Kingfisher caught mid-flight wings open
Despite being a keen naturalist from an early age, I’ve always tried to avoid wildlife photography. I found the idea of it too time consuming, too expensive, too niche and too competitive. Over the years however, slowly but surely I’ve found my camera pointing more and more at the natural world.

 

When I finally succumbed to the idea and began to actively seek wildlife to photograph, I promised myself that the one species I wouldn’t pursue with my lens was the Kingfisher. I felt that this was a bird that had already been photographed from every possible angle and it would be impossible to find a new way of photographing it. Fast forward a couple of years and here I am, racing through village with my camera, hoping to catch a glimpse, anticipating that exhilarating flash of royal blue!

 

There’s always been fleeting sightings of Kingfisher at the Cornmill Pond in Burley in Wharfedale. Such sightings though have tended to be short and few and far between. In January however, while walking passed the pond, I stumbled upon a Kingfisher who seemed to hang around a little longer than usual. It was incredible to get a prolonged view of this unique bird and I walked away without giving it too much further thought.

 

Kingfisher in a beam of light

 

I returned to the pond a couple of days later, hopeful but not really expecting to see my iridescent friend again. To my delight and surprise it was there, and this time I was able to enjoy watching the Kingfisher earn it’s name by successfully plucking out several small fish before darting off down stream.

 

I continued to return to the Cornmill Pond and continued to get positive sightings. In fact for a while, a visit to the village pond would almost mean a guaranteed visual of this most spectacular bird. If only the weather could have been as obliging!

 

At the same time I started to get Kingfisher sightings on the beck that runs by the allotments. This is a location I’d never observed a Kingfisher before, could this be a new Kingfisher establishing a new territory?

 

Before I knew it I was hooked! Every spare minute I had, I was heading down to the pond in the hopes I might catch a glimpse of Burley’s royal visitor. With a two and half year old and a shiny new born baby at home, my visits were limited (and strategic!) but more often than not I got great sightings. Enjoying views of the Kingfisher robbing the pond of its abundant Sticklebacks and Minnows with such ease and elegance.

 

Kingfisher holding stickle back in beak side on

 

I began to think up projects, imagining a Mr and Mrs Kingfisher and their two point five children. Visualising the photos of the initial courtship, shots of the squabbling siblings, dreaming up acceptance speeches for the wildlife photography awards! But all of a sudden the sightings stopped, not even a reassuring flash of blue.

 

After a couple of fruitless visits, a resident from the houses opposite the pond come out and told me his wife had found the Kingfisher dead, floating in the pond. It was devastating news, not just for my photographic ambitions but for all the villagers who had also shared the joys of such regular and intimate sightings.

 

The first suspect in any waterside crime scene is always the American Mink, who are active in this area. But it didn’t sound like the Kingfisher had been predated, it was floating in the water. The second is, sadly, humans, be it litter, pollutants or habitat interference. Cornmill Pond however is very well looked after and protected by the community. Most Kingfisher deaths are actually a result of hunger and/or the cold. But this Kingfisher, as I had observed was feeding very successfully at a highly productive location and this is one of the warmest winters I’ve witnessed. So it feels unlikely for this one to get so far through winter and then suddenly fade away. Mulling it over, I thought back to a scene I’d watched on Halycon River Diaries by the amazingly talented cameraman Charlie Hamilton James. The footage was of two Kingfishers in a fight over territory.

 

Kingfisher fights are ferocious, they fight by grabbing their opponents beak and holding them underwater, they fight to the point of exhaustion. Could it be that this was a result of an extreme territorial battle, over a highly valued resource?

We may never know what actually happened, but as long as the pond stays clean and continues to offer it’s rich pickings, there will always be a chance of seeing Royalty in Burley!