66409 Swallowtail Kite
I have wished for an opportunity to photograph a swallowtail kite for quite some time, and until today I had never gotten that chance. It's funny that in my occasional travels with my friend Ken Conger, there was a day when we both thought we would nail that shot. I cannot honestly remember if it was 2007 or 2008, but talk was buzzing around the nature photography forums that a swallowtail kite was building a nest in the Everglades National Park, in a tree right next to the parking lot at Shark Valley. Folks were coming from all around and photographing that bird as it would swoop down to the nest, carrying moss. I had even thought about how I could like to compose a shot if I had gotten the opportunity. We were travelling across Florida and we had already planned a stop there, but when we arrived, we did not see the bird we were seeking. In fact we only saw one swallowtail kite there, and it was far in the distance from our location, and nowhere near the tree where we had been told to look.
66406 Swallowtail Kite
This morning I walked outside to pick up the newspaper and I noticed a swallowtail kite soaring about a hundred feet or so above the street. My first thought was if I go get the camera, it will be gone when I return. But what the heck, I went back inside and grabbed my camera and attached a 100-400 lens to it, then headed for the door. When I got back outside, the bird was about twice has high and getting a decent photo was out of the question. I snapped a few shots anyway just to have a record of bird's visit, and I was about to head back inside when the surprise came. A second swallowtail kite swooped down about 20 feet above me and began to circle my driveway. It was so close that I clipped the wings on a couple shots. I tried to relax and follow the bird and I managed to get a few photos before it flew away toward the lake that is behind our house. According to time in the exif data of the photos, it the whole ordeal lasted only 16 seconds.
66410 Swallowtail Kite
I wasn't sure I got anything worth posting as I realized that I had not even checked the exposure mode of the camera, or any of the settings. When I examined the camera I found that it was in manual mode, iso 200, 1/640 at f8. I had been photographing a construction project the last time out and those were the settings I used last. I pointed the lens toward the sky and looked through the viewfinder to check the exposure, and found that those settings amounted to +2/3 EV against the blue sky, and +1 EV against the white clouds according to the camera's meter. Now how lucky is that? When I shoot birds in flight I always set the camera to either +2/3 or +1 EV because it allows me to properly expose the bird without the meter being fooled by the bright sky. So just by chance, my camera was already set to the perfect settings to photograph that bird.
66412 Swallowtail Kite
One other thing I wish I had done is grab a flash. That would have helped, but perhaps the bird would have been gone before I returned if I had taken any more time. In the soft early morning light the photos came out pretty decent even without it.
66413 Swallowtail Kite
What a nice surprise this was first thing in the morning. You can bet I'll be looking up at the sky from now on when go outside to get the paper.