Saturday, 14 January 2012

King Of The River

The iconic vibrant blue blur of a Kingfisher racing down a British river is a sight that captures the hearts of all generations. Often heard before seen, these birds are surprisingly stealthy for such brightly coloured individuals. Their iridescent glow in the sunlight creates an almost mythical presence that makes a sighting that little bit more special.

2011 appears to have been a good year for kingfishers on the Stour in Suffolk and on the Caldew in Cumbria as their numbers are abundant and spotting them seems to have become easier.

Kingfishers have regular perches, so once you have spotted one it is likely it will return to that perch in a matter of time. One particular kingfisher in Sudbury spends a lot of its time in one place, mainly due to the slow moving waters and small fry that shelter there from other predators. This creates the perfect dining experience for this particular kingfisher and it is magical to observe.

Occasionally an underwater predator appears, scattering the fry in all directions as they leap out of the water. This doesn’t usually go unnoticed by the kingfisher which is never too far behind. However, try as it might to stick to its successful fishing spot, this particular kingfisher is constantly picked on by a couple of avian thugs. On several occasions black headed gulls have swooped towards this perch, scaring the kingfisher into the nearest tree amidst a chorus of interaction between the two birds. The kingfisher clearly voices its distaste at the gull disrupting his meal time. Unfortunately the thuggish gull suffered from extreme bouts of vanity and sat on the perch looking down at its reflection for around 30 minutes. The kingfisher remained in the tree all the time and although it doesn’t have the capacity for obvious facial expressions, it looked pretty fed up.

Kingfishers are fiercely territorial and have been known to fight to the death, but these territories are extremely important for breeding.  When February comes the pairing of kingfishers will begin; nests will be built in sandy riverbanks for what could be the first of several broods this year. Towards the end of December the kingfishers along the river Caldew in Cumbria had got well into the swing of fighting for territory (which begins as early as September). The river bank is no safe place to be when two female kingfishers come hurtling towards you, each missing by a meter either side of you. Stricken with fear that there would be a kingfisher shaped hole somewhere on your body, it is not easy to try and take a photograph (yes that actually happened). Still, that experience is far more exhilarating than any old rollercoaster or action movie; it can’t be recreated. Breathtaking.

The video below is the first ever video of the chap from the River Stour. It is possible to tell this is a male kingfisher because his beak is entirely black. In contrast to this the lower mandible of the female kingfisher is red-orange in colour.

On a personal note I have grown up living near rivers and going on a few canal boat holidays. This bird is a very special bird to me as I have been watching them and looking out for them since I was very young. Seeing their current success is absolutely brilliant and long may it continue. It has been a pleasure being in the vicinity of the kingfisher in Sudbury; getting to know his personality and watching him hunting, totally unperturbed by my presence. Of course I would never try and get too close (not even to get “that shot”, it’s just not worth it) but I am honoured he lets me as close as he does. For me, nothing beats just sitting and watching him.

As this is my first post of 2012... Happy new year everyone!
Thank you for reading.