Lately I have been busy with several different projects which took a while to pay themselves off. I’ve mentioned in some of my previous posts that I’ve been busy observing king fishers for the past few weeks and that I managed to find some pairs that are in love with each other. Now, one thing leads to another of course, and the female, as in any other relationship, starts to show clear ‘nesting’ behavior. For humans this means regular visits to the Ikea in which the male, under supervision of the female, has to pick out the right cushions for the new sofa. If the chosen color or fabric of the cushions is not to the liking of the female, the mating is postponed until the male comes up with the correct combination of both color and fabric… For king fishers, this whole selection process basically comes down to fish. If the male wants to win over the heart of the female, he basically has to present her with a dozen fish. Now the (emancipated) female, rather catches her own fish instead of accepting the gracious present of the hard working/fishing male. Were it not for persisting males (both humans and birds), both populations would be doomed of course. So after several gracious fish presentations, the (bird, not human) female gives in and the romantic mating ritual can begin. For humans, this is a little bit more complicated since the male also has to pay the restaurant bills and hold open as much doors as possible for the female. Since I don’t have any pictures of mating humans to show you (even though I would consider this to be ‘nature photography’) I will stop with the whole human – bird analogy and continue with the king fishers.
Now one of the nesting sites is situated along a small creek somewhere in the middle of a dense forest (so pretty bad light conditions!). I carefully entered the area trying not to step on any branches, most of the time succeeding in this, and pretty much always getting my Wimberley tripod head stuck in some branches.. Anyways.. first I always sit down about 50-100m from the nest to listen if there’s any activity going on. I can’t just walk in uninvited to their romantic candle light dinner now can I? So, after about 5 minutes of quietness I sneaked towards some sticks that I placed above the water for the king fishers to sit on before they would enter their nests. They often use these kind of look outs for resting or cleaning themselves. I unpacked my tent and gear and was ready for the birds. After about 10 minutes (of playing Angry Birds on my phone), I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching king fisher. He landed on one of my branches and I was able to take a few great shots. Now, as I previously mentioned, the light conditions in the forest are really bad. After a few try-outs I noticed that I could still get amazingly sharp images at ISO 200 and 1/15s. Luckily these king fishers don’t move around that much and can sit perfectly still. I decided to focus on limiting my ISO to 250 since 1/15s produced excellent images. Having a Nikon 500mm f4 VR on an excellent Gitzo and Wimberly head II also does wonders of course! For the first shots I noticed that I was sitting too close to the branches since my lens couldn’t focus close enough (3.85 meters). All of the shots below are therefore full-frame! So I did some camouflage-tent re-decorating and was able to move it back by half a meter. Next time I have to try to increase my F-number to get some more depth of field. It is way too narrow now at f4, but I think I need some more light to do this.
Whenever the birds didn’t land on either of my 2 branches, I spent the time observing their behavior. They didn’t just have 1 nest but also a freshly dug outhouse and garage. That’s 3 in a row.. a real settlement. Let’s hope that they will start with a second round of mating really soon to improve the population figures (the king fishers have had some harsh winters for the past few years). So after a few hours of taking photo’s I suddenly noticed I got several small itches all over my arms. These itches were caused by little ticks crawling over my arms to find a nice spot to dig in and suck the life out of me. Luckily I was able to get all 8!! of them off of me. These little buggers can be quite dangerous since about 15% of the ticks are carriers of the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease. So there is a realistic chance of getting this disease, something not to be taken lightly of course. So I was freaking out a little bit since they were just crawling all over me. Last year I got 8 in 3 months, in this half an hour yesterday I had already broken that record. I decided to call it a day and drove home and took a shower as soon as possible to try and wash those ticks off that I couldn’t find. I looks like I’m tick free for now.. However, I think I will go back there in the coming days since the youngsters are about ready to leave the nest. Once that happens, I can have 3 or 4 king fishers sitting on my branches at any given time. I’ll have to take even better precautions to prevent the ticks from forming a problem.
Next to my king fisher expedition I also visited a site which had a rare Melodious Warbler (Orpheusspotvogel). These are quite rare for the Netherlands and the little guy soon attracted bird watchers from all over the country (it was like last years bee eaters all over again). Here it is:
Until next time!