Of Kingfishers and Dragonflies

July 13, 2019

If Kingfishers were more like dragonflies, I wouldn’t have to work so hard trying to get a picture! Dragonflies are abundant. Kingfishers are not. Dragonflies let me stand close and take dozens of pictures. Kingfishers notice my presence from a hundred yards away and take off. Dragonflies eventually take off but come right back to the same spot and pose again. Kingfishers disappear.

A beautiful blue Slaty Skimmer
One of my favorite dragonflies, a Widow Skimmer, male

Today was a perfect example. As I was walking slowly through the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in search of something interesting to photograph, I noticed a ‘blip’ out of the corner of my eye and froze—hoping not to startle whatever it might be. It was a barely visible belted kingfisher hunkered down on a tree limb! Rarely do I see them before they see me and this one was close enough (within 15 yards) for a decent picture– if I zoomed in all the way and was stealthy enough not to scare him.

Another Beautiful Widow Skimmer, male
The Red Admirals were flitting around with the dragonflies.
I waited around for a long time hoping to get a picture of this bullfrog catching one of the dozens of dragonflies fluttering around him, but he just sat like this forever!!

Ever so slowly, I started lifting my camera –maybe an inch, maybe two, and he was gone! That was all it took! Kingfishers are so incredibly perceptive—and skittish. Or maybe it’s just me. Mel said that the kingfishers he saw along the Kalamazoo river while he was canoeing this week were easy to spot and didn’t fly away when he approached. Hmmm. Whatever the reason, I’d lost my chance. Maybe if I had a duck blind and a year’s worth of patience, I could get the perfect shot, but I have neither.

Widow Skimmer, female
A lovely European Starling in the sunlight
I managed to catch a few of the beautiful, buttery yellow Cedar Waxwings on my walk today.

So I continued my languid walk in the late afternoon heat hoping some other birds would be more cooperative. It didn’t take long before I spotted three swallows sitting on a branch over the water, but they were on the wrong side of the sun and difficult to photograph. I tried anyway.

One of the swallows I managed to capture just before hearing the distinctive sound of a nearby Kingfisher.

Not long into my attempt to photograph the swallows, I heard it, the distinctive and strident rattle of a nearby kingfisher! (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Belted_Kingfisher/sounds)

Slowly, I turned my camera in the direction of the sound and saw my kingfisher diving into the pond in search of dinner. Once the bird emerged from the water, I was able to follow its flight path into a tree on the edge of the pond. Unfortunately, the bird was so far away, all I could see was a small white dot in a sea of green. When she dove in again, I tried to follow her path with my camera– but at 25 miles an hour, it was mostly folly. Eventually, when the kingfisher landed on my side of the pond, I took a million and a half pictures hoping that one or two might actually turn out. She was still pretty far away.

Belted Kingfisher, female
Belted Kingfisher, female

If this kingfisher had been a dragonfly, she would have landed within 10 feet of me. She would have stood around patiently for a variety of poses, flown away briefly and then come back for a few more shots. As it was, I was left with a super elusive bird that hates to have its picture taken and never hangs around for a minute if there’s any chance at all that someone might be watching!

This is what a kingfisher looks like from across the pond using a 600mm lens!
A kingfisher fishing
“Many young kingfishers die within days of fledging,
their first dives leaving them waterlogged so they end up drowning.”

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