Rainbow bird. Kingfisher (Acledo atthis) landed on a branch. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

It had been almost a whole year looking for kingfishers after spotting the first one just near my home in April 2020. From that moment, the game was on. I knew there was a hunt to be lead, and for once, it was turning to my advantage (being in a 10min area from my home). From may 2020 to March 2021 I had been taking notes of every encounter, (exact GPS location, time, weather, direction it went to, what did he sounded like, approximate size and speed). By doing this scientific research, I could narrow down the location to look for to a 1km area alongside the river near my home, that eventually turned out to be their nesting place very well hidden, just on the other side of the river.

In Early march 2021, after coming back from my 2021 trip in the Alps, I started focusing on my spring wildlife hunts, in which the kingfisher took part. From march 2021, to april 2021, I would walk by the river 2 times a day every day with my camera ready and see if I could spot and photograph him.

On the morning of april 4th, I left home at 7:40 am, and started warming up at 8:00 am. A “warm up” is when I start shooting subjects that are approximately the same size and shape than the one I’m looking for. Since the Kingfisher is a small bird (generally around 16 cm tall and 35-45g in weight) it’s fairly easy to find lookalike subjects.

Common chaffinch shot at 8:16 am as a warm up during a morning hunt for the Kingfisher. April 2021 © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

After only a few minutes in the hunt, I saw the first blue arrow flying full speed above the river while screaming that very light whistle.
Being with my 3d camouflage on me and a camouflage net above my lens, I decided to follow it gently towards the “pretended” nesting place. As I arrived on spot, I heard the whistle again, and there, just in front of my eyes on the other side of the river, was a female Kingfisher, I framed her, pressed the shutter, and Boom!
My very first Kingfisher photograph was made.

The first Common Kingfisher, (Alcedo Atthis) I photographed. This bird is also known as “the blue arrow” . © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

For those of you who wonder how I can say that this bird is a female, just take a look at its beak. When the bottom part is black, it’s a male, when it’s red/orange / Whitish it’s a female (depending on the age).
Right after I had shot her, the female kingfisher had set off towards the bridge where I lost her sight. I did a small walk to the bridge but by the time I got there, she had already set off to another place further south.
I decided to head back north towards the nest (just in case).
Just as if incredible was the word of the day, while getting to the nesting spot I heard a kingfisher whisteling, only a second later I saw him heading for a tree, I made sure to see him landing, the picture was going to be perfect, a picture of a small deadly predator in his environment on the top of a huge tree who was going to make a dive for a kill. I started photographing him but it came out as a blurry blue ink spill on a very busy tree background. My auto focus was not seing the bird.
I moved slowly hoping he would stay there, keeping my composition in mind and and some point, I finally saw him sharp in the viewfinder, pressed the shutter got out with my very first male kingfisher photograph

Looking for a kill. Male Kingfisher (Alcedo Atthis) on a tree branch looking for a fish. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

While I was happy to get this photograph, I didn’t take my eye of the viewfinder to check if it was as I expected it. I wanted to keep living each and every seconds of the hunt.
Sometimes you make lucky decisions, sometimes you provoke it, I think that day was a mix of both. The Kingfisher decided to change tree for a higher one, and flew of to the one behind.

Kingfisher, (Alcedo Atthis) flying from a tree to another on the look for food. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI
Kingfisher, (Acledo atthis) on a branch looking for food. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

When I felt he was going to dive, I let the camera off my eye, I wanted to see the dive with my own eyes, and believe me, it was something!
He dropped out of the branch 5m above water and splashed into it like a bullet. He immediately got out flew half a second stationery and flew off really fast towards the nesting area. I quickly moved and kneeled down in the grass to be camouflaged in it and keep shooting him.

Taking care of the prey. Male Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), waiting for the female to come and take the fish. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

As it was mating season, I knew male kingfishers fish mostly to feed the female before them. But I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes, but as this male kingfisher started calling, and as the female started answering, I realized they were actually a couple, and I was about to witness a second behaviour that I didn’t expect on that day.

Female Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, (beneath) eating a fish that has been handed by the male (above) during mating period. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI
Couple of Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) during mating period. The male is watching over the female who’s eating a fish provided by him. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

The male stayed and watched the female eating, before flying off to another hunt, while she flew off to the nest.
About only 20 minutes later he came back with another prey in his beak, ready to be handed over to his beloved one. After watching the female eating the second fish, he flew off again, probably on yet another hunt, while she went back to the nest. I kept on waiting an extra two hours but didn’t heard them anymore, and as the walking trail along the river started getting crowded I didn’t want people’s attention to go towards the kingfishers and bother the birds. Up until now, I kept this location secret even from other wildlife photographers as I try to preserve the birds from being bothered.

Male Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) camouflaged in his environment checking for a potential predator before coming closer to the nest to hand over the fish to the female. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI
Princess and her knight. Couple of Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), on a branch, the female is eating a fish brought by the male as he is watching over her. © Elias Neil BENLEULMI

This story is only the beginning of my Kingfisher adventures this year. To check out what hunting the kingfishers for an extensive 3 months taught me, click here.

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