Purple Martins Using Bird AI

This article features a collection of new images of purple martins using Bird AI Subject Tracking and Pro Capture L. All photographs were captured handheld during a recent visit to Ruthven Park in Cayuga Ontario.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 4120 pixels on the width, subject distance 6.8 metres

This was the first time in about 3 years that I had an opportunity to photograph purple martins in flight at Ruthven Park due to COVID-19 issues.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 236 mm, efov 472 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3907 pixels on the width, subject distance 7.6 metres

This was also the first time that I had the chance to use my E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking with this subject matter at Ruthven Park. Upon arrival at the park I decided that I would shoot using my C3 Custom Mode which incorporates Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking in combination with Pro Capture L.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2254 pixels on the width, subject distance 13.9 metres

I knew from my previous experience photographing purple martins in flight at this location that I would be more successful backing off my zoom lens and using somewhat shorter focal lengths.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3228 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.3 metres

There are a number of polls erected at Ruthven Park that have clusters of nesting boxes attached to them. All are in close proximity. This physical set-up is such that the purple martins in-flight tend to approach from a range of different angles and heights.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 236 mm, efov 472 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2254 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.4 metres

Purple martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America. Like other swallows they are fast flyers with somewhat erratic flying patterns. Using a shorter telephoto length makes it easier to locate incoming birds in one’s viewfinder.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3222 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.2 metres

Photographing purple martins using Bird AI Subject Detection made things exponentially easier. I could focus more of my efforts locating the incoming birds and keeping them framed decently in my compositions. I spent far less time worrying about acquiring focus on them as I could rely on the Bird AI Subject Tracking technology to help accomplish that for me.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 285 mm, efov 570 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-320, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2546 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.6 metres

While I did capture a number of images with the purple martins approaching in a left to right movement, most of my photographs were from the opposite direction. This was primarily due to the position of the sun and the fact that a higher percentage of birds were flying in from my right side.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 307 mm, efov 614 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3473 pixels on the width, subject distance 9.4 metres

Trying to avoid visual clutter, I predominantly chose purple martins that were in full flight and not that close to the nesting boxes.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 236 mm, efov 472 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2941 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.4 metres

Most of the subject birds were females in-flight, but I did manage to capture a few of the males.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 269 mm, efov 538 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3383 pixels on the width, subject distance 7.9 metres

Like other members of the swallow family, purple martins usually capture their prey when in full flight. Based on my collection of Ruthven photographs the most common prey were dragonflies and grasshoppers.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-500, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3542 pixels on the width, subject distance 9 metres

I also noticed some purple martins with bees, butterflies and some undetermined insects in their beaks.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 253 mm, efov 506 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2389 pixels on the width, subject distance 9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 285 mm, efov 570 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-320, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3767 pixels on the width, subject distance 9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2918 pixels on the width, subject distance 13.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 2254 pixels on the width, subject distance 7.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 210 mm, efov 420 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3279 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.2 metres

My shutter speeds ranged from 1/1600 to 1/4000 with most of my photographs being at faster speeds to help freeze wing movements.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 292 mm, efov 584 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-640, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.4 metres

If you check the EXIF data on the images in this article you’ll see that the distance to subject in the majority of them were in the 8-13 metre range. I like to photograph smaller birds-in-flight at relatively short subject distances whenever possible.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200, ISO-400, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3972 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.5 metres

Regardless of the camera gear that you may own, it pays dividends to continually practice eye/hand coordination when photographing birds-in-flight. The smaller and faster the subject birds are… the more beneficial practice becomes.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 227 mm, efov 454 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3782 pixels on the width, subject distance 8.4 metres

Photographing purple martins using Bird AI Subject Tracking also highlights the potential importance of technology and its impact on our results. I spent a couple of hours photographing purple martins in flight at Ruthven Park, and ended up deleting well over 1,000 useable images. I simply didn’t have the time or the hard drive space to process them.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000, ISO-800, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, cropped to 3500 pixels on the width, subject distance 15.4 metres

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All Pro Capture L photographs were captured using my standard settings for this mode: 18 frames-per-second, single AF point, Pre-Shutter Frames set to 10 and Frame Limited turned off. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post.  Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,194 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Purple Martins Using Bird AI”

  1. It is always delightful to see your examples posted as they inspire and confirm there is plenty of scope for me to improve my game with my current gear! This is a timely article for me – just been thinking about how well the ProCap L ( in conjunction with Bird AI) performs with tracking a bird from a take off scenario – but where the movement is highly unpredictable for the photographer – exit left or right or straight at the camera! And also through in background clutter of branches and leaves. My E-M1 MkII definitely can’t handle it and I have had to resort to pre-focus on a previous flight path and hope the bird repeats it!

    1. Hi Mark,

      I’m glad the article was useful for you. Pre-focusing on a previous flight path can be a very effective technique. I use this approach frequently with Pro Capture H when photographing birds taking flight in situations when I want most of my images to be of the bird in free flight. Many of my swallow in-flight photographs use pre-focusing on a previous flight path.

      Pro Capture L is terrific technology to use with birds-in-flight, especially in cases when a photographer is trying to capture a very specific bird behaviour like capturing a tern doing a mid-air shake. Using a 5×5 or a 7×7 AF grid in conjunction with Pro Capture L can work well with cameras that do not have Bird AI.

      Tom

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