February - Warrens

13:00 - 15.30 hrs February 3rd 2015

North Wind Doth Blow....

Late January and the start of February has been colder than average, this morning we woke to a covering of snow. Not particularly deep but enough to make the village look picturesque for a time. A covering of snow also makes a fantastic backdrop for some stunning images.

I had some work commitments this morning but I had managed to get some free time this afternoon. Regrettably though, by the time I was able to get outside, the winter sun had melted the majority of the snow, although the North wind was still blowing and keeping the temperature feeling below zero.

Whilst walking to the hide, I often look out for Foxes. The Marmite of the English countryside, you either love them, or hate them. I am very much of the former opinion, I love Foxes, I never miss the opportunity to photograph one that may cross my path. 

I spent a lot of time last year trying to photograph a family of Foxes in Gravenhurst, embarrassingly, with very little success. Foxes are a real challenge, very astute and are always one step ahead of the game.

Winter time is a good time to see Foxes more in the open, food is scarce and late January, into February, is mating season, so they are also out defending and patrolling their territory. Today was one of those lucky encounters, I spotted the Fox before he spotted me.

Fantastic Mr Fox

After my brief encounter with the fox, I set up in the hide. Within 30 minutes, the Male Kingfisher suddenly appears silently on the perch in front of me. Normally, I would hear the Kingfisher call first as it flies low and fast just above the water, following the pattern of the stream. Today, he flew straight on to the perch and takes me by surprise. The Kingfisher takes a good look at the hide, I have a feeling he knows I am in here, and within a few seconds, unsure, he flies off back up stream. 

Surprise visit...

Checking me out...

I think it was the movement of myself positioning the camera that drew his attention to the hide. I could see the Kingfisher looking right into the lens, normally they are fixated onto the water below looking for food. Kingfishers have exceptional monocular vision, so each eye can be used independently, they then use binocular vision when diving.

Being well hidden, still and making very slow movements are essential to Kingfisher photography, not easy sometimes when your feet are like blocks of ice and you have melted snow dripping on your head.

The Male retuned back to the perch within the hour, seemingly forgetting about his previous visit and paid no attention to the hide this time, fishing for another 10 minutes.

The North wind gets the better of me after a few hours and I call it a day. Roll on Spring !

08:00 - 14:30 hrs February 7th 2015 (Kingfisher Hide)

Just one of those days...

I was keen to get into the hide today as early as possible to catch the first light, and hopefully catch some early action. It's grey, damp,  slightly frosty morning but the cold North wind has thankfully gone, which has taken away that biting cold feeling. It's around + 3 degrees centigrade, so it's still  below the seasonal norm.

My feet have so many layers on that I can barely fit them into my Wellington boots, and I have a multitude of fleece tops on that I am moving like a robot, but as I am hoping for a full day at the hide, so needs must.

Today my plan is too try and get some in-flight shots and diving images of the  Kingfishers. I quickly set the camera onto the tripod and placed into the hide, I also decide too change the Kingfisher perch so that it is the perfect fishing perch. I found an old branch from the ground and set it into the stream bank, positioned at the ideal height that a Kingfisher likes to fish from and one that arcs over the stream below, giving a perfect view from above.

I settle down in the hide, and wait.......and wait, and then wait some more. Three hours later, no sign of the Kingfishers at all, I am unable to even hear them calling from another part of the stream.

By now, the several layers of clothing are having little warming effect after three hours sitting here  motionless, and my feet are freezing. Several more hours continue to pass, and nothing ! I would expect to see the Kingfishers at least patrolling the stream as they are very territorial, even if they decide not to stop at the perch, but no sign of either the male or female. (It's been a couple of weeks since I have seen the female). I can only hope that they have found a good fishing spot further up or down the stream.

At 2.30pm, I decide to cut my losses and pack up for the day. I took a walk up and down the stream to see if I could spot either of the Kingfishers fishing from another part of the stream, but I couldn't spot them at all. Very frustrating to spend the majority of the day here and too come away with no images, but that is quite often the norm with wildlife photography. 

I returned back to the hide and set up a camera trap before leaving, hopefully I will be able to return one evening midweek to collect the camera trap and this will have some images of the Kingfishers using the perch.

I get back to the car just in time to hear that my beloved Arsenal have also lost to Tottenham today in the lunchtime kick-off.....the icing on the cake!

10.00 - 14.45 hrs February 14th 2015 (Kingfisher Hide)

What goes up, must come down...

Well, as it appears, this is not always true !

I was later getting into the hide than I really wanted to be this morning, having to wait home for an electrician to arrive before I could leave. It's almost 10.00 AM, I was walking along the bank of the stream towards the hide, I noticed the Kingfisher already fishing from the perch. Typical ! that will teach me for being late, I hung back and waited for the Kingfisher (Male) to finish fishing. I could hear the 'plop' of the bird diving into the water, all the time I was thinking of the missed opportunities of capturing images. 

After several minutes, the Kingfisher took flight up stream, I took this opportunity to get into the hide and set up. I was greeted to a nice big puddle of water that had collected in my hide chair from the heavy rain during the night, dripping through the roof of the hide. I was in for an uncomfortable session as I settled into the wet chair, my waterproof trousers where of course, at home.

So, the DeJa Vue of the previous weekend replayed out again this weekend, the Kingfisher(s) had disappeared up stream, and never came back down for the remainder of the time I was sat in my soggy chair. 

It's been several weeks since I have seen the female, I am wondering if she has possibly moved on elsewhere, or if I have just been unlucky recently with my sightings. February is the month that Kingfishers pair up, and look for a suitable location to build a nest, laying the first clutch of eggs late March, early April. Hopefully, the coming weeks will be more productive for all of us.

No new images too add to my blog for two weeks now either !

16.45 - 17.45 hrs February 20th 2015

A little groundwork....

I believe the Kingfishers are currently roosting rather than nesting at the moment. I have looked for an old nest site but I think the kingfishers are new to the stream, and as of yet, haven't made a home.

 I have walked the banks of the stream as far as I can go before it winds its way onto property that I do not have access too, or permission to go on. This is a couple of Kilometres either direction of the hide, so I would of thought if there was an old nest site,  it would of been within this area.

Walking the banks of the stream many times, what is apparent is the lack of suitable nesting areas along the stream. Kingfishers like to nest on tall, sandy type banks that are free from any vegetation, which prevents any predators having easy access to the nest, such as Mink. The banks of the stream are heavily covered in vegetation and this would prevent the Kingfishers choosing to nest within the area. Kingfishers like  to dig a deep hole into the side of the bank with a small chamber at the end for laying eggs.

With the very kind permission of the landowner, I was given permission to clear an area of bank that would provide an ideal nesting location for Kingfishers. Early March is nesting season, hopefully we are not too late and we may strike lucky. If the bank is not chosen this time round, it may be possibly chosen in the summer if the current pair of Kingfishers breed. Kingfishers normally raise several broods over the summer, the young are raised and encouraged  out of the nest very quickly. Once fledged, they are then driven out by the adults  to find their own nest and territory, normally within just 4 or 5 days of fledging.

07.30 - 15.00 hrs February 21st 2015

Frustrating times...but to be expected.

I am putting in a full shift today, my day is more or less free to myself, so I am up and out and set up in the hide for first light. I have slightly repositioned my hide a little more on the bend of the stream, this now gives me a greater view down stream and also brings me closer to the perch. This also gives me a few options to which camera lens I can use, today for the first time I am using a smaller lens  (Canon 70 - 200mm f/2.8 L USM) which is great for faster shutter speeds in lower light conditions such as this morning, without sacrificing image quality.

View from rear of hide.

It's plus 3 degrees centigrade, the water level on the stream seems to be slightly higher than normal and this has quickened the pace in the flow of water. We have had some reasonable overnight rainfall recently and the ground is also very wet with retained rainwater.

I settled into the hide, camera mounted onto the tripod and ready to go. Within twenty minutes I hear the high pitched call of a kingfisher, then a bolt of electric blue came from sharp left and quickly vanished down stream. Good news, the Kingfisher(s) are here at least.

On my left hand side of the hide are two large ponds which are a real attraction to wildlife and are a fabulous addition to the land. I have seen frequent visitors come here, including a regular Sparrow hawk and and a pair of Kestrels. The Kingfishers are also using the ponds to feed, the water is still and clear and this makes a great fishing environment. Clearly this morning, the Kingfisher was using the pond to fish from.

For the next seven and a half hours the Kingfishers were never spotted again. A little frustrating, but wildlife photography is always about being in the right place at the right time and being patient. Nine days out of ten you leave empty handed, but when everything falls into place, it makes everything worth while.

Winter is also a very slow time for the birds, they only have themselves to feed and look after so they are not as active. Territories are still yet to be decided and battled over, nesting areas and courtships are to be out played over the next couple of months. Once the Spring is here, there will be hopefully many mouths to feed and activity on the stream will be at full throttle. 

Great hunting opportunities for the Kingfisher at the pond.

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