Elusive, yet far from rare - Kingfishers and how to watch them - by Tony Webb

Tony8 By Tony8, 18th Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Nature>Birds

A brief guide to Kingfisher watching, featuring tips for successful searching.

Elusive, yet far from rare - Kingfishers and how to watch them

It staggers me when people say they’ve never seen a kingfisher; well, initially anyway; but then again, they may well have done so, without realising it. As for me;
I can honestly say I 've seen at least a hundred, though you may wonder how; surely, for even the most active of birdwatchers, it’s a rare and exciting sight? Well, exciting yes, but in areas where there are small fish, they are, actually, not uncommon.
The first thing to understand, when looking for this iconic species, is that kingfishers are not always blue. “Not blue?!” you may cry, with exasperation! Okay, what I meant to say was that they don’t appear to be blue (having said that, many foreign varieties really don't have any blue on them, but that's something else!). A quite large proportion of my own sightings have, in fact, been of birds flying low (as they almost invariably do) over bright water, when the glorious colours are reduced to near black, like anything else in silhouette. How, then, are we to know what we’re seeing? Well, the trick is to understand the bird’s shape and method of propulsion. Colour aside, a kingfisher, in flight, is quite distinct from other species, because no similarly small bird, within the British Isles shares its combination of conspicuously extended bill and almost non existent tail; consequently, when one takes the trouble to look, there’s always far more, to be seen, at the front, than the back; and then there are the wings; tiny and almost triangular in shape, they demand much effort and so, despite the bird’s ability to hover, flight, over any distance, can appear somewhat frantic. The real giveaway, though, is its call; a clear and strident double whistle, most akin to that of a dunnock (otherwise known as hedgesparrow), although much more emphatic. Away from the nest, kingfishers are often very quite; that is, until they fly, when they rarely fail to announce their presence; so would be observers really should get used to the way they sound. Many recordings can be found, on the internet and I would highly recommend checking them out, prior your search.
A further consideration, is knowing, precisely, where to look, for kingfishers; lakes? rivers? the coast, perhaps?...well, any of them really, depending on the time of year. In the breeding season, wooded streams and gravel pits are favoured; with soft, vertical banks, in which the birds can nest. During the winter months, it really can be just about anywhere, as long as there’s a supply of small fish, so open water and even estuaries come into play. But aren’t they really shy and difficult to get close to? Unfortunately, this is, indeed, often the case; yet, there’s no reason fine views cannot be obtained. What’s important, is to remain quiet and avoid making sudden movements; tales of sometimes two, or three, birds, perching on an angler’s fishing rod, just a few feet from its owner, are not infrequent and usually true, so try to blend into the scenery, much as they do. Should you, however, find the nest hole, it’s best to steer well clear, as they are highly prone to disturbance and may well desert.
All being well, wherever you choose to search, it should be possible to enjoy, to the full, this most beautiful of birds; just be sure to listen for the call; look out for its unique form, darting across the water; try to spot where it settles and then approach with caution.
Take it from one of their biggest admirers; if you’re mission is successful, you’ll be glad you made the effort!

More of my writing can be found here

Tags

How To, Kingfisher, Rivers, Search, Seeing, Streams, Successful, United Kingdom, Watching

Meet the author

author avatar Tony8
Experienced writer, specialising in the arts, politics and natural history. Well travelled, with a particular interest in UK geography. Also a keen photographer.

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Comments

author avatar vpaulose
20th Sep 2011 (#)

Kingfishers also are going away from us. Thank you Tony. Will you be my friend?

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