Bright and welcome surprise
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 firstname.lastname@example.org