Hoping for a Surprise

June 19,2019

A couple of days ago, Mel and I decided to take advantage of a rare five minute spate of good weather here in Michigan and headed over to one of our favorite picture walk spots, the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery. It’s only about 10 miles from our home and, with two dozen ponds, it’s  a great place to find birds, butterflies, dragonflies, turtles, frogs and snakes, so we are frequent visitors.

Male Tree Swallow

On his particular day, though,  I was hard pressed to find anything new or interesting to photograph. Over the years, I’d already taken pictures of every single red-winged blackbird, most of the dragonflies, and all of the geese. I was hoping for a surprise.

Juvenile Tree Swallow sitting in a Mulberry Tree

About an hour into my walk, having only gotten a few flowers and a red-winged blackbird, I was about to call it a wrap. But when I turned the corner on one of the last ponds, I spotted two small birds perched low on a branch about 25 feet away. Taking extreme caution not to scare them, I slowly raised my camera so that I could zoom in on them before they had a chance to fly away. Only they didn’t. So I kept snapping. Every once in awhile, they would flutter their wings, squawk a bit, and open their mouths wide hoping to be fed. These were young tree swallows that had already fledged the nest but were still being fed by their parents.

Two little cuties looking back at me!
“Hey, when do you think dad’s coming back with food?”
“I’m really hungry, aren’t you???”
“MOM! DAD!! We’re hungry!!”

Once I realized that they were waiting to be fed, I hoped I could get a few shots of the parents feeding them– but getting a shot like that would require keeping my camera focused constantly on the two little ones, which would be really hard for me to do without a tripod. My camera, with it’s long 600mm lens, weighs more than six pounds, and to hold it up to my eye for an extended period of time like that would be hard on my back—but I really, really, wanted that shot! So I became my own tripod.

“Here comes the food!!”
“Oh, man!! He missed us!!”
“Look! There he goes!”
“Don’t leave now! They’ll be back soon!”

First I got down on one knee and propped my elbow on the other knee– which relieved my back and steadied the camera—for a minute, until my foot and hip started to fall asleep. So I assumed tripod position #2 and sat down on the ground with both elbows propped on both knees. It worked great– for about 5 minutes. So I went back to what I always do, I stood up.

“Here comes dad with dinner!”
“Feed ME! Feed ME!
“How soon do you think he’ll be back??”
“Thanks, Dad! You’re the best!”
This is the wrong swallow coming in! It’s a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, not a Tree Swallow!
I couldn’t tell if the kids were hoping for food no matter who made the delivery, or if they were yelling at the intruder!

Eventually, I got the shots I wanted of dad flying in to feed the kids– but I had hoped to get even more. Unfortunately, the ‘tripod’ I was using had a manufacture date of 1947 and was about to expire!

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