An hour before dusk, on a quiet lake a few miles from our home, I noticed a lone Eastern Kingbird perched on a post near the shoreline. It was dinnertime for the bird, and even in the dimming light you could see what was on the menu: The air was loaded with insects.
That launched the bird on a series of flights back and forth along the surface of the water, gathering food and returning to its post. The light was just right to catch this bird in motion in a series of photos that revealed far more than we usually see with the naked eye: the elaborate feathering that birds rely on for flight, the overlapping fabric of its wings, the shifting shades of light as it passes through these near translucent feathers.
The Kingbird isn’t a particularly colorful bird, with its dark gray feathers and white breast. But when it spreads its wings, you get just a glimpse of the bird’s hues of bluish gray and wings fashioned out of dozens of feathers.
The Eastern Kingbird is a member of a large family of flycatchers that can be found all across the country. Like the bird that caught my eye, Kingbirds feed on all kinds of insects, including bees, wasps, ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and flies. On this particular day, our bird seemed to be going after smaller gnats that filled the air, consuming as he flew in circles around the lake before returning to his post for a break.
This bird worked hard — and as it turned out had to defend its prized location time and time again against competitors that wanted a shot at this post. Most of the time, when birds do battle, it happens so fast you don’t get to see the action. But when I went back through the photos from that evening, I got a close-up look at the encounter
In the end, the newcomer won a spot on the post and the first Kingbird flew off to gather more insects. But after a time, it came back to reclaim its spot. The routine was mesmerizing, and I stayed until dusk began to descend and the light was too dim for photos. These are the last few photos I could take as the sun went down:
Note on photography: These photos are made easier by the latest developments in digital photography that can achieve surprisingly clear photos in dim light and capture birds in flight with ever sharper focus. The latest Nikon camera, the Z9 mirrorless body twinned with an 800 millimeter lens made for this camera, can take up to 120 frames a second. With one newly developed feature, you can capture photos of birds in flight with a precision never possible before.