One of the babies.
I returned to the nest site today but I wasn't able to see any birds around the nest burrow. They are obviously very mobile and there is no specific reason for them to be around the burrow now. I did hear the male at one point, it was very close to me but unfortunately it coincided with the arrival of two kayakers who disturbed it and off it went, calling as it flew down river. The picture is from the day they left the nest, 48 hours ago now.
Another view of a baby.
I returned later in the morning to hopefully catch sight of the newly fledged babies. They left the burrow just after dawn this morning and for the next few days they are going to be reliant on their parents to feed them. In just a few days, once they have gained the necessary skills, in fact even before they have honed these skills with certainty, they will be driven out of the nest territory to fend for themselves. It seems quite extraordinary that adult Kingfishers expend so much of their energy, in fact half of their short lives is taken up rearing youngsters only to drive them from the territory very early in the youngsters lives. Mortality in newly fledged Kingfishers is high. Unfortunately there was no sign or sound of either the adults or babies which makes me realise how lucky I had been to see them this morning. The adults appear to be well away from the nest and I assume the babies are with them.
The babies fledge.
Meet one of the baby Kingfishers! I went to the nest site at 7 this morning in the hope that, at last the babies would have left the nest. I made my way to the hide and immediately I saw two Kingfishers...... there are babies at last! They flew just to the right and I could see one perched right out in the open, low on a willow branch. I was elated, its been quite a journey. I took a few photos and sat watching him, yes it was a male. He was gorgeous, completely fully feathered and he looked very strong. Suddenly another joined this one, and then just behind some branches, there was a third. So it looks like there is three, the first mystery solved and I am pleased because that is what I had predicted over the last few days. I sat quietly watching them, they were nervy and constantly changing their positions on the perch, one second facing me, the next, looking the other way. They bobbed up and down constantly. Suddenly, the male arrived to feed them, I could clearly see that he had a fish and there was excited calling from him and a kind of chirping from the babies. Unfortunately he didn't feed them on this perch but flew further up stream and the three babies followed him and disappeared out of sight. I had waited and waited for weeks to try and get a photo of this and I came very close! After an hour they still hadn't returned to the original perch and I rushed home to have a look at the pictures, planning to return later in the morning for another chance to see the male feeding them while they are still dependant on him. So there it is, after a long wait just like an expectant father, the babies have eventually arrived and three more babies are out there for us all to enjoy whenever anyone is lucky enough to grab a glimpse of them.
Still to fledge.
Yet another picture of one of the adult Kingfishers coming to the nest this morning. I am now more than amazed that they still haven't fledged the nest. I had expected them to have left 6 days ago and I am really surprised that my observations and then predictions earlier on were so off the mark. There is a possibility that they have fledged during the day today while I have been away but, it's a mystery and I fully expect fledging to take place tomorrow. Fingers crossed because my patience is now being stretched having visited the nest site every morning for the last 2 weeks...... I could do with a rest!!!
More of the same
It was more of the same at the nest this morning but it is worth recording a pattern that has started to emerge. At first when I arrived, it was 40 minutes before I even heard a Kingfisher let alone saw one. The usual fears started to go through my mind as I waited, had they been disturbed so much yesterday that they had deserted the youngsters or had they fledged the nest and departed the area? Both of those scenarios were dismissed when I heard a bird at last. As is usual, after hearing the bird and then noting the silence it was less than a minute before, there it was disappearing in to the burrow..... always a relief to see...... Then, during the next few minutes their were two further visits before it went quiet again and after another half an hour there had been no sign. So, heres my theory. The birds have settled in to a pattern of feeding each youngster, one at a time and then resting for the next 50 minutes or so before reapeating the pattern again. Could this indicate just 3 chicks in the nest, it certainly points to that. But what is now becoming obvious,incubation commenced later than I thought. Also, I have read that chcks can spend an extended period in the nest depending on the amount of prey that they recieve from the parents so it could be that the disturbance which takes place with alarming regularity is having an effect on the progress of the youngsters. More likely though, and having studied my diaries from earlier on, it seems that incubation probably started 5 days later than I guessed which would mean that the chicks are due to fledge either today or tomorrow. I hope so!
More in flight bathing.
This morning the Kingfishers were still coming to feed their youngsters and still they are yet to fledge. I am starting to be really surprised that it's taking so long. My calculations indicate that they were due last Tuesday but 5 days later they still haven't, perhaps tomorrow now? It was again beautiful to watch the adults this morning, but again a bit worrying, the disturbance is just constant. When people started to arrive they were obviously disturbed and I watched the male fly to the nest with a fish and then turn away because fishermen were literally standing above the nest. Eventually, once the fishermen had moved on I am sure that they would come again to feed their young. You just have to hope that the youngsters can survive these extended periods when they are not fed. They seem to get around this and its obviously worked for them up till now. I watched the male bring a reasonably large fish to the burrow and as usual when they have large prey it stopped in front of the nest before taking it in to the burrow. I have a theory as to why they do this. An adult Kingfisher weighs on average around an ounce and half, thats about 40 grams. If they dive and successfully catch a large prey item that could easily weigh half the weight of the bird. My theory is that that an adult bird must find it strenuous to carry, fly with and then manoeuvre something that is so comparatively heavy and it must be difficult to fly in to the nest with accuracy when carrying a fish half it's weight. I am sure that this is the reason but it doesn't answer the question as to how a young Kingfisher is able to swallow an item of prey that could be more than half it's weight.
There was lots to see at the nest site this morning. At first when I arrived just after 6.30 there wasn't a lot to going on until 6.45 when the first bird arrived with prey for the youngsters. They haven't fledged yet but I think it is very near. I am basing this on the state of the nest burrow which is now quite messy around the entrance with the remains of guano starting to be noticeable. Imagine healthy youngsters in the nest all excreting copious amounts of very wet droppings as well as the remains of the odd piece of rotting fish and, who knows there may even be the decomposing remains of a dead fledgling? After exiting the nest, the parents almost invariably dunk in to the river a couple of times without breaking flight. This is to wash their plumage which would obviously, very quickly get clogged and matted. Kingfishers are normally very fastidious about their plumage anyway and even out of the breeding season, spend a lot of their time preening. Once the bird has reached the safety of the trees opposite the nest, they dunk in and out of the water a few times again to make sure their plumage is clean. Then from there they seem to fly up stream to a favourite fishing spot. I decided to try and catch this "dunking" splash today and am thrilled with the results.
I have been trying to "guesstimate" the number of youngsters in the nest and I am plumping for 4. Here's how I arrived at this guess. I have read that baby Kingfishers need to eat 12 to 15 fish each day. So taking 16 hours of daylight, that is 960 minutes of daylight each day. If there was just one youngster in the nest and we knew that it required 15 fish each day that would equate to a fish (on average) being brought every 64 minutes throughout the day. This morning though, again taking an average, a fish was delivered every 16 minutes. So if I work this in reverse, I divided this 16 minutes in to 960, meaning that 57 fish would be delivered in a day. To have a guess at how many youngsters there are I have just divided this 57 fish by the number of fish required for one baby, and we already know that this s 15....... and the answer is 3.84. You can't have 8.84 birds........ so rounded up lets call that 4, and thats how I have arrived at my guess of 4.
An even more amazing statistic is this. Based on these figures, in the 25 days that the chicks are in the nest , 1425 fish are delivered by the parents. Imagine that! Plus also, the 600 fish that the parents need to feed themselves, 300 each. That's a total of 2025 fish required for one clutch of young Kingfishers. This says a massive amount about the kind of habitat Kingfishers require.
A dawn visit.
I visited the nest site at 6.15 this morning and it was beautiful. The sun was already climbing in to a cloudless sky and it was bright, very peaceful and calm. Apart from just a couple of dog swimmers at first, then it was as quiet as it could be. I went early because there was a high spring tide at around 8 40 which would have made it impossible to sit in the hide during the morning, I needed to be there nice and early. I have also decided to keep away from the nest site during the most popular times of day to try and avoid any conflict which is just not helping. The Kingfishers have obviously got a strategy to cope and even if there is some disturbance that will compromise the nest it is virtually impossible to stop it.
I would have expected the Kingfishers to bring food constantly but it didn't work out that way. It was almost half an hour before any visit to the nest by the birds and then, really surprisingly, it was almost an hour before another. After that though, several fish were brought even though the spring tide was rushing in and the water level by now was very high. I have commented previously that it is interesting to see how the birds fly straight in to the burrow, obviously knowing exactly where it is but then today, I was fascinated to see something quite different. The water level was high as I have said and the male came to the burrow with a fish but instead of flying in he was confused and tried to fly in to the wrong hole. He suddenly realised his mistake but couldn't find his nest, he left and flew over to my side of the river returning with the fish to the correct burrow a short while later. It seems that visual references are used to fly accurately to the burrow but on the few occasions that the water level is high the "scene" must have looked totally different which is obviously confusing. Eventually the water level had risen high enough to inundate the hide so before 9 I was back home for breakfast. During the session the light was just about as good as it could be and I took a few nice photos.
Yet to fledge the nest.
Kingfisher flying to the nest July 9th 2013
This is the day that I had predicted fledging but as far as I know, they haven't. The disturbance is minimal today and most people have not lingered long apart from one pair who were interested in the lamprey that do seem very plentiful today and who could resist watching the spectacle of these large writhing beasts in very shallow water. The problem was that they had 3 dogs between them and these dogs were and are, because I have seen them before, vey active. I suspect that the nest burrow is very smelly as both yesterday and today these dogs tried to sniff at the nest entrance. They were right on top of the nest for an age and II finished up in a right row with these two older men, one even threatening me. I pleaded with them to leave but they just kept turning the argument in to how rude I was and how much they hated people like me. I think what they really hated was being asked to do something that they didn't want to do, I am like that so I can fully understand. I just said I was sorry to appear rude and could they just leave to which they said that if they wanted to stand there for as long as they liked then they would. It was no use telling them of the law because when I did that was just winding them up and making it worse. We even had the usually stock answer of I have been coming here for 30 years. An obvious reference to my non West Country accent! Eventually by walking as they berated me I was able to get them away without them realising. A Kingfisher even delivered a fish at this point! Amazing really. But as far as arguing with two Bolshy Last of The Summer Wine characters, well I could do without it. According to the more aggressive one of the pair, I am a menace for trying to stop them disturbing the nest, which of course, at the end of the day, is a criminal offence. Am I wrong to care about these Kingfishers, I don't think so but I am probably better off just watching and hoping rather than actually getting involved with people you can never win and even if the police were called, it would be 20 minutes before they turned up and by then the damage has been done or they have moved on any way.
I am at the hide again now and as I write it is very quiet, fortunately. It's also very very warm, as warm here today as South Florida, some of the warmest UK conditions that I can remember. I have seen the Kingfishers bringing to the nest so that is good but their visits are far less frequent than you would imagine. I would suspect that disturbance has caused some damage but this is a public area and people do have the right to be here. They obviously don't have the right to disturb the nest but then if they don't know its there then so be it. I will think twice about getting a license for this nest next year because frankly it is intensely stressful. I am constantly hoping that people will leave quickly and not splash about too much. But when I am not here people still come and go so I have to accept it as a fact of life.
I know I have alienated some people by asking them to leave the nest area even though the very few people I have asked to move seemed to be very accommodating and nice. To be honest, I am quite deflated.
I do think that youngsters are still alive in the nest though, in fact I am certain and I do think that one or two will fledge, so all in all, considering where they are breeding, that is a good result. As if to cheer me up, a Kingfisher has just delivered a fish after first perching in front of me and then flying to the nest and with other people now arriving to bathe their dogs I move away.
Right at the end of my session a very nice young couple had put a blanket down and were picnicking just above the nest. I really didn't want to get involved but then I thought that I must. I walked all the way around again and as kindly as I could, I told them of the nest and the potential for disaster. As if to help me, I heard a bird and as we all watched sat there on the grass, in it came and disappeared from view in the nest beneath us. Then when it emerged it flew off dunking itself in the water to bathe several times in mid flight. They were thrilled to see this. They packed up quietly and left to sit somewhere else well away. There, that was better.
Fish brought to the nest
I have been keeping a diary right back from when I first started to watch the breeding Kingfishers. It was hard for me to say with absolute accuracy when incubation began, therefore it was impossible to say exactly when they hatched and now of course, it's impossible to say when they are going to leave the nest. Making some assumptions as I have watched, I put on the calendar that they would fledge the nest tomorrow, but that is far from certain. Chicks apparently can stay longer in the nest depending on the amount of food they receive, it could be another week even? There certainly is a never ending supply of fish but it perhaps hasn't been delivered with normal regularity because of interference and disturbance mostly by dog walkers who will insist on encouraging their charges in to the water which causes such a massive amount of disturbance and stress to the adults. Take this morning as yet another example. An old dog was in midstream in front of the nest, between me and the nest in fact. It was trying to catch the mullet in the way that Alaskan Bears catch running salmon. The owner was just sitting nearby dangling her feet in to the water. After 10 minutes of this I asked her to leave and told her why but she just couldn't get the old, decrepit and probably deaf dog to obey her and just couldn't climb out of the water. Consequently, 20 minutes later it was still there, and all this right in front of the nest. But you know what? A fish was delivered to the youngsters during this time and when the dog was just up stream and not right in front.
Eventually the dog was retrieved and quietness took over. But it was well over an hour between adults visiting the nest. Then I saw something that made my heart sink. One of the adults eventually came to the nest with prey and went inside. All was well and good I thought but then I saw that when it came back out of the burrow it was still carrying the fish. Did this mean that the chicks had been left too long between feeds and they were too week to beg? I was then desperate to watch for more deliveries to check if fish were delivered. It was another 20 tense minutes before another adult came with a fish and then this time the fish was delivered and I was very relieved. I watched another few visits all about 10 to 20 minutes apart and was pleased to see that the prey was left each time. When I left it was about the quietest it had been for quite a while in spite of the very warm and sunny weather.
An amazing amount of disturbance!
I came away from the nest site at 9.15 this morning feeling immensely frustrated and stressed. The disturbance was just so intense, I just didn't know what to do for the best. I got there at 7.30, the spring tide was just receding but the water is high during the spring tide period and it is due to peak and be even higher tomorrow. I am quite confident that it won't rise high enough to inundate the nest but I was hoping that the nestlings would have fledged by now but they haven't. What did intrigue me was the lack of visits to the nest this morning and in fact during the first hour only one fish was delivered. I did start to get worried but I have done that before, worry that is, and then realised that everything was fine. Having given the situation a great deal of thought there are two factors that could have influenced the lack of visits to the nest during this time. Firstly the high tide was at 6.30 and the level was still high, even at 7.45. This meant that fish were probably difficult to catch in the deeper and more muddy water. In addition, by 7.30, 2 hours 20 minutes after dawn the parents had obviously fed the youngsters as they would do at first light. This is a long process and if there are up to 5 or 6 nestlings ( as is normal), if every youngster was fed just 2 fish this is 10 or 12 visits to the nest which could take potentially 2 hours to achieve. Then the parents of course would need to feed themselves. They were obviously resting up somewhere.
By the time I came away, the birds had started to visit the nest burrow regularly again but the intensity of disturbance now was dramatic. The picture above shows the male who perched on the willow branch by the nest with, as you can see, a large minnow. There were several dogs with their owners very near. The dogs were in the water and the owners were throwing stones to encourage them in to the water. Other dogs and owners were arriving, yet the Kingfisher remained on the perch with his fish. Then one of the dogs actually tried to catch the bird running towards it playfully but with that, of course the bird flew off rapidly. As if that wasn't enough, two more dogs were now in the mid-stream running and splashing through the stream with their owners encouraging them. I seethed with frustration and with fear for the birds. Enough was enough, I emerged from the hide and called over to the owners and their now 10 dogs!!!!! I told them of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and that they were disturbing a bird which is afforded special protection and I asked them to get their dogs out of the water and move away which they all, except one did immediately without question. The one other dog and owner eventually left but even before they did the Kingfisher came in to the burrow to feed. I felt better to see that but just how much they can tolerate is a question to ponder. I came away because I knew I was going to get involved in a situation that was beyond control. I obviously cant keep shouting at people to tell them to go away, that wold cause disturbance in itself and the more people that know about the nest, the worse it would be for the nest security. I decided to hope and pray that the birds "hang-in there" and continue to feed their young when they get the chance and also to pray that they fledge the nest very very soon. At the end of the day you can't blame people for wanting to enjoy the pleasures of an English summer.
If anyone is following this blog then you may be pleased to hear that at dusk I watched the parents bring at least 6 fish.