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  • Writer's pictureMike Curtis

Kingfishers

Updated: Apr 22

What a wonderful way to spend Easter Monday; watching a male Kingfisher catching fish to provision his mate and ultimately see the pair mating. Firstly, credit must go to Tom Robinson (wildlife-photography-hides.co.uk) for creating a wonderful photography hide set up specifically for these stunning birds. I've visited a similar setup previously, but I must say the backdrop to the fishing perch at this hide is beautiful, being mostly distant reed beds and further back still, trees, all of which are rendered buttery smooth via a big telephoto lens.

We were in the hide from 07:00 to 17:00, which was comfortable enough as it had a log burner for warmth, a composting toilet, and an area to prepare tea or coffee. There was even a mattress should you need to have a lie-down, but that's largely there for clients who have booked a night session.

We were super fortunate to catch the end of the courtship season and while we didn't see the male feeding the female, he caught plenty of fish that he took to her, presumably in their nest burrow. I say that because on several occasions the Kingfishers arrived at the perch with mud on their bills and feet. We were incredibly lucky to see them mate on the fishing perch, which I managed to photograph and Christine was able to video.

The Kingfishers fished pretty much constantly during the period we were there, although the frequency of their visits slowed a little during mid-afternoon. We guestimate that between the pair, 30+ fish were caught, with many more dives attempted, so we were not short of photographic opportunities. Regardless of the weather being sub-optimal in the morning, the kings provided so many opportunities for portrait images in a broad range of light conditions, it's hard to know where to start when sifting through the images on a computer. All are simply gorgeous.

Photographing the Kingfisher diving, however, is altogether more challenging. There are no camera focus systems that can track a kingfisher dive, so you need to prefocus. Choosing where and what to prefocus on is a real challenge, as the perch is slightly oblique to the camera ports of the hide, and it's hard to judge precisely where the submerged fish corral is relative to the perch. My solution was to go for as wide a depth-of-field as the light conditions would allow. When conditions improved in the afternoon, I was able to shoot at f20, 1:2000th (slowest shutter) with auto ISO. The extra depth-of-field seemed to do the trick and I started to consistently catch sharp sequences of the Kingfisher erupting out of the water and flying back to the perch. Unfortunately, even at 1/2500th there was motion blur during the dive. I wish I'd pixel-peeped more, but when the action is coming thick and fast and you're capturing almost 20 images a dive, this gets overlooked when the back of the camera looks good at a casual glance. I've subsequently heard that a 1/3500th sec shutter speed is required to freeze a diving kingfisher. I shall have to return and hope for good light



Here's a quick edit of Christine's video footage.


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