February 2016 - Warrens

Saturday 27th February 2016


The wanderer returns ...

It's 8.00AM, the grassy path down to the stream is blanketed in a covering of frost, giving the impression that the path is sprinkled with sparking crystals as the sun catches the drops of frozen moisture.

It's going to be a cracking day, the slight breeze blowing in from the East doesn't allow me to forget that we are still in winter. I am thankful that we have a sunny weekend, the first for a long time.

I haven't seen the Kingfisher since last Saturday, he made a very rare no show on my last visit on Sunday so I was hoping everything was OK, and that he hadn't met his demise in the talons of a sparrow hawk.

I set up the cameras and sat back into the hide, the sunlight was just creeping down the steep banks of the stream but had yet to reach the waters surface. 

The Kingfisher is here, I heard a single hi-pitched 'bip' as it announced it's arrival onto a perch.

It's nice to see that he is still on the stream and that all is well. It's also appreciated he hasn't left me waiting for hours on end before he has showed up, he turned up this morning within 3 minutes !

He looks across at the hide as if to acknowledge the camera lens following him around, he is always watching the lens when fishing, quickly glancing across at me just before diving.

From watching the Kingfishers so frequently over the last year, I have noticed subtle changes in their body language a couple of seconds before they dive. Little tell tale signs that are now a give-a-way to me to that gives me that precious second to fire the shutter in time to catch the bullet speed of the diving action.

The Kingfisher returns to his perch with his first catch of the day, no messing about with this tiddler, it's straight down the hatch and gone within a few clicks of the camera.

He turns 180 degrees on his perch, like an over excited puppy, he has already caught sight of his next target and is peering right over waiting for the precise moment to strike.

The familiar tell-tale signs appear in the birds body language which means one thing ...

He returns back to the perch with something a little more substantial this time. 

He takes a matter of seconds to consume his second fish, then something catches his eye. He immediately goes into an aggression posture, standing upright, tall and thin. I always think they look quite comical when they do this, they suck all their chest and tummy in and stretch their necks out, they look so scrawny at times. 

I kept thinking that this can't be easy after just consuming a sizeable breakfast.

Whatever it is that he doesn't like, that is within his line of sight, he is not taking his eyes of it. Is it another Kingfisher ? Could it be a female ? 

In the early stages of courtship, males still find it uneasy in the company of the females, and they often adopt this unfriendly posture if the female shows up. It takes a little time for them to become familiar with each other and the posturing then stops.

However, being stuck in the hide with just a small letterbox type view of the outside world, and this window then draped in camouflaged netting gives me hardly any vision of what it could be.

Whatever it is has gone down stream, the Kingfisher watching it like a hawk. I can see that the Kingfisher is going to chase it off his territory, he watches it intently, it's moving fast so I am hoping it is another Kingfisher, but sadly I cannot confirm if it was.

The perch is now empty, I saw the kingfisher take off in haste and the stream returns to its tranquility of peace and quiet.

Its a full 2 hours before he returns ! I have no idea of what he had been up too, but over the course of the day (and also watching Sunday) I have noticed that the Kingfishers visits to the hide are more brief, and very spaced out now. 

I think he is actively searching for a partner, although I haven't seen a female on my patch for so long now. I am sure they are a little way down stream in the next village, the time between visits may possibly mean he is spending time out of his own territory.

I sit and wait silently for the Kingfisher to return to his favoured fishing spot by the hide and still watch in awe as he hunts so efficiently. I don't think he has missed once today, every witnessed dive has been successful. 

I am glad to see the male is more active, I can only hope he is disappearing for long periods because he is seeking a female ... who knows, only time will tell.

It's been a wonderful end to February, we now head into March and I can't wait for Spring. I have had a little taste today with the glorious sunshine, it was a very welcomed addition to the stream.


Sunday 21st February 2016


A tale of two halves (Part II)

Sunday morning, although still a busy day planned at home, I have more time free today to spend at the hide. I am in place for sunrise, gear all set up and ready to go. There is a wicked strong wind blowing across the exposed farm fields that slope down to the hide, which is making things really tricky this morning.

The noise from the wind against the flimsy construction of the hide is drowning out any sounds I can hear from the stream. I have placed a heavy duty plastic tarpaulin sheet over the top of the hide during the early part of the winter, as the roof was leaking and I was fed up of having to sit for hours in a cold soggy chair. So with the wind catching the tarp sheeting, it makes a real racket when you are sat inside the hide on windy days.  (I wish there was a manufacturer of high quality, well constructed solid hides as I would definitely buy one !)

The wind also plays havoc with the camo netting used to conceal the entrance to the hide and the lens protruding outside ... windy days are the worst, give me rain any day. It was a bright-ish day though, so not all bad.

8.00AM comes and goes, no sign of the Kingfisher, 9.00AM comes and goes, still no sign of the Kingfisher. If I was a betting man, I would of bet my house that he would be here by now, fishing and hanging out at the hide, he is always here !

10.00AM comes .... nothing for two hours. The stream is empty, the usual buzzards screeching above, the occasional pheasant hopping over the stream, the screeching green woodpecker drumming the nearby trees ... oddly, no Kingfisher.

11.00AM, my camera sits redundant on the tripod, I have to be home soon and for the first time for a very long time, I'm leaving empty handed, not a single image. I am a little concerned, has something happened to him ? It is really odd that he hasn't showed up this morning, really very strange. I reluctantly pack up and head home, the lack of Kingfisher playing on the back of my mind.

3.30PM, I am back at the hide. I have got my commitments completed at home and I have come back down to see if the mystery can be solved. I walked half a mile up and down stream either side of the hide to see if I could spot the Kingfisher, but no sightings at all.

Sometimes I forget I am dealing with 'wild' life and that I cannot take for granted the photographic and blogging opportunities I have been lucky enough to have with our local Kingfisher, over the previous year. It is easy to forget when you spend many hours as I do at the hide, and the regularity that he appears. 

Anyway, lets hope he is back soon and that he hasn't fallen victim to a Sparrow-hawk or even a Mink. Hopefully he is off in search of that elusive female !



Saturday 20th February 2016


My weekend ... A tale of two halves (Part I)

Grrrrr !! It's pretty frustrating to go through the working week with some lovely bright sunny days and then get to another weekend and for the forecast to be wet and dull ... again ! I have been sitting and staring out of my office window at work this week thinking it would be an awesome day to be at the stream, only to get to the weekend and the weather is poor. It seems ages since we have had decent weather for the weekend, but it's February so shouldn't expect anything else.

Anyway, I don't have a lot of time free this weekend due to family commitments so I have just an hour this morning at the stream, and a few hours free Sunday morning.

I had visited the stream very briefly late Friday afternoon and had been treated to a spectacular flight display from a Barn Owl quartering the meadow, just by the Kingfisher hide. I am really hoping to have the opportunity to spend some time later in the year to capture some images of the owl hunting in the late summer light.

Meanwhile this morning (Saturday) I am sitting in the darkness of the hide, waiting for my Kingfisher to arrive. I'm messing around on my mobile phone and didn't even see the Kingfisher arrive, I just happened to look up and he was already fishing from a perch. 

I am looking forward to the coming months that brings us drifting into Spring. Winter is a slow time for Kingfishers, as it is for the majority of our year round native wildlife. I am finding I am now starting to yearn for a little more action at the stream which Spring usually brings.  

I am really looking forward to having a breeding pair of Kingfishers at the hide, blogging and photographing the summer with them and reporting their trials of life.

Today however, no such exciting events to report, the male is sitting just outside the hide as he usually is, fishing of course.

The Kingfisher dives, I notice that not only has he successfully caught a nice fat minnow, but has also picked up a pebble in his beak. He returns to the lower perch, pebble still lodged tightly in his bill.

The Kingfisher quickly drops the pebble and sits proudly upright on his feet, displaying his sizeable catch for the camera. He surprisingly swallows it alive, no stunning at all of the fish, although the fish is thrashing about trying to escape the Kingfishers grip.

Either he is very hungry or he doesn't want to risk loosing his prized catch. Before I know it, the tail was still flapping about as it was quickly shovelled down the Kingfishers gullet.

I knew that after he scoffed such a large fish that I couldn't expect much action for the next hour,   as he would rest for a while too digest his catch. Due to the limited time I have here this morning, I would sneak out the hide as soon as he leaves.

But he doesn't leave, instead he decides to rest on a small twig sticking out the ground, no more than 6 inches from the front of the hide. Typical ! I'm stuck here for a while.

I am a little disappointed that he seems to making little effort in searching for a female. Although I am not here for most of the week and I am unable to vouch for his actions for the majority of the Kingfishers day, what I am witnessing in regard to this when I am here, is very little.

In fact, it's been a long time, several months before I have seen a second Kingfisher on my patch of the stream and certainly not a female.

Thankfully, within 15 minutes the Kingfisher has decided he has had enough time resting and has flown up onto the high fishing post. The wind has picked up considerably and he is struggling to keep his balance. He is not up there long, he has spotted movement in the water and dived.

I lose sight of where he has dived as he seemed to twist position from the high perch and he entered the water out of my view. I switch the camera quickly back to his favoured low perch and here I predictably find him with another decent size catch sitting in his bill.

This catch is lively and is putting up a real fight for it's life, I can see the Kingfisher struggling to control it a little. This time the Kingfisher sits motionless for a minute and I am wondering if he will take this fish up stream as he has been doing now and again. I am not sure if there is female up this part of the stream as sometimes he has been taking catches away in this direction.

This is exactly what he does, with a hi-pitched shrill he flies off up stream with his catch still alive and tightly glasped in his beak.

I'm late home, I quickly take my cue to pack up and leave. I will pop back for another session tomorrow morning.



Monday February 15th 2016.


An unexpected visit ...

I have a few hours spare this morning which I wasn't expecting to have, and as luck would have it, it's a fabulous sunny start to the day. I thought I would spend my spare couple of hours at the stream, quickly packed a camera up and headed down to the hide for sunrise. 

I could hear the high pitched whistle of the Kingfisher before I could even see over the steep bank of the stream, so I knew it was already here. It must of seen me before I had seen the bird, as I saw the familiar blue flash as it had taken off down stream at a rapid speed.

Kingfishers are able to fly at speeds of up to 45 km's per hour, so it's no wonder most peoples experience of a Kingfisher is a blur of turquoise. If you are familiar with the call and you hear one, look low to the waters surface as there is more chance you will see the bird in flight.

I'm spotted ... he's off !

I settle into the hide and await for the Kingfisher to return. It might be a sunny day, but it is really cold. In the rush of making the most of my couple of hours, I haven't really dressed appropriately and my hands and feet are already like ice.

The Kingfisher thankfully returns quickly, perches sideways onto me, beautifully profiled in a classic Kingfisher pose.

Classic Kingfisher pose.

French legend tells the story of how the Kingfisher acquired it's stunning plumage. The legend goes that when the Kingfisher was on Noah's ark, it was a dull, grey bird. Noah, after waiting for too long for the dove to return back after he had sent them to find somewhere dry, he then sent out the Kingfishers.

To escape the storm, the Kingfisher flew high and got struck by lightening which gave the Kingfisher its electric blue shock of colour down its back. The Kingfisher then turned to heat itself by the warmth of the sun, but flew too close, burning his chest, turning a bright colour of orange.

When the Kingfisher returned, the flood had gone and so had the ark. Since then, the Kingfisher flies up and down the river, searching and calling for Noah and the ark.

Which way's North ?

It was also written in an old book by Rev A C Smith, (The Birds of Wiltshire - 1887) that it wasn't unusual to find dead Kingfishers hanging from the ceiling as an instrument of weather prediction. The idea behind this that the poor dead bird would rotate, it's bill would then point to the direction from where the wind was coming from. In another story, the same idea was used where the suspended dead Kingfishers bill would point to the North.

I have have  had a dead Kingfisher hanging from my rear view mirror of my car all week, and can definitely confirm the bill doesn't always point North !  ...  ( joke !)

So thankfully, our local Kingfishers are safe and sound from such barbarity and are wintering well on the local stream.

In fact, it's another lazy day (again) for the male, he seems quite happy just hanging out by the hide and preening in the sunshine. Occasionally he would become alert when he had spotted a potential meal in the stream,  he then would be gone, quickly diving and returning to a perch with his catch.

You don't quite appreciate the effort the Kingfisher puts into stunning it's prey. It's only on a super fast shutter speed you can see how the Kingfisher contorts its body to get the maximum power into slamming the fish into the perch below.

The contortionist !

Eventually my time is up and my unexpected visit to the hide is over, it's always enjoyable and relaxing photographing our colourful village resident. 

Hopefully the sunshine will continue over the forth coming weekend and I can start getting some diving shots again. Fingers crossed !


Sunday February 14th 2016


Valentines Day ... love isn't in the air !

Early sunrise this morning ...

It's February, if you have never been lucky enough to spot a Kingfisher on your local stream or river, then this is the best time of the year to see them. They are on the move around now and also more vocal than normal.

If you are unfamiliar with a Kingfishers call, it's worthwhile to download from the various bird call websites and learn the call (link below). It's very distinctive and a reasonably loud and clear call.

http://test.xeno-canto.org/explore?query=common+kingfisher

The banks of the streams and rivers are stripped clear of foliage as well this time of year which makes it a little easier to help spot Kingfishers, although they are still surprisingly tricky to spot. 

They are also birds of routine, they favour certain perches and fishing patches, and are of course fiercely territorial. Watching my local Kingfishers over the year, I have even noticed a favoured perch it prefers to use for droppings !

When you gotta go ...

This is the month Kingfishers usually start to pair up and also start to sort out territories, hence the bigger chance of spotting a Kingfishers during February. If you plan on trying your luck at spotting a sighting of your local Kingfisher, I would recommend in getting the bird to come to you.

I started by getting tucked away on the bank of the stream and watching for the Kingfisher to fly past, after a while you will get to know where it stops off. Also look for collections of white, oily droppings, usually visible by a white patch on the side of the stream bank, this will be evidence of a regular stopping point for a Kingfisher.

This weekend ...

I have been down to my local stream over both days of this weekend in the hope I might see a female on my patch, even though today is Valentines day, love clearly isn't on the agenda so far.

I arrived at the stream at sunrise this morning, it's chilly, a bitterly cold wind is blowing across the exposed fields and it's biting. The Kingfisher is already here when I arrived, perched on a thin post of moss and is illuminated so beautifully by the winter sun.

The time of year to spot a Kingfisher.

I have noticed he is very vocal this morning, chirping his intermittent hi-pitched call from the highest perch and then flitting furiously from post to perch, disappearing quickly down stream and then quickly appearing back again within a few minutes. No female too be seen though.

He is spending lots of time fishing by the hide, it is great to see him perched up high on an old branch, peering right over when a target is spotted ready to launch himself off a bullet speed.

Target spotted ...

Fishing is good at the moment, the stream has settled down from the recent storms that seemed to be rolling in one after the other. The water level is back to normal and it has slowed a little in pace from the heavy rainfall during January. It would be nice to get a bright weekend, but that is wishful thinking of recent. I haven't bothered to set the diving camera up in the stream as the light is too poor.

Captured.

I would expect the next few weeks to start providing a little more action than what I am getting at the moment. Winter will be slowly moving into Spring soon and it is critical for our male to get paired up to ensure successful breeding. 

I have spoken to other photographers in the UK who has confirmed some of their local Kingfishers have already paired up and are already courting !

At the moment our male is just too laid back and is happy to be chilling out ... he needs to get his tail feathers in gear and get busy !

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