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I think that every nature photographer must keep a list of a few species that seem to be forever just beyond his or her reach — something that he or she wants to photograph but that is just elusive enough so as to provide no rewards and endless frustration.
My list includes the Belted Kingfisher. This remarkable — and remarkable-looking — bird has driven me crazy on more than a few occasions.
Kingfishers, as their name implies, are birds that eat fish. They are found near ponds and lakes. Typically, one will establish a hunting territory and use several trees as perches from which it scans the water. When it hunts it will hover momentarily above the water, then dive vertically to seize an unwary small fish that it finds swimming just below the water’s surface.
Belted Kingfishers are winter residents in southern Arizona. One can find them in the Tucson area in parks with man-made ponds and lakes.
Attempting to photograph one of these birds has driven me crazy over the years. The ones that I’ve observed have had an uncanny knack for perching with intervening foliage or in terrible light. Until a few weeks ago I’d never obtained a decent photograph of a Belted Kingfisher and I despaired of ever getting one.
Then, my friend Rene tipped me off to a kingfisher that was hanging out by a pond in a park that is just minutes away from our Tucson home. I went over there several times during a two-week period, but never spotted the kingfisher. I was about to chalk it off as another failed attempt.
But then, my luck changed one morning a couple of weeks ago. I was at the pond and walking its perimeter when I heard the loud, chattering cry of a Belted Kingfisher. There it was, perched atop one of the park’s trees overlooking the pond.
In absolutely terrible light. I cursed under my breath because the best image I could get would either be a silhouette or one with a totally washed out background. After a couple of minutes the kingfisher flew to another tree, in better light. Quickly, I approached it. It flew an instant before I was ready to shoot. I cursed again. Out of options, I sat on a bench to try to devise a plan to capture an image of the bird.
And, then — the kingfisher flew over and landed in perfect light on an exposed branch just a few meters from where I was sitting. Photographing her was a question of reflex. I raised my camera and fired away.
The kingfisher is a female. Males of this species have blue-gray and white plumage. Females have added decoration of russet colored feathers on their breasts and abdomens.
I would have been delighted if this image was the only one that I was able to make of the kingfisher. But, luck was with me. As I photographed her, the kingfisher took off, flew in a wide loop around the pond and returned to the vicinity of where I’d photographed her. However, on this second encounter she perched on an exposed branch less than five meters from where I was standing. I could not believe my good luck.
This second image shows her in all of her glory. Kingfishers are extremely distinctive looking birds, with oversize heads and beaks, and trademark crests that look like the hair styles sported by punk rockers from the 1970s.
I’m immensely grateful to my friend Rene for letting me know about this bird. Thanks, Rene, this encounter alleviates an awful lot of frustration.
Images made with a Canon R5, Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 500, f7.1 @ 1/2000, first image +1/3 stop exposure compensation, second image -1/3 stop exposure compensation.