One of my favorite birds to photograph on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is the Barn Swallow. Especially the juvenile Barn Swallows. They are so cute as they line up on a tree branch, waiting for Mom to fly up with a meal. They must get so bored sitting there at times! But when Mom approaches, they switch into high gear, flapping their wings and waving around their gaping beaks. It’s such fun to watch and even more fun to photograph. So in early July when I pulled up and saw this…
…I quickly found a vantage point that yielded a less-cluttered background, watched, and waited.
Wow! This was one busy mother. She flew in so many times that I almost lost count. I wonder how the adults keep track of which juveniles have been fed? I doubt they go entirely by the intensity of the begging (anyone who knows my cat Squirt knows that begging intensity is only indirectly related to hunger!). I read one theory that Mom feeds from left to right, just working her way down the line. But that wasn’t the case this morning. There was no apparent order to her visits.
But everybody got fed!
As much as I love the “gaping juvie mouth” shots, I found that I enjoyed this vantage point better. When you are facing the juveniles, Mom covers up the baby being fed when she brings in a bite. When you photograph from behind the babies, you get better views of Mom…and still get to see some gaping mouth action.
Mom is brave, sticking her face right down into the wide-open beak of her squirming offspring. I think I’d be afraid of having my eye poked out!
I love seeing Mom’s feet in the shot above. She looks like she’s ready to perch. As cute as the babies are, these shots are as much about photographing Mom as the fledglings. How often do you get flight shots of these beautiful birds?
After each baby got a bite, I thought they would settle down and take a nap. But no, they were especially hungry that morning…
Mom kept bringing in the food, and they kept gobbling it down!
These images are not actually all that hard to make. The baby birds start squirming several seconds ahead of Mom’s arrive. You pre-focus on the babies and fire away as Mom approaches. What can be tricky is finding a good background, a good sun angle, and making sure you have enough shutter speed to freeze the wings. I love how Mom’s wings are sharp in the shot above, almost helping her fend off the neighboring juvies as she delivers the morsel to her chosen baby.
Sometimes there would be a lull in the action. Then the babies would preen, and stretch their wings, and occasionally, take a test flight. This guy needed to practice his landings!
He grabbed ahold of the branch and pulled himself up. “I’m good! It’s all good!” he seemed to say as his siblings looked on with great interest.
This little guy’s scratch-and-yawn combo makes him look especially anxious for his next bug!
Mom didn’t make him wait too long. Except the next morsel wasn’t for him, it was for his brother!
You’d think it would get old, photographing the same behavior repeatedly – but it doesn’t. Quite the opposite. It’s rather addicting. :)
The final bug tally, per baby, ended up being:
- Baby 1 (Far Left): 2 bugs
- Baby 2 (Middle Left): 3 bugs
- Baby 3 (Middle Right): 5 bugs
- Baby 4 (Far Right): 4 bugs
So I guess the moral of the story is, if you’re a juvie Barn Swallow in need of food, try to find a spot in the middle!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Lake Apopka?
Check out my Lake Apopka page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!