Lisa G Saw
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It’s quite a thrill to see a flash of bright blue dart through the air. No sooner than you realise you’ve just seen a kingfisher, it’s disappeared out of sight again. The thrill is even greater if you’re lucky enough to see one perched on a branch not too far away or maybe even to witness it speedily dive into the water and back out again. I’ve spent many an hour sitting quietly in a hide waiting for such an appearance and it’s often paid off, though not always! I’ve heard it said, the harder you have to work for something the greater the reward, and I think it’s so true when it comes to photographing wildlife and with kingfishers it’s no exception.
This year, for the first time, I got to observe the behaviour of a pair of nesting kingfishers from a hide in a nature reserve (for which a permit is required). The experience was wonderful! I learned so much. Once the chicks had hatched, both adults were seen coming and going from the nest frequently, bringing the new arrivals small fish. The adults usually would land on a perch close to the nest and check the coast was clear before disappearing into the hole in the sand bank to feed the young. One time I witnessed a pair of grey squirrels busily feeding in a tree above the nest. Unbeknown to them, both the adult kingfishers flew to their favoured perches just below the squirrels. Each had a fish in their bill ready to feed their young but, neither one entered the nest. They’d spotted the squirrels and remained silent and still for what seemed like an age, but was probably only about fifteen minutes. However, that’s a long time to hold a fish in your mouth and not eat it. Just think of the temptation! Imagine it was a slice of chocolate cake in your mouth that you couldn’t eat! Eventually, the squirrels moved off and they both flew in to deliver the fish to the needy chicks.
There was a very definite pattern to their behaviour on leaving the nest site too. They would fly towards the lake diving into the water to clean themselves (it’s not that clean inside the nest after several weeks!). There was a perch just above the water that they’d often sit on and dive a few times before finally preening their feathers and then fly off to hunt for more fish.
In May, I kept returning to this site in the hopes of seeing the new fledglings, though it wasn''t to be first time around. However, I did get to witness the adults mating and preparing another nest for their second brood. It was possible to work out the approximate fledging date as a result, so I didn't miss seeing the fledglings second time around. There were two of them and it was wonderful to see them at length and for one of them, seeing them being fed outside for the first time. It took about two minutes for the exchange of the fish from the adult male's bill to that of the youngester, despite their being perched close together. The positioning of the first has to be just right! On the second feeding it took only about a minute! Amazingly, this pair of adults actually went for a third brood of young and I briefly saw one of them at the end of summer, when the water level of the reservoir was much lower. It meant the sightings weren't so close but still a joy to watch.
Many people don't know that kingfishers are a protected species in the UK, something I only learned about myself recently! Just like Barn Owls, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is illegal to intentionally disturb the birds during the breeding season. That means you’re not allowed to photograph them in, on, at or near the nest or whilst it has dependent young, without the necessary licence from the relative licensing authority. It’s a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.
So, if you are lucky enough to see a kingfisher nest, or any nest for that matter, it’s worth remembering to keep your distance and don’t disturb the birds in such a way that makes them change their behaviour! That applies to everyone, whether you’re taking a photo with a phone, a camera or even just out for a walk!
Sadly, kingfishers are very short-lived and many young don’t even survive their first year. Some don’t even get to learn how to fish by the time the parent’s drive them out of their territory for the next brood. It is thought that only half of the fledglings will survive more than a week or two. It’s probably why they’ll have two, sometimes even three, broods in one year, to increase the chance that some chicks will survive to adulthood.
It was such a privilege to witness this pair of kingfishers bringing their young into the world. I just hope at least one or two make it to adulthood!
By all means just look at the photos, but it's also worth having a quick read of my blog about my recent adventures photographing these beautiful birds. For instance, did you know that kingfishers are protected in the UK?