Tag Archives: Kingfisher

Riversearch December 2016: jeweled birds

The day was overcast, and the trees lining the river were bare, looking almost desolate. As soon as I got down to the river for my Riversearch survey on the final day of 2016, I felt convinced that I would see a kingfisher.

The river level was quite low, and relatively clear for a change. No signs of pollution. My winter surveys are always the most thorough. The impenetrable barricade of nettles and brambles had died back enough for me to get much closer to the river than normal.

As far as the survey goes, there was little to report (which is good, but not interesting). I was rewarded for tearing myself away from the fireside by a glimpse of a kingfisher, the most spectacular of British birds. But that wasn’t all. As I retraced my steps, back to the car, I spotted my first ever goldcrest. I was very excited about this, as I have long wanted to see one.

As though the kingfisher and goldcrest hadn’t provided enough colour to make up for the dullness of the day, a pair of bright green ring-necked parakeets also made a show.

It was as though nature was reminding me that although 2016 may have felt pretty bleak, there were bright spots in it. As I start 2017, uncertain what it will bring,  I will look out for beauty.

Kingfishers

When not looking for signs of beavers along the river Otter, I spent a large portion of my week in Devon looking for kingfishers. We saw kingfishers on every stroll we took along the river. Last year I didn’t manage any decent photos. This year, with the help of a tripod and some patience, I did a little better.

Kingfisher on the river Otter

The stretch of river Otter we stayed near is good kingfisher territory. There are lots of branches overhanging the river, providing handy perches for hunting from. And the bank is good for nesting – lots of suitable holes in the sheer rock. I would love to come back in spring, when the birds are busy feeding chicks.

Kingfisher nest holes in the bank of the River Otter
Kingfisher nest holes in the bank of the River Otter

Kingfisher divingKingfisher on branch Kingfisher Kingfisher flying

They’re still not brilliant images – I didn’t manage to get close enough for the shots I wanted.  And the low winter light meant I had to crank the ISOs up, which means the images are quite noisy (or soft, where I’ve used Photoshop to take out the noise). But I’m pleased to have made some progress.

My quest for the perfect kingfisher photo continues. That gives me another excuse for a holiday in Devon in spring!

Britain’s most elusive creatures

Several newspapers were today featuring articles based on a survey of 2000 people on what wildlife they had seen. The survey was carried out for a new David Attenborough series, called Natural Curiosities. I haven’t been able to find a full report of the survey results, so am having to go from the press coverage. The results are a mixture of surprising and expected.otter

The focus of a lot of the coverage has been the ‘top ten most seldom seen creatures’:

  • Nightjar, seen by only 4% of respondents
  • Pine marten – 5%
  • Golden eagle – 9%
  • Stoats and weasels – 16%
  • Otters – 17%
  • Cuckoo – 22%
  • Slow worm – 25%
  • Adder – 29%
  • Raven – 30%
  • Kingfisher – 34%

Some of these I’m not at all surprised by. The top three are all rare, restricted in range to only a small part of the country, and in the case of pine martens and nightjars, hard to spot.

Others are a bit more puzzling. Take stoats and weasels. (I find it quite endearing that they’ve chosen to count this as a kind of composite species, like in Wind in the Willows).  These are not rare in Britain, with several hundred thousand of each species, and they can be found all over mainland Britain. They are nocturnal, but certainly not unusual. My glimpses of them have so far been mustelid shapes darting across country lanes.

What’s also interesting is the species that aren’t in the top ten. I find it very hard to believe that more people (34% apparently) have seen dormice than slow worms or adders. The two reptile species are spread much more widely across the country than the hazel dormouse, which is now almost exclusively found in the south. Both reptiles can be (almost literally) stumbled across when walking in the countryside or pottering in the garden. Whereas dormice are nocturnal creatures who live in trees – unless you’re actively looking for them, you’re unlikely ever to see one, even if you live in a wood (unless your cat is good at jumping). I can’t help suspecting that maybe some of the people who reported having seen dormice had actually seen other rodents, and didn’t really know what a dormouse looked like.

I’m a bit surprised wildcat isn’t somewhere near the top, although perhaps they didn’t ask about that.

More generally, some of our more common species had been seen by relatively few people. Only 39% had seen badgers, for example. Perhaps we, as a nation, just don’t spend much time in places where we’re likely to see wild animals.

I’ve seen 6 of the 10 on the list. In terms of my British Animal Challenge, it confirms that pine martens and otters are going to be a challenge. Luckily I’ve seen the other animals that come in the top ten.

Kingfisher glimpses

I’ve just got back from a lovely week staying on the banks of the River Otter, in my homeland of Devon. While I’m secretly a little disappointed not to see any of the river’s namesake (not that I expected to), I’m delighted that I got some glimpses of that jewel among British birds, the kingfisher.

I’ve always found British kingfishers very elusive. While I’ve had good views of kingfishers in Africa and India, until a couple of years ago I’d never seen one in this country. Last week I was able to see a kingfisher several times. There’s something magical about seeing a flash of electric blue dart past. In my view they are the most beautiful birds this country is home to.

It’s been my ambition to get a good photo of a kingfisher for years. Sadly the kingfishers were not very cooperative, preferring to perch in trees that still had plenty of leaves to obscure them. I didn’t have the patience (nor the thermal layers) to wait in the near freezing temperatures for the perfect shot. But I would love to return in spring, when they will be busy fishing to feed their young, and the weather might be slightly kinder to a keen but warmth-loving photographer.

So, in the absence of a decent photo of a kingfisher by me, I can only suggest you have a look at these beautiful watercolour images of kingfishers by the wonderfully talented painter Jean Haines. Details of where you can see her work can be found on her website.