Readers’ wildlife photos

May 10, 2014 • 5:47 am

There’s just one photo today, but it’s a doozy. Stephen Barnard sends us a photo labeled “Tree swallow picking midges off the surface”.  His note:

These birds are really difficult to catch in flight. I shoot them for practice and occasionally get lucky.


Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are ubiquitous from Canada to southern Central America; their normal diet, as evidenced above, is insects.


35 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Nice capture, Stephen!

    The swallows came back here a couple weeks ago & started competing with the blue birds for their nesting boxes. I saw two male hummingbirds too passing buy on their way up north. The regulars haven’t returned yet.

    1. You’re lucky to have seen hummingbirds already, Diane! Our big families of gold and purple finches are back! Had to dash out and load up the finch feeder with black nyjer seeds. They used to next behind our property till it got(over)developed. 🙁

        1. Unfortunately, I don’t get bluebirds here, but I have a lot of variety. I’ve been keeping a list of the birds I’ve seen here over the past two years. In no particular order:
          Bald Eagle
          Golden Eagle
          Red-tailed Hawk
          Northern Harrier
          Rough-legged Hawk
          Swainson’s Hawk
          Sandhill Crane
          Great Blue Heron
          Downy Woodpecker
          Hairy Woodpecker
          Northern Flicker
          Black-billed Magpie
          Green-winged Teal
          Cinnamon Teal
          Northern Shoveler
          Canada Goose
          Common Merganser
          Hooded Merganser
          Trumpeter Swan
          Eurasian Collared Dove
          House Finch
          House Sparrow
          Song Sparrow
          Marsh Wren
          Dark-eyed Junco
          Red-winged Blackbird
          Yellow-headed Blackbird
          American Robin
          Common Nighthawk
          Tree Swallow
          Rufous Hummingbird
          American Avocet
          Greater Yellowlegs
          Ring-billed Gull
          American White Pelican
          Belted Kingfisher
          Great Horned Owl
          Spotted Towhee
          Yellow-rumped Warbler
          Long-eared Owl
          Turkey Vulture
          American Widgeon
          Spotted Sandpiper
          Brewer’s Blackbird
          Northern Rough-winged Swallow
          Long-billed Dowitcher
          Great Gray Owl

          1. That’s an impressive list, Stephen. Do you ever get chickadees, wrens, blue jays, cardinals, waxwings, buntings, tanagers, and rose-breasted grosbeaks? Those are some others I’ve seen over the years here in Ontario, some rarely.

          2. Chickadees are on the list — they’re common. The only wren I’ve identified is the Marsh Wren. I’ve seen nearly all the other birds you mentioned in Idaho, and more, but this list is just for my ranch. The catch I’m most looking for is the Virginia Rail, which I’ve heard but not yet seen.

          3. Catching up on posts I’ve missed. Unbelievable swallow shot, Stephen!

            Re your bird list; you’ll have to start looking for warblers. 😉 (Talk about a photography challenge…)

            Re Virginia Rails–did you know that you can often get them to emerge by clapping your hands? Or tapping two stones together? I got lucky with one recently…beginning with this shot & going several more to the right:


          4. Nice shot!

            I’ve seen the Yellow-rumped Warbler here, but no others so far.

            Birders have success calling Virginia Rails out with their iPhones. I’ve seen it. Some people get upset about this.

          5. Thanks, Stephen. Those are SOOC so have exposure issues. Plus it’s just a point-&-shoot anyway. Thrilled to get the views, though.

            Yeah, as a birder I’ve come around to seeing the problems with using recordings to lure in birds. Although a time-honored tradition with guides and super-birders, one problem now is that the vastly improved access to vocalizations (apps, esp.) and publicity about birding has resulted in a huge increase in would-be birders out there blasting “tapes” (still used as shorthand, though they haven’t been actual tapes for a while!). Too much of a good thing; though probably less of an issue on your own property. 😉 But I have decided to not use them for the most part, and stick with the older traditions; such as clapping.

            I think you’d have to be dead not to see Yellow-rumps. 😀 But finding warblers is, IMO, more difficult than many other taxa. Very rewarding when you start to see them, though.

            They’re migrating through right now. Do you have flowering fence rows or the like? A good place to look for warblers is on the edge of any brush/woods where they might be flitting through the limbs/canes/whatever gleaning larvae, etc. When such an area first catches the sunlight is a good time to look, too. Look around streams & marshes as well. And of course, listen for their songs. IME you have to be still for a while before you can start to pick out their movements.

            Oh, and BTW, nice property list. 🙂

          6. “I think you’d have to be dead not to see Yellow-rumps.”

            Shoot, that may have sounded offensive, when it was only intended to reference a common birders’ plaint; when the Yellow-rumps first come through you’re thrilled to see them again, but after a few weeks you begin to wish they’d pack up and move along, because they’re so numerous and ubiquitous as to constantly be distracting you from the furtive, skulking species you’re trying to see.

            Also, apologies for the logorrhea.

    2. I saw two male hummingbirds

      Hummingbirds? Either my prejudice that you lived in Canada, or my prejudice that hummingbirds were at least sub-tropical birds is wrong. Or both?

      1. I do live in Canada. There are lots of hummingbirds in Canada but in Southern Ontario, where I live, we only get the ruby throats.

        We do have seasons here. 🙂 I have some relatives in New Zealand who thought since I came from Canada, I never saw water or insects. I guess they thought I lived on the tundra in an igloo (where there are lots of black flies anyway).

      2. Your second prejudice is definitely worng. Hummingbirds are migratory. Depending on the season, you’ll find them almost everywhere in North America. Many actually fly across the Gulf of Mexico (non-stop!) on their migrations.

        There are hummers year-round here in Arizona. If you ever make it to or near Sedona (not far from the Grand Canyon, for certain definitions of “not far”), be sure to stop in the state park on the south side of town. They’ve got a patio with a few feeders set up, and there’s frequently at least a dozen birds there all at the same time — sometimes many more.


        1. for certain definitions of “not far”)

          Less than 1.4Gm, as the neutrino flies? Plus several very dangerous government edicts?
          Don’t hold your breath. Or your flatulence.

          1. Actually, about 160 km as the car drives, Sedona to the park entrance. And nothing more dangerous in the way of government officialdom than a ranger at either end to take a modest entrance fee in exchange for maps and advice on where to park and what to do after parking.

            …of course, getting to either location from points outside the US involves crossing the Border Patrol, and they’re very cross indeed….


          2. Aye, the US Border Patrol are a really successful branch of the Canadian Tourism Promotion Department.

          1. It’s been many (too many!) years, but yes! And the walk-in hummingbird aviary is amazing. The little buggers perch on people as happily as on plants. The rest of the place is a well-done mix of botanical gardens and museum and zoo. Nothing earth-shattering, but, as I noted, well done.

            It’s definitely worth a visit, though not necessarily a pilgrimage. But it’s a worthy stop on a more general pilgrimage to the state…as a birder, you’d love the Gilbert Water Ranch (the city of Gilbert’s municipal water treatment facility that’s also a riparian preserve, and one of the best birding spots in North America if not the world). And there’s an annual “Wings over Wilcox” festival in, I think, January, that’s supposed to be equally impressive.


  2. I watched a bunch of swallows skim a local pond recently and wondered if they were catching insects flying right above the water or were picking them right off the surface. Either way it was some very amazing flying.

    1. There are typically hundreds of Tree Swallows flying over the creek when there’s an insect hatch, so opportunities abound. Gulls are good practice subjects for people who live on the coast. Take what you can get. If you can catch a tree swallow in flight, an eagle or a heron is a piece of cake.

  3. As someone who is trying to become a better photographer, I would like it if photographers would provide technical data on their shots. This one is certainly a wonderful shot!

    1. Photographing birds in flight, especially small, fast birds like a tree swallow, is challenging. There are a lot of factors to consider. If you want to learn about it I recommend this web site:

      It helped me.

      This photo was hand held, Canon 5D3, Canon 500mm f/4 II, AI servo mode, point AF, point exposure, high speed, ISO 1600, f/8, 1/6000 sec.

      I sent Jerry what I think is a better one, technically.

  4. Really awesome. Hummingbirds have come back to my mountainous house, but have they lost their brains…the flowers they love do not bloom for another couple of weeks.

    1. They also eat insects, which make up a surprising amount of their diet. The early arrivals get the best chances for territory and mates.

  5. More a question than a comment — where are you in Idaho. I grew up in south western Idaho (New Plymouth), but was not aware of avifauana at that stage.
    Have now lived in Australia for decades and do have a very small understanding the the local birds.

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