Kingfishers are a popular subject among photographers, and it’s not hard to see why. Their vibrant colours look amazing, and they are so fast and skittish that capturing one on camera comes with a real sense of achievement. It was years before I saw my first kingfisher, at Sparham Pools in Norfolk, but that was through the lenses of a pair of binoculars. I’d been determined ever since to get a ‘proper’ kingfisher photo, and realised it would take patience and planning, and a not insignificant slice of luck.
Where we live in Hertfordshire there is a small stream very close to our house. It’s not very fast, and often dries up in dry spells, but during the spring there is a steady stream of shallow, clear water running beneath overhanging trees on one side, with a vertical bank of soil on the other, making it the perfect habitat for these elegant birds. I remember one day seeing a flash of blue-green as I approached our car (which parks on a spot that overlooks the stream) and realised that we had kingfishers for neighbours! By now aware of their presence I made a point of looking each time I went out to the car, and more often than not, I’d see one perched on a branch overlooking the stream, who would fly away as soon as I got close.
It didn’t take long to get to know their habits, so one day I decided to use what I knew to get a shot of one of them. I set the camera up on a tripod which sat in the shallow stream, pointing at the branch I had spotted the bird on, and focused manually. I then sat in the car which overlooked the branch, and waited. I didn’t have to wait long – about 5 minutes later, this male bird came and perched on the branch, completely oblivious to my camera, and had a good long look around. With the remote shutter release I took a sequence of photos, and among them was this lovely side-on view with his eye and beak in pin-sharp focus.
Over the next few days we saw this one and the female (identified by the orange colouring on her lower beak) regularly, and came to the conclusion that there must be a nest nearby – the soil bank, it turned out, was perfect for the burrow nest they like to make, so I decided not to bother them any more.