A day of two halves

Kingfisher Photo: Bob Ruson

Getting up at 4.15 am can’t be anyone’s idea of fun but an early start was the only way we were going to make it into deepest rural Lincolnshire by 7 o’clock. The tawny owl scavenging roadkill on Whirlow Road wasn’t at all impressed when we disturbed his early breakfast or late supper as we passed by on our way to Chesterfield and the M1.

We were heading for a remote spot near Bourne where we’d booked a photography hide for the day, a whole day, 12 hours! It was my son Tim’s idea and I’d been invited along to make the tea and keep the fire going as this was a fairly luxurious hide with padded seats, a log burner, a small camping stove for hot drinks and the dubious pleasure of a composting toilet. The hide was half below ground level, right at the edge of a small pool where kingfisher perches were strategically placed. Birds were attracted to the perches by a supply of small fish in a container carefully situated just below water level.

We arrived just before 7 and after a short walk across a field we could see the hide and the welcome sight of a smoking chimney. A cordless vacuum propped up outside the door struck me as a bit unusual but as we entered we were met by the owner who asked if we could take our boots off! That’s a first I thought, but the whole of the floor was carpeted which did help to keep the place warm. The weather was perfect, from early morning throughout the whole day we had bright, clear skies. Obviously some thought had gone into siting the hide as it faced due north giving ideal light for photography and any vegetation was quite distant giving nice uncluttered backgrounds to shots.

As soon as we had settled in, the first kingfisher arrived and perched at a distance giving good views and reasonable photos. However, within a few minutes, now the activity around the hide had ceased, we had a female posing nicely on the perch only about 15 feet away. At that distance, in perfect light, we could appreciate just what a stunning little bird the kingfisher is with a back of various shades of electric blue, a rich orange/red breast and a pure white ruff under the bill. At that close range, it was easy to pick out the all black beak of the male and the red lower mandible of the female.

Male kingfisher Photo: Bob Russon

Throughout the morning, a male and a female made frequent visits to the perches giving us brilliant views and great photos. We watched as they plunged like blue arrows into the submerged container of small fish; the whole process, dive, catch, emerge and perch took just a couple of seconds, well beyond the capabilities of me and my camera but Tim managed some superb pictures with his better equipment. Sometimes they swallowed the catch at the perch after bashing it lifeless but sometimes they carried it away out of sight. There were no nesting sites around the pool and the small stream which flowed nearby didn’t seem suitable. Obviously there was a nest in the vicinity but we had no idea whether they were just setting up home or feeding young.

Female kingfisher Photo: Bob Russon

After a busy morning taking photos, keeping the fire going and making tea we had a very quiet afternoon. For some reason, after about 1 o’clock the kingfishers stopped coming. We had expected to have a range of birds visiting the the pool but, other than a quick in and out by a grey heron and a pair of little egrets only occasionally coming to the far end of the pool, we were reduced to watching a very industrious moorhen carrying nesting material from one side of the pool to the other. At about 6.30pm, we were packing up when another photographer turned up ready to spend the night in the hide. Apparently otters would sometimes come for fish and carefully positioned floodlights gave photo opportunities. We left just about 7 and arrived home just before 9. By that time, having been awake for quite a few hours I was ready for a glass or two of whisky and an early night.

Bob Russon