Photographing Tundra Swans In-Flight with Tamron 150-600 VC

It always amazes me how I can live in an area for so long and be completely unaware of some fascinating image subjects. Thanks to Ray Miller, a local blog reader, I had the chance to photograph a small group of Tundra Swans in their winter migration home on the Niagara River in Ontario.

NOTE: click on images to enlarge them.

NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/4000, f/8.0
NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/4000, f/8.0

Ray has been photographing these birds for a couple of years during their annual migration and it was fantastic to have him as my guide and as an information resource. According to Ray, the birds that are found in our area are only here for a couple of months (January and February) and by early March they have started their northern migration. The local population tends to congregate on a very small stretch of the Niagara River about 3 to 5 miles long (4.8 – 8 km), a few miles west of the town of Fort Erie, Ontario.

NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/1600, f/8.0
NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/1600, f/8.0

Tundra Swans are large, majestic birds with distinctive black bills, legs and feet. They are difficult to distinguish from Trumpeter Swans which have almost identical colouring. The most recognizable feature between the two species is the yellow mark just in front of the Tundra Swan’s eye. I was very fortunate that a river ice breaker went by and caused the Tundra Swans to take flight. In the hectic minute or two that followed I was able to capture some images of them in flight. The Tamron 150-600 VC performed extremely well and acquired focus very quickly and accurately. All images in this article were single frame captures.

NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/3200, f/8.0
NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/3200, f/8.0

These birds breed in the high Arctic during the summer months and as their name suggests live on the tundra of the far north. They migrate southward a considerable distance, some as far as the Carolinas on the east coast, and to California and northern Mexico on the west coast. They are large birds with wingspans reaching 5 ½ feet (168 cm) and can weigh over 23 pounds (10.5 kg).

The easiest way to get to this section of the Niagara River to photograph these birds is to take the QEW Niagara to the Netherby Road exit, then proceed east on Netherby Road until it ends at the Niagara Parkway. Once you arrive at the Niagara Parkway I’d recommend that you turn right and drive towards Fort Erie. You can then watch for the Tundra Swans along the shores of the Niagara River which will be on your left hand side as you drive towards Fort Erie.

NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/4000, f/8.0
NIKON D800 + TAMRON 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1000, 1/4000, f/8.0

There are a number of designated parking areas along the Niagara Parkway, as well as a series of small service roads where you can park. I went out one day with Ray, then alone the following day and found the swans between Service Roads 4 and 9.

As always, drive carefully as there are very few guardrails between the Niagara Parkway and the Niagara River!

To see some additional images of Tundra Swans in flight click on the YouTube video.

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Article and all images are Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent.

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