the day was heavily overcast, and it totally disappeared when I was adjusting the RAW image.

This was one of the first times that I used flash to add a little light and bring out the colores and it seems to have worked out pretty well. Some of the more dedicated bird photographers that I see use a Fresnel lens attachment for their external flash units to give more reach to the flash—I am not sure that I am ready to go that far yet.

I managed to get a pretty good amount of detail in this shot, even capturing some of the raindrops on the swallow’s wing.

swallow1_tree_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was focusing my camera on a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) perched on a branch, when out of nowhere another Barn Swallow appeared and started screeching as it hovered in midair. Fortunately I had enough presence of mind to press the shutter release.

It was raining most of the day and I was shooting one-handed under an umbrella much of the time. For this shot, I decided to use the built-in flash on my camera to add a little additional light. The reflections in the screeching bird’s eyes add to its almost maniacal look.

The bird on the branch was totally impassive. It turned its head toward the hovering bird, but did not appear to react in any other way.

The overall feel of the image is almost like a cartoon.  I really like the way it came out (and recognize that it was mostly luck and fortunate timing).

confrontation_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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One of my fellow photographers identified some newly arrived birds as Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and yesterday I spotted them checking out the nesting boxes at my local marsh. I felt like they could have used a real estate agent to point out the advantages of the different styles of houses available. The first one has the charm of a log cabin and the second one has enhanced security features to discourage intruders. I don’t think that the swallows have made their decision yet—for now they seemed to be checking out the neighborhood.

swallow1_blogswallow2_blogswallow3_blogMichael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Walking along a boardwalk in the center of a marsh, I suddenly heard a sound that I had never heard before, a strange and eerie squeak. I had no idea of the source of the sound, but a man who was walking by with his family pointed it out to me. It was a frog that had been captured by a snake and was slowly being swallowed whole.

I leaned over the edge of the boardwalk and tried to take some shots of this terrifying spectacle, but there was too much grass between me and the two protagonists in this drama for me to get a really clear shot. The shot below shows the snake working to get past the frog’s hind legs. As you can see, the snake is swallowing the frog beginning with the legs. In a previous post, I showed a green heron swallowing a frog. The heron slid the frog down his throat in a single gulp beginning with the head. The process with the snake was more protracted and therefore more gruesome.

Eventually it was over. I continued on with my day, feeling a mixture of awe and horror for what I had just witnessed.

Frog being swallowed by a snake (click for higher resolution)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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