Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Swallowtail Kite

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.

21 comments:

  1. Now that was some chance encounter. I recall seeing this species but never that close.
    Isn't it great when shere luck pays off Tim.

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  2. It looked like he was showing off for you - spreading his wings so perfectly! Beautiful!!

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  3. Thanks for visiting our blog and your kind comments.Really enjoyed your blog and loved the images of birds you have caught in flight.Shooting a bird in flight is so difficult and you captured them beautifully.Will have to follow your blog:)

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  4. Stunning series on this rare species Tim. Congratulations on sighting it first and then photographing it skilfully. WOW. This is a lifer for any birder. You and Ken are extremely lucky guys.

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  5. How stunning, and what an appropriate name, never seen one. Those are outstanding images for a 100-400 mm, you are lucky to have a sharp one.

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  6. Wow. Man, you are killing me. As many hours that we have waited in locations to hopefully photograph one and it is right there in your back yard! Nice captures! I'm happy for you. Blue Skies.

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  7. Gosh Tim,
    This is a magnificent bird and you have captured it more than beautifully... Excellent sequence of flight pictures, congrats!!!!

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  8. This is an excellent post. I have never seen this bird. But it is beautiful and more graceful looking than the swallows we get to see here. I wish I had more room sometimes so I could capture better photos of birds flying but with a narrow backyard and bushes, trees, power lines and 80 feet between fences, I usually don't get the camera raised up until the bird has disappeared. I have to plan it and wait for the right bird to fly into the picture. Not easy for me anymore.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

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  9. Hi Tim and thanks for visiting my blog. The Swallowtail kite is beautiful as are your pictures of it - stunning sequence! I shall enjoy looking through your blog further! :D

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  10. Hi Tim, this is a really beautiful raptor, with that huge forked tail. The in-flight shots are excellent!The 16 seconds were well used! Exposure, perfect!. Congratulations!

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  11. Beautiful photos! Folklore says the sighting of one of these birds is a good luck omen I just watched a group of 12 circling and feeding over a freshly cut hay field north of Brooker FL. A small creek runs along the southern edge of the field, and the (flooded) Santa Fe River and several swamps are less than a mile away. I have never seen so many in one place. They were curious about my truck, five or six were circling about twenty feet above me! Of course, I had no camera with me. If I did, my photos would not have near the artistry of these.

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  12. Hi Tim!! Photos Are Really Great And Especially The Bird In The Sky Is Simply Amazing..What An Angle !!I have statred a new website And Would Like You To Check It .Unseen Rajasthan
    for travels and tours.

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  13. What a species and stunning images as usual Tim. This is one of the birds I dreamt of seeing as a young lad - your images are the closest I have been so far.

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  14. Good morning,
    We live in Bermuda. We have seen a bird that closely resembles the swallow tail kite bird. We have searched images on the internet and this is the only one that matches. Have never seen this before.

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  15. I also live in Bermuda. My wife and I saw one today over Camp Hill (within easy walking distance of Horseshoe Bay). This is the third time I have seen this bird this month. The other sightings were in Warwick over Purvis School and Tatem Middle School. I wonder how long they will be here on the island. I have actually seen a pair of birds on one occasion this past week.

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  16. Beautiful photos! I had one yesterday and 3 today flying over my house in Tampa. I'm a Florida native, and this is the first time I remember seeing a Kite. Truly wonderful birds!

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  17. WOW! Thank you so much for sharing that encounter. Magnificent.

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  18. Thank you so much for posting this picture. I have lived in Central Florida since 1969 and had never seen this bird until this week in a neighborhood in Winter Park. You photo helped me to identify the bird I had seen. It sure is beautiful!

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  19. I have had large groups of these beautiful bird here in my neighborhood it started as only one or two the latest count was 22 at a given time. Are the swallow tail endangered? I am accustom to their calls now. By any chance do you know where I can hear the call of the black-tail kite or Mississippi kite. I believe I may have both species here now.
    baileyd03@live.com

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  20. forrest "shine" nunnSeptember 5, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    i live in alaska, but came from florida. when i miss home, yall bring a lot of home to me. grew up from plantcity to zepherhills with bunches/pairs of them. i draw them using your wonderful photos!! thanks for alittle home, amature wild life artist "Shine"

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