Natural Eden Images Nature Photography by Stephen James Thompson
Natural Eden Images Nature Photography by Stephen James Thompson

THE LIFE OF THE KINGFISHER

The Kingfishers profile

Introduction

Having spent countless hours fishing the river Eden for Salmon and the river Caldew in my earlier trout fishing days i have seen many Kingfishers speedily pass by me.From the days as a boy with a net catching "tiddlers" to the inevitable progression to rod fishing i have been in awe of this amazing little bird of the stream.Watching the blue bullet plummet into the water for fish whilst standing in the river putting out a line for a salmon i often thought how good it would be to study this species and capture its behavior with a camera.Now after a couple of years watching these beautiful birds in there territories and learning there predictable flight paths and patterns of behavior i have now undertaken the challenge of photographing there fascinating lives along the river Caldew.I decided to gather my recently taken images and put them together here in this book style lay out that tells the story behind the images taken as they enter the breeding season i shall leave a page spare for later in the spring/summer for when there young have fledged,also there will be a page of behind the lens tips and explanations of how i managed to capture some of the images which may be useful to other photographers keen to capture a "king" 

Part 1

The Catch

It all starts from the stones of the river bed where the small narrow river of the Caldew swiftly runs over the gravel where a lone Bullhead holds in the current.The small fish rests in the stones after a night of feeding on a diverse mix of crustations,the early light not yet hitting the water that flows below the high bank.As the small fish lies in a docile state below the surface of the stream a loud whistle of a Kingfisher calls out a good way downstream, the call becomes louder as the male flies at speed upstream within its territory.As it approaches a well used branch that overhangs the river its call changes to a different pitch as it passes the perch then swings around gliding to its position on the mossy branch.By now the morning sun is lifting fast in the cold March sky the frost in the grass slowly starts to melt which gives a sheltering Beetle the chance of a drink as the water droplet creates a tiny pool for it to drink from.The sun now hits the surface of the water sending a shimmery beam of light that cuts through the surface of the gently flowing water where it casts its strong light onto the back of the tiny bullhead.Feeling exposed in its surroundings the small fish edges its way to the shade of the bank close to the rivers edge,unbeknown to the Bullhead a black beak is suddenly hurtling towards the surface of the river above te Kingfisher has noticed the movement of the fish and in a split second the blue bullet has plunged into the water to seize the fish its short life in the stream has met its fate as the Kinfisher flies to a suitable branch to dispatch its feed. 

whoosh as the kingfisher strikes the water at speed to catch the Bullhead.

The male Kingfisher flies to the opposite side of the river to deal with its catch having got the fish gripped in his beak he know stands on the branch and beats it to kill it so it can be swallowed.

Striking the fish on its favourite branch the male kills the bullhead.

Once the fish has been dispatched on the branch the highly coloured male then starts calling loudly with the fish gripped in its beak.This lasts for a couple of minutes before the Female suddenly arrives from downstream.She lands just over a foot away from the male that shuffles around positioning the fish in his beak.

The female on the right waits patiently as the male positions the fish in its beak.

The male edges closer to its partner on the long branch whilst he gets the fish into position in his thick black wedge shaped beak.

Turning with the fish gripped close to the end of its beak the male Kingfisher gives out a soft call to the female who then moves in to take the small fish from her companions beak.The moment only lasted a few seconds but seemed very special for the two birds that although didnt seem that comfortable with being close up together they seemed to appreciate the gesture of the handing over of food.

The male gives the female its fish

As soon as the fish is given to the waiting female the male then takes off upstream allowing the female to eat the fish she swallows it in one gulp once she gets it in her beak.

female about to devour the fish given by the male

now fed the female takes a drink from the river,the Kingfisher drinks by diving extremely fast into the water in a sloppy and awkward looking way it lacks the deft manor in with it takes fish from the water as it looks far more clumsy.

lifting fast from the water after taking a drink

Part 2

Watching life go by from its branch

The female having eaten its fish now stands pruning in the warming sun as the first hour of light passes by.The male keeps away upstream as he searches for a fish for himself.The sun shines on the female that is distinguished by its orange colouration on the underside of its beak seen here in the following image...

The Female

The bright orange feet show that the bird is an adult as the young birds have a light brown colouration on there feet.A couple of hours pass by of inactivity as the female stands pruning on the branch the male bird passes by as he heads upstream the female calls as he passes her as in recognition of his movements along the river.

looking around its surroundings

Part 3

Guarding the territory

The Kingfisher in my experience of watching there behavior are a very territorial species ive often watched them react to a bird that approaches there area.I once witnessed a male take exception to a Wren that approached its position on a tree branch.As the female stood on the branch its head tilted listening to the call of a Robin that sang from the branch of a tree above the Kingfisher.The Kingfisher became restless as the Robin approached,after giving a couple of sharp notes the Robin kept its distance deterred by the aggresive call of the Kingfisher.

note the Robin keeping its distance in the background.

The Female takes off upstream and both birds are not seen for around half an hour before the male returns to the branch with another fish that on this occasion is eaten by itself.

The male landing with fish in beak.

The fish squirms in the males beak as it is gripped ready to be struck against the branch.The fish is swiftly eaten before the Kingfisher speedily takes off upstream.

Once upstream the Male Kingfisher attempts to snatch another fish from the stream on this occasion the small fish was lucky to avoid being swiped from its riverbed as the kingfisher just missed out on its meal.

Part 4

The Kingfishers environment

The environment that the Kingfisher lives in can be very diverse as i have watched them in different areas on the Eden aswell as the smaller river Caldew.Watching them has been much easier on the narrower and much shorter river Caldew each pair holds a fair length of territory where they search for fish from there well used perches most of these low branches are difficult for the photographer to capture them as they are either in well shaded parts or are set at the wrong angle to attain a good image.The first clue to a good well used perch without actually seeing the birds use it is by observing droppings on it from the birds.On occasion ive been caught out by mistaking the droppings for Kingfishers when in reality it has been used by a Dipper! but often they are the Kingfisher that has made its mark.

Ponds

Aswell as inhabiting the river the Kingfisher will also visit ponds and lakes especially when the rivers are running high from flooding making conditions difficult as the deeper water prevents them from taking fish.

Small feeder streams

Little narrow becks that enter the river can be used by the Kingfisher as it searches for food and they can often use them for nesting sights where there is a suitable bankside.

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