During the UK coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown from late March 2020 we in England were given a strict rule allowing only one hour of exercise outdoors a day. I used the allowed hour for walks outside to explore my local area. Fortunately there is a river only 15mins walk away and I'd been hearing the unmistakable call of kingfishers along it for weeks.
Fortunately my ever tolerant other half didn't mind choosing to walk along this river just about every day through April and early May. As soon as the government relaxed England's rules on lockdown, allowing unlimited time outdoors, I started spending more and more time on the river. Leaving trail cameras around and listening to their calls gave me a picture of their comings and goings. I feel very lucky to live in a beautiful part of England and to have this on my doorstep. My only regret is I should have spent more time here sooner!
So I left a trail camera tucked into some foliage watching the perch for a week. I now have hundreds of short clips of these kingfishers on this perch, from just sitting there to preening and even spraying the leaves with poo (fortunately missing the camera!).
My next challenge was how to get a setup working for wide angle images (something I'm a big fan of in wildlife photography where possible) of the kingfishers...
Using a PIR sensor (similar to that of security lights) the camera would be triggered should anything move in its field of vision, in this case anything landing on the stick.
The sensor is that good it triggered the camera to take images as I tried my best to discretely leave the area. Obviously I failed as I looked back to hear the camera clicking away!
I left the camera out for a few days, checking it regularly to make sure all was ok, and I'm very pleased with the results (see below).
My curiosity got the better of me and, after two days, I went to check again. Walking to the spot where I'd put the perch I noticed it had disappeared. Fortunately the trail camera was still there, and while I'm not 100% sure what caused it, there was footage of an otter at night climbing all over it!
I actually laughed out loud when I watched the footage happy in the knowledge that the river was healthy enough to sustain a top predator like an otter.
The footage also showed a numbers of dogs (and therefore dog walkers) playing in the water not far away. I had no problem with this, but if I was to set up a hide or something similar for me to try and photograph the kingfishers this spot obviously wasn't going to work.
Once again I left a trail camera trained on the perch to see what happened...
While they used the perch infrequently, around once or twice every two days, I was comfortable in the knowledge that it was being used. It was now time to try for some proper photos with the DSLR.
I heard the kingfishers flying past going up and down the river numerous times, but not once did they land on the perch. I even saw one dive into the river not far from the perch, but it flew off as soon as it caught something. I wondered whether the hide, a new large and unfamiliar object, put them off.
This did bring them slightly closer as the photos below show, but not what I had in mind for anything decent photographically. Admittedly I'm sure the birds would have gotten used to the presence of me on the riverside and the hide, but I couldn't leave the hide out for fear of other people seeing it and either destroying or stealing it. Nor did I have the time to lie in wait all day every day. So it was on to plan C...
The photos below are a series of that setup. While I appreciate this type of image isn't for everyone, I have plenty of close-up shots of kingfishers over the years - the classic 'bird on a stick' photo. So I wanted to try something different and a wide angle seemed like a good place to start.
Using something called a Camranger (https://camranger.com) I could sit back on the riverbank hidden away and control the camera from my phone. The Camranger is a great bit of kit for remote photography in this way as you can change the camera settings and the focus point all from your phone, so I could adjust things as the light changed through the day. Equally I could change where the camera was focussed depending on where the kingfisher would land. It has its limitations in that the focussing is slow as it requires 'live view' in the camera, and obviously I couldn't move anything/recompose the shot, but I hope you agree the images below show it was successful.
Again, I was aiming 'small in the frame' images of the kingfishers at water level. While the background is blurred I think it provides context to the bird and shows their environment. Just like the wide angle photos I wanted to try something a little different, and I'm pleased with the results...