Flight photography of the Red Kite

It takes no special effort to see a Red Kite (Milvus milvus) in Brandenburg. But to be successful with more than a photograph of proof takes more. It is of little interest to scan a Red Kite at a distance or high up in the sky. The straight-forward search flight can go seamlessly into a steep downward slide with slightly angled wings up to the bottom of the earth’s surface. This is the opportunity to be found for the right photographer. The uprise-flight following the pushing down with wide, elastic wing flaps is particularly impressing for shots. A freshly mown meadow attracts the Red Milan when the tractors are still mowing.

Once the correct location has been discovered, a whole series of conditions have to be fulfilled in order to be able to press the trigger with success. Good light conditions alone are not enough. In the spring or in the summer the light before 5:00 pm is much too steep, the contrasts too hard and the blue portion in the sky is much too high. The wind must coincide with the sun’s position, as the Red Kites stand against the wind in flight. Flying with the wind, their position changes so quickly that the kite is lost from the viewfinder.

Besides Red Kites, Black Kites (Milvus migrans) are also looking for food during the summer months. Commonly both species hunt together. If the above-mentioned conditions are fulfilled, the chances for flight images are good if several Kites are present at the same time. Two or three of these raptors have enough space to move outside of the photo space in the airspace above a freshly mown field or a straight mown meadow. If, however, five of the glorious Kites divide this area, while a certain distance is kept to the circular neighbor, individual specimens approach the shooting distance, which starts from 30 meters with the lenses of 500-600 mm.

During circling, the Red Kites observe the straight-cut grass for Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) and Carrion Crows (Corvus corone). When a Black-headed Gull has pulled a food slug out of the grass, the gull is immediately harassed by the Kite in rapid dive to deliver the spoils. Even close-knit peers now see their chance and start a chase, which shows the abilities of Kites in flight. The pursuer reacts quickly to changes in the flight of the hunted, so that it looks like a formative flight for our dreary eye. It happens that the oppressed Kite drops the heavy prey, which is caught by the pursuer in the air. These wild flight maneuvers should be photographed in many cases with the use of focal lengths around the 500-600 mm already much earlier than the above mentioned 30 meters. Tracking the bird in the viewfinder can otherwise take too long.

For the fast movement sequences, shutter speeds up from 1/1000 s are advisable. It has to be noted that against a structured background flying birds are not so easy to “capture” by the autofocus. Many recordings are then blurred. Furthermore, the operating mode should be set to “fast series recording” – in the case of a professional camera model this is now very decent 14 pictures / sec. On a Canon EOS 1D X, I like to set the shots to M (manual), set a very short shutter speed (for example 1 / 1250s) and set the aperture to 8.0 to allow an appropriate sharpening depth. The AI ​​servo must, of course, be set as AF mode. The ISO values ​​shown in the Aperture-Shutter speed combination in the ISO-Auto are in an acceptable range (in sunny weather) in most cases. Often, I used Case 2 in the AF configuration (the setting that ignores temporary obstacles) with manual AF point selection in a zone. In the course of the shoot you can try times further adjustment possibilities. So I would like to focus on the AF configuration, which focuses on motifs immediately when they enter into AF fields (Case 3). In combination with the automatic AF field selection, this can provide very spontaneous close-ups of the Red Kites in flight and thus further improve the overall yield. When using focal lengths around the 500-600 from the car, I use a window stand. Sometimes you can also use a tripod with a ball head with quick-change plate at a solid platform.

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