By a mile, thee most stunning bird - the very beautiful Kingfisher. It’s a real privilege to catch one of these birds and to be
able to see all the colours up close – a typical view of a Kingfisher is
normally a flash of electric blue as it whizzes past like a torpedo, often gone
before you’ve even lifted your binoculars up! With the bright turquoise,
iridescent blue and orange colouring Kingfishers are unmistakeable for any
other bird, and a much sought after species to see for any nature lover.
Over the course of the last year staff and volunteers have
been working hard managing the woodland at Thornton Ellers, and where was once
a completely overgrown pool and thus allowing no light to the water’s surface,
now sits a much more open site which is proving to be attractive to a whole
range of wildlife. The overall biodiversity has been increased with birds,
plants, fish and invertebrates now thriving at a site which was once dominated
by alder and willow scrub. Since the work has been carried out each time we’ve
visited we’ve heard a Kingfisher calling, and after all the hard work managing
the site it’s a great feeling to know that wildlife like this species are benefiting.
To our surprise and delight soon after catching the first
bird, a second individual was heard calling, and shortly afterwards it soon
found its way into the net. It was great for us to see them both in the hand
together, to really see the differences between the male and female, and also
nice for us to know that we have a (presumed) pair frequenting the site.
Male - back left, female - front right
By looking at the bill on the bird pictured below we know that it is a male due to the all
dark colouring, for a female the lower part of the bill (mandible) would have a
reddish base, other than that the sexes are generally similar. The youngsters
can be separated from the adults by the colour of their feet (very dark)
compared with the vibrant orange/red of the adults, a white tip to the beak is
another feature of the young. Juveniles also lack the vibrant colours of their
parents, appearing much duller in their first year.
Kingfisher - male
As mentioned above, the female has a reddish base to the lower part of the bill (mandible), and is a slightly duller bird, particularly the one pictured here, with the turquoise blue not being quite as bright.
Kingfisher - female
Kingfishers live and breed on clear streams
and rivers, often nesting in a riverbank or under tree roots.
Unfortunately they can be affected severely by prolonged spring/summer
flooding which can wash their burrows out, then in the winter if the weather is
particularly cold causing long spells of frozen water they will struggle to
feed – resulting in them being pushed to the coast. Fortunately Kingfishers can
have two to three broods, and lay between 5-7 eggs, meaning that the population
can recover fairly quickly. They've had a hard time of it recently in
the LDV as over the last 10-15 years the valley has had
its fair share of summer flooding events – readers of the blog will have seen
the effects of the 2012 flooding when the valley flooded (or re-flooded) in
every month from April onwards. With the two recent very cold winters numbers will have further been reduced, so it's great to see them beginning to make
a comeback this year with more records in 2014 than we can remember for quite some time.
Kingfishers are not a bird we catch a lot of for ringing as usually
they are a species which require targeting, often by placing a net over a stream,
ditch or pond that is regularly used. They tend not to fly through areas
that we would usually set our nets for other birds, such as willow scrub for
warblers, although Mike has ringed a few in recent years from around the pool at Wheldrake. A total of 78 have been ringed in the
valley following these two, and several have been re-trapped in the
same area in following years. There is just one movement away from the valley – a
single ringed as a young bird near the Pocklington Canal near Allerthorpe in August 2005 was found dead at Fulford in the spring of 2007 – 18km away,
presumably a bird which had dispersed locally to find its own breeding
The best place to look for Kingfishers in the valley is along the Pocklington Canal, particularly around Melbourne, and also along the River Derwent north to Malton. Wheldrake Ings and North Duffield Carrs have also produced records this year. Two of our other NNR's - Forge Valley Woods and Duncombe Park are both prime locations for this species. However, good and prolonged views of a Kingfisher are often hard to come across, so plenty of patience is needed! If you’re lucky you may
come across one perched in riverside branches as it watches its prey before
making its move, piercing the surface of the water with its dagger like bill.