January - Warrens

December 2014.

We have Kingfishers !

I was really thrilled to see the unmistakable flash of cobalt blue of a Kingfisher blur down the local stream in our village whilst walking our dog. Knowing that a Kingfishers territory can stretch for many kilometres and that they are notoriously shy, I wanted to try and photograph our most colourful village resident.

Heavily protected by Natural England, there are a number of legal parameters that need to be adhered too, to ensure that reasonable distance is kept from a Kingfishers nesting area and that the birds are not disturbed.

I identified their location over the coming weeks and found them to be on private land. I arranged a meeting with the land owner, who very kindly agreed for me to have access to the stream. I scouted an ideal spot on the bend of the stream, approximately a kilometre away from where I believe the nesting site to be.

08:00 - 14:00 hrs January 17th 2015

I had set up the hide the previous evening and placed two perches from old larch branches I found in a small coppice, and placed into the side of the bank of the stream.

Kingfishers like to perch several feet above the water so that they can look for fish and to assess their precision plan of attack to dive into the water. Once the fish has been caught, the Kingfisher returns to the perch, stuns the fish against the base of the perch, before swallowing whole.

The morning of the 17th is cold and it starts snowing as I walked across the field to the hide location. A fox is standing motionless in the field opposite watching me, but I don't want to get the photography equipment wet, so on this rare occasion, I ignore the fox and go straight to the hide, and set up.

Lone Male Kingfisher

Two hours in, and I am already frozen. I can hear a male Kingfisher calling further down the stream, it comes into view on the bend of the stream but too far away for the camera to pick up. Eventually, it landed briefly on the lower perch and within two clicks on the camera shutter, it flies off up stream, never to return for the rest of the day. The winter weather gets the better of me after 6 hours. There is not much going on at the stream, so I pack up and set a camera trap up too record any movements over the next few days before leaving.

16:00 hrs January 21st 2015 - Kingfisher Hide

The weather has been bitterly cold this week, lowest temperatures recorded for the last two winters. A low of -8 degrees centigrade has frozen the small ponds next to the stream, the stream itself is still running which is vital for the Kingfishers survival. A harsh, prolonged winter can have a devastating effect on Kingfishers, so I am hoping our Kingfisher is managing in the cold snap.

I am only visiting the hide to pick up the camera trap I set up at the weekend, to see how many visits my perches are getting over the course of the previous four days.

I have downloaded the camera trap, and.....nothing ! Disappointed that there is no images recorded of the Kingfisher at all over the past few days. A blurred image of a small deer going past the trap in the night, and nothing else. I am hoping that the Kingfisher is still on the stream and has survived the hard frosts from the previous nights. Roll on the weekend so I can get back to the hide.

08:00 - 14:45 hrs January 24th 2015 - Kingfisher Hide

With the lack of images from the camera trap mid-week, one lone male Kingfisher sighted on the stream and the cold weather, I am not expecting too much from today. The weather has improved slightly thankfully, and it is a bright, sunny but cold day.

Whilst walking across the field to the hide, I spot a Barn Owl hunting in the field opposite the stream, a little out of distance for the camera. Meticulously combing the rough piece of pasture looking for voles and mice, known as 'quartering'. It has to be one of the most quintessential images of the English countryside. 

(I managed to get an image of the Barn Owl late last summer hunting over the reed beds in Gravenhurst).

I quickly set up in the hide, the sun is low in the sky and the lighting is really nice, the stream is looking lovely and clear and it has slowed in pace from the previous weekend.

Barn Owl 'quartering' over reed beds

Within forty minutes, I spot the Kingfisher perched on an overhanging reed further down stream. Relieved that it is still on the stream and that it is looking in good condition, it flies down and lands on my perch in front of the hide. 

The orange underside of the bill is instantly recognisable, it's a female ! We have a pair, really great news !. The Kingfisher stays with me for 30 minutes, successfully catching three fish, the electric blue plumage looks amazing in the lighting.

Female Kingfisher in early winter sunshine

I have a silent shutter mode on my camera, so she is unperturbed by the slight clicking noise coming from the hide. She moves from perch to perch allowing various different images to be taken whilst watching the water intensely for food. 

There is a slight lull of around an hour between visits, before the male comes into sight. I am sure it's a different male from last weekend. The white patch of missing feathers on the left hand side of its upper bill has gone.

This guy hangs around for 20 minutes, fishing from the same perches of the female. (Note the total black bottom beak of the males bill below, compared to the orange underside of the bill of the female above).

Male Kingfisher perches in front of hide

So, here we have our pair of Kingfishers, the main ingredients for hopefully some breeding in the Spring.

The male stays for 15 minutes before flying up stream, this is the last I see of him for the rest of the day. The female returns mid afternoon, the light is starting to fade a little, she continues to fish in front of the hide for 20 minutes, before she also departs up stream.

Between visits from the Kingfisher, the stream is a busy place today. A Grey Heron also patrols the stream, a pair of Jays are competing for food on the bank, Sparrow hawks are on the lookout for prey and Green Woodpeckers are very vocal.

I also noticed a Mink weaving it's way along the side of the water, a potential big threat to our Kingfishers. Mink are a carnivorous mammal, related to the otter/polecat family, who will happily ransack a Kingfishers nest if given the chance.

Mink are a non-native species from North America, and originated from Mink brought here for fur farming. The population of wild Mink has happened over decades originating from multiple escapes and possible deliberate releases from all over the country. I watch It dip under the water out of sight, before reappearing further down stream.

Mink hunting the stream

A good day by the stream with the potential of a possible breeding pair of Kingfishers. The sun is starting to fall behind the trees, the wind chill seems to of increased a little so I pack up and leave the hide as quickly and quietly as possible.

Parting shot !

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