March 2016 - Part II - Warrens

Friday March 25th 2016

Good Friday ! ... more average than good.

It's a Bank Holiday and it's a glorious beautiful sunny day, perfect to spend the morning at the hide. 

It's been a little frustrating that the pair of Kingfishers have chosen a nesting site so far away from the hide. The problem being that it is now quite difficult to record the more important parts of the Kingfishers life, at this stage of the year, mating, which I would imagine is now underway.

The suspected nesting area is away up stream which meanders into another farm. I am fortunate enough to have very generous and kind land owners who allow me access to their land which is critical for recording a species over an extended period of time.

There are also very strict legal restrictions and regulations regarding Kingfishers nesting areas which must be adhered to ensure they are not disturbed. Kingfishers are easily disturbed, particularly when nesting, so they are rightly afforded the highest degree of legal protection under the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The Kingfisher is still using the hide to hunt from, the male predominately still preferring to come back to his own territory to fish from. As mentioned in a previous blog entry, it looks like the recently paired couple have combined their territory, which now covers a long stretch of the stream, possibly 1.5 miles.

The male comes in frequently, the female is not a regular visitor and seems to prefer to stay upstream in her part of the territory.

The male is continually fishing, coming into the hide, and getting straight down to hunting. Regular as clockwork, pulling two fish from the stream, the first always for himself, the second prepared for the female.

He then departs upstream where the female is. He always sits on the perch calling her to come into him to retrieve her reward, but she rarely shows. I believe she remains back in close proximity to the burrow, some distance upstream and out of ear shot of the male calling her.

The female does eventually show up and perches 10 metres down stream. The male feeding her a fish just behind the hide, unfortunately out of sight from the camera. She is very vocal, calling continuously, I am hoping there maybe a possibility of mating, but it wasn't to be. Both the male and female heading back up stream together after 15 minutes.

Easter Monday - March 28th

A quick up date later on into the Easter weekend, Easter Monday, storm Katie moved up from the South and wiped everything out at the stream again. The wind was storm force during the early morning hours and the rain heavy, causing the stream to almost burst it's banks again. 

The water level is high and is moving rapidly down stream at a rate of knots. My hide, which normally stands three feet or more above the water level is now only inches from the stream. The perches that the Kingfisher uses to hunt have all been washed away.

Knowing that there is a very good chance that the Kingfishers burrow up stream may be flooded, I take a walk upstream.

I spot the Kingfisher by the nest site, unable to identify if it is the male or female as I do not want to get any closer as it will disturb them. The burrow entrance is just inches above the water line, if the water has risen to it's highest point, it may be OK. I fear that there is still excessive run off from the saturated fields and water coming in from large overflow pipes further up stream as well.

I am glad that they do not have eggs yet as it is unlikely that they would survive.

Tuesday March 22 2016

A flying visit ....

I have an unexpected couple of hours free this afternoon, it's a cracking Spring day, so the temptation to have a brief visit to the hide is reeling me in. I get together my camera and head on out the door, I can be set up in the hide within 15 minutes of leaving home so it's ideal for a flying visit when time allows.

With the clocks going back over the weekend, the longer, lighter evenings make a very welcome return after a long winter, and will hopefully allow more frequent visits to monitor the birds.

Sometimes on brief visits to the hide there is always a chance that you will leave without having a visit. Today however I am in luck, within 5 minutes the male has flown straight upstream and onto a high perch. the sunlight is bright and the Kingfishers always look incredible when the stream is flooded with bright light.

The Kingfisher is animated, flitting from perch to perch, intently scouring the water below him for evidence of potential prey. The stream is quite clear which makes it easier for the Kingfisher to hunt.

The male has dived, I watch to the side of the camera and can see the Kingfisher return to the surface and breaking free of the stream. He returns to a low perch, his tail feathers cocked, his chest puffed out and with a nice silver minnow in his beak.

The fish is fighting for all it's worth, it's a good size and the minnow is strong, the Kingfisher waits for a a brief break in the struggle and seizes this opportunity to slam his prey against the base of the perch.

He raises himself up high, twisting his head 180 degrees to get the maximum velocity into the strike. The sequence is lightening quick as I hear the thud as fish slams into the perch.

The Kingfisher checks the fish is stunned before flipping it round into position, he is claiming this catch for himself.

I could see the eye of the fish taking his last view of the world as the Kingfisher prepares to consume his catch. 

The Kingfisher amazes me consuming a large catch, I can see him stretching his gullet as the fish slides down his throat. He stands up tall to allow room into his stomach and the fish is gone, the tail finally disappearing out of sight.

The male sits motionless for a few minutes, but is quickly stirred by the female calling from down stream. She appears from around the bend of the stream, perching on a small thin branch over hanging the water, just in sight from the hide. 

I am hoping that the female will come into the hide and possibly we will get another chance of photographing the male feeding the female. The male is alert again, the female is continually calling for attention from the male. 

He resumes hunting to appease the females calling.

He has caught another minnow, only just, he is hanging onto it by the tip of its tail.

I am hoping the female will now come onto a perch closer to the hide after watching her partner catch her a meal ... but she remains just in sight down stream, she refuses to move.

He prepares the fish head first and starts calling the female with a high pitched single call, she returns the call but is not moving. He gives into her calling and takes off to greet her on her perch, they exchange the fish and I watch as the male stands up all victorious as is custom after the exchange.

Both birds shrieking and calling loudly take off together down stream and out of sight ...

I do not see the female again during my brief visit, but the male returns frequently, another 3 visits over the next hour. My time is now finished and it has been good to spend an unexpected visit to the hide. The Kingfishers are strong and healthy, a good prospect for the on coming breeding season.

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