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Locked On: Hobby catching mayfly mid-flight

This is the split second before a Hobby plucks a mayfly from the air. A moment that is over so quickly you can barely register it’s happened when watching these lightening fast birds dart about the sky with the agility to match their impressive speed. Personally, I very rarely see Hobbies. I could count on one hand (almost one finger) how many times I’ve seen this bird of prey before, let alone 12 together! So when I recently had the pleasure of sitting in a field for several hours watching so many hunting mayflies mid-air, I was delighted to capture an image that shows just that split second before it’s all over for the mayfly.

A Hobby locks on to it's prey, a mayfly, mid-flight just moments before plucking it from the air.

The Hobby, about to pluck a mayfly from the air

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 600 VR + 1.4x TC
Exif: 1/1600, f8, ISO 1100
Support: Gitzo GT 5541 LS, Wimberley MKII

If you’ve seen these birds hunt you will know just how amazingly fast they are, and keeping them in the viewfinder is hard enough, let alone getting images of them! Against a plain blue sky it’s fine but as soon as you have a backdrop with contrast and detail, it’s all the camera see’s. Another problem was they would fly in to the wind, which would slow them down slightly, but then they’d suddenly turn in to it and be gone like a shot. As a result I found myself having to manual focus as I tracked them through the lens, once I managed to find them of course, as the field of view at 850mm isn’t very big. I have to admit there is no more frustrating a feeling than having a species you don’t see very often, in so many numbers, right in front of you but there be such difficulty in getting an image. It’s part and parcel of wildlife photography though (and if I’m honest, part of what makes it so much fun!) and I’m glad we persisted as although this image is quite heavily cropped, if nothing else it serves to illustrate the frantic feeding action we witnessed whilst we were there – oh, and show that my manual focus hit rate for fast small moving birds is pretty low…lol

I’m not sure how well it comes across, but below is also a short video I filmed on my iPhone to show the Hobbies as they flew about the sky – of course, with a wide angle it probably looks like they were not moving that fast, but train a telephoto on them and they are like little rockets! lol

Certainly a great way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny spring afternoon I’m sure you’ll agree!

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About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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