Wildlife Hides – Part 2 The King of Fishers

This is the second part of the blog on our amazing day out on Saturday at the Nature Photography Hides. After the Reflection Pool Hide we moved to the Kingfisher Hide. The group before us reported seeing the kingfisher feeding about half a dozen times, so we were a bit worried that it might be full and not visit while we were there! We were joined in the hide by another photographer (nice to meet you Dave) and the three of us settled down to wait.

First bird to appear was not the hoped for kingfisher, but a rather round looking robin. I took a photo of him anyway, just in case this was all we were going to see!

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Turns out I needn’t have worried. An absolutely stunning kingfisher arrived fairly quickly and sat on the bulrush perch. It then moved to one side to sit on the reeds. He (or she) then proceeded to sit in the same spot for about 25 minutes. It was there so long, we actually started to get  a bit tired waiting for it to do something different! (never could have imagined before that I might tire watching a kingfisher, not that I’m complaining) But it gave us plenty of chance to take loads of photos – here’s just a very small percentage of the ones we took at this point.

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After about 25 minutes, it decided a bit of preening was in order.

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It then regurgitated a pellet of presumably unwanted fish bits. This was something neither Chris nor I had ever heard of and was fascinating to see. It also explained how it had managed to scoff so many fish earlier that morning. It only digests the good bits and spits out the rest! Chris just about managed to catch the fishy pellet being expelled.

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Once the fishy waste had been disposed of, it obviously felt it now had room for more fish, so flew back to the bulrush perch.

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The bulrush was positioned over a tub containing small live fish. After a while bobbing up and down to judge distance through the water, we finally got what we’d been waiting for – it dived for a fish.

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Once caught the still wriggling fish was flown back to the perch. The kingfisher then manoeuvred the fish around to get a good grip, before bashing it repeatedly to kill it and then of course eventually swallow it.

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It tended to fly away for a few minutes between fish, but came back and repeated the process a couple of times. It didn’t always catch a fish when it dived, but was successful more often than not.

The thing about taking wildlife photos is that it makes you greedy. Before we started, we thought we’d be happy just to see one. Once we’d seen one, we thought we’d be happy to get a few good photos. Then we wanted to see and photograph it catching fish. Then the ultimate goal became to catch it diving down towards the water. I clearly don’t have quick enough reflexes as I didn’t manage it at all. But Chris managed to get this (admittedly after several missed attempts) – quite possibly his best shot of the day.

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Since I’m not as good a photographer as Chris, I had a go at videoing the kingfisher instead. I took several short video clips, so here’s just a selection of our beautiful bird in action. (the clicking noises on some of the videos are the sound of camera shutters frantically going in the hide!)

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Kingfisher

The hide was so close to the kingfisher we got stunning views for the couple of hours we spent there. It was so much better than either of us had dared to hope. Kingfishers must be one of the most sought after subjects for any British wildlife enthusiast and to have spent 2 hours watching one like this was a dream come true.

A Cold and Frosty Morning

I always love the first good frosts of the year. They transform the garden into something magical, giving everything a crystalline coating that sparkles in the sunshine. Last year we hardly had any decent frosts, but this week November’s wintery breath has dressed our garden in delicate white lace. Winter is coming!

The thermometer registered that it had dropped to -4.7C in the garden last night, so I went out this morning armed with multiple layers of clothing and a thick woolly bobble hat. The trail camera had been foolishly left out overnight and was not only frosted, but the tripod was frozen solid to the ground. After a brief but strenuous battle I managed to wrest it from the garden’s icy grip, so that I could use the tripod for my frosty photos.

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I’d gone out into the garden hoping for spiders’ webs glistening with icy beads, or red berries frosted on the bushes, or icicles dripping from a branch. Of course I couldn’t find any of these things, but what I did find was just as good.

We have a small flimsy porch type thing around our back door with single layers of glass. These were covered in beautiful “fern frost”. Window frost like this used to be much more common before the advent of double glazing. Double glazing restricts the contrasting temperatures needed either side of the glass for the formation of this type of frost. Our tatty little porch is not normally a thing of beauty, but this morning Jack Frost had transformed it with these feathery fractal patterns.

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A wooden garden chair had also been left out last night and was now covered in hoar frost. Hoar frost forms white crystals of ice that coat everything with a sugar-like dusting. The frost on the chair was really quite thick – up to a centimetre in places, looking like icy white fur.

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I loved the way on one side of the chair the frost had started to melt and sparkled like golden glitter, while on the other side it was still silvery white.

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The grass was lovely and crunchy under foot; it seemed a shame almost to trample it as I snooped around the garden. Leaves everywhere were of course covered in the ice crystals, looking like they’d been dipped in some frenzied attempt to candy coat the whole garden.

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The presence of the mistletoe (visible again now the leaves have fallen off the apple tree), made it feel quite Christmassy (reminding me that I need to go in and give the Christmas cake another good soaking of brandy!).

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I found a poppy seed head, which looked great from the side, but even better from above – like a tiny diamond encrusted crown.

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I can never resist taking a photo of the teasels. The frost on them actually looked more like snow, being much finer for some reason than that around the rest of the garden.

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There were a few splashes of colour amongst the wintery white. We have one patch of lavender that had still been flowering, long after the rest in the garden had finished. I suspect the frost will have put an end to that though.

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The Verbena bonariensis that I grow in the hope of attracting butterflies (with little success) was clearly a frost magnet. Chunky little crystals were stacked up all over the old flower heads.

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Possibly my favourite snap of the day was of this brave little flower, still glowing yellow in the morning sun despite its diamond coating.

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I thought it would only take me a few minutes this morning to photograph the frost, but when I came back in I found I’d been out there for an hour. It was just so beautiful and peaceful, I hadn’t noticed the time go by.

I did have a moment of panic while I was downloading the photos, when I realised there were absolutely no birds to be seen in the garden. We normally have hoards of them, especially as I’d topped up the bird feeders while I was out there. I had this sudden irrational fear that the frost had killed them all off! (I know it made no sense, as there’d be no birds anywhere if one frost could kill them that easily!) Very quickly though they reappeared – they’d probably all just been traumatised by the sight of me and my bobble hat so early in the morning and taken a few minutes to get their nerves back!!