Kingfisher Casting A Pellet (Canon 7D vs 7D Mark 2)

I’ve been watching this female Belted Kingfisher from afar for several weeks now but in typical kingfisher fashion she has been unapproachable.  But yesterday morning she partially atoned for her bashful ways and performed some interesting behavior for my camera.

All six of these photos are large crops (each is exactly 35% of the original image). No noise reduction applied.

 

belted kingfisher 2366 ron dudley

 1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

As usual she was perched far away, this time on an old nesting platform in the middle of a pond at Farmington Bay WMA.  At first she was facing to my left but then she turned around and faced the other way…

 

 

 

belted kingfisher 2371 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

and began to retch.  Whenever this behavior begins (in a variety of species) it looks at first like yawning but when it continues I’m immediately on the lookout for pellet-casting.

 

 

belted kingfisher 2379 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

 It soon became obvious that she was trying to cast a pellet and here you can see it beginning to emerge from her mouth.

 

 

belted kingfisher 2382 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

It escaped her beak..

 

 

belted kingfisher 2383 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

 and dropped to the snow-covered floor of the nest box.

As is typical of most fish-eating birds, kingfishers lack a crop and their flexible gizzard is poorly musculatured and incapable of vigorous grinding.  Though kingfisher nestlings digest the bones and scales of fish they consume they lose that ability when they fledge so as adults they throw pellets composed of entire fish skeletons and scales.  It is assumed that this digestive change is explained by a change in gastric secretions from acid in nestlings to alkaline in adults.

Their composition explains why the pellet of this species is almost white (composed of fish bones and scales as it is) as compared to the much darker pellets made up largely of arthropod exoskeletons or mammal fur of many other pellet-casting species.

Pellets are often cast very quickly (as this one was) and I like to get multiple photos during the process but in the past shooting with my older Canon 7D usually left me frustrated because the burst rate of 8 frames/sec was too slow to catch the pellet often enough as it fell.  But shooting this sequence with my new Canon 7D Mark 2 with a burst rate of 10 frames/sec was a significantly helpful 25% improvement.  I was able to get 9 images of the bird from when the pellet first appeared in the mouth until it dropped out of sight on the floor of the nest box.  If I’d been using my 7D I’d likely have missed two of those shots and knowing my luck they’d have been the most desirable ones of the bunch.

 

 

If you’re photo-geeky enough to be interested in seeing/hearing the speed I experience with the Mark 2 when I fire off a burst, check out the clip above.  Several shutter modes are demonstrated – the actual burst begins at about 30 seconds into the clip.  To my knowledge this frame rate is faster than that of any other cropped sensor DSLR.

Another thing I loved about the Mark 2 in this kingfisher encounter was its improved buffer capacity.  The buffer of my 7D fills up after 25 RAW images in a burst but the Mark 2’s buffer has a significantly improved capacity of 31 RAW images. I get a lot of “false starts” from the bird when shooting pellet-casting because of multiple retching sessions before the pellet is actually cast and it’s very frustrating to have just fired off a burst during a false alarm and have my buffer already full when the real action begins.

 

 

belted kingfisher 2398 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

After the kingfisher passed the pellet she turned around on the perch and took off to my left.  As she did so I fired off another burst but in only one of those shots did I get a wing position that I really like.  Once again I’d have had fewer images to choose from and would have been less likely to get this wing position if I’d been shooting with the significantly slower 7D.

I’m surprised by how concave her belly is in this shot.  I don’t have a lot of experience with kingfishers so perhaps this is a normal profile for them in flight.  I just don’t know…

So far, for the reasons mentioned and many others, I’m hugely impressed by the Mark 2 for photographing birds.  I still haven’t been able to test the new camera much on birds in flight so I continue to fine-tune my autofocus settings for those types of shots.  I also have not had a chance yet to properly evaluate noise levels at high ISO’s.

And hopefully, the next time I get an opportunity with a kingfisher casting a pellet the bird will be much, much closer than this one was…

Ron

PS – Once again I apologize for the late post.  More technical issues.

 

Facebook

Brewer’s Blackbird At Pre-launch

Sometimes a pose just grabs me and this image is one of those.

 

brewer's blackbird 0487 ron dudley

1/2500, f/5.6, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, canvas added for composition, not baited, set up or called in 

Mixed flocks of Red-winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds have been hanging around Glover Pond in Farmington for weeks now.  I photographed this male Brewer’s Blackbird the first week of November just as he was about to launch from a severely tilted post next to the pond, which is the background here.  I like the rather unique pose, the implied energy of the impending take-off, the bonky and unexpected angles of both bird and post and the overall gray and black simplicity of the photo.  Images like this often have limited appeal and at first I wasn’t sure about this one either but I kept coming back to it so I decided to go with the flow and post it.

Two days ago my friend Shyloh Robinson reported seeing a male Rusty Blackbird at almost exactly this same location.  The Rusty is classified as an “accidental” in Utah, meaning it is not expected here and is out of its normal range.  That species would be a lifer for me so you can bet that I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out (or at least as sharp as my old eye can get) on my next visit to the area.

Ron

Facebook