Shugborough’s Kingfishers

This is a 15 minute film that I have made using the footage that I gathered during the 2012 breeding season. It follows the adults from pair bonding through to the end of a dramatic and incident packed breeding season. The film is in HD and can be viewed full screen if required.

Return of the King

After the dramatic events of last year, this year has already proven challenging for the Trent Kingfishers. Over the winter the river has flooded repeatedly, causing more erosion of the banks than I’ve seen in the ten years I’ve been visiting the river. As a result of this the kingfisher bank has lost at least a metre from its face, removing all trace of previous kingfisher burrows.

On March 14th I first saw a pair of kingfishers checking out the bank, however that night it rained heavily, the river flooded and a week later the snow arrived, after which there was no further sign of the kingfishers at the bank.

Although I saw kingfishers as I walked the river, they were alone, appearing to have reverted back to their individual territories throughout the period of snow and sub zero temperatures. Finally the weather improved and the milder sunny weather on the 6th April seems to have been what the Kingfishers were waiting for, as on my return to the bank on Sunday morning I could see the start of a new burrow and a pair of birds sitting on a branch opposite the bank.

Later in the day I carefully positioned myself opposite the bank and watched the kingfishers digging into the bank.

I’m afraid to report that there are still mink present along this stretch of the river and despite my efforts to keep this stretch clear by trapping, the mink are ignoring the traps.

I really don’t know how things will go this year, despite the mink and the floods, the kingfishers still managed to fledge their first brood last year, and hopefully, this years breeding season will be less eventful.

Nest site abandoned

After struggling with a succession of set backs while attempting to get started with their second brood, the kingfisher pair that I’ve spent so many hours observing in and around this nest site have finally called it a day at this location.

The heavy flooding in the middle of July caused the River Trent to rise to it’s highest point this year and the entire nest bank occupied by the kingfishers was inundated. The adults had just begun clearing one of the old nest burrows after the mink predation, when the floods arrived, so at least they did not suffer the loss of a clutch of eggs or young.

I’ve been checking the river for the last two weeks, but so far the kingfishers are proving to be elusive and I’ve no idea where they are at the moment, although I’m assuming that they will have attempted to start another nest somewhere within their territory. The task of tracking them down is complicated by the fact that there are several private fishing pools close to the river, to which I have no access, and with the river levels having remained high for more than a week after the peak of the flooding, I think there’s a good chance that they may be at one of these sites, where they would be immune to the effects of the unpredictable flood water.

I’ll continue to keep an eye open to see if I can figure out where they are. I figure that if they have excavated a new burrow, they might just about be at the point where egg laying has been completed and incubation will be getting underway.

 

Meet the martins…

I captured some fascinating footage on Monday when I went to check the flood water levels. All in all it was a great session, the water levels had dropped again, I had a brief glimpse of an otter and then I noticed that we had some new potential residents on the bank.

A pair of Sand Martin’s are in and out of the burrow on the right hand side of the bank. This is where they nested last year, so it looks like they favour the location. From what I could tell last year, the kingfishers pretty much ignored the sand martins, but I’m not so sure that this years female is as tolerant. In the clip you can see her hovering along the bank face, obviously agitated, and then, in a move that surprised me, she perches at the sand martin burrow entrance and goes all the way inside. I assume having only just arrived, there are no eggs yet and there were no martins inside at the time, but this seems quite bold behaviour from our female. It’ll be interesting to see if the martins stay put, or are evicted by the kingfishers.

The flood

I foolishly suggested that the kingfisher nest was high enough up in the river bank to be safe from flooding a couple of weeks ago. Well, words definitely do come back to haunt you don’t they? After variable showers throughout April, I’d been happy to see that the water level in the river was maintaining a reasonable flow, higher than it has been but still several feet below the kingfisher burrow.

On the 22nd of April however it began to rain harder. It cleared somewhat on the 24th and then on the 25th it pelted down, but more to the point it also pelted down in the areas where the headwaters of both river systems that converge upstream of the kingfisher nest are located. The result has been a rapid rise in the water level, which I first noticed while driving home on the 26th. The meadows I drive past alongside the river having turned into a lake and the water levels close to the top of the arches on the bridges.

When I got home, I changed quickly and headed to the river (fortunately in wellington boots), and found the bank inundated. Thankfully, on the far side of the river where the kingfisher nest is, the burrow was still above the water line. The next question I had was; have I arrived at high water, or has it been higher and receded? The only thing for it was to wait and see if the kingfishers were still taking food into the nest. After a tense wait of 15 minutes, during which a kingfisher flies past the burrow but doesn’t stop, both birds suddenly arrive in a flurry opposite the nest. I can see the female has a fish, and a few seconds later she flies across the river and enters the burrow. The male enters shortly afterwards and then exits and heads upstream, the female stays inside the burrow for the rest of the time I’m there (about another 20 minutes).

So, it was with some relief that I left the nest site today, but this is very much tempered by the weather forecasts for the next few days. Tomorrow rain is forecast again all day and then, after a break on Saturday there’s more to come on Sunday and into next week. If the flood abates and the rain isn’t too concentrated, then hopefully the levels will drop or at least not increase. If it gets any worse, the kingfishers are in big trouble.

The Kingfishers are back

Kingfisher

On February 18th I spent some time observing the area of river bank that I’ve followed nesting Kingfishers at over the last few years. After just afew minutes, once I’d settled into some cover a male Kingfisher turned up and started inspecting the bank. he flew into each of last years abandoned nest holes several times and used the same log perch that appears to be firmly stuck in the river bed about a metre out from the bank.

Today, March 3rd I’ve revisited the river and I’m happy to report that there is now a pair present and a new nest hole has been excavated in the bank. It’s early days, but the signs are good.

After last year, when 2 nest burrows failed due to predation and the disappearance of the female midway through the second brood, I’m looking forward to the next few months with a bit of trepidation. I get quite attached to these colourful little birds and when you see the amount of work they put into raising a brood of chicks you can’t help but be affected when something terrible happens to them. Anyway enough doom and gloom. Today I’m just pleased to see them again.