St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 14 December – Kingfisher! Not just a blue flash in the pan!

Bird watching
Bird watching
Kingfisher with small fish

Kingfisher with small fish

Weather: Bright & sunny at first, cloudy later. Cool nip in the breeze when it blew.
Observers: Linda, Kaye, Phil, Ian

We were favoured, once again, with a clear and sunny start to the morning, with some beautiful light conditions. Osbaldwick Beck had a good flow of water, with some minor flooding over the bank.

The flooding at Tang Hall Beck

The flooding at Tang Hall Beck

But Tang Hall Beck was well and truly flooded over the mini “flood plain” due, we think, to a downstream obstruction – either rubbish, or the closure of the River Foss barrier. What happens, we wondered, to the Water Voles when their upper burrow entrances are flooded?

However, as we were to find, this might have contributed to some superb sightings of..

Birds: Kingfisher! Late on in our walk we visited the “Kingfisher Culvert”, with no high expectations. However, within seconds of us arriving, a Kingfisher flashed in from our right. At last, Linda got to see the bird! But, instead of zipping round the bend and out of sight – the usual sighting of a St Nicks Kingfisher – the bird returned and started fishing, first from the right-hand bank, and then over to the left-hand bank, switching continuously. The four of us watched the Kingfisher for about ten minutes, during which time it caught at least three small fishes (Sticklebacks?).

Ian, who has been trying to photograph Kingfisher here since May this year, was glued to the viewfinder of his camera. The others were glued to their binoculars. Even the nearby sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker (more often heard rather than seen at St Nicks) didn’t distract us from watching this vivid blue and orange beauty as it went about its hunting. Here’s a sequence from Ian’s shots:

Kingfisher hunting

Clockwise from top left: Hunting; Launching an attack; Stunning the prey; Eating the prey

From the white tip on its beak, it seemed to be one of this year’s juvenile birds – a male – but whether or not it was reared within the reserve we can’t tell. This is possibly the most prolonged sighting of Kingfisher at St Nicks. It’s only speculation but it’s possible that the downstream blockage of Tang Hall Beck might have concentrated fish in the area near the culvert, and presented a superb hunting ground for this young bird. However..

.. elated though the Wildwatch Group might have been at this great Kingfisher spectacle, we actually recorded another good total of 22 bird species during our walk. Down

Beautiful colours on this drake Mallard's head in the winter sunlight

Beautiful colours on this drake Mallard's head in the winter sunlight

Osbaldwick Beck we found four pairs of Mallards, which, with two other pairs on Tang Hall Beck (which finally scared away the Kingfisher with their noisy splashing) brought the total to six pairs, the highest number on the reserve this year. Also down Osbaldwick Beck we saw Siskin, Long-tailed Tit (no sign of “Stumpy”, the “no-tailed tit”!), Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Wren, Robin and Chaffinch.

Bullfinches were widely scattered over the reserve with possibly up to ten individuals seen. Near the Environment Centre we found a foraging flock of tits, including good numbers of Blue and Great Tits, along with Chaffinch and Goldfinch. The big Goldfinch flock seemed to be more widely dispersed than in previous weeks, and the Siskins were foraging on their own, rather than associating with the Goldfinch flock.

Magpie in winter light

Magpie in winter light

Blackbirds were seen all over the reserve, though not in such big numbers as in previous weeks.  A few Black-headed Gulls drifted overhead, a single Dunnock was seen along the Bund Path and, of course, Wood Pigeons, Magpies and Carrion Crows were recorded everywhere. A small, but noisy, flock of House Sparrows along with two Collared Doves was near the Environment Centre, where a small flock of Starlings flew over.

One of our bare mature trees in sunlight and with blue sky

One of our bare mature trees in sunlight and with blue sky

Mammals: Three or so sightings of Grey Squirrel and a single Rabbit.

Flowers: Frost and rain are steadily killing off the flowers, and the remaining specimens of Yarrow, Nipplewort, Pink Clover, White Deadnettle and Sow Thistle are all a bit translucent and anaemic looking. We also came across a not-quite-finished Dandelion flower and a presumably hybrid Pink Campion.

Footnote: Having previously accused the Wildwatch Group of “mass hallucination” about the St Nicks Kingfisher, Linda has now eaten “humble pie”!

You can see larger images of some of these photos on the St Nicks Camera Club Page – Click Here

14 December 2011 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: flood, kingfisher, Mallard, Siskin