Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published February 1, 2013 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfishers (male above) have large-size comfort zones and a long lens is usually needed to photograph them satisfactorily.


Belted KingfisherApollo Robbins is widely regarded as the best of the entertainment “pickpockets” in the world. Several years ago at a convention of magicians he was sitting with a group of magicians when a skeptic challenged him, “Come on, steal something from me.” Robbins demurred, saying he was uncomfortable working in front of other magicians, and also noting that the skeptic was only wearing shorts and a sport shirt. The skeptic persisted, but Robbins begged off and offered to do a magic trick instead. He asked the skeptic to take off his ring and with his pen draw a circle around the ring on a paper in front of him. When the skeptic tried to draw the circle with his pen he found the pen didn’t work. Robbins was holding the cartridge from the pen in his hand. He had taken the cartridge right out of the pen in the skeptic’s pocket in front of a collection of magicians, none of whom ever saw him do it.

In a recent magazine article, Robbins was interviewed and explained at length the different techniques he uses to get inside a subject’s “personal space” in order to do his pickpocket tricks. While individuals have personal space, the area around us within which we are comfortable, and which when violated causes us to feel uncomfortable, birds have “comfort zones,” the area near them, which when compromised, will cause them to depart.

In some birds, it can be a very small area, think sparrows feeding under the tables at an outdoor restaurant, and everyone has seen pictures of various species being hand-fed. In other species it can be such a large area that even stopping a car half a block away, without even opening a door, is enough to spook them. Game birds also seem to know when it is hunting season, for their comfort zone grows exponentially when they have been shot at, but contracts again when the season is over.

Belted KingfisherThe Belted Kingfisher (female, left), seems to me, to have the largest and un-easiest comfort zone of almost any species. I have found them particularly difficult to photograph because they just do not let you get close. While they are common in the winter in Florida, and can be seen on wires along most roads near any water when you are travelling at high speed past them, the minute you slow the car down, they take off. Approaching them on foot is not an option whatsoever, and they even seem to know that a photography blind is not a normal part of their territory.

The answer, for me at least, has been using a longer lens to photographically reach them from outside their comfort zone and serendipity. If they have just caught a fish, small crab or a crawfish, their comfort zone may Belted Kingfishercontractslightly for a short period while they are pre-occupied. Other than that, long lens has been the only answer for me.

My grandson, living and working in China, tells me that the Chinese concept of personal space is completely different from the American standard, and that it is virtually assured that on a subway in China you will have a fellow rider literally under each armpit, under your chin and tight up against your back. Sounds to me like a pickpocket’s dream.

The most effective bird comfort zone deterrent I ever suffered occurred years ago during a Christmas Bird Count when I was climbing up the confined ladder of a silo to confirm the presence of a Barn Owl, only to have the owl both confirm his presence, and display his displeasure at my presence, by dropping a whole load of white wash on my uncovered head, shoulders, back and everything. It is the worst invasion of my personal space that I have ever encountered, and it was done by a bird. I have never climbed a silo again. (Feb. 1, 2013)

The Apollo Robbins magazine article was in the New Yorker and can be found online at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/07/130107fa_fact_green?currentPage=all.

A video of Apollo Robbins appearance on the Today show demonstrating his “art” can be seen at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2263692/Apollo-Robbins-shows-supernatural-pickpocketing-skills-stealing-items-trio-Today-Show-hosts.html?ito=feeds-newsxml Scroll down to the bottom of the site for the video

(Click photos for larger versions)