After my last exhibition I decided to treat myself to a day photographing kingfishers with Steve Race of Yorkshire Coast Nature. As you know I’m a bit obsessed with them so nine hours in a hide watching and photographing them seemed like a dream day out.
Now for whatever reason I’d just assumed it would be a day in a hide beside a lake frequently visited by kingfishers, so I was a little concerned when I arrived to see an artificial perch above a large black tank full of small fish. I’d read about these set ups and how in the past birds had been injured diving into glass tanks they basically couldn’t see. Steve noticed my reticence and we had a quiet chat with the owner of the hide to put my mind at rest. He explained why they used a black tank, where the bird was nesting, how many young they’d fledged over the years and how the welfare of the birds was paramount to him and to his business. They put my mind at rest but I was quite prepared to walk away if I thought there was any threat to the safety or well being of the birds. I joined the other clients in the hide and even before we’d had time to sit down the male arrived for the first fish of the day. He’d obviously been waiting for us to stop chatting so he could start fishing.
The male continued to come in at an amazing rates of knots grabbing a fish, bashing it on the perch and flying off to the nest. Unfortunately the female hadn’t been seen for four days and it was thought that she may have been grabbed by a sparrowhawk or another predator. However the male was doing a brilliant job of feeding the young and in one ten minute period caught seven fish which were all flown back to the nest. It was a couple of hours before he stopped and ate one himself.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours watching and photographing kingfishers in the wild so I know about the patience, skill and luck needed to get decent images. I can also see how days like this have become established and are allowing photographers not only the chance to see these beautiful birds so close but to also capture them doing what they do naturally although in a slightly contrived atmosphere.
Is it ethical? To start with I was very skeptical, however Mark the site owner has been managing this lake and photographing the kingfishers for a number of years now. It was obvious that this kingfisher was doing a superb job providing for its family apparently on its own. And at the end of the day how much different is this to hanging out feeders in your garden for your local birds, or an RSPB nature reserve specifically managed to attract as much wildlife as possible, or Springwatch putting out carcasses to attract predators they can film for our entertainment.
It also led to an interesting debate in the hide on my recent day photographing the ospreys fishing. One of the other visitors just couldn’t understand that there was no difference between a pond specifically stocked with fish to attract ospreys and a tank stocked with fish to attract kingfishers, even when the pond owner explained that the pond was drained and cleaned and the fish removed as soon as the ospreys migrated South.
In the end I had a fabulous day and took probably the best shots I’ll ever get of my favourite bird but it still it won’t stop me spending hours on the riverbank trying as usual to get just one more.