Sunday, 31 August 2014

Cute swallow chicks - Fast Food for Birds on a Wire - The story behind the shots

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My swallow images were featured in the print version of the Daily Mail and MailOnline on 25th August under the headline "All together now, we demand our din-dins!" Here's some more images and the story behind the shots.

Have you noticed that the sky is full of swallows? With long, slender forked tails, black heads and red chins these seasonal visitors are a sure sign that it’s the summer. Swallows are often confused with the much larger, and completely brown swift, or the house martins which have a purely white underside.

I was visiting St Michael’s mount in Cornwall when I noticed these recently fledged chicks sitting on a wire. It was a lucky opportunity to photograph these birds feeding their young but I only had an hour before I had to catch a boat...

Technical: These images were taken with a Canon 7D using a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. Focal ranges are typically between 150-300mm, ISO 100, shutter speed average of 1/1000 sec. f5.6.

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall.

I was exploring St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall, when I noticed these little chicks sat on a wire between two of the island’s buildings. They still had some downy feathers and had probably fledged from their nest just a day or two ago. The sun was bright and it was a great chance to get shots of these birds feeding their young.

The parents feed their young up to 400 times a day but passing food can take less than a second. Blink and you’ll miss it. Naturally the chicks are much better at spotting the adults coming back then I am, loudly begging and opening their mouths wide as they approach. I focussed on the chicks and as soon as I saw the tell-tale signs my finger was ready on the trigger.

August is peak season for swallows, seasonal migrants, who’ve been breeding in the UK since May. While they’re here they typically raise two broods of around four chicks each, but these will need to fatten up quick before they migrate south. In September they head for South Africa, flying as far as 600 miles a day. They make the 6000 mile journey in just a few weeks. It’s an incredible journey for a small bird, but by flying back and forth from the Northern to Southern hemisphere, they ensure that they have warm weather and a plentiful supply of insects to eat all through the year. Swallows eat as many as 800 insects a day - a natural pest control that help to keep down the number of flies.

Large flies make up to 80% of their diet but they also bring back aphids, flying ants and wasps. I watched as one chick received a wasp that was just too big to handle. It’s sibling greedily poked his head close looking for an opportunity to steal it.

Occasionally one of the parents would make a chick fly to take food on the wing - encouraging them to develop their flying skills. The only other time I saw the chicks leave the wire was when they spotted the threat of a sea gull passing close by. 

Their main predators are falcons such as the Peregrine and the African hobby. They will be particularly under threat from these fast aerial hunters when they head south.

It was a lovely experience but I had to dash to catch my boat... Later than evening I found secluded beach at Perranuthnoe where I was able to take some sunset and dusk shots of the shore with St Michael's Mount in the distance.