Saturday 23rd April 2016
A potential concern ...
Before going to the stream this morning, I stopped off to take some pictures of the bluebells in our local woods. Taken from a different perspective, this is a 360 degree view of the sunrise, taken from the woodland floor using an ultra-wide (8mm) lens.
After taking some snaps of the woods, I then headed down to the hide. It was a cold day, the wind being driven directly down from the Arctic, making the wind chill feel freezing for late April.
I have been visiting the hide briefly throughout the week, just an hour here and there without the camera. On each visit I have been, the male has been here fishing. In the back of my mind I thought it was odd that I haven't seen the female, but just thought it must be chance that when I time my visit, the female is back at the nest.
This morning, the male is here again, he is preening. Looking quite relaxed, sitting upon a perch of moss and having a full preening session in the morning sunshine.
He sits here for 45 minutes, casually waxing his feathers and taking in the goings on at the stream, he appears to be in no rush for anything. Occasionally departing down stream for ten minutes before returning back to his perch to fish.
After two hours he departs up stream, in the direction of the nest. I wait in the anticipation of the female, but she doesn't show up. The stream is running almost crystal clear at the moment and the water levels are a little lower than recent months, making hunting a little easier.
I wonder if the female has a preferred hunting spot that is nearer the nest site, rather than my hide ? The female use to hunt here along side the male, but I haven't see her, not even a fly past and it is a potential concern.
I will spend some time over the coming week to try and see if I can spot the female. Hopefully she is deciding to catch her food elsewhere but I think it does need some investigation.
I would expect the eggs to hatch late this week, so we will soon be able to tell by the actions of the parents over the coming few days.
After 45 minutes, it is the male again that comes down stream and pack onto the perch. The time between his last visit and this one, seems quick for a shift change with the female. I would expect the female to be outside of the burrow for a longer period. Typical previous visits from the female, can be up to 2 hours long, so 45 minutes, again, seems short.
The male is in and out of the hide all morning, staying for long periods fishing, before departing back up stream. I really need to leave the hide and take a walk to find out what is going on, but I have no time today. I sit at the hide for 5 hours, no sign of the female within this time. I decide to pack up when the Kingfisher is not here, but I know I will need to come back during the week to monitor the situation upstream.
Saturday 16th April 2016
Not much to shout about ...
The weather continues to be up and down like a yo-yo, this morning it is well and truly down. The air temperature is cold enough to be continually trying to turn the heavy rain showers into sleet, and the wind chill adds to the unappealing conditions.
It is mid afternoon before I decide to head down to the stream today. The rain has ceased, it has warmed up a fraction and the sun is trying to make an appearance. I thought I would come down to the hide just for an hour to catch up on events.
The male was already here fishing when I arrived, I could see him sitting on the high perch that sticks out above the stream banks as I crossed the meadow. I knew it would only be a matter of time before he spotted me in return and would make a short flight down stream.
It is the usual process if the Kingfisher spots me, he will fly off and perch just out of sight on the first bend of the stream, stays put for 5 minutes before checking the coast is clear, and returning to hunt.
This give me enough time to quickly get the camera on to the tripod and get myself out of the way inside the hide.
For the next couple of weeks there will not be too much going on as the pair of Kingfishers are busy incubating the eggs. As of last week, it is one in, one out, rotating in shifts. I think we will still have another 10 days before the first chicks will hatch.
Meanwhile, for my brief visit the male is keeping me company, fishing by the hide and taking his time free from nest duties to preen his feathers. The male seems really relaxed, even when my mobile phone went off, he just took a quick glance across to the hide and carried on preening without being alarmed.
The banks of the stream are becoming greener by the week as the plants start growing quickly and the trees burst into bud. After the baron colours of winter, it is nice to start seeing the rich green background to the Kingfisher.
My hour is up, as soon as the male flies upstream to relieve the female from her shift, I escape the hide and quietly move from the stream as I expect the female will be making her way down stream.
The mid-week forecast looks good, so I will hopefully get to spend an evening here during the week.
Saturday 9th April 2016
Working shifts ...
The weekend swings round again and I am walking the familiar path along the stream bank towards the hide. I can hear the frogs croaking loudly from the two large ponds that are off to the left of the stream, it is a flurry of activity here already.
It is early, the sun now appearing over the horizon and the first rays of a warm orange glow start to flood down from the surrounding farm fields, just falling short of reaching the banks of the stream. It is cold, the ground is covered with a thin layer of frost which is quickly retreating as the suns rays spread further towards the water.
I set up in the hide and watch from the dark for any movement. The male arrives, perching on a bullrush standing high up above the water level of the stream.
The sun is still rising as the rays light up just one side of the bird, the Kingfisher looks towards the light as if admiring the glorious morning sun rise for himself.
His attention diverts back to the water.
We are working shifts now, the female is on eggs and both parents incubate, each pair rotating in turn. Although, the female is typically a little more enthusiastic when it comes to sitting on the eggs, but the male will do his fair share.
The male no longer preparing food for the female, he consumes everything he catches for himself.
The female will be sitting on a clutch of usually between 4 or 8 shiny, smooth white eggs, each one no more than just 4 grams in weight and around 23mm long and 19 mm wide. The female lays a single egg each day until the clutch in complete and the parents can start incubation. Kingfishers are commonly known to have double broods so they could produce 14 or possibly 16 young in a season.
This morning, the male consumes his catch and departs up stream. I look at my watch and work out that it is likely the female will be coming down stream within a few minutes. The nest is 400 - 500 metres up stream from the hide, but the birds can cover that distance in no time at all..
It is a full twenty minutes before I hear the shriek of the female announcing her arrival at the hide.
The time each adult sits on the eggs has been recorded by various experts, some contributing the male to sitting on the eggs on average around 45 minutes and the female for 75 minutes. Where as, others have recorded sittings of between 2.5 hours and 4.5 hours.
I spent a few evenings last week watching the nest from a far, to be honest it is somewhat dull. The change over compromises of either the male or female announcing his or her arrival whilst approaching the nest, the incubating bird exiting, and then the other bird entering the burrow to begin their shift.
There is very little to see and usually a lot of waiting around in a very uncomfortable position, usually on wet, cold ground, amongst nettles and alike.
The female will be hungry, and dives for much needed food.
She has caught a minnow and catches me out by returning to the highest perch. Usually after a successful catch, the Kingfisher takes the lowest perch which saves energy and makes life easier. However, this time I look up from the camera to spot where she has gone and see the female looking back at me from above, minnow dangling from her beak.
She decides to take her catch upstream, still within sight of the hide but not really in range of the camera. I watch as she consumes her meal and commences a very thorough grooming session.
Meanwhile, the male will be sitting on the eggs, turning occasionally with his bill. Kingfishers are not the most careful of parents, an egg that may come free from the main clutch may be left out on its own and of course the result being the unborn chick dies.
The chamber to which the birds incubate is not the most pleasant of environments. The adults will be regurgitating pellets, and grooming within the chamber, so over time becomes a mess.
In mythology, it was said that a Kingfishers nest was an intricate floating nest of fish bones. It was said that if anyone could find an intact Kingfisher nest, the King of England would offer a bag of gold and even the British Museum offering £100 for an intact one.
In reality, the nest is nothing but regurgitated fish bones and scales built up over a period of time.
The female has been here 90 minutes, spending 75 minutes preening her feathers. She returns to the hide for a final hunt before returning back up stream. I have a small laugh to myself thinking that the male must be going nuts back at the nest as the female has been having a serious pampering session.
Sure enough, a few moments later I can hear the male coming down the stream, calling all the way as is in disgust of being kept waiting so long.
So the shift swap overs continues all day long, and will do until the chicks are hatched in a few weeks. The birds will have a hectic summer ahead, and I am sure there are many trials and tribulations that our pair of Kingfisher will have to overcome to ensure a fit and healthy clutch of fledgling youngsters.
Saturday 2nd April 2016
Everyone ready ? And action ...
I had barely clicked the camera onto the gimbal head when I could hear the call of the Kingfisher come hurriedly up stream, almost in a panic. I was still a little unprepared, the camera was still switched off and I hadn't had the chance to adjust the camera settings, but the action was going ahead, regardless.
I had already set the camera up in the stream, so fortunately this was ready to fire as the Kingfisher wasted little time to wait for me. Boom ! he had dived. My camera in the hide remained in the off position as I had just the time to hit the remote shutter cable that runs from the camera sitting in the middle of the stream back into the hide.
I quickly turned on the hide camera and located the Kingfisher sitting on the lower perch with a lively minnow in his beak. The above and below pictures where taken approximately 20 seconds apart, the sun had appeared from behind a cloud and you can visibly see the difference in colouration of the plumage , from the different lighting conditions.
As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the colour changes you can see between the two pictures are caused by the structure of the feathers. When light hits the feather, blue wavelengths are scattered more than the red ones which is referred to as the Tyndall effect. The blue colouration is not static, and when under different lighting conditions, they give off different tones.
Anyway, going back to today's events, the male has prepared his catch for the female who resides further up stream. He sits and calls her for a few moments, but as per usual, he has to carry the meal to the female.
I knew the male would soon be back to the hide as he had yet to hunt for himself, unselfishly ensuring the female takes his first catch. Within 5 minutes he had returned, looking splendid in the morning sunlight, perching with his jewelled back towards me whilst peering over his shoulder in a classic Kingfisher pose.
I have taken a few trips up stream to watch the nest from a distance and to see if there is a safe advantage point for a long lens, but as of yet I prefer to leave the birds alone to prevent any kind of disturbance.
The nest is in a different location from last year, some sites are used year after year, but not in the case of our pair of birds. This location is a typical for the majority of Kingfishers, high up on the stream bank, (thankfully after last weeks dramatic rising on the stream water), well hidden and protected from predators.
Kingfisher are very detailed regarding the diameter of the nest tunnel, digging a burrow that is usually precise to 5.5 cm's across. Once completed, the tunnel which will be up to a metre in length with a chamber at the end, which can vary in size, the average being approximately 11 cm's high and 17 cm's across. A dip is created inside the chamber to ensure that the eggs do not roll away (there is usually a gentle incline to ensure the bird excreta drains away) but the nest is not lined with anything.
Our nest is completed more or less. This is easily identified as the birds are able to turn around within the nest, confirming that that the chamber is completed. During the early stages of tunnel excavation, the birds will come out backwards as there is no room to turn in the tunnel. The nest from start to finish has taken 10 or so days in total.
For now, the male is sitting just a few feet in front of me, his head dipped scouring the stream.
The Kingfisher flitting from perch to perch if no potential prey comes into comes into view. Eventually something catches his eye, his crown flattens, his chest sucks in and he becomes animated as he tracks the target ,waiting for the precise time to strike.
The inevitable dive shortly follows. The electric blue bolt looking every bit impressive in the bright Spring sunlight.
He returns to the closet perch available to him after heaving himself, and his catch out of the water.
A few seconds to compose himself, the fish gasping for air as it is squeezed tightly in the vice like grip of the bird.
A savage beating ensues as the Kingfisher stuns the fish, a now familiar scene to this blog.
A quick raising of the prey, as if thanking a Kingfisher God , more to get it's prey into position for quickly consuming, and it is gone.
This happens through out the morning and afternoon, the male again constantly feeding the female back at the nest.
The bank of the stream are still quite bare, the Kingfisher stands out like a glittering saphire against the lifeless foliage that is yet to spring into colour.
Over the next coming days I will try and scope an additional vantage point to monitor the Kingfishers over the summer months. I am confident the mating has been completed, so with young potentially on the horizon, it is going to be a busy time.