Tag Archives: bird

The story behind the photo: King of the water

Perching kingfisher, Alcedo atthis (click the image to view larger)
Perching kingfisher, Alcedo atthis (click the image to view larger)

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.


We are extremely privileged where we live to have a small stream that runs past our street, which plays host to kingfishers, probably the UK’s most colourful bird. They are extremely shy birds, however, so a bit of stealth was required to capture this beautiful winged hunter on camera.

There is a branch extending over the stream which is covered in bird excrement, a clue to the bird’s favoured vantage point. Almost every time I go out to the car, I see him perched on the same spot, and as soon as he spots me he shoots off down the river, a streak of orange and blue.

Over the last two days I’ve been using the car as a hide from which to trigger the camera remotely in order to get a closer look at him. Initially I had the camera perched on the bank, which is about four feet above water level, and was able to get three pictures of him in varying poses as he sat on the branch, looking for food. Today, however, I set the camera up in the water itself, so was able to get down to his level, and the final picture of this quartet was taken from this angle, showing him in glorious profile.