Cliff Swallow Juveniles

Cliff Swallow JuvenileCliff Swallow Juvenile (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/125, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yesterday there were literally thousands of adult and immature swallows visible at Bear River NWR. A great number of them were Cliff Swallows like the immature bird above.

I had a difficult time obtaining an image of this bird that showed detail, sharpness and had enough depth of field. The light was low, there was a breeze blowing the Hard-stemmed Bulrush around and with it; the bird. I took more images than normal trying for a crisp, detailed photo. I shot this in Aperture Priority which means that I select the aperture and the ISO while the camera selects the shutter speed, I don’t like to go over ISO 400 with my D200 because noise can creep in and become a major issue so I sacrificed some shutter speed for this image. If I had gone to f7.1 or f8 my shutter speed would have dropped even more. A bit of a compromise but I think this turned out well.

Juvenile Cliff Swallow (pale-throated variant)Juvenile Cliff Swallow – pale-throated variant – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Later in the day this juvenile Cliff Swallow cooperated and stayed perched for quite a few frames. I’m not sure if the plant is a Water Parsnip or a Water Hemlock but I enjoy the lacy flowers that remind me of Queen Anne’s Lace. I also like how the out of focus vegetation gives this image a depth it might not have without the out of focus stems and flowers in the background. I had more light for this photo that gave me a more acceptable shutter speed. I dialed back the exposure compensation so the whites of the flowers didn’t blow out.

There is a large variance in the appearance of juvenile Cliff swallows though they all have dark auriculars. This young bird appears to be a pale-throated variant. Cliff Swallow juveniles seem a little stickier than the adults are can be fun to photograph.

Cliff Swallows catch and eat flying insects of many species the wing so I adore them because they eat mosquitoes, an insect that I personally despise! Go Cliff Swallows!



  1. judy watson July 10, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Stunning photos! Perfect!

    • Mia McPherson July 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks Judy, they can be sweet looking birds until they start demanding food!

  2. Julie Brown June 30, 2011 at 7:24 am

    That would be helpful to know since I was thinking that I would need to shoot from the car, as you do, on the causeway when I visit Antelope Island in October. I have read that some people just put actual beans in a gallon ziplock bag to use from a car window frame.

  3. Julie Brown June 29, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Hi Mia. You did a great job with both of these photos. Were you shooting off a tripod for that 1/125 SS? I really like the feather detail in the first one, and enjoy seeing habitat in the second image. I have never seen juvenile cliff swallows before-I will have to go look for them at one of our local parks.

    • Mia McPherson June 29, 2011 at 7:23 am

      Hi Julie! I was shooting from inside a vehicle and using it as a mobile blind when I photographed the juvenile swallows. Awhile back I came up with an idea to use to support my gear plus it protects the lens and the vehicle window from getting scratched. I’ll have to do a post on it with images to show how it is made. Saves big $$ instead of buying expensive bean bags. I’ll try to get that posted soon.

  4. Nicole MacP June 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Very cool – LOVE that first photo!!

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