Story of a Picture

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Seagulls, ducks and more ducks. A dry and withered plant serves as a perch for several hunched herons of various size and colour. It looks like a hanging tree: what a creepy view, even in the morning light!

Will it come? Should we have woken up earlier?

A coot dives and re-emerges shortly afterwards.

Mid-May: is it the right time of the year?

Further away, a couple of great crested grebes are performing their mating ritual, turning their head from side to side.

Wil it still be using this roost?

Meanwhile, at a low height, a marsh harrier is flying over a group of red-headed pochards. Slowly twirling, it finally comes near our shed, but a telephoto lens accidentally hits the window frame. Alarmed, it turns away.

Disappointed, I change seat and point the binoculars at the Ortazzo marsh. A swan is fishing, its body flat on the pond surface with its neck completely under water. It’s weird seeing it in such an awkward pose, so different from traditional iconography.

While I’m watching it, I see a blue bullet flying askew, speeding on the water’s surface and then heading to the other end of the swamp, getting lost in the misty landscape. At first I think of a dragonfly – but no, it is it: Alcedo Atthis. It’s little more than a dot at that distance, anyway I’m sure, I recognize the flight. I’ve seen it before but always just glancingly, never close enough to take a picture of it.

I wonder where it has landed. I keep scanning the opposite shore in search of a branch overlooking the water, but can’t find it. At least now I know it’s nearby. Now, it is worth the waiting.

I move to a different opening. More ducks, a little egret and a moorhen. The cuckoo’s song can be heard from the pinewood. We don’t have to wait for too long. Suddenly, a sharp, high-pitched call, almost an ultrasound. It’s near, we’re on our toes. We look through the shutters that look on a couple branches that have been placed there on purpose. They’re quite a perfect set.

Unlikely as it may seem, before the actual animal Stefano catches a glimpse of its upside down reflection in the water. The cunning bird cold shouldered the two human-made perches and landed on a dull branchlet in the backyard.

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Now, now it’s the time to shoot! Let’s not miss the chanche. We move inside the hut cautiously. I’m holding my breath. From this moment and until it is gone, the only noise allowed will be the click of the camera.

There’s a complication: the image is out of focus. Too many branches, leaves and reeds get in the way. Luckily, the subject hangs around long enough for the boys to be able to switch to manual mode. Finally, here they are: our very first pictures of a kingfisher.

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When they have finished shooting I take a look, too. It looks unreal, how exciting! A wooden figure painted in bright colours, save for that hiccup-like bob of the head.

It is a female, we figure out from the orange lower beak. She stays there several minutes, concentrated on her fishing, indifferent to the loud mountain bikers cycling on the trail a few meters away. Then, as fast as she came, she disappears  in her damp world once again.

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