Bright and wel­come sur­prise

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

YOU don’t meet up with those breath­tak­ing birds the king­fish­ers ev­ery day.

So it was a bonus when I bumped into one on the River Tees just up from Low Coniscliffe re­cently.

King­fish­ers are pretty easy to iden­tify, which­ever way they are fac­ing. Both their orange breasts and iri­des­cent blue backs and heads make them clearly stand out.

How­ever they tend not to sit in the same place for too long. This par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual soon quit his perch on a stone in the river and flew to the cover of one of the trees on the bank­side.

Lawrence Smith was even more for­tu­nate. He found a king­fisher feed­ing his chick on Thorpe Beck, as is per­fectly il­lus­trated in his fine photo.

I read re­cently that there are 87 species of king­fisher in the world, but only this one breeds in Europe. How­ever our king­fisher can be found in the Far East.

I’ve seen a few different species, notably in the United States and Aus­tralia, where the kook­aburra is rel­a­tively com­mon and is the big­gest mem­ber of the fam­ily. In fact it weighs 15 times more than our king­fisher.

The young of our king­fish­ers have a high mor­tal­ity rate, mainly be­cause the young may drown while they are first learn­ing to try to catch min­nows.

For­tu­nately king­fish­ers lay up to ten eggs, while it is not un­usual for them to have three broods in a year.

So the only risk to their on­go­ing sur­vival is the threat from se­verely cold win­ters, which for­tu­nately we haven’t seen for a few years.

In ad­di­tion to the king­fisher, I was de­lighted to see a dip­per on the river. They are also easy to spot be­cause of their white breasts which make them ob­vi­ous even if they are stand­ing still on the far side of the river.

Not that dip­pers have a habit of stand­ing still. They are con­tin­u­ally duck­ing and weav­ing, es­pe­cially when pre­par­ing to leap from a rock in the river to chase prey.

The third bird which is rel­a­tively com­mon in that area of the Tees is the grey wag­tail. Like dip­pers, they are al­ways bob­bing around though they look for their food above the wa­ter, con­cen­trat­ing pri­mar­ily on fly­ing in­sects.

Close up, grey wag­tails are more at­trac­tive than their name sug­gests, hav­ing vivid yel­low breasts and bel­lies. I was once sit­ting eat­ing a scone in a café in Madeira while a grey wag­tail was walk­ing round the ta­ble look­ing for crumbs. It ended up get­ting most of my scone.

Eric would like to hear from read­ers about what they have seen. Email him at eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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