When I was in Grade 3, an artistic young classmate would draw, on request, wonderful pictures of popular birds. One of the birds he would draw was that of a kingfisher. An odd little bird indeed, and I was curious of its shape and colouration. I have to admit though, in all my later years, I had never actually seen one, until quite recently.
Last year, with the pandemic putting a hold on my regular pursuit of underwater photography, to pass the time, I started photographing birds that visited our backyard feeders. We, like many folks in town, are graced with many beautiful birds and, for me, it has become a pleasing way to spend time. As the pandemic continued, I eventually started to visit the waterfront during winter to photograph the migratory birds that spend the colder months at the mouth of the river.
While venturing a bit further, at the Niagara Shores Park, I have been fortunate to get a few nice red-tailed hawk photos. It was on a walk along the shore there that I became aware of a small bird flying quite actively back and forth along the waterfront. When it landed on an overhanging branch I instantly recognized its distinctive profile in silhouette. A tuft of wild hair and long beak — a kingfisher. I was even fortunate to have witnessed, on a few occasions, the bird diving into the water and emerging with a minnow or round goby in its mouth. Over time, I started to attempt to get closer to it, but it would always fly away. I then became aware that there were at least a pair of them flying back and forth a fair distance along the shore, occasionally coming to rest in tree branches along the way. That was last year, and I did get a few silhouette style shots but from a distance.
There are 95 species of kingfisher in the world. In our area, the belted kingfisher (ceryle alcyon) represents the species. Kingfishers are described as “a family of robust birds, with large heads, strong, pointed bills, short tails and small feet.” I found that, like a species of swallows that visit the area, the kingfishers also nest in the banks along the shoreline. They emit a distinctive ‘chittering’ sound as they fly. It’s quite noticeable.
This year, I started to spend some time again at the Niagara Shores Park. The pond attracts a number of migratory waterfowl, Canada geese as well as hawks, and I’ve even spotted an osprey flying away with a fish in its talons. Again, I started to spot what I now believe to be several kingfishers. So, for the last few weeks, when I could, I would visit the area to become familiar with where they would land. There were a few spots I scouted out, and I attempted to be in place and in position, with my camera ready, to get that photograph.
One of the problems in this location is that, as the sun rose, I wanted to get a well-lit photo to show the beautiful colouration of the kingfisher. All I seemed to be able to get, however, were silhouettes. Whenever I tried to get into a position with the sun lighting my subject, it would fly away. They seemed to have an uncanny ability to avoid me and my lens. It became an early morning endeavour to get myself up and into position behind one of the many fallen trees along the Lake Ontario shoreline, sitting quietly, hoping the bird would perch within subject distance of me and my camera. The only consolation with this lonely pursuit was the lovely scene across the lake and the quiet lapping sound of the water along the shore.
I tried several different spots with no luck. It was actually becoming quite humorous. On one occasion, I had found the perfect perch for them to land on. I even witnessed a pair using it several times. In position, sitting on a comfortable log, out of sight (at least I thought) with my lens already prefocused on the landing spot. Would they cooperate? Ha! Not on your life. They would land on both sides of the targeted perch, too far away again, and just sit there. I would then give up and try to carefully move to get into position where they were sitting. As I crept closer, they both flew to the original perch that I had hoped they would land on.
I have managed, fortunately, to capture some images of these curious little creatures on my early morning sojourns. On the last occasion visiting the area, I came across another birder, sitting comfortably, totally enclosed in a camouflaged blind. He had stationed himself in a prime position to capture an image of the kingfishers. Hmm. Wonder if my wife could produce one of these with her sewing machine? Maybe next year!