Photographing Kingfishers.

09th August 2016
Importantly and without equivocation;
If you see Kingfishers carrying fish in the spring and summer and going back and fore an area of river or pond banking for example, then don’t approach that area because it is an criminal offence to disturb them near their nest site.
More importantly and from a personal point of view think about the sad fact that most Kingfishers do not survive their first year of life. They have an inordinately high mortality rate during this period and this is primarily because of the adult bird’s lack of care and tuition but it is also compounded by their hazardous lifestyle and the environment they exist in.
Having taking both these facts into consideration, to successfully photograph these iconic water birds it is essential to do your homework. You must study their habits and watch what they do and more importantly where they do it. Kingfishers are like most birds, creatures of habit. They are highly territorial so they will always be in ‘their area’, having said that their territories frequently are up to a mile in length on a river! However, they still have their favourite fishing spots and it is essential to identify these areas in order to have any success photographing them.
The first thing to do is to watch them for a few days and when you are sure you are not disturbing them, (if in doubt don’t go there). If possible erect some favourable perches for yourself and more importantly for the birds. The very least you can do is provide them with an extra means of fishing that perhaps nature hasn’t. After erecting these perches retreat to a safe distance and just watch and after a while they will inevitably fly past and if the new perch is inviting they will use it straight away. I read from one person advertising ‘Kingfisher Workshops’ that he had to wait six months for the birds to get used to his perches. What an unadulterated load of codswallop! It should take as little as an hour if you have erected them in a favourable position. He was obviously trying to justify the extortionate prices he was charging.
If your perches are successful then come back in the next couple of days and get undercover early, a hide is essential, and just be patient. If there are people frequenting the area and your perches are indicating that there are Kingfishers there then remove them before you leave. There are some nasty unscrupulous people around and I read recently of two so-called ‘wildlife photographers’ erecting perches right outside a Kingfisher’s nest site causing the adults to abandon the young. This is intolerable and given the two facts mentioned previously it beggars belief how selfish these people are. Go to a Kingfisher workshop if you want ‘that image’, it’s a plastic situation but at least the birds are not disturbed.
One method I use to combat disturbance is to add extensions to existing branches, that way no one knows you have been there. I also have a medium sized garden plant pot that I filled with concrete. In the middle I have made a hole about an inch in diameter. I place this pot strategically in the river and fit various perches into it and before I leave I remove it and hide it away. I put it back at my next session and the birds are perching on it very quickly. I only do this during periods of fish abundance and obviously I leave the extensions there to help the birds all year round.
It is a great feeling when you have birds confidently landing on ‘your perches’ and as long as you are totally ethical in the way you go about it both you and the birds can benefit.