I was standing just upstream from the sideweir, looking and listening for kingfishers, when my photographer friend Neil arrived carrying a Danish pastry! We often meet by the river as he walks there a lot, and he also enjoys shopping for cakes in Oundle. He offered to share it and it seemed rude to refuse. We walked to Cotterstock pond and then on through the village till parting ways at the footpath back down the other side of the river.
I had decided to look again in the wooded section where the Glapthorn brook meets the main river. As soon as I got there I heard kingfisher calls. There were also lots of tiny ringing calls all around which I at first mistook for kingfisher chicks but later realised were being made by tiny wrens. It’s pretty dark and overgrown in there, and the stream is only visible in places, so it was incredibly lucky that a chick was perched on a branch about three feet above the water and right in the open. It was no more than 30 feet away. It was looking around and taking in its surroundings but hadn’t yet equated humans with danger.
I sat very still and watched it for 40 minutes or so, taking photos when I could. It was clearly very young, maybe the first or second day out of the nest. It spent a lot of time preening itself in a methodical way, first the breast then the wings, which it would occasionally ruffle so the individual feathers stood out. Even with the naked eye it looked perfect, but looking through the zoom lens the feathers were breathtakingly beautiful. Bird chicks often take time to develop beautiful, slick plumage but kingfishers come out of the nest in the best of condition. I guess the need to be independently fishing within four days makes it imperative to have faultlessly efficient and waterproof feathers from the off. Given that the chicks have also spent the first few weeks of their lives in an underground tunnel full of ordure and fishbones there may be a fair number of parasites which need removing too.
The chick was looking around constantly but making very few attempts to fish, although it may have caught an insect at one point. It was very interested in sounds, cocking its head at a green woodpecker yaffle, starting at the whirr of a pigeon’s wings and looking straight up towards a songthrush as it began to sing. I got the impression that it was listening first and foremost for the call of an adult carrying a fish. One duly arrived and whizzed past to further upstream. The chick answered the call and took off too. I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting but it came back pretty soon to its original perch. Its beak opened and closed a couple of times and brought up a pellet which splashed into the water below.
A little later another chick arrived with a few calls and perched a few feet away on the same branch. It was noticeably thinner and more delicate. It also seemed more nervous and soon flew off again. The light was failing by now, the early evening of an overcast day. It eventually left, flying towards the river. I could barely believe my luck. The detail in some of the images I took was very special. I may not have found the nest this time but there are at least two chicks in the second brood. Marvellous!