A fairly strong wind greeted me Monday afternoon at the Ridgefield NWR on July 7, 2014, along with a mix of mostly Tree Swallows, blackbirds, and herons. Suffice it to say that it was a relatively low-activity day. As I drove around this one corner of the auto tour road (marker #11 for those who know the refuge), I noticed a group of swallows in the air swooping down to the water and catching bugs in the air. Swallows in this mode almost never land.
The wind was blowing from northwest to south east and I noticed a pattern that the birds would follow as they circled one end of the south Rest Lake waterway. At a place where I could stand with my camera, the birds would repeatedly fly over the same area each time around their loop. As they approached this area in the air, they were flying against the wind, which slowed them down considerably at times. Light was also coming from a favorable direction. I figured this would be a good time to attempt some flight shots. I had recently acquired a poor man’s gimbal head (Manfrotto’s 393 model) to hold my lens on my tripod and I wanted to try it out in the field.
So I set up my gear on the tripod and decided to try using the 5D Mark III’s 61-point automatic selection AF, instead of my normal AF point expansion mode for these flight shots. As long as the blue sky was in the background when I had a bird in the viewfinder, the auto selection AF worked fairly well. If the birds flew so low that trees and grass were in the background, the AF would sometimes lock onto the background instead of the bird. I took many shots and every once in a while I’d get a bird in somewhat decent focus.
The picture here is of a female Tree Swallow in flight. Canon 5D Mark III, 1/1600, f5.6, ISO 800, 700mm (500 + 1.4x).
For this and all my shots for today, I had put on my Canon 1.4x III extender giving me 700mm. I was pleased that, even with the extender, AF was fairly fast and accurate. The question is, would the bare 500mm lens’s faster and more accurate AF had made up for the increase in focal length had I taken off the extender? I’ll have to wait for another day to determine that. Oh, and the poor man’s gimbal head worked very nicely for me at a cost of only 29% of the ‘Cadillac’ Wimberly model.