As Redgannet has pointed out, photographing high-flying, quick-moving, and extremely maneuverable birds is not easy. In fact, he advised you not to try to take pictures of swifts. I decided to follow his advice, mostly because the Chimney Swifts aren’t back to my neighborhood yet, and instead I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon trying to get pictures of swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows to be exact. And, just to move the level of difficulty up a notch, I did my photography while responsible for my three-year-old son, Desi.

The scene of this insane endeavor was Connetquot River State Park in Suffolk County, the easternmost county on Long Island. Desi and I found ourselves there after ticking one of the two Ruffs that have been hanging out for a week in a nearby marsh by the East Timber Point Marina in Great River. Desi needed some room to run and I was hoping to hear the recently reported Yellow-throated Warblers at Connetquot. Desi got his room to run but I did not get my wood-warbler. Instead, after a nature walk down a bridle trail that left Desi in hysterics after he saw a horse poop and nearly as excited when he saw his first Muskrat, we settled down at the edge of the water where there was a gravel path.

Why there? Well, there was a horde of swallows (Barn, Tree, and Northern Rough-winged) that was calling out to my camera and the gravel would keep Desi occupied trying to fill in the lake while I took as many pictures as I wanted. I just had to make sure he didn’t fall in the water, which was easily accomplished by letting him feel how cold it was.

While Desi had no problem with his gravel-throwing I had a bit more difficulty with the low-flying and fast-turning swallows. I quickly gave up on the zippy Barn Swallows and I certainly don’t want more pictures of Tree Swallows clogging up my external hard drives so I settled on shooting the Northern Rough-winged Swallows by default. With digital photography and fast birds the answer is always bang away until your finger feels like it is going to fall off and that is what I did, shooting hundreds of pictures and getting a few worth saving. Enjoy!

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow low over the water

The question that always comes up from new birders is, “Why do swallows tend to fly so low over the water?”

The answer, of course, is that they are hunting for bugs hatching from the water. Like, for example, the unfortunate bug that is about to eaten in the (heavily cropped and not terribly good) photo below.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow going after prey

Swallows are fun. Try to get some flight shots yourself. Even if you end up with out-of-focus or motion-blurred shots it is fun and, you never know, once in awhile you get something good!

Northern Rough-winged Swallow going away

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.