Merry Christmas everyone! I was sitting around on Christmas Eve and wondering what a fitting topic would be for this festive day. I decided I’d hold off a little more before I go off on the latest gun restriction talks and it didn’t seem right to post a recent experience with a deer (it is pretty gruesome and didn’t want Santa to get offended). There’s the Hank Williams Jr. recollection (NOT) and I am not ready yet for either the Wisconsin trip post from earlier in the year and much to soon to go with the recent Vegas birding shots. What to do, what to do. Hey, nothing says Christmas like a super fisher! Okay, it is really a gift to me to help pad some year end stats but it actually has a tie in to the last post on Allerton.
While processing the statue shots from the Allerton Park shoot (link here), a pleasant surprise caught my eye. In the middle of shooting the Loch Ness shots a familiar sound emanating out from the nearby woods. A sound that caught my attention having heard it for the first time a few weeks prior to making the trip up to Monticello. Imagine, if you will, a long rattle – somewhat like a cricket on steroids. Immediately the Beast was reoriented to the location of the sound in hopes the source would show itself. A few minutes later a now “familiar” crested blue bird flew out of the woods and took a position in the trees along the bank of the pond. “Familiar” may be a strong word since it was still pretty new to me, but to my credit I had taken over 200 pictures at the first encounter. You kind of get to know a bird after staring at it for that many shots. The original shoot was at Jubilee Park and those shots tended to come out nicer so let’s lead with those.
And here it is:
If this is new to you, you might assume a common Blue Jay from the similar coloring. However, the beak may be throwing you off… and if not, it should be. That beak is HUGE!. Add to that the overall large relationship of the head to the rest of the body pretty much eliminates the Jay. This is actually a Belted Kingfisher and a brand new bird to the Blog. This is one of those birds that is supposed to be common to our surroundings, but was never in the right spot at the right time. That is until Linda and I took a quick run over to Jubilee Park to see what was hanging out around the pond. This is becoming a hot spot for new birds for us. If you recall, this is where we shot the Green Heron (link here). Not only were we at the right spot.. we had the Beast.
Without the Beast this would have probably been a missed opportunity. Our subject (a male) was keeping its distance and really didn’t appreciate me being in his hunting area. He would give me about 4 shots before fluttering off to some other branch. Even with the large glass the bird was buried in tree branches for most of the time throwing the auto-focus all over the place. The entire time I was shooting it, my assumption is it had a white eye and the light was working in my favor giving a nice glint. During post processing, it became apparent that this was wrong. The Kingfisher actually has a black eye – the white is just part of the base of the beak coloring. This is why you never trust the LCD screen on the back. Although it could not be seen while looking through the glass, the culprit for the focus walking was the twig positioned right in front of the bird – again, too small to see in the eyepiece or the LCD screen. The shot below gives a good view of the eye in relationship to the white spot.
Some interesting facts. The female Kingfisher actually has a burnt orange band on the belly – odd since the male is usually the more colorful of the sexes. They are very common in North America (could have fooled me). They are year round in our neck of the woods (Illinois). According to our friends over at Wikipedia, they actually nest in the banks of streams/ponds making an upward slanting tunnel to help guard against flooding. As you would expect they carry a Least Concerned conservation status – again, hard to believe this was the first time I’ve really come in contact with one.
Hit the jump to see more shots of the Belted Kingfisher
Of all the shots, the following shot was one of my favorite solely based on the composition. Anyone that has ever trekked out to a pond with a rod and reel has likely left there with one of their bobbers hanging in the trees. There were plenty of examples of this at the Jubilee pond. Typically these tree decorations are just plain annoying, but this ended up working out perfect for this situation – get it? Kingfisher .. bobbers .. clever eh? Would have preferred the middle bobber to be off from the beak line but that would be a little greedy.
The way this one was flapping about it must have been hungry. They are considered very efficient hunters preferring to hunt on calm water/ponds and streams in search of fish and crayfish. This I can attest to first hand. After staring at the water from a number of different perches it smacked down into the water and came up with this:
Sorry for the branch, but I’m pretty sure it picked this specific position just to piss me of. Damn you Belted Kingfisher and your devious perches. A slight confession here, I couldn’t really tell exactly what he was eating from 400mm away but it did appear to have tentacles of some sort so guessed it was a crayfish – or rather the Illinois Lobster!- too bad I didn’t get the 1.4 tele until later in the year.
My other favorite shot from the shoot is below. Not tack sharp, but the composition came out perfect – sitting there for hours and hours just waiting for that perfect shot when he flipped the food in his beak (any comments on luck will be dealt with harshly hehehe)
Apparently these birds like to play with their food. There are a number of shots with it tossing this crayfish to and fro. I was not able to witness it choking it down due to it flying off soon after the shot below.
Really wanted to know if it would simply swallow it crust and all or use that giant beak to rip the flesh out. Maybe next time I’ll get an answer to that for you. Speaking of next time – the Allerton Park sighting was a pleasant surprise – years without seeing one at all and next thing you know it makes two appearances in less than two weeks. The shot below is one that came from the Allerton shoot – Yes, once again it made sure there were annoying branches between him and the glass.
The Jubilee set ended up not having a back shot – not a big deal since this bird is very easy to identify. For the curious, here is the back coloring – solid powder blue across the wings with some white highlight dots along the tail edge.
As a kick in the butt to myself here is what happens when you transition from shooting at water in high sun to shooting towards the woods without compensating on the manual settings.
Eeeesh – I should know better and the camera was probably screaming at me the entire time. A shame since it would have been a pretty cool shot – thanks to the digital darkroom I was able to extract it out (along with massive noise reduction and hefty dose of sharpening and toning work). Not bad though – embrace the Shop!
Well, that’s all folks. Hope you enjoyed the post, although probably not as exciting as all your gifts from Santa. If you are curious, Brent Chapman is the Bassmaster Angler of the Year for 2012 – yeah, I didn’t know either so went searching for a name of a professional fisherman and his name popped up.