May 2016 - Warrens

Saturday 28th May 2016

A confusing picture ...

I am late to the stream this morning, it is almost 10.30 before I am set up in the hide and ready to go. I have missed the busy feeding period of the morning which normally happens in the first couple of hours of sunrise. 

I am hoping to find that the chicks have fledged over the past couple of days, by my reckoning they should of left the nest mid-week.

It is a slow start this morning, I have been here for an hour and I could hear the Kingfisher calling upstream, it had yet to come to the hide to hunt. My first visitor this morning was a Jay which had come to the stream to drink, taking advantage of the low perches used by the absent Kingfisher.

The male eventually shows up, appearing on a think branch over hanging the stream, it is out of character that he has taken so long to arrive. He instantly spots a potential target, his dagger like bill pin pointing the source of his interest, he wastes little time in diving.

He reappears on a low perch complete with his prey in his bill which he consumes himself. The Kingfisher then flies down stream, he clearly isn't catching prey for his young anymore. In fact he is flying in the opposite direction of the nest each time and the visits to the hide are certainly not of the frequency that they have been for the recent months.

But there is no sign of any young on the stream.

I decide to leave the hide and take a walk up stream to the nest to observe for a while, to see if the Kingfisher is returning to it at all. I watch at distance for an hour and there is nothing going on here at all, no sign of any young which I would expect to see hanging around for a few days yet.

The adult bird would normally drive the young out of the territory after four or so days after fledging, so they should still be here. I have a sinking feeling that they haven't made it and the male has been unable to maintain the demands of raising the chicks himself.

The male comes in a few times to hunt, always for himself and the visits are quick and brief. I watch as he flies off each time down stream, I can hear him calling frequently out of sight but he is no longer feeding young and is clearly doing his own thing now.

I am hoping that over the next day or so that that I will get a sight of the young, it would be a disaster for the male to get this far and to fail in the final days.

Saturday 21st May 2016

Battling on ..

I arrived at the stream at 8.00 AM to the high pitched alarm calls of a kingfisher, it was my regular male, he was clearly agitated. I spotted him circling high up before perching uncharacteristically on top of a tall larch tree, then I noticed a high speed low fly past of another kingfisher, followed by a second  ... it looks like there is a territory dispute going on.

The male stood his ground and chases the pair down stream, twisting and turning like a Top Gun fighter pilot. This could be an eventful day, I take this opportunity whilst the birds are squabbling down stream to quickly get set up in the hide.

Ten minutes passes and upstream comes a kingfisher, its a female. This is a new bird to our patch, not the normal female that has abandoned the nest from last week, I have not seen her since.

This could be part of the reason why the male is agitated as it is likely another pair has showed up uninvited into his territory.

The male then comes back up stream and perches opposite this female, and they exchange calls for a few moments before the male then decides to chase the female away.

To be honest, I think territorial disputes are the last thing the male needs right now with bringing up the chicks single handed. 

The male continues to work hard, coming and going, up and down the stream to ensure the chicks back at the nest are well looked after and fed.

I think the chicks will be ready to fledge within the next week so the demand for fish must be incredible back at the nest. The kingfisher making dive after dive, sometimes taking the fish straight from the water back up stream without stopping to stun his prey.

Not every dive is successful, but he wastes little time in returning to his perch for another attempt. The Kingfisher making a very uncharacteristic eight dives in a row before returning with a small stickleback that barely seemed worth the effort.

With a succession of fish taken back to the nest, the Kingfisher takes time out to preen and takes a well earned 45 minute rest.

I leave the hide once the male has finished his rest and has flown up stream out of sight.I am hoping to return in the week to hopefully find the chicks are out of the nest and have found their way down stream to the hide. 

Saturday 14th May 2016

A single parent family ...

The female has gone. She has abandoned the nest and has gone. I had a feeling last week that this may happen, she showed very little interest in feeding the chicks and was rarely returning to the nest with food for her young.

The visits to the hide from the female also became less and less frequent, and when she did turn up, she caught fish for herself and sat preening her feathers. 

This a bit of a blow really at such a critical time of the breeding season. So what now ? ... well, the news is that it remains positive for the time being. The male is stepping up and is working his socks off, he is now the sole supplier of food to the chicks, and of course to himself.

The chicks will be quite large now and will be demanding fish on a more regular basis. You can tell when the chicks are becoming bigger as the adult more often reverses backwards out of the burrow.

The chicks organise themselves into a row formation, lined up side by side like soldiers, beaks pointing towards the tunnel in anticipation of their next meal. 

The lone male is hunting at a remarkable frequency trying to keep up the demand put on him by  his young. He comes onto his perch, scours the water below him, leaning right over so the kingfisher hangs almost vertical from the perch.

Once he has spotted his target, you can see him prepare his body for a lightening quick strike. His crown flattens, his chest and stomach are pulled in and he becomes a totally different shape, completely stream-lined for hitting the water and for grabbing his unwary prey.

He has dived. This tiny, but powerful blue bolt now hurtles towards the water, wings tucked in, the kingfisher continually making last second calculations to ensure his dive is accurate. The beak slightly open in readiness to seize its prey.

In the average dive time of just 1.2 seconds it takes for the kingfisher to leave the perch, dive, and return to the perch, the male is back in the cameras viewfinder, another meal in his beak.

Although, not every dive goes to plan ...

On top of ensuring that the chicks are fed and looked after. The Kingfisher still has to protect and patrol his territory, as well as the very important time he needs to set aside for grooming himself. All of which he seems to manage between dives, occasionally waxing his plumage or taking off for a quick patrol up stream, before returning back to continue hunting.

I have watched the male for the last week at different times of the day. He is hunting at the very first light, and continues all day long, to the last available light left to him to spot potential prey. He is constantly moving, up and down the stream, fetching and carrying fish back to the nest. 

He is a very dedicated parent and clearly show no intention of not supporting his chicks.

If his chicks do make it to fledge, then he has done a remarkable job. The chicks this week will be at their most demanding, I hope he is able to sustain this vigorous and difficult routine over the coming days.

Saturday 7th May 2016.

And so it begins ...

This is my first update for a couple of weeks, apologies for the delay but I have had lots going on and haven't had the chance to update the blog.

Following on from the final blog entry in April, after I thought there may of been an issue with the female as I hadn't seen her for a few visits, I am pleased to report that she is fine.

This morning could be classified as a full on summers day, only that we are still in Spring, the weather is glorious. The sun is already beating down on the stream at 8.00 AM as I arrived at the hide. The banks of the stream, which only a couple of weeks ago, where brown and baron are now becoming green and lush. My hide on the side of the stream, once visible from a distance, is now hidden by the foliage and only visible now when you are on top of the stream bank.

The female is here first, the sun is still early in the sky and producing the golden colouration of a new dawn. The female looks amazing as she poses in front of the hide. She hunts for just a few minutes, taking just a single fish for herself before departing up stream.

The male arrives 15 minutes later, he has been clearly digging as his beak is covered in mud. I think he is excavating a new burrow as well as bringing up the chicks, he is keeping himself very busy.

He wastes no time in diving and takes a fish and then returns to a high perch. The male seems to be a the real grafter out of the two birds, he is working hard in providing the chicks with a regular supply of food.

I have been making several quick, frequent visits to the stream most evenings without a camera to keep updated on the Kingfishers.

As mentioned, the chicks are now hatched, I would say that they are now 8 days old. The kingfisher chicks will be pink, they will have no feathers and are born blind and totally reliant on the parents. They will be looked after by either adult for the first week to ten days and will be fed fish almost immediately.

As I believe my family of Kingfisher chicks are a little over a week, the chicks would be growing rapidly and would already be showing the characteristic blue colouring, but not of the vivid standard of the adults as the feathers will not break the skin for another 5 days or more.

The male seems the real grafter out of the two birds, continually coming into hunt, preparing the fish head first in his bill, and then dashing back to the nest to feed his young. The demand for fish back at the nest will rise each day from now on.

The chicks are fed in rotation, the chick at the front of the brood will get the first fish and will then  move to the back. They keep themselves in order, and chick taking more than its fair share of the food will be dealt with by the other chicks.

The male continues to work hard in the heat, coming and going up and down the stream. He is still digging somewhere, he still fishing all the time, and he is also patrolling his territory.

The female on the other hand, seems almost, dare I say ... a little lazy !

She comes in and leisurely takes a fish, consumes it for herself and then proceeds to just hang out on a branch for an hour at a time, preening herself and watching the world pass before her. 

During my 5 hours at the hide this morning, the male caught 22 fish, consumed four for himself and took the other 18 back to the nest. The female caught 6 fish and consumed 3 of those for herself.

The male is constantly here with his head down, his dagger like bill pointing at the water in anticipation of a dive.

The chicks eyes may possibly be already open as this happens just after a week old, between the 8th or 9th day. As the days go on, the adults will be expected to be bringing back over 100 fish per day at the peak of raising their young.

Not only do the chicks increase in size each day, but the noise levels from inside the nesting chamber increases too. Around day 11 or so, the chicks start making a continual churring noise that is very evident from outside the nest, can in fact be heard from 30 metres away. 

This churring noise is usually made by the next chick in line to be fed, possibly the chick also behind this will also be adding to the noise. Once fed, that chick ceases to make the noise and the next chick in line, then takes up the baton and continues to remind the adults it is hungry.

With the lighter evenings now here, fishing will be going on from dawn to dusk. I look forward to watching the fledglings visit the hide over the coming weeks and hopefully can expect another brood after this.

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