Although I've photographed red kites before, I've never really got the 'perfect' flight shot. It's not an easy task, requiring good light and preferably a deep blue sky. As soon as the recent snow was forecast, red kites were on my hit list - and after failing to get any short eared owls (again!!) they soon became my wildlife priority. Luckily the light was on my side: beautiful winter sun and a good blue sky. But it wasn't just these conditions that I was hoping for; I had already envisaged the vast blanket of snow that would carpet the fields, providing a giant natural reflector to help light the underside of the birds.
I arrived at the site on a private farm: the conditions could just not have been better for flight photography. The illumination was incredible, and really made a difference... beautiful light bouncing back up and highlighting the wonderful detail in these magnificent birds. It started with three birds, but soon there were a dozen - whistling and wheeling above me. Eventually the first bird came down to the bait - stooping at the last moment then snatching with pinpoint accuracy before shooting straight back up into the air. I watched a number of birds grab the food and got an amazing amount of opportunities. I was so close I could shoot with a straight 300mm lens!! Red kites are quick birds, but as they gradually dropped in height they would really slow down, giving the servo autofocus much more chance to stay focussed. In bright light I shot at ISO 400 with a shutter speed about 1/2000 and varied the aperture a little to try more depth of field. Shots against the sky were much easier than the 'grab' shot: as each kite came lower it would drop suddenly then snatch the food before rising quickly... very tough to keep track!
The surroundings made the afternoon all the more enjoyable - beautiful rolling Yorkshire farmland with open fields and hedgerows - and a lovely view across the valley. This was certainly one of my most memorable wildlife photography shoots.. and hopefully there will be more images to come..!