March 2017 - Warrens

Finally ... the stream has a diva.

February left us with a bit of a bang, as storm Doris whipped across the country with storm force winds that ripped my kingfisher hide from the ground, leaving it battered and torn in an adjacent field. 

I had visited the hide on the morning of the storm but the hide had already gone, in fact more or less everything had gone. The winds came whistling across the exposed and open farmland with such ferocity that some younger tress had been uprooted, and the ground were littered with more mature branches.

Thankfully the following day, Doris had departed across into Europe and calmness returned to the stream. I could now go back and replace the hide and spend sometime in repairing the damage.

It's the first day of March, and I have two hours free to spend some time on the stream. I sit quietly in my re-erected hide, storm battered and with additional holes ... but it still keeps me hidden out of sight.

In comes the male. 

He perches directly in front of me, his streak of dazzling electric blue plumage shining like sapphires in the cloudy overcast light. The wind still blows, parting his feathers on the back of his head, he is struggling to maintain his balance on the small perch he has chosen to fish from.

He hears the camera shutter from the hide behind him and takes a quick glance round over his shoulder. The male is use to this noise and after a quick acknowledgement, he ignores me. Within a few seconds he has dived, and his perch is empty.

By the time I realise the male has dived he is already hauling his body from the water and is returning to his perch with not just one fish, but with with two in his beak. I watch as he works out how to deal with this double conundrum, in the end he decides it's easier to discard one and to concentrate on just a single meal.

The Kingfisher is truly an excellent fisher par excellence. This experienced male success rate is very high, I would estimate that 8 out of 10 dives he is accurate. The dive, which is from approximately two metres above the water I have timed to be just 1.6 seconds. This is from the point of leaving the perch, to diving, and returning to the same perch with a fish. 

The male then becomes animated, usually a sign a predator has been spotted ... but to my delight another Kingfisher flies onto a perch at the hide. It's a female. And she looks amazing. It's been 8 months or so since I have seen a female on our patch of the stream, so this is an exciting time. Potentially we have a pair.

At the start of the breeding season, the male will often be uncomfortable in the presence of a female and will act aggressively towards her. Over the weeks, things settle down and with a little luck courtship will begin.

But for now, the female is more interested in fishing than romance. She sits opposite the male, all the time the male is whistling and standing tall and upright in a stance of aggressiveness, but the female pays little attention.

I take a few tentative pictures with the camera and the female is nervous, she looks directly at the hide with deep suspicion. The concentration is removed from the water below her and she concentrates on the camera lens from the hide. I stop, wait a few motionless seconds for her to relax and then she stares down to the water again in search of prey.

The female changes her perch and leans over to pinpoint her next meal, her spear like bill looking as sharp and as menacing as ever. The beautiful bright orange underside of her bill making a pleasant change from the usual all black bill of the male.

She dives from her perch is the same rapid fashion as the male.

I watch as she returns to her perch, her bill is empty, her target missed. She shakes the water from her feathers and resumes concentration back onto the gentle flowing water beneath her.

Although Kingfishers by name, they are sometimes more adventurous in their diet habit, sometimes taking frogs, insects, spiders and dragon flies. In Europe, Kingfishers in the Algarve have been seen taking reptiles, and during winter here, even taking suet from a garden bird table.

Our new female, is not to be deterred from her last failure to catch a fish and I hear the familiar thud of the kingfisher diving into the water again.

Success ! The female returns to her perch displaying proudly a stickleback, the spines along the back of the fish clearly ready to do battle with the kingfisher ... but it will be no match and will prove to be of little defence.

The kingfisher slams the fish into the base of the perch with such ferocity that the fish is stunned, or possibly killed with just a few strikes. The fish is consumed head first within seconds.

So March has kicked off with much positivity, we have a pair of Kingfisher on my patch of the stream for the first time in quite a while. With Spring quickly approaching the focus will now turn to nest building over the coming weeks.

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