A quick note to readers. This blog is mostly about birds and bird photography. It isn’t particularly technical, but I never rule the technical out. Though each post stands alone, I tend to build on or expand upon previous ones. For example, this one builds on what I’ve written about a local greenspace and its pond, an Osprey family, and the Canon EOS R5 camera. If you’re interested (and have time!), I introduced the greenspace and provided details about the Ospreys in “Photography and Art.” I expanded on both and mentioned the EOS R5 in “Privileged Time With Some Area Birds.”
An Unpromising Morning
It wasn’t a promising morning. Good numbers of Barn Swallows were zipping around just above the ground and over my head but capturing them in flight would have been a challenge. There wasn’t much action elsewhere except for some European Starlings on a power line and a soaring but much-too-distant Red-tailed Hawk. So, I walked down to the pond. As I did, a Belted Kingfisher landed on one of the limbs of the dead tree. The tree is a favorite of Belted Kingfishers, Wood Ducks, songbirds, and herons.
Speaking of songbirds, here’s a female Tree Swallow feeding one of her young. I took the photo with my new Canon RF 100-500mm lens paired with the Canon EOS R5. I took it at the long end @ 500mm. I’d set the aperture to f/9 to get more in focus and the shutter speed to 1/1600 to freeze the action. The shutter speed could have been faster, nonetheless I froze what mattered most: the hand off.
The Belted Kingfisher
Getting back to the Belted Kingfisher—I raised my binocs after spotting the bird and noticed it was a young female. That meant she might be easier to approach than an adult. I also noticed there was a small tree nearby that could serve as a blind.
With my photo gear held up and almost in position, I crept in the tree’s direction. I was out in the open only briefly. Once I reached the tree and the bird was still there, I was safe—and hopeful. I said to myself, “I think I made it.” I also said, “Thank God for silent shutters.” The EOS R5 shutter is quiet. A morning that had started out without promise had turned into one that was anything but. Although it’s nearly impossible to get close to and take high-quality shots of Belted Kingfishers, a young and especially colorful one was perching and waiting only feet away. And I was ready.
Here’s a photo that might be a little more expressive. To me and many others, the species has spunk and personality, and this frame captures some of that.
I visited the area a few days later. As I entered, an adult male that had perched in the same spot wasted no time in leaving. He wanted nothing to do with me. I managed to capture him but not before he veered away. To me, what I was able to get of him epitomizes not spunk but the species’ skittishness and how folks can expect to see them in the field. In the absence of careful planning, few people get great views and photos of these birds. But for some, that makes them all the more intriguing and worth pursuing.
Shortly after my near miss and as I walked back to the truck, both adult Ospreys buzzed me. They were being protective of their chick, which was still in the nest. Then as if they’d taken care of the matter, they landed on a 1 ft. square plate on top of a power pole close to where I was standing. The female landed first.
The lighting was tough, but I did my best to capture them. To get a decent exposure, I had no choice but to blow out/lose detail in much of the background. You can see a little of it at the bottom of the frame.
Here’s how the birds looked moments later. I was an afterthought.
I’ve mentioned Osprey “intelligence”—their ability to find a substrate that would support a large nest and their ability to site a nest close to a reliable food source. Though it might not be a sign of intelligence, consider what it took here for the male to land on a 1 ft. square plate occupied by the larger female. If that’s not intelligence, it’s at the very least remarkable skill.
And This Just In
We’ll have to add the female Belted Kingfisher and Osprey to our pantheon. We began to take note of the unique beauty of female birds in “The Unsung Female.”
Why did I call the kingfisher flight shot a “near miss”? Because the bird had started to fly away from me. Whenever that happens, I usually stop shooting. I almost always want a side view, or better yet, a 3/4 view, which captures both the front and side—or most—of a subject. Decent examples here are the female Tree Swallow and the juvenile Osprey (below).
Quip, Question, Quote
Although this was written about the British version of the kingfisher, it also applies to our own: “If seeing a kingfisher is difficult, to photograph one is even more difficult. They are extremely sensitive to movement and normally any approach sends them 400 metres away from you in a flash.” David Plummer
Please stay tuned for more news about the Ospreys. I’ve been following their Cumberland County, PA nest since April. I don’t know about the original clutch size, but one thing I do know is that there’s one healthy-looking chick in the nest, and that chick is about to fledge. Here’s a recent photo. The male parent may only be looking on from the side, but I can’t help but think he’s also cheering his offspring on (and maybe watching in wonder, too).
Thanks for reading.