When you can’t have what you want…

Photoshop it.

I spent a couple of hours tromping around Rice Creek after those pesky Belted Kingfishers yesterday, but they always saw me coming from quite a distance away. So, I had to resort to some serious photoediting to get something moderately useful for the blog.

Before editing.  Why is it that birds insist on perching behind branches?

Before editing. Why is it that birds insist on perching behind branches?

This seems to be a favorite spot of this male Belted Kingfisher (no rusty brown belly-band beneath his slate blue collar indicates his sex), as I have found him perched here several times now  This is one of the few species in which the female is actually the more colorful.

After removing the branches from around his bill and eye -- with some critical pixel cloning.

After removing the branches from around his bill and eye — with some critical pixel cloning.  This is actually another, sharper photo than the first one — and the wind had ruffled his wing feathers, making a larger dark shadow than in the previous photo.

Belted Kingfishers might stay all year in MN, but only where there is open water.  A pair will maintain a territory along a stream, nesting in the cut of the riverbank where they excavate a long tunnel for their nest.  I’m not sure there is sufficient height in the bank of this creek to allow them to nest here though.

Downstream about 1/2 mile from the site where I found this male was another kingfisher, a female that also had a preferred perch site on a beautiful snag overlooking the creek. Having missed the perfect shot of her on this perch, I had to settle for her silhouette in the tree where she teased me by rattling the familiar kingfisher call over and over.

Naturally, she also turned away from me on the branch, but I was able to catch a glimpse of her rusty brown sides.

Naturally, she also turned away from me on the branch, but I was able to catch a glimpse of her rusty brown sides.

With their big head and oversized bill, these birds look sort of top-heavy.  However, they capture a wide variety of stream critters with their big bill-pincer, including fish (mostly minnows), amphibians, crayfish, molluscs, insects, even some small mammals.  Unlike the diving ducks, kingfishers close their eyes as they enter the water, diving blind toward prey they have visualized from above.  But they have surprising success.

Now that I know where they hang out, I’ll keep trying to sneak up on them for some better portraits.  In the meantime, have a look at Sparky Stensaas’ clever method for capturing kingfishers close-up.  At the end of the video, he has some good suggestions for setting up the camera for wildlife photography.

6 thoughts on “When you can’t have what you want…

  1. These are such fun birds to watch. The ones in Chicago are just as elusive. I spent a few days stalking a female that was fishing at a pond near my house and yup, always behind a branch. I sometimes think they are taunting me with their rattling call.

      • I wish I could but the pond is in a tiny (23 acre) park surrounded by residential area and a school. I would probably find the police knocking on any bird blind I try to set up! Through persistent stalking I did get a shot of her with a fish in her beak and only two small branches in front of her.

  2. I too chase after belted kingfishers and face similar challenges of branches and distance, so I can definitely understand how tough it was to get your shots, Sue. I love that video from Sparky and am amazed at how well his technique worked. I’d love to try it, but the places where I see kingfishers are too public for me to be able to set up a perch.

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