Chasing the Elusive Belted Kingfisher ~ patience is a virtue!

For years now while I’ve been out photographing eagles, ospreys, herons, egrets, pelicans and other shorebirds, there has been one bird that has always kept its distance from me, the elusive Belted Kingfisher!

Many times I’ve been spotted running back and forth along marina docks, along coastal golf holes, through neighborhoods, along river banks and wetlands with my zoom pointed skyward chasing this little bird that has the speed and spunk of Mighty Mouse! All the while its rattling laughter would taunt me and let me know that I wasn’t even close.

People must have often wondered if Bill has lost it. :-) I would frequently be talking to the Kingfisher saying things like, “So we meet again!” Or, muttering to myself, “The elusive Kingfisher strikes again!”

The other day our paths crossed once again, but this time was different! I had just finished my latest pelican painting, The Bystander, and I decided the next morning would be a good time to go out birding, enjoy a nice sunny morning, and look for new subjects to paint. One of my favorite birding locations, the Pitt Street Bridge right here in Mount Pleasant, SC, was my first stop.

Upon arrival I spent quite a bit of time photographing some Hooded Mergansers. I then walked the length of the Pitt Street Bridge without seeing much birdlife of any kind. I was happy to get the merganser shots but disappointed there weren’t more birds around given that it was low tide and feeding time.

I was thinking it was about time to move on to Shem Creek in search of the Brown Pelican, when I glanced over the wooden railing of the old bridge along the water and saw a beautiful female Belted Kingfisher perched on part of the railing, less than 5 feet away from me!

I quickly aimed my camera, but it was actually too close and too quick to get a photograph. The stocky, little bird with its large head and pointed beak made a bee-line right into the water below, piercing the surface like an arrow. I thought I’d blown my chance.

In a split second it resurfaced and flew up onto a nearby tower with either a tadpole or small fish. It shook its head back and forth like a terrier and then devoured the first of about a five-course meal!

Kingfisher-image-1-by-William-R-Beebe.jpg

Again I was chasing the kingfisher back and forth along the waterfront, but this time it didn’t seem to mind my presence. It was too busy feeding to be bothered by me.

For the next hour and a half I worked hard on getting my settings right considering the lighting conditions and the background, knowing that this was my big chance.

I love the spiked hairdo that kingfishers often display so I wanted to make sure I captured that. I also wanted to make sure I got the glint of light on the eye, the rufous/chestnut colored band around the breast of this female kingfisher, her short little legs and her tail raised.

Kingfisher-image-3-by-William-R-Beebe.jpg
Kingfisher-image-4-by-William-R-Beebe.jpg
Kingfisher-image-2-by-William-R-Beebe.jpg

I know that was hoping for a lot, but my Pitt Street Bridge female Belted Kingfisher was generous with her time that morning.

Kingfishers hover in mid-air like ospreys. They dive straight into the water like Brown Pelicans. They are little, but I’ve seen one chase a Great Blue Heron right down into the middle of a pond (herons are wading birds and not swimmers). I’ve also seen a cormorant take off when the mighty little Kingfisher appears. I’ve seen male kingfishers in aerial combat over territory they wish to control.

Belted Kingfishers are fascinating birds!

I’ve always thought it would be fun to paint a Belted Kingfisher, but my previous photographs of them lacked enough detail to paint one up close. This series of images, however, has just the right amount of detail to inspire a painting, or two.

I hope you enjoy the images and reading about my quest to capture the Belted Kingfisher on camera. I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to comment below.Thanks for reading my journal and for your interest in my art!!!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe