Quick note: With all of these photos, I kept my distance with an effective 600mm zoom. I’m careful not to disturb birds during nesting season. And, it’s also against the law to disturb wild bird nests or eggs.
These are the famous Swallows of San Juan Capistrano. Well, not these birds in particular. This species, the Cliff Swallow. The swallows pictured here were about 400 miles north and west of Capistrano.
I find Cliff Swallows difficult to photograph for two reasons: 1) they nest in dark areas such as the eaves under which the nests in these photos were built; and 2) they are super flyers which is just a struggle for my slower 70-300mm lens. If ever there was a sound to scare a bird, it’s the groan of my f5.6 zoom lens (at 300mm) trying to grab focus on a fast-moving object. It’s painful, actually. I have to convince myself I’m no slouch at grabbing birds in flight — even as my lens hunts and hunts in response to my aim.
Someday, this is what I’ll be sporting: the Zuiko f2.8 300mm at a paltry seven grand (list price). Or a Nikon equivalent. But until a big windfall blindsides me, swallows and swifts in flight are rewards, not certainties.
This photo below shows the beginnings of a Cliff Swallow nest . . . and the mud-mouthed parent, bringing materials to the building’s side for construction.
Cliff Swallows aren’t the only birds transporting tiny amounts of mud in what appears on the surface, an inefficient vessel: the beak. I captured this image of a Black Phoebe last month, making her own nest under a dock.
Cliff Swallows mix the mud with their saliva creating a mortar which then adheres to the sides of buildings. You’ll find them all over the Bay Area, often in well-traveled places. They nest in colonies, sometimes huge colonies. This shot shows just a fraction of the swallow city I walked under the day I grabbed these images.
The Photos: Most of the nesting area shots were captured at ISO800. That’s a stretch for my little E520. ISO 800 (on the E520) is great in bright daylight when I have to crank up the ISO to capture action at a good shutter speed. But ISO800 in dark conditions (as these were) is very grainy. I processed the photos using shadow adjustments in Photoshop, then added a bit of NR (noise reduction) to compensate for the noise introduced by bringing up the shadows. Also did a bit of leveling and Unsharp Mask before saving them back to Aperture for a slight Definition and Vibrancy tweak.