Flying tern


It’s Sunday, so it’s time for another photo of the week and the story behind the image.

Photographing birds in flight can be challenging at times. At other times, it’s extremely easy.

It all depends on the bird and the conditions.

Photographing large, soaring birds — eagles, hawks, vultures, etc. — in flight is relatively easy. These birds float on wind currents, often flying large, slow, circular patterns over an area.

But photographing birds that have more point-to-point flight patterns can be difficult if not impossible. Watch a cardinal or sparrow or blue jay flying between trees and imagine trying to track that flight with a camera and long lens while keeping the moving bird in focus. There may be a skill to doing this but for me it seems to involve more luck than skill.

This photo of a Common Tern in flight falls into the “easy” category. I was on a photo hike in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge along Ohio’s north coast on a spring morning hoping to find migrating warblers to add to my collection. I was walking along the northern edge of the refuge, where it borders Lake Erie, when I saw two terns perched on a limb stuck in the shallow water about 50 yards off shore.

I grabbed a couple of photos of the terns as they debated possession of a small fish caught by one of the birds. Then this bird took off into the northwest wind.

The wind was strong, so it was pushing the bird closer to my position even though it should have been flying out of view to the left. I focused on the tern as it flapped its wings but flew more-or-less sideways. I got this shot moments before the bird turned and, with a tailwind, quickly flew off.

Common Terns are pale gray — almost white — overall with a black cap. This tern was displaying its spring breeding plumage, when the bird has a full back cap that extends from its bill to the back of the neck with an orange bill tipped in black and orange legs. In other times of the year the Common Tern has a white forehead with a partial black cap (top of the head and neck), black bill and black legs. This photo also shows the dark trailing edges on the wings that can be seen when the bird is flying.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.


Date/time: May 17, 2017, 10:53 a.m.  
Location: 41°37’27.155” N 83°12’24.96” W (Show in Google Maps)  
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II  
Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter: 1/1000th second
ISO: 125