Anyone with a telephoto lens of 500mm or more can photograph kingfishers in parks in Tokyo with relative ease, but this is because kingfishers in urban areas are fed and are not so wary of humans.
I tried photographing kingfishers on Tanegashima Island, where they are not fed, but it was extremely difficult.
First of all, they would only see people or camouflage tents and would not approach the location.
For about two months, I experienced the difficulties of photographing wild birds and almost despaired, but miraculously, I succeeded in photographing this kingfisher in a park on Tanegashima.
On trying to photograph kingfishers that are not fed on Tanegashima Island
Flying jewel kingfishers are very popular with photographers in an urban park pond
Since I am a photographer in Tanegashima, I also want to take pictures of wild birds in Tanegashima.
Speaking of wild birds, the kingfisher is very popular among photographers.
With its blue wings and orange body, the kingfisher is an eye-catching bird that is extremely beautiful even when perched on a tree branch.
The kingfisher is also called the "flying jewel" or the "jewel of mountain streams," but its feathers and body feathers are not colored in any particular way.
As they are called "KingFishers" in English, kingfishers prey on fish and crayfish in rivers, flying at high speed and perching on branches.
The bird's flight back to the surface of the water is what attracts photographers.
In urban ponds, there are many bird photographers with large telephoto lenses, but the kingfishers are the ones they are looking for.
Feeding Urban Birds
Kingfishers in urban areas are actually so well fed that they are relatively unperturbed by humans approaching them with large cameras, and in some cases they do not run away even if you approach them within a few meters.
In addition, wild birds other than kingfishers also use "mill worms," which are said to be extremely tasty to birds, to lure them to photo spots.
In parks in Tokyo and other famous spots for photographing kingfishers, picturesque perches are placed in easy-to-photograph locations, and colanders filled with small fish are placed under the water a short distance away, so you can pinpoint in advance where the kingfishers will perch or dive into the water.
It is inherently impossible to have a kingfisher in a plum tree, but the human setting can do anything, and it is possible to erase a monkey in the water or a misshapen worm placed on a tree branch if it appears in the picture.
At the moment of the kingfisher's surface dive, if you aim at the top of the colander without chasing Mr. Kingfisher as he flies at high speed and set and fix the focus, you can take a high-speed continuous shot when the kingfisher dives into the water in an okipin state.
Unfortunately, the long beak of a kingfisher may be broken when it strikes this underwater colander, and it is sad to see a photo of a kingfisher with a broken beak!
It is also regrettable that 99% of the kingfisher photos on the Internet are said to be fake photos.
Many kingfishers are flying in the rivers of Tanegashima Island
Those who are not interested in birds are completely unaware of kingfishers flying at high speed over the rivers of Tanegashima.
However, if you observe the surface of the river from your car for an hour or so by the riverside, you will find that kingfishers have flown over that river several times.
It is strange because they are surprisingly unguarded when you are in your car.
Unlike the popular red-crowned kingfisher, the kingfisher is not a migratory bird and can be photographed at any time of the year, but it is said that kingfishers have a territory of about 1 km along the river.
The key to finding kingfishers is to find a place where kingfishers can jump into the river to feed.
Roughly speaking, the following places are good spots to look for kingfishers.
- Areas where there are many traces of kingfisher droppings (white paint spots) on rocks in the river or pond, or around tree
- branches overhanging the river
- Areas where the river is slow or sluggish
- Areas where the water is shallow
- Areas where there are small fish
Even if the water is a little muddy, kingfishers seem to be able to see fish, so there seems to be no problem.
The kingfishers make a short "squeak" sound like the sound of bicycle brakes, so it may be helpful to listen to their calls on the Internet to help you spot them.
We knew that the red-bellied kingfisher was on the island by its call, but we were unable to photograph it.
I could not see a Yamasemi on Tanegashima Island, but I found one on a riverbank in the Oosumi Peninsula of Kagoshima Prefecture, so I stayed in the vicinity, but could not photograph it after all.
A classic shot to capture in a kingfisher's photo
Kingfisher photos are usually the following shots.
- They are perching on tree branches, etc., in search of fish
- Flying in the air (difficult due to high flight speed)
- Hovering in the air just before diving
- Diving to the surface of the water
- The moment when they take off from the surface with a fish in their mouth
- The moment when the fish is knocked against a rock or a tree branch
- Moment of swallowing a fish
- Grooming (they do it in a place with many tree branches)
- The moment when the male gives the fish to the female and proposes to her
- Moment when a parent and several offspring are clumped together in child-rearing
The difference between male and female kingfishers can be easily distinguished: males have black beaks on both the top and bottom, while females have orange beaks on the bottom.
Kingfishers produce white liquid feces, but they also spit out indigestible parts of fish and other food that they cannot digest, which they solidify into a solid substance.
A kingfisher's marriage proposal is successful when the male takes a liking to a female kingfisher that has entered his territory, fetches a fish and goes to the female, and the female accepts the fish.
The male may be a little better at picking fish than the female, but he seems to present her with a fish so large that she worries whether she will be able to swallow it.
The lifespan of a kingfisher is said to be about two years, so they may not be very choosy about their mates.
Kingfisher nestlings are also gem-like in appearance, so it is best if you can photograph them as a family.
Kingfisher nests are located in the middle of cliffs where snakes and cats cannot climb, and where crows cannot easily find them.
Trying to photograph kingfishers that are not fed on Tanegashima Island, but what are they really like?
Calculating the angle of view, I would like to get as close as 8m to the kingfisher
If you are birdwatching, you can observe kingfishers at a distance of about 30 meters where they do not run away, but if you are photographing, you want to get as close as 8 meters with your own equipment so that you can capture even the texture of their feathers.
I had thought lightly because white-fronted kingfishers can get as close as 2 meters, but when I actually photographed kingfishers in the wild on Tanegashima Island, I realized that I had been naive in my thinking.
The reality was harsh.
Unfeeding kingfishers don't come near people in the first place
Since I am a photographer on Tanegashima, I decided to photograph kingfishers on Tanegashima, and I did it right away.
Every day for about two weeks, starting before sunrise, I set up my camera at a point that was obviously a kingfisher feeding ground and stood by.
This is because kingfishers do not fly at night and are hungry in the morning, so they come to their usual feeding grounds just after sunrise.
However, although kingfishers may pass over the river, they do not hover in front of the camera at all.
No wild kingfishers have ever hunted in the immediate vicinity of where we are sitting and holding our camera.
It is a river full of nature, so you can catch fish at other points a little further away.
I had a series of "I see them 30 meters away, but they don't come this way! I had a lot of "I'm 30 meters away, but they won't come this way!
Change of plans, stand by in a camouflage tent
There was a TV documentary program that showed footage of kingfishers taken in a park in Tokyo after several weeks of unsuccessful bird photography along the Shimanto River, but it was quickly exposed by viewers and went up in flames.
On the contrary, there are people who take pictures of wild birds as a hobby.
Even with the camouflage, the kingfishers probably knew we were there, so we decided to stay inside the camouflage tent. I decided to wait in the camouflage tent to show that I have no hostile intentions by encountering kingfishers many times.
I wrapped my lens and tripod with camouflage stickers.
However, the result was a crushing defeat.
Kingfishers never came within 30 meters of me.
It is well known that the wary kingfisher will not come within 100 meters of humans, but it seems that kingfishers will not come within 30 meters of humans either.
It is too bad that I could only get a picture of a small kingfisher at 30m from me after 2 months of photographing.
Change of mindset, photographed in a park pond on Tanegashima Island
I used to shoot mainly by riverside where I could photograph fireflies, but I have changed my way of thinking.
I thought, "If kingfishers use park ponds as their territory, wouldn't they be accustomed to humans to some extent? I thought.
What a surprise, people, not kingfishers, are coming to me
Of course it is. There are strange photographers in the park pond.
Even early in the morning, there are people jogging and strolling in the park, and if someone were to set up a camouflage tent by the pond and hold up a telephoto lens, he or she might be reported to the police if he or she were in Japan.
But this is Tanegashima, so we were asked, "What are you doing? I answered, "I'm taking pictures of birds.
I had to explain that kingfishers are blue birds and that they do not come close to me when I am talking to them.
In the end, I had to put up a sign on my tent saying, "I'm taking pictures of wild birds.
The place where I aimed at kingfishers was a pond in Uchugaoka Park in Minamitane Town.
By the way, I use BORG lenses.
Finally, a miracle!
Just as I was about to give up on photographing kingfishers at Tanegashima, a miracle suddenly occurred.
About 15 meters in front of my camera, a kingfisher perched on a rock. on a rock about 15 meters in front of my camera.
I was surprised, but released the shutter with a trembling hand, and waited for the moment when it jumped into the water, staring at the sighting device.
I didn't know where the kingfisher was going to dive because I didn't know which fish it was targeting, and with my equipment, the autofocus would not be able to keep up with the kingfisher's movements.
Even so, I began frantically shooting continuously from the moment the kingfisher took off.
The AF tracking speed was slow and produced a lot of out-of-focus photos, but because I was using a sighting device instead of a viewfinder and a gimbal head, I was able to swing the telephoto lens of over 1000 mm at high speed and managed to capture the kingfishers within the angle of view.
Actually, I put a little miso into the pond to gather the small fish in the pond close to me, which is a petit technique (laugh).
Although the photos may not be as good as those taken at a park pond in Tokyo, here are some photos of kingfishers on Tanegashima taken without any false calls.
The rock on the other side.
Here they are hovering before jumping into the pond.
Unfortunately, the majority of the photos are out of focus, and I also reject those in which the photographer failed to capture a small fish or was holding a leaf.
Some photographers of kingfishers are particular about such things as whether the fish's head should be facing this way or whether the orange hairs on its chest should be bushy, but I was not in an environment where I could take many pictures at once, so I was not able to do so.
A brief overview of photographic equipment
The following is a rough list of photographic equipment that I have assembled for photographing kingfishers.
- Excessively heavy tripod
- Cheap gimbal head (to swing the lens freely)
- Cheap sights (because you can't follow kingfishers through the camera's viewfinder)
- Telephoto lens (using AF-enhanced BORG: 1020mm (35mm equivalent))
- Binoculars (for spotting kingfishers in the distance)
- Various props, such as chairs, tents, camouflage nets, and snake sticks (tools to poach pit vipers if they appear)
- Insect repellent spray was held back in case the birds might not like it.
If I had the best photographic equipment, I could have secured AF speed and continuous shooting speed, but it would have required several million yen. To be honest, bird photography depends on money, but I did my best with the equipment at hand.
Trying to photograph wild unfeed kingfishers on Tanegashima Island Summary
I was almost heartbroken to photograph kingfishers in the wild on Tanegashima Island before work, because there were no good shots to be had.
However, there were many opportunities to take pictures at a distance of about 30 meters, so I wanted a telephoto lens with a 35mm equivalent of 1600-4000mm, but it seemed a bit impossible with the telephoto lens I had on hand (equivalent: about 1020mm).
I felt that using a combination of a small CCD camera and a fieldscope to make a super-telephoto lens would be quite effective, but it is too late now.
I think I now understand a little more about the hardships of bird photographers.
At the time, I had no idea that the equipment I had tuned for photographing kingfishers would later be used for photographing surfers in Tanegashima.
When using it for surfing photography, it is sometimes used to shoot in strong sunlight, so I modified it by installing several light-shielding rings inside the lens barrel to prevent the camera from being caught in the sun's reflection.
Thank you for reading to the end.