Alan Murphy is living large.
His Belted Kingfisher photo is on our August 2008 cover, and that's a repeat appearance for the Texas-based bird photographer. Murphy's photo of a bright red Vermilion Flycatcher appeared on our June 2008 cover, making him only the second photographer to have images appear on two consecutive Birder's World covers. (George Stewart was the first, with cover images on our December 1995 and February 1996 issues.)
If you've read my previous Field of View post about Murphy, you know that his great shots are no accident. He knows birds, has excellent photographic technique and he's willing to wait many hours for the right shot. That was the case with this kingfisher, photographed during a recent winter near Houston, at a small private pond to which he had full access.
He knew about the bird's preference for perches surrounded by water and its wariness toward humans, so he had to figure out how to get close without chasing it off. "They fly off screaming if you go near them, so I knew it would be a long-term project," said Murphy.
After observing the kingfisher's hunting habits from afar, he came up with a plan. He waded into the lake and set up a moss-covered log perch near the shore. "The perch is bolted onto a Christmas tree stand, submerged in the water and weighted down with cinder blocks." He set up a tent blind and left it there for three weeks for the bird to become acclimated. He had to enter the blind before sunrise to shoot. "If they see you, they'll leave and you're done for the day."
Besides a perch, Murphy also provided bait. He built open-topped mesh pens for minnows, and set them on cinder blocks just below the perch, thinking the minnows would attract the kingfisher. "The only issue with this is you have to be careful what species of fish you're putting in a lake." This particular pond, he said was to be drained for a construction project. In total, Murphy said he spent three weeks planning and sat for 40 hours in the blind.
But the minnows were just extra work for Murphy. "I discovered they had no part in the success of this shot at all," he recalled. "The kingfisher would look down at the minnows but would not go for them. It never took one." -- E.M.