January 16 ~ Sebastian, FL
A little over a week into my time in Florida a good friend of mine from Pennsylvania sent me some information about a wildlife photographer in Florida who was offering to take others to photograph a Belted Kingfisher. These birds are known for being incredibly elusive and even more difficult to photograph so needless to say I was intrigued. I visited the link my friend sent me and saw some of the best Belted Kingfisher photos I've ever seen, if I could get some half as good I would be thrilled. I immediately sent a message to Ron Bielefeld of Whistling Wings Photography to find out more details. Ron quickly responded and informed me that this bird happened to be in the exact town I was staying in, Sebastian! I immediately signed up and couldn't wait for the morning to arrive, hopefully with beautiful weather.
The morning arrived with clear skies but it was cold, much colder than I was expecting. I packed up my gear and met Ron at around 6am then I followed him to the spot. To protect this bird from being overwhelmed with people I will not be sharing the exact location. Ron was the perfect guide, he provided the blinds that we would be sitting in as well as the perfect location to photograph the Kingfisher with great lighting. We walked to the small pond in the dark and took our positions in the blinds, it was time to wait, all we needed now was the bird to show up.
I estimate we sat in the blinds for about 30 minutes before we heard the unmistakable call of a Belted Kingfisher as it flew in and landed on the perch right in front of us. I was so excited I immediately began taking photos, the sun wasn't even up yet! After a few moments I calmed down and just watched this beautiful bird as we waited for the sunlight to start shining. I couldn't believe how close the Kingfisher was and it appeared to have no idea we were right there watching it.
Belted Kingfisher Call
As the sun began to shine on the perch I started to get some wonderful portraits of the bird sitting there. The male Kingfisher, identifiable by its lack of a rusty colored chest band, did a bit of preening and cleaning up which gave some great action to the portraits. Next it began to hunt and the first thing it caught was a huge surprise to both of us. It dove off the perch, hit the water with a big splash and quickly flew back to the perch. It took both Ron and I a moment before we realized it had caught a small fresh water shrimp of some kind. Ron told me he had never seen that before and I certainly had not. It was great to be lucky enough to capture such interesting behavior. This morning was incredible already!
The next task was to try to capture this incredibly fast bird in flight. Thankfully after every fishing attempt the bird would land back on its favorite perch right in front of us to swallow its catch and shake off all that water. I set my camera for tracking auto-focus, set it to capture 11 frames-per-second and did my best to track this tiny bullet of a bird as it flew to and from the perch. I ended up with countless out of focus or entirely missed photographs but every once in a while I would get it just right and capture a sharp frame of this gorgeous bird in flight. Many times it would even have a small minnow in its beak. I had gone from having only a handful of mediocre photos of a Belted Kingfisher to having more great photos than I could share in just a few hours.
Occasionally some people would walk by which would scare the Kingfisher to another perch much higher in a tree and far away. I would talk with Ron about how incredible this setup was and thank him over and over again, then before we knew it the bird would be back right in front of us. I took thousands of photos in the roughly 3 hours we spent and could not have been happier with what I captured. Aside from just photographing this bird there were plenty of times when I would just watch it through my lens. As I mentioned earlier it's not often you get to see these birds close and for me this was my first chance to spend an extended period of time with a Belted Kingfisher to really watch its natural behavior and that alone was an amazing experience.
Eventually the sun got a little too bright and high in the sky for flattering lighting conditions and we both knew we had enough photos so we waited for the bird to move away to another perch and packed things up. I was only about half way through my time in Florida and I had just had one of the best wildlife photography experiences of my life. I highly recommend contacting Ron if you are ever in the central Florida area and are looking for a very well educated, skilled and nice photo guide to help you capture some amazing photography.