I have really missed going down to the river of late where I have been watching and documenting the trails and tribulations of the Kingfishers that live in this private and untouched area. This has been as a result of workshops and one to ones and other projects I am currently working on. Over the last week or so along with the freezing cold days, I have made the dawn starts to go and see the Kingfishers on a stretch of the River Trent not to far from my Staffordshire home, wondering if they have left for the coast to feed, as this is a behaviour in Kingfishers when their food supply drys up or the rivers and inland streams that they live on freeze up.
When I get to the river in the darkness I set up my hide on the frozen ground, having to wade through a small piece of the river to reach where I place my hide. On some days access isn’t possible due to the rising waterline and in the past the river has risen, only for me to arrive and my hide has been taken by the currents. This makes the whole project which I started some time ago now even more special and untouched. If you respect a place it may give up its secrets to you. I totally immerse myself in this little wilderness rarely visited by the outside world due to its private nature, almost like the wildlife it supports.
I have dedicated as much of my time as possible to these Kingfishers, more so the young gorgeous female I have watched grow over the last several months, fighting back with her parents refusing to be pushed out by those who once loved and protected her, claiming a piece of this rich and diverse wilderness for herself. I get over joyed when I first see her, chuffed shes making her mark, a broad smile lights up my face as deep down I am routing for her to succeed and have a family, continuing the ‘magic’ blue flashes you see when they fly low to the water.
In my experience working with these Kingfishers, you can wait almost all day for one passing glimpse as they fly up and down the river, you only real indication they are around sometimes is their piercing loud call which breaks through the ever present sound of the moving water. Briefly landing on the perches then vanish, on my last visit there I did briefly see a Mink and saw a few footprints around. The Mink is a medium-sized member of the weasel family, the first American Mink were brought to British fur farms in 1929 and all wild Mink in Britain today are descendants of escapees. Their natural wild colouring is a glossy dark brown, appearing almost black in some light.
My own sightings over the last few days have been amazing , where I have witnessed them feeding, swimming and actively seeking out prey, which is bad for the wildlife in and around rivers and this one in particular due to the Kingfishers. I have not seen any Watervoles, their prints or droppings, their declining numbers put down to this introduced species which is in a no win situation, a proven killer that can swim, climb and tackle prey much bigger than themselves just going about its business. I have never been so close to these animals, and having rarely seen one before, I was lost for words, as this one fished and went about its life feet away from me allowing me a view into his very private life.
I watched in total amazement as this Mink heard something then carried on, at one point stalking a Moorhen he’d seen. As you can see from one of the photographs where I have captured him with a front paw raised, a beautiful looking animal whose coat was in stunning condition. I have the extreme weather conditions to thank and lady luck twinned with my own fieldcraft, at one point I had left my hide and stalked him through the icy cold water, kneeing in the swallow bit of the river, lowering my tripod legs very,very slowly as not to spook him.
He was only feet away from me, the wind blowing my scent away, all parts of my body were covered as light is reflected from skin and I stayed as low as possible for this incredible encounter that I chose to film, he was in a shaded area so it appears to be dark but I truly had no time to make the adjustments in camera as I filmed this incredible moment.
One of those truly beautiful moments where I was allowed to watch this shy and elusive creature for a few minutes. I didn’t see him again that day but they are fairly active in this area as on previous visits I have seen track marks and kill sites, so I am hoping maybe to have these kind of sightings once more in the future.
As the minutes turned into hours and the shorter days resulted in less light I hadn’t seen the Kingfisher and I was thinking two things, firstly that they had left for the coast to find food, but the river wasn’t frozen, or secondly, something had happened to them and then my thoughts turned to the Mink. Then in the distance I could just make her out, great; shes alive I said, she seemed to be fishing from the higher branches of the various different trees that litter the riverbank, from old to new trees, covering the banks with a natural fence line.
I have captured a few images I love, backlit with slight contrasty light, but I loved the effect with the hue of the frosty blue forming a slight colour to these images, with the snow in parts adding a real atmosphere to the photographs.
I had waited hours before she briefly appeared in front of my hide, checking it out and watching me as she heard the shutter noise, the water was so cold the blueish colour can be seen behind the Kingfisher as she had a look below her before flying off.
A really beautiful looking bird who has grown up and seems really settled now on this stretch of the river. I am going to try and capture her over the coming year , fingers crossed I hope, as I really love my time down by the river, watching, waiting for that moment of magic when she appears from nowhere, stays, looks around and goes as quick as she arrived alongside the other wonderful wildlife I have witnessed there too.