From the largest to almost the smallest Kingfisher

To continue on from my previous post Colourful Fishers of the Chobe I am going to talk about the largest of the Kingfishers, and the 2nd smallest Kingfishers I have encountered on the Chobe River in Botswana while on a CNP Photographic Safari.

The Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) is the largest of the Kingfisher species, with the females weighing in at around 375g and up to 46cm long.

A Male Giant Kingfisher with a small fish sitting on a perch above the Chobe River.

A Male Giant Kingfisher with a small fish sitting on a perch above the Chobe River.

The male is slightly smaller than the female weighing 350g.  The male and female are clearly distinguishable with the male having a orange brown breast and the female a white breast covered in densely packed blacks speckles.  When preparing a nest, both parents will work to excavate a nest from the vertical river bank over a period of 7days.  The tunnel could be as long as 2m before it ends in a chamber where she will lay her eggs.  She lays three to five eggs which hatch after approximately 16 days.  The young will leave the nest after about 37 days and will then stay with the adults for a further 21 days.

Their silhouette is clearly recognisable as they sit high above the water on exposed logs and overhanging tree branches from where they launch their dives.  They dive from high and take mainly crabs, fish and frogs.  On the Chobe River I have photographed them with quite large Tiger Fish and crabs.  The larger crabs will be dismembered by beating them against the perch before being swallowed whole.  On the dive into the water they fully immerse themselves which is an advantage for us photographers.  I’ll explain below.

A Female Giant Kingfisher with a crab.

A Female Giant Kingfisher with a crab.

From a photography point of view this is the “easier” of the Kingfishers to photograph diving into the water, as the splash and the emergence from the water is around 1 second which gives the photographer a moment to aquire focus on the area where it hit the water and get off a few frames, hopefully with a crab or a fish in its beak.  When they are bathing they tend to dive more than once into the same area so you can predict where the next water entry will be.

A Male Giant Kingfisher emerging from the water. NIKON D4,  Lens (mm): 850 ISO: 800,  f/9.0,  1/2500, Exp. Comp.: -1.0, AV

A grab shot of a male Giant Kingfisher emerging from the water after taking a bath.
NIKON D4, Lens (mm): 850
ISO: 800, f/9.0, 1/2500, Exp. Comp.: -1.0, AV

For diving Kingfishers I try and get to a f stop of around f/11.0 or f/13.0 but this will depend on the available light and the resulting shutter speed.  Shooting with my Nikon D4 and 600mm fixed focal lens at f/4.0 at 10 meters will only give me a focal depth of 6.27cm, not nearly enough to get a diving Giant Kingfisher.  So I increase my f stop to f/13.0 which gives me 20.37cm focus depth, which is much better and may even get the whole bird in focus.  But it is important to make sure you get a high shutter speed of at least 1/3200 of a second to freeze the action.  This may not always be possible as there may be shade on the water or even the dark color of the water will affect the available light and thus reduce your shutter speed.

A Female Giant Kingfisher with a Tiger Fish taken from the Chobe River in Botswana.   NIKON D4,  Lens (mm): 600, ISO: 1000, f/ 9.0,  1/8000,  Exp. Comp.: -1.3,  AV

A Female Giant Kingfisher with a Tiger Fish taken from the Chobe River in Botswana.
NIKON D4, Lens (mm): 600, ISO: 1000, f/ 9.0, 1/8000, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, AV

You will then either need to move a little further away from the subject (if you have time) to reduce your f stop and drive up your shutter speed or increase your ISO also to increase you shutter speed.  Just by increasing the distance from the subject a further 5m you can reduce your f stop from f/13.0 to f/5.6 and still achieve a 20.37cm focal plane.  

This also means that the subject in the image you captured will be smaller in the frame and you will have less pixels to work with after your crop, but you should be able to get a better view on the whole subject as it dives.

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The other Kingfisher I want to cover here is the Malachite Kingfisher also the 2nd smallest of the Kingfisher species after the Pygmy Kingfisher.

An adult Malachite Kingfisher with a Fish. NIKON D800,  Lens (mm): 600,  ISO: 640, f/5.6,  1/5000,  Exp. Comp.: -1.3,  AV

An adult Malachite Kingfisher with a Fish.
NIKON D800, Lens (mm): 600, ISO: 640, f/5.6, 1/5000, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, AV

This small burst of color is a mere 14cm long, weighs 17g and both sexes look alike.  These beautifully coloured birds prefer slow moving streams and rivers and will perch on reeds along the rivers or bodies of water from where the will dive to catch fish small tadpoles, frogs and other aquatic insects.  The are very fast and  their flight path is fairly direct.

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher NIKON D4,   Lens (mm): 1200 (600mm plus 2x ext) ISO: 400, f/13, Shutter: 1/500, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, AV

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher
NIKON D4, Lens (mm): 1200 (600mm plus 2x ext)
ISO: 400, f/13, Shutter: 1/500, Exp. Comp.: -1.3, AV

As with the Pied Kingfishers the Malachites also dig out their nest in the river banks.  The female lays 3 to 6 eggs which hatch after an incubation period of around 16 days.  The young will start to fish within one week of leaving the nest and will stay with the adults for up to 16 days before the adults chase them off.

Shooting these guys in flight is real challenge as they are just such fast flyers.  Shooting them diving for food or bathing you will need a very high shutter speed and you will need to track and keep focus on the subject as it leaves its perch, dives and hits the water you think it is going to.  I have managed to get some shots of them diving, but only if I could “predict’ with a lot of luck where it was going to hit the water.  Even then its more miss than hit to get a sharp image.  I will keep on trying as I regard this as one of the ultimate BIF challenges.

You need also keep in mind that the white feathers on the throat and side of the head could easily be blown out if you have the incorrect exposure setting.  For that reason I adjust my exposure compensation of my Nikon D800 or Nikon D4 to minus 1.0 to minus 1.3.

When you are shooting with a long lens and you tend to get quite close to the small birds you must also keep your Depth of Field in mind and adjust accordingly.

Join me, Neal Cooper on Safari to the Chobe and experience the Kingfishers first hand.  www.cnpsafaris.com

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