For the first time in months there was a kingfisher by the bridge this morning. No more than five minutes from home – a good start to the day. It was perched low, shaded by a hawthorn. From a distance I thought it was a robin, but then it took off into the sunshine and left a bright trail of blue against the dark water of the cut.
It was good to see one there again. It means there’s a chance of seeing more speed by in the coming days and weeks, skimming the surface on the light open stretch between the bridge and the wood downstream. Something to look out for against the reflected clouds and the sky.
When I got to the weir a brief flash of blue back feathers disappeared into the trees opposite. It could have been a different bird, or the same. No way of telling. I stood still and looked across at a small dead tree that often serves as a perch. A brown hawker dragonfly flew past my legs and through some burdock heads with a dry crackle of parchment wings. Wood pigeons hooted from the ash trees. A quiet song from a robin. Then a wren. A creaky yaffle from a green woodpecker upstream.
Yesterday at the same spot I felt the sun on my back. It was cooler today, the butterflies yet to show. A light north wind blew a layer of small grey clouds across fixed white clouds with blue sky between. Sometimes the sun escaped through small gaps and sent narrow shafts towards the river. Spotlit beams slowly moved from right to left, briefly picking out the bright greens of spring from the dark late-summer drab of the leaves before moving on. A kingfisher called from the weir downstream, the single ringing “psssttt” of a bird in flight.
Now that the breeding season is over I’m getting less chances to watch kingfishers perch. They seem more nervous and skittish, never settling in the open for long. The surviving chicks have mastered fishing and there must be plenty of fry about. They can hide under overhanging branches for long periods. It’s a case of trying to work out what they’re doing from brief glimpses and calls. Much further up the river near Lower Barnwell lock I’ve heard rapidfire bursts of calls from adult birds flying about in agitation. That could be either territorial disputes or pair bonding (or both!)
Things have been quieter on this stretch, but as I walked downstream there were two-note calls near the end of the woods. A bird flew up from the second weir and around the trees, its red-orange breast and underwings glowing as it banked. I stood and waited. No sounds, no show. I looked across at an ash tree which grows by the mouth of the Glapthorn brook. It’s different from its taller straight backed peers, much shorter, with limbs twisting out across the water, some bare, some leaved. The sun reflected off the river, sending magical ripples of light up and down its lichen branches, endlessly varied by wind and water and an ever-turning world. As I watched a kingfisher flew downriver and perched there, just for a heartbeat or two, then followed the line of the brook through the trees.
It had perched high up, maybe twenty feet above the water, certainly not a place to fish from. More likely it had other things on its mind. Walking back the way I’d come, there was the same blue back disappearing into the willows by the dead tree. I was hoping for a symmetrical walk, with a kingfisher perching as I passed back across the bridge, but when I arrived there the cut was busy with people preparing to take to the water. I got excited by a tiny patch of blue showing in the distance through the leaves of a tree by the boathouse, but as I moved closer it was only the brightly coloured hull of a canoe on the jetty. If it had been described in a catalogue as “kingfisher blue” I certainly wouldn’t have argued with that – it was a perfect match!