Speaking of Nature: Columnist sits long enough to get photos of a belted kingfisher and its fledgling

  • An adult belted kingfisher with a crayfish in its beak decided that it had had enough of Bill Danielson and raised its wings to take flight just three seconds after he took the photo. For The Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • A belted kingfisher fledgling cackled with excitement as one of its parents came in for a landing with food. For The Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • Bill Danielson

For The Recorder
Sunday, September 10, 2017

I had taken up a strategic position by a medium-sized pond. This particular body of water is located in a forest setting, and there are mature trees all along the shoreline. The specific spot I had selected was one where a rather steep slope plunged down toward the water’s edge. A large tree had grown up at an interesting angle from this slope, and I was able to sit in the precise spot where tree trunk and ground met.

I had already been to this pond earlier in the summer, but on this particular day, I was armed with my new lens. My trusted 170-500mm that I have used since 1998 had finally shown signs of its age.

In addition to collecting a disturbing amount of dust, pollen and other debris on the inside surfaces of some of the glass elements, the focusing ring was now jamming and causing me to miss too many photo opportunities; a truly maddening experience that I could endure no longer. So, I pulled the financial trigger and invested in a new lens.

Made by the same company as my 170-500mm, this new lens represents the next generation in technology. It is a little bigger, a little heavier and has a wider range of 150-600mm, which is extremely nice for bird photography. It also has an image stabilization feature that removes some of the jiggle from handheld shots, but the most important feature is that the internal elements are crystal- clear and completely clean.

So, with new lens in hand, I sat and waited. The reason my position was strategic was because I was sitting in front of the remains of a dead tree that had fallen into the water. The tree had been there so long that all traces of bark had completely disappeared, leaving the gray limbs emerging from the water like bleached whalebones.

Beautiful as they were, however, I was not there to take pictures of the old tree limbs. Instead, I was there to take pictures of the various species of birds that used the limbs as perches over the water.

Specifically, I was hoping to get a photo of one of the belted kingfishers that patrolled the shoreline in search of food. Unfortunately, I had been sitting in my strategic spot for about an hour without any luck, and my back was starting to complain. Still, I stayed put, hoping to get lucky.

Luck announced itself with the clattering call of a kingfisher off to my left. Once again, the kingfisher was making its way across the pond’s perimeter, but this time there was something different. A second kingfisher called from my right and from what I could hear, it sounded like they were moving toward one another. I aimed my new lens at that beautiful dead tree in the water, crossed my fingers, and made a silent appeal to the photo gods.

At 8:42 and 24 seconds, luck favored me with a gift. The bird from my left had already landed on the tree limb, and it was suddenly joined by a second bird that was clearly carrying something in its beak. This food-laden bird was clearly an adult feeding a well-grown fledgling, and as it adjusted its footing for the handoff, I was taking photos as quickly as the camera would go. This did not go unnoticed by the sharp-eyed adult, and just three seconds later it took off, leaving the young bird with a puzzled expression on its face.

In the good old days, I would have had to wait hours to see if any of my photos had been successful, but my digital camera gave me the good news instantly. My sore back had been worth it!

The new lens had provided amazing images of an adult belted kingfisher bringing a crayfish to its offspring. The extra magnification and clean glass produced crisp details, and any concerns that the lens’ price tag may have caused were instantly washed away. The only things remaining were optimism and plans to take up many more strategic locations in the future.

Bill Danielson has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, and the Massachusetts State Parks. He has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 19 years and he also teaches high school biology and physics. Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.