June (Part I) - Warrens

Tuesday 19.00 - 21.00 hrs June 9th 2015

A bit of a setback ...

With everything going a little haywire over the previous few days, I decided to  spend a couple of hours on the stream after work this evening. I wanted to just catch up on the current state of play with the Kingfishers .... or as I left it at the weekend, just my lone male Kingfisher.

I am still somewhat 'gutted' that we had come so far with everything over the past few months, and for it all to fall apart at such an exciting stage. The pair had courted, built a home, mated and laid eggs, the eggs had hatched and feeding had just commenced, then disaster, the female has disappeared ... killed, I am presuming.

I situated myself a little way down stream of the burrow this evening, the burrow was just in view at the far end of the stream, and I was well hidden away. I sat for an hour and heard or saw nothing. Normally I would see the Kingfisher flying rapidly up and down the stream, just a few inches off the waters surface, but this evening, it was all quiet. The stream is sadly missing it's most colourful character.

I decided to walk the stream to check out all the possible places that I know the Kingfisher likes to frequent, his favourite fishing posts and perches. All empty, not a single sighting, or even the sound of my single male calling his distinctive sound, really disappointed !

I don't really know the complexities of what a Kingfisher would do in the situation mine has found himself in. Would he naturally abandon the burrow ? Would he give up his hard fought territory to seek out another female ? Is he likely to return to the same part of his stream ? Is it to late in the mating season to find another partner ? I don't know the answers to any of these questions ... any Kingfisher experts out there ?

I will continue to monitor the stream over the next few weeks to see if another pair move into this vacant territory, or if my male returns with a new partner.

Keeping those fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

Monday June 8th 2015

BBC Wildlife Mag...

My Red Squirrel photograph in July's edition of BBC Wildlife magazine. (March blog).

Sunday 19.00 - 21.00 June 7th 2015

After Saturdays events, I have been busting to get back down to the stream all day, but evening time was the first opportunity I have had since yesterday lunchtime.

I decided to head straight upstream to where I was sitting yesterday in my flattened nettle patch. It's amazing how quickly the nettles had recovered over night as they were already standing back up straight, so I had to remake a suitable hideout. 

The male was already visible, sitting a little way upstream opposite his burrow. Perched on a thorny bramble branch, looking almost as uncomfortable as myself in the nettle bush.

I was beginning to put two and two together, realising that I hadn't seen the female for a few days now and that the male was not paying any attention to the burrow, I think the female has gone. Possibly taken by a sparrow hawk, a mink or maybe even drowned. Drowning is not a rare event, sometimes their feathers become waterlogged and they are unable to break free of the water after a dive.

The male did cut a lone figure sitting by himself. This weekend I expected to come down to the stream and for it to be a hive of energy, lots of feeding and visits to the hide. In reality, quite the opposite, it's transpires into a quite a sad scenario.

It's almost 9 PM, the Kingfisher dives into the stream for the last time tonight, and appears out of the water with an empty bill...when your luck is down, it's seems everything is against you.

The last dive this evening...but no luck!

I pack up and head back home. I wonder what will be the outcome of the weekends events, will the burrow now be deserted ? Is it too late in the season to find another female ? Will he even hang around on the stream or will he be driven out or possibly leave ? Lots of questions, I will find the time to come down during the coming week to keep an eye on the unfolding situation, fingers crossed for a happy ending.

Saturday 04.15 - 12.00 June 6th 2015

A very confusing picture...but ultimately, I think disaster has struck !

I'm up and out at the crack of dawn, it's 4.15 AM as I am walking my now well trodden track through the ever thickening Ox-eye daisy's to my hide. There is a slight freshness in the air, the sun is just below the horizon to my left, which is already throwing a vivid orange cast into the sky, and an almost complete moon is high up to my right. The forecast for today is good, lots of sunshine and a high of around +20 degrees.

I love this time of the morning in the summer, I admit, it's not the easiest getting out of bed at silly o'clock, but once up, and after a shower and a coffee, the rewards always make it worth while. The  dawn chorus is in full flow, bird song cascades down from every tree, the daisy heads are still tightly wrapped up waiting for the warmth of the sun to bring them to life.

I get set up in the hide and sit back and wait....and wait ? It's always a little frustrating to get up at first light and not have the opportunity to press the camera shutter once, but I guess that comes with the territory of watching wildlife and photography.

It's 9.00. almost 5 hours of nothing, which I know sometimes happens, but I should of had one visit, especially as I know the pair were starting to feed young. 

I decide to head out of the hide, change to a smaller and more easier portable lens and head out onto the stream to see if I can spot anything. 

Male Kingfisher...alone upstream

I spot the male Kingfisher sitting on an overhanging old reed stem a little way up stream, seemingly quite relaxed and fishing. All good, that's a relief I thought, he just hasn't made it down to his perch by my hide. 

Wishing I had brought a larger lens now, (but can't be bothered to go back down stream), I quietly flatten a patch of nettles on the bank of the stream and watch the Kingfisher for a while. I can see the burrow in the bank, which is around 50 feet further ahead from where I now am.

The Kingfisher stays for five minutes, has a little preen of his feathers and flutters off up stream, flying past the burrow and round the bend of the winding stream, and out of sight. I sit and wait, really uncomfortable, the breeze is blowing the nettles in my face which isn't the most pleasant experience.

Within 10 minutes he is back, this time with a fish in his beak, very odd, why hasn't he taken it into the burrow ? Maybe he is having this for himself, I expect him to flip the fish back into his gullet at any moment...but I have missed something crucial in the detail !

Head first !

The fish is pointing with it's head outwards, as if the Kingfisher was about to present it to the female in a courtship routine. The Kingfisher sits on the reed and starts calling, still with the fish in it's beak. To be honest, I am a little confused at this point and couldn't work out what was going on.

Then, from upstream, in-flew another Kingfisher.....but it was another male !! I originally thought, and presumed it was the female, but it was definitely another male. The male attempted very briefly to land on the reed to take the fish, but never settled and departed quickly. The scene to me seemed very confusing, I was getting lost in what was going on.

A confusing scene ?

The Kingfisher, still with the fish in his beak, then flew off upstream and out of sight again, I was left sitting in a pile of nettles, going over this mornings events like Miss Marple, trying to figure out what was going on.

Again, the Kingfisher returned with a fresh fish in it's beak, and started calling for a second time...but there where no takers this round, not even the other male.

So where is the female in all this ? I had left the pair last week starting to feed their young and everything was looking good and quite exciting for the coming weeks. 

It is now 12.00 PM and I have to return home for an appointment....damn ! I am very reluctantly leaving the stream this morning with so many questions going through my head and very confused.

Saturday 09.00 - 12.00 June 30th 2015

We are a family !

The weather for May has been a little disappointing, below average temperatures and higher rainfall has given us some quite cold days over the last few weeks. However, the mixture of sunshine and rain has continued to transform the stream and surrounding fields into an oasis of flowers and tall grasses.

Bursting with colour, buzzing with insects and butterflies, my walk to the hide is becoming more and more difficult. Trying to cut a path through to the stream sometimes feels like I am trying to compete in a assault course, set by Mother Nature.

Ox-eye daisy's accompany my walk to the hide...

But, it is quite stunning, Summer is almost here, it's my favourite time of year and there is no better place to be than in a beautiful, natural, meadow. I enjoy my walk to the hide each visit, the Ox-eye daisy's are thick and tall, craning their flowers towards the sun, enticing butterflies to dance through their flowers. The Cow Parsley now towers above my head, the hedgerows are full of song from the Yellowhammers, and if you are lucky, Muntjac can be seen amongst the thick meadow grasses.

A Common Blue.

The stream itself has also been reclaimed by Mother Nature, a canopy of green now shrouds the banks. When I originally started to photograph the Kingfishers back in January, I could view the stream for long stretches. I could spot the Kingfisher fishing from a reasonable distance away, it's flashing orange and blue plumage standing out against the  barren, brown, muddy banks. 

What a difference a few months make ! My hide is no longer visible from the banks of the stream, high nettles, flowers and fauna has engulfed it, providing the best possible camouflage you could ever wish for. I love the stream when it's like this, simply sitting and taking in the sights and sounds of everything around you, it's a real stress buster !

The bank of the stream to the right, (my hide is in there....somewhere !).

I arrive into the hide later than normal, it's 9.00 AM, the sun is shining but there are some ominous black clouds on the horizon.

I had noticed the Kingfisher flying quite high along the stream whilst walking to the hide. After following them for several months, I have become familiar with recognising them from their wing and body movements whilst in flight from a distance. I also use to think the Kingfishers always would follow the contour of the stream when navigating from their burrow to their favourite fishing perches, although often the case, I have seen them divert from the stream,  right out across fields and woodland.

It's not long before the male appears on the perch, flying straight on in silence and immediately getting straight down to action, too fish.

In no time at all, he has successfully caught a fish, stunned it on the perch and then....taken it away with him back up stream, instead of consuming straight away as he would normally do.

Wow !, I think it's a possibility that the chicks may of finally hatched and he has started to provide for his new family. This is confirmed with visits this morning becoming more frequent and quick, he comes to his favourite perch, catches a fish is gone again.

A family to feed...

After a few visits to the perch, I decide too break cover of the hide and discretely walk the half mile up stream to view the burrow from a distance. I can see the Kingfishers are definitely busier than normal, they are in and out of the burrow with regularity, clearly attending to the needs of their new family.

Kingfishers are easily spooked and also heavily protected by law, I always stay well away of the nest site and stay up stream to photograph from the hide. I leave the birds in peace, they will have their work ahead of them for the next 4 weeks to provide a constant supply of fish to their young. I look forward to the more frequent visits from the adult Kingfishers at their favourite perch along the stream, and hopefully at some point, to see the fledglings visit me at the hide.

A busy time ahead, a time to provide...

Wednesday May 27th 2015

My BBC article on-line !

May has ended on a high with the BBC Wildlife Magazine publishing an article on-line about my recent trip to the Revillagigedo Islands.

You can read it here...


BBC Wildlife On-line Article

Monday 16.30 - 19.30 May 25th 2015

Okay, I know, it's still May and this has been added to the page for June. I have basically used up my space allowance for May after having such a packed month, so I have been forced to over-lap the final days in May, and run over into June.

It's a Bank Holiday Monday, I have done all the usual things you do on a Bank Holiday, visited a garden centre with my lovely wife, mowed the lawn, walked the dog etc, so for a couple of hours I have escaped the domestic chores, and sneaked down to the hide.

The weather is Okay, not brilliant, but it's dry, overcast and around +15 degrees centigrade. I had visited the hide a couple of days ago but it was very quiet, not much to report. 

The Kingfishers still don't seem to have any young yet, the male is the only one visiting the hide but he seems in no rush to get back to the burrow, and is eating everything he catches. The Kingfishers paired up relatively late and after a territorial battle over Easter, they have only just established a burrow and mated.

I was caught red handed getting into the hide again, just as I was getting the camera set up, the Kingfisher flew down stream and straight onto the perch, catching me out in 'no man's land', between the perch and the hide. I thought I had blown it for the next hour, but he came back to the perch after just ten minutes, in which time, I was set up and ready.

The Kingfisher had obviously spotted dinner, he was very animated, adjusting himself on the perch several times, pulling back from a dive at the last second before re-adjusting his stance.

1600th of a second before diving...

Eventually he dives and before I know it, the Kingfisher is sitting on the perch on the opposite side of the stream, shaking himself dry. He has an empty bill and has missed his intended target. I leave the camera pointing at his hunting perch, knowing he will be back to have another go. After 30 seconds he returns, equally animated, you can see him working out the best trajectory of his next attempt.

Eyeballing his target...

Going for a second attempt ...

Again he dives, and again, he is unsuccessful. Looking thoroughly dejected, he sits on the perch on the opposite side of the stream drying off. It looks like his intended target hasn't hung around either and he has missed his chance of dinner.

After a few minutes, he shrills a hi-pitched 'bip bip' and in a flash of blue, he departs down stream to look for another hunting opportunity.

I take this chance to leave the hide and to sit in the  nearby meadow to see if I can spot the Barn Owl hunting, or possibly any deer or foxes cutting through the meadow to the stream...but I am out of luck this evening and return home.

Empty billed ... just not his day !

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