Colourful Fishers of the Chobe

One of my favourite and certainly most challenging birds to photograph are the Kingfishers.  On the Chobe River, with CNP Safaris, I have been fortunate to see and photograph 7 of the 9 listed Kingfisher species.  The Kingfisher species listed in Roberts for Botswana are listed below.  The two that still elude me on the Chobe are the Striped and the Pygmy Kingfishers.  I was fortunate to photograph the Striped Kingfisher in the Masai Mara while sitting at a Lion sighting.

  • Pygmy Kingfisher
  • Brown- Hooded Kingfisher
  • Giant Kingfisher
  • Grey-headed Kingfisher
  • Half Collared Kingfisher
  • Malachite Kingfisher
  • Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
  • Striped Kingfisher
  • Woodland Kingfisher

By far the most numerous on the Chobe River are the Pied Kingfishers who are water Kingfishers.  These Black and White Kingfishers are widely distributed in Africa and Western Asia and their hovering behaviour over water is characteristic of the species.  They are listed as one of 3 most numerous Kingfishers in the world.  You can get up to 100 birds in a kilometer.

It looked as if this Pied Kingfisher and bitten off more than it could chew, but it steadily pulped the fish against the log and then swallowed it. Model: NIKON D4, Lens 1000mm, ISO: 800. Aperture: 7.1, Shutter: 1/1600, Exp. Comp.: -1.0, AV

It looked as if this Pied Kingfisher and bitten off more than it could chew, but it steadily pulped the fish against the log and then swallowed it.
Model: NIKON D4, Lens 1000mm, ISO: 800. Aperture: 7.1, Shutter: 1/1600, Exp. Comp.: -1.0, AV

The male and female are distinguished by the black bands across the chest.  The female has a single black band that is broken in the middle and the male has a double band with the upper band being wider than the bottom band.

As mentioned, they build their nests in the vertically exposed river banks.  These nests are excavated up to 5 feet in depth and end in a chamber where they will lay a clutch of 4-6 eggs with an incubation period of 18 days.  They are facultative cooperative breeders with up to 4 male helpers depending on the availability of food.  These helpers will feed both the male and female breeding pair.

They are challenge to photograph due to their black and very white plumage which can easily be blown out.  For this reason I set my exposure compensation to 1- to -1.3 to ensure I retain the detail in the white parts of the bird.  They are however a treat to photograph as they hover above the river looking for prey, dive head first into the water and hopefully emerge with a fish.  They do not have to return to a perch to swallow their prey unless it is a large fish when they will perch and proceed to beat the prey to a pulp on the perch before swallowing it.  Sometime the perch is a dried out ball of elephant dung which doesn’t help in the pulping process.  They also prey on frogs and other aquatic insects like large dragonfly larvae.

Pied Kingfisher flying to its nest in the river bank with a Fish. Model: NIKON D4, Lens 600mm, ISO: 500, Aperture: f/8, Shutter: 1/4000, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, Aperture Priority

Pied Kingfisher flying to its nest in the river bank with a Fish.
Model: NIKON D4, Lens 600mm, ISO: 500, Aperture: f/8, Shutter: 1/4000, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, Aperture Priority

For the photographer it is relatively easy to get a shot of a hovering Pied Kingfisher, but as soon as it dives it becomes difficult to track and keep focus on the bird.  It will take some practice to get used to the speed of a diving Pied Kingfisher and then also the time it takes to surface and clear the water.  As you get used the speed of this sequence of events your success rate will improve.

It is easier to focus on the birds and track the dive if they are at a distance, but then after cropping you have very few pixels left to work with.  I want to get at least 50% of the viewfinder covered with the action.

This is also where the D800 comes into play, with its 36 Million pixels, as it allows you that little bit more distance without sacrificing the eventual pixels you have to work with.  A 50% crop on the D800 leaves you with a file size of around 16 Meg.  Yes it is slower than the 10 frames per second D4, but if you use the 50% crop factor you push the shutter speed to 6 fps.  Then it is all about timing the dive and when you press the shutter release button.  Also keep in mind that you will need to increase your f stop to ensure you have sufficient depth of field for your subject.

I have also used the D800 and Nikon 600mm quite successfully with Carmine Bee-eaters bathing in the Chobe.  But that is for a later blog.

Half-collared Kingfisher on the Chobe River. NIKON D800, Lens 600mm, ISO: 800, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter: 1/4000, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, Aperture Priority

Half-collared Kingfisher on the Chobe River.
NIKON D800, Lens 600mm, ISO: 800, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter: 1/4000, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, Aperture Priority

The second Kingfisher I want to cover here is the Half-collared Kingfisher (Alcedo semitorquata) which in my experience thus far on the Chobe is that they have been far more difficult to find and photograph than any of the other species we have seen.  When we do find them they are invariably in the shade under a bush so getting this individual in some light was a real bonus.

According to Roberts they are listed as Near Threathened due their habitat loss, pollution and deforestation.

Although these Kingfishers are widespread across sub-Saharan Africa they are uncommon.  As they feed exclusively on fish, they can be found near water most of the time.  Their habitat is near clear fast flowing perennial streams, rivers and estuaries with dense vegetation.

As with the Pied Kingfishers, they also nest in the vertical riverbank, excavating a tunnel which ends in a chamber.  According to Roberts the chamber is lined with fish bones.  Sounds like something out of a horror movie, but then I suppose they have to resort to such measures discourage predators.   They lay 2-5 eggs which hatch after 16 days and both parents feed the young for a period of 17 days before they are encouraged to leave the nest.

Join me on a CNP Photographic Safari and we may even find these beautiful Kingfishers.  www.cnpsafaris.com

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5 thoughts on “Colourful Fishers of the Chobe

  1. Pingback: From the largest to almost the smallest Kingfisher | Neal Cooper

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