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December: Kingfisher

December 5, 2017

Thankfully the sight of a Kingfisher is not a rare event along this stretch of the Bure. But, even by our normal standards this year has been a particularly rich one. The Mill pair successfully raised a large brood and, during our Summer morning walks, we followed their fishing and feeding flights as they worked to raise them. On one notable morning and somewhat unusually, I even stumbled across two of them perched on the ground on the edge of the mill pool.
But, as I write, in early December, the position is somewhat different. Numbers have thinned out. The young had dispersed in the Summer and the fewer permanent residents have re-secured their territories. Most of the trees have lost their leaves and the light has taken on that washed-out Winter quality. As a result the electric blues and greens of the Kingfisher stand out almost shockingly, or they did on Saturday as we watched a single bird work the ditch. This bird was either oblivious of us or was happy to go about his fishing whilst we watched. I realized that I was holding my breath as I watched – the bird’s head turned towards the surface of the water, gently moving left and right before it sprang downwards out of sight before returning to the same perch. Time and again. Gradually working its way along the drain, the colours glowing in the weak morning sunlight.
 

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We like to think that we make the most of our Kingfisher spotting opportunities. The technique is straightforward – attune yourselves to the high pitched call and grab the fleeting sighting when it presents itself. Usually only a glimpse as the bird whirs low over the water to a less visible perch always from the viewer.  This morning’s glimpse started in the same way – a glow of of a moving point in sunlit emerald as the Kingfisher fled upstream.

But then the same bird turned back towards us. This hardly ever happens. Perching on the Oxnead weir for a short while, he/she set offf on an aerial circuit around us as treetop height. Returning twice more before perching, again well within sight, on an overhanging branch. As we walked on the calls kept coming and the activity was constant. Spring had sprung in the Kingfisher’s world and we counted ourselves lucky to have chanced upon it.

It is the Autumnal silence which hits you on an early morning walk from Brampton to Oxnead. Silence punctuated only by occasional sharp bursts of song – a Robin, the screech of a Jay and the repetitive fluting of a Nuthatch in the Keeper’s Wood. Then there were Kingfishers – a pair chasing and calling upstream to the mill pool, another single bird calling from a perch above the sluice. It has been a good year for Kingfisher numbers so far, with numbers increased from a successful breeding season.

There are newly fledged birds throughout the parish. Young Swallows hawk in family groups over the ripening barley alongside the railway line. They occasionally perch precariously on a wire fence whilst their parents fly around in escort duty. This must be their first foray – their short tails give away their relative youth and their approach has an air of easily distracted youth about it.
Down at Oxnead Mill the Kingfishers call constantly as their progeny explore the immediate territory for the first time. They are still being fed and the parents run a shuttle service up and down stream calling as they approach with newly caught fish. 
As I approach the Town Field a young Buzzard rises from its perch in a scrubby oak. A few falls of its wings before it gathers the rising air and sails higher in a spiralling vortex. I watch it scanning the ground as it circles higher.  

Gulls rise from their overnight roost on Oxnead’s banks. It is the first Saturday of 2015. What remains of the Paston’s palatial mansion – one grand wing, a small church, a cottage and a scattering of more recent architectural follies – are set amongst gardens and lawns that slope down to the river Bure. Beyond the boundaries of the Hall gardens, the meadows and woods present a more agrarian aspect, a farmed landscape rather than one of studied grandeur.

The river water has cleared and refined down after recent rain. Along the meadow banks the water has dropped a foot or two. A hidden Kingfisher calls from the feeder drain. As we walk the gulls billow and soar briefly before re-settling. At the mill sluice gates the water no longer bursts through with its earlier insistent force. The shelves and hollows of the river bed are once again visible in the mill pool around the storm debris of a weed-draped Alder branch.

This morning, as a gust from a cold easterly wind made us shudder into our coats, a high pitched exchange of notes rode the breeze upstream. The Mermaid was flowing over a riverbed which was seemingly devoid of life. But as we approached the calls became more frenetic and a pair of Kingfishers fled downstream before us. They continued their conversation, perched for a while on a suitable fence before whirring low and straight towards the Bure. Their colours almost shocking in comparison to the browns and greys of the meadows in March

Kingfisher morning

December 11, 2011

The sighting of a Kingfisher lit up an otherwise dull December morning. At first it just appeared as a shape, albeit a familiar shape, perched on a pliant reed. As we approached it flew a few yards further away. As it did so the bird’s colours colours were lit; the diamond on its back being especially brilliant. This morning’s colour being more of a cerulean blue – some lights this takes on a more of a copper green, but not today. As we left it fishing the high pitched contact call continued to announce its presence to those who tune in.