Mrs B comes up with some mad but brilliant and simple ideas sometimes. We were walking up the West coast of St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly and had just gone through the Neolithic village remains at Halangay when we came upon a small beach. There was only a stony access to it but we picked our way down to walk along it.

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Entrance grave at Halangay.

As we were walking along we noticed that Swallows were flying back and forth along a stony strip along the back of the beach. I sat down on a rock and just watched them swoop along feeding, all manner of high speed twisting and turning acrobatics. Mrs B had a better idea though, she went up to the flightpath, found a comfy looking spot and just lay down still.

At first the Swallow activity moved along the beach a little but then she seemed to be accepted by them as just another big rock, albeit a shocking-pink jacketed one, and soon they had reverted to swooping and speeding along as before but this time with Mrs B lying there laughing as the Swallows just sped along and adjusted their flightpath at the last moment to miss her.

After some time and some encouragement I took Mrs B’s place on the flightpath and it was indeed an experience to make you grin stupidly as the Swallows got closer and closer during their flypast, just avoiding you at milliseconds and millimetres away, hearing them calling as they went and feeling the disturbance in the air as they passed.

It wasn’t long of course before I had an idea that a camera might be in order here. My experience of shooting Swallows close up in flight before this occasion is zero. My success rate in shooting Swallows sharply but in flight after this is about the same, the closest I came to getting sharp pictures in this little gallery below. Proper wildlife photographers would spend however long it took to get better and better pictures, we were there for about half an hour and had the rest of our walk to get on with. Got to get my excuses in.

I employed the technique of lying there with the lens pre-focused manually on a pair of rocks, one a darker one that stood out, and had one eye in the viewfinder and the other open and looking down the beach. Then I had to watch for the approach of the birds towards ‘my’ rocks with the non-camera eye and try to get a burst of continuous shots as the birds appeared in the viewfinder. I have deleted any number of shots without a Swallow in at all and even more with a dark blur that might have been a Swallow or a passing wind-blown plastic bag.

Some internet research to estimate the speed of the birds has thrown up this brilliantly entertaining piece of scientific looking ‘Average speed of an Unladen Swallow‘ blog piece. If the equations don’t seem to be your thing, like me, then the answer comes out at about 24mph. Too fast when head on for me, my timing and my manual focus lenses. I’ll stick to slightly slower moving and larger birds.



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