April - Warrens

Friday 16.00 - 18.30 hrs April 3rd 2015 (Good Friday)

It's a Bank Holiday...and it's raining !

Spring is finally springing ! The clocks have thankfully gone forward so we have the lighter evenings, now hopefully the warmer weather is not too far behind either. The first signs of early Spring for me is the iconic symbol of the willow coming into flower. The buds start appearing back in February, sometimes when still covered in snow. Traditionally a native wetland tree, Willow thrive around the stream and pond area. The warmer weather brings out the catkins, rich in early pollen and a great food source and an attraction for a whole host of wildlife.

Sweet sight...a pollen covered mouse.

Prolonged sightings of the Kingfishers have been scarce recently, especially during March. The sightings were usually no more than flashes of blue as the birds weaved their way up and down the stream at a rate of knots. I decided to spend the majority of March at various parts of the stream, without a camera, to just sit and observe the 'goings on' and to learn a little more of the favoured fishing spots of the Kingfishers.

So, in traditional Bank Holiday style, it's a dull, rainy and slightly chilly day, around + 11 degrees and I have come down to the hide in the late afternoon to see what's happening. I quite like shooting in the rain as this sometimes brings out different behavioural characteristics of the subjects your hoping to capture on film. 

After around 40 minutes, the Male appears, he comes straight to the perch in silence and starts to preen his feathers in the rain. The Female is now sitting on eggs back at the burrow, a little further down stream. Both the Male and Female share the job of incubating the eggs, usually a clutch of 6 to 7 eggs hatching after 19 - 21 days.

Preening in the rain...

The Kingfisher seems relaxed, spending the next 20 minutes in front of the hide, occasionally diving for fish and always alert for any movements that could be a potential threat. The Kingfisher looks in top shape, plumage is really stunning and beautifully protected from the rain. After a while, it takes off from the perch and flies down stream and out of sight. I take this opportunity to pack up and to leave the hide without being seen.

Saturday 07.30 - 13.00 hrs  April 4th 2015

The early bird catches the fish...

It's 7.30, I'm walking down to the hide, arms laden as usual with tripods, camera bags, camouflage gear and other paraphernalia, dropping bits as I go and having to go back to pick them up. I'm too lazy to do two trips from the car to the hide and too keen too get set up and to see what the day brings. Yellowhammers are sitting on the tops of the hedgerow and the Chiffchaff are announcing their arrival from over wintering in the Mediterranean with loud song.

The stream is running lovely and clear, the bed is visible from many parts of the stream as it winds through Gravenhurst, the fish are leaping clear out of the water at times. It's a cloudy dull day again, similar to yesterday, I set up as quickly and quietly as possible.

The unmistakable high pitched 'bip bip' signals the arrival of the male again, he sits facing me on the perch and as he did yesterday, surveys the scene around him. The breeze has picked up a little and his orange and copper chest feathers plump up for insulation.

Within a few seconds something has caught his eye, in a flash he has dived out of sight to return to a lower perch on the opposite side of the stream. He is  proudly showing off a rather large catch which he starts to beat against the perch to stun before he consumes head first.

After a successful hunt, the Kingfisher dips into the water several times to clean himself, then sits quietly still for a while, presumably to digest such a large fish. He takes this time to carry on preening and  after a few minutes he heads off down stream to probably relieve the female from her incubating duties. I haven't seen the female for several weeks now, so I am hoping she makes an appearance soon.

Camera shy...

Sunday 17.00 - 18.00 hrs April 5th 2015

It was the Rainbow gave thee birth, and left thee all her lovely hues...

(The Kingfisher - WH Davies)

She's back !

After spending the day consuming numerous Easter eggs, I thought I would walk off the excessive calories and over indulgence and visit the hide. The weather has notched up a couple of degrees today and it's pleasantly noticeable, for the first time I am walking to the hide in a T shirt !

I click the camera onto the tripod and sit back into the darkness of the hide. A flutter of cobalt blue catches the corner of my eye, silently the female Kingfisher has shown up quickly and is sitting on a reed out of view of the camera. Within a couple of seconds she flies up and settles on the perch to fish, her eyes fixated straight beneath her as she watches the water for her next meal. 

Within a few weeks the adult pair will be having to feed several mouths and will  be frenetically fishing to keep up the demand. The female bides her time here this evening, eventually making a dive and taking her catch straight down stream.

I watch a Grey Wagtail bobbing up and down the stream bank looking for insects for a few minutes, before it too has enough of me prying and takes off too. I take this as my cue and leave for home.

Parting shot !

Monday 16.45 - 19.00 April 7th 2015

Two's company, three's a crowd !

Trouble in paradise, Gravenhurst seems to of inherited overnight, a rogue Kingfisher, and it hasn't gone down too well at all. Kingfishers are fiercely territorial and will not allow another Kingfisher to encroach within an inch of its defined boundaries.

 The weather is lovely, warm and sunny and the stream is busy, pheasants noisily calling each other and the Green Woodpecker screeching from tree to tree. I arrive into the hide as usual expecting to see the tranquility of happy Kingfishers, fishing. However, the Male is frantically flying up and down the stream, calling loudly as he flies, too fast and unpredictable to capture with my camera. This continued for an hour, all rather odd I thought as he uncharacteristically ignored his favoured perch each time, he clearly had something else on his mind.

I decide to venture out of the hide to see what's happening, I notice two Male Kingfishers flying at full speed, twisting and turning mid-air like something out of Top Gun....we have a territorial fight on our hands. The two fighters  diverted off the stream and took the fight into the wooded area and out of sight on the opposite side of the stream. I continued to watch for another hour getting the occasional glimpse of the stand off, before it went quiet. Rather like the ending to a TV soap, I could here the 'duff duff' of the Eastenders drums come in to keep up the suspense of the final outcome of this real life drama. A fitting climax to a great Easter weekend on the stream.

Who has won the battle for Gravenhurst ?....to be continued !

Saturday 08.45 - 14.00 April 11th 2015

A different dynamic...

I have been popping down to the stream for very short periods through-out the week. During this time, I hadn't seen or heard anything from the Kingfishers since the Eastender-esque territorial bust up over the Easter weekend. So I was intrigued to get too spend a longer time at the hide to see what was the outcome, and hopefully find that it would be business as usual.

The last five days during the week had been really sunny and warm, temperature reaching a high of 21 degrees centigrade. So it was some what disappointing to get to the weekend and find the temperature had dropped by 10 degrees and chilly, the forecast was for heavy showers in the morning and sunnier spells in the afternoon.

I was late getting into the hide this morning, I like to get in and set up as early as possible to catch the stream at its busiest time. Mice had been busy chewing through a camouflaged lens cover I had left on my seat over night, so I was greeted to a shredded bundle of material rather than the desired cover I had expected to find.

It wasn't long before the lanky legged Grey Heron flew in from up stream. I could see his head craning around the bend of the river before he decided to leisurely wade through the middle of the stream, seemingly without a care in the world.

There are a lot of frogs in the stream, the water is running so clear at the moment that you can see them resting on the bottom of the stream when walking along the stream banks. These would make easy pickings for the Heron, food is plentiful for them this time of year.

Grey Heron

During the week, I was popping briefly to the hide to make sure everything was OK, it's susceptible to the elements so I regularly check it's secure etc. It was lovely to see the Mallard duck paddling down the stream on Thursday evening, with five young chicks neatly following on behind her, always another wonderful sign of Spring.

Today, soon after the Heron had meandered on past the hide, the Mallard came around the bend of the stream, this time with just two of the five chicks, she had lost three of them in a space of a couple of days. The female and her two chicks came up to the bottom of my hide and rested for a while in the sunshine, her remaining chicks closely tucking into the mother.

Sitting ducks...

It soon became evident of who has been picking off the young ducklings...Mink! As the duck and her ducklings where paddling down the stream, closely followed on the opposite bank, weaving it's way in and out of the overhanging vegetation was the Mink. Watching the ducklings intently I could see the Mink monitoring their every move, eventually slipping into the water and out of sight. It was inevitable that I would come down on Sunday afternoon and sadly see the Mallard sitting on her own on the side of the bank, no sign of her two remaining chicks.

Ruthless predator. Mink monitoring the chicks.

The weatherman predictions were correct, it was now mid-day, the stream was bright and sunny, the heavy rain from this morning had thankfully come and gone. It was a full three hours before the Male Kingfisher showed up flying in from down stream, approaching the perch from behind me. I was expecting the Kingfisher to be coming in from an up stream position from where its burrow is located.

An electric ball of blue was now shining brightly in the sunlight as he started to preen his feathers in front of me. Providing some fabulous opportunities to capture some unique shots.

Dazzler !

The Kingfisher seemed very relaxed and went through a complete grooming routine, contorting his feathers into various shapes and angles.

Keeping up appearances.

After 30 minutes I could hear another hi-pitched 'Bip Bip' coming from behind the hide which drew the immediate attention of the Male Kingfisher, this was a Female calling him. This was bizarre, why wasn't the female sitting on her eggs in the burrow ? From the ensuing territorial fight, have we another pair of Kingfishers on the stream ? Have the boundaries been re-drawn and we have a new dynamic ? 

The Kingfisher dived down from his preening perch and caught a fish, flew to the opposite side of the stream and went through the normal ritual of stunning the fish, before he would normally swallow the fish head first. However, this was to be different, once the fish had been stunned, he held the fish tail first, he was about to feed the Female Kingfisher behind me, (frustratingly out of sight of the camera). 

The feeding of the Female by the Male is part of a courtship routine which may go on for several weeks. I would of expected this to happen back in February or possibly early March, which is getting me to think that this is a new pair of Kingfishers to the stream. The Kingfishers are approaching the perch from downstream each time, when before, they would approach from upstream. I am still unsure with 100% certainty, but I believe things have changed since my last prolonged visit at Easter.

Love is in the air ! Male about to present Female with a courtship meal.

Poetry in motion...

This event happened several times which enabled me to capture some footage on film. A couple of points of interest, note the Male Kingfisher place the fish with its head pointing outwards, (as in the picture above) ready for the Female to swallow, and the Female calling him from behind my hide with the traditional hi-pitched 'bip bip'.

If my hunch is right, (although early days to be sure) Gravenhurst can possibly hope for a second pair of Kingfishers on the stream, and a little more local. When the feeding courtship has been completed, they will then choose a nest site and then start digging the burrow. Only once when this is completed will they consummate the relationship.

Some additional images from the weekend.

So the events of the Gravenhurst stream are forever changing, it is a real privilege to have the opportunity to be able to watch the various dramas and events unfurl over a busy weekend. As Spring turns into Summer, life is only going to get busier and more hectic for our Kingfishers, I am sure there will be many more twists and turns to come.

Parting shot!

Saturday 08.00 - 14.00 hrs April 19th 2015

Caught in the act... (Kingfisher Hide - Gravenhurst)

It's been another very warm and sunny week with temperatures hitting a high of 25 degrees centigrade, but as usual, it's a little cooler for the weekend. The banks of the stream are becoming more green and lush with each visit I make, as are the crops of wheat in the surrounding fields I pass on route to the hide. Its such a welcome sight to see everything coming into life and filling the countryside with colour again.

The stream is very still-like this morning as I am walking to the hide along the  bank, the surface of the water is like a mirror reflecting the surrounding woodland. The green woodpeckers are screeching louder than ever as they are in an old oak tree by the hide, on the opposite side of the stream. 

Rather frustratingly, I was caught red handed by the Kingfisher this morning getting into the hide.  I was still setting up and attaching my Canon 500mm F4 to the tripod head, it's large,  cumbersome and can be awkward to get fixed up quickly. The male Kingfisher came round the bend of the river and landed on its usual perch, approximately three feet from me before the split second he noticed I was there. I wasn't sure who was the most startled, him or me, the Kingfisher took off back down stream as quick as he arrived. I quickly got into the hide and out of sight, (abeit, a little late) wishing I had arrived five minutes earlier.

Within only a few minutes later, I could hear the female calling the male loudly from right behind the back of the hide. She soon flew round onto the low perch on the opposite side of the stream, still calling for the male that had just caught me getting into the hide and had flown down stream.

In a flap...female calling in the male.

The male soon returned back up stream to respond to the females call. I was really hoping he would perch next to the female so I could get the opportunity to photograph them both together...but, it wasn't to be.

As soon as the male came into view, they both took off as quick as lightening and disappeared up stream together. The pair are clearly still in courtship mode and are quite at home at the upper end of the stream.

The female was the most prominent visitor today, she seemed a little nervous at times as the Sparrowhawk was regularly flitting across the stream this morning, she was constantly checking the skies above her for any signs of a threat. Normally, she would of picked a few fish from the stream, but I could see she wasn't happy or comfortable, instead of flying either up or down stream, she instead went off sideways into the woodland.

On the look out...

For almost the next three weeks I will be working on a different photography project, so will not be able to get back to the hide until early May (with the continued support of the landowner and their permission). Very frustrating timing for me, as the stream, and  particularly the Kingfishers, are making it an exciting and very enjoyable place to spend time. I hope to be able to come back and find our new pair of Kingfishers have set up a nest and will soon be very busy feeding their first brood of chicks.

Wednesday April 22nd 2015

A tiny bit of fame for our Kingfisher !

Our Gravenhurst Kingfisher  made it onto The Telegraphs website in 'The Big Picture this week. (Click the link below)

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