Owls and Kingfishers

At first glance apart from being birds you wouldn’t think there was much these two had in common. One is a silent land based predator, the other a multi-coloured waterside assassin. But when it comes to digestion they have one thing in common, they both regurgitate pellets made up of the indigestible leftovers from their meals.

Most people know about owl pellets and may at some time have dissected one to find tiny bones or even skulls coughed out in a hard pellet. Not many people however know that kingfishers do the same but as the majority go straight into the river, lake or stream they are rarely discovered to take a closer look at. I once watched a kingfisher eject one into the grass and after it had flown off I endeavoured to find it. Nothing, it had just vanished!

Last night I managed to catch this behaviour on camera after I noticed the bird opening its beak very wide. I had an inclination as to what it was doing so fired away.

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With its beak wide open the bird starts bringing up the pellet.

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Here we can see the regurgitated pellet as it passes into the beak.

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Finally the pellet is spat out, and as usual this one disappeared into the depths!!!

Tawny Owls

On a recent walk in the woods a tawny owl was spooked by other birds and flew into a nearby tree. After a good few minutes trying to relocate where it had landed, as its incredible camouflage blended it in perfectly with the trees, we managed to spot it and snapped a few pictures.

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The tawny owl is about the size of a woodpigeon. with a rounded body and head and a ring of darker feathers around its face surrounding its dark eyes. They are a reddish brown colour above with paler markings underneath, and are a widespread breeding bird in England, Wales and Scotland but are not found in Ireland. Tawny owls will stay in one location with established pairs probably never leaving their territories.

We moved on and left the owl to snooze in the tree, but a couple of days later we were in the same area and began to have a look to see if it was still around. Not only was the adult perched in a tree but so were two young owlets just starting to branch from the nest. High up and almost hidden in the foliage these young owls were about half way from their downy fluff to full adult plumage.

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The two owlets were well spaced out but were in sight of the adult. Tawny owls have up to four chicks and the parents will feed them for the first 3-4 months of their life before leaving them to hunt and feed for themselves as they disperse from the nest territory during Autumn. Tawnies eat small mammals and rodents, small birds, frogs, fish, insects and worms, and as the area where they were was close to a small lake with a large frog population I would assume these figure largely in their diet.

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A subsequent visit a few days later and after a long search to track them down we discovered that there were in fact three owlets and having moved to a new tree were all in close proximity. They were becoming ever harder to spot unless you caught sight of a movement, but there was always a parent close by keeping an eye on them and on us.

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They seem now to have disappeared as we haven’t located them for over a week. They will now be more mobile in the tree tops and may well be some distance away from the original place we spotted them. The landowners have agreed to let us put up a couple of tawny owl nest boxes on the other side of the lake so hopefully we will get more of these beautiful creatures patrolling the woods and enjoying the frogs!

 

 

 

248/365 – Dippereedoodah

As you’ve probably noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time on the river watching the kingfisher family, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching the other wildlife that’s about.

The local dippers seem to have a great year in terms of successful breeding (blog post to follow) and there are usually two about close to where I sit, and this evening I was treated to one of them catching a fish. I spotted it as it flew directly toward me before veering off and landing on a large rock to my right with the fish in its beak.

Dipper with fish

Dipper with fish

I’ve seen a lot of fish despatched by the kingfishers recently and the dipper attempted much the same method, just not quite as adeptly!

Dipper stunning fish

Dipper stunning fish

It took quite a few attempts with the dipper dropping the fish on a number of occasions.

Dropped fish

Dropped fish

I’m not sure what type of fish it was that the dipper had caught (if you know please tell me) but to say it was a slimey one might be a bit of an understatement!

Dipper with slimey fish

What a slimey sucker

Eventually it got the fish either stunned or killed and it went straight down the hatch all in one. Down the hatch!

 

Grabbing The Window

Conventional wisdom tells us that once the juvenile kingfishers fledge from the nest there is a 3-4 day window where the parents will teach the young how to fish, where to fish and will keep them stocked up on tiddlers while they learn the ropes. Then when those learning days are over the parents will aggressively move the juveniles along chasing them off the territory. Here’s a quote from the RSPB website “Once out of the nest, the young are fed for only four days before the adults drive them out of the territory and start the next brood.
Last week that window opened for me when the local kingfishers fledged, but sometimes what you read isn’t always what happens!

I first noticed the juvenile were out on Monday evening, The river was very noisy with calling kingfishers as they flew up and down but they didn’t settle and appeared to be just following the adult bird. On Tuesday lunchtime I got my first view as the three youngsters settled opposite me, spaced out on seperate posts noisily calling as the adults flew past.

Juvenile kingfishers

Juvenile kingfishers

But on Wednesday night I was in kingfisher heaven. The juveniles were dotted around on various perchs and the male was around keeping an eye on them before disappearing on a fishing expedition.

Male kingfisher on lookout

Male kingfisher on lookout

On his return he landed with a fish and the three young quickly flew in to try and be the one that grabbed the meal. For a few minutes I had the amazing sight of four kingfishers sat directly in front of me!!

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The male kept this up for a couple of hours and despite the rain I was mesmerised. I’d read about the 3-4 day window so I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by, after all they would be gone by Saturday, wouldn’t they?

I sat on the riverbank at every opportunity and began to notice that in none of my photo’s or on any occasion had I seen the female. It seems as though the male has raised these three on his own.

As the juveniles became more confident I watched them attempt to fish for themselves, repeatedly diving but only occasionally  coming up with a reward. But they were learning and if they were to be chased off soon, it was a lesson they had to learn as quickly as possible.

Juvenile kingfisher calling for food

Juvenile kingfisher calling for food

As always it was a gamble as to which side of the river to sit on but as the days went on it didn’t really matter and the perchs I had put out earlier were in constant use for preening, attempted fishing or waiting for the next meal.

Perky juvenile kingfisher

Perky juvenile kingfisher

Saturday came and I was treated to another spectacular day but surely they’d be gone soon, the 3/4 day window must be closing.

Yesterday was a week after fledging and they were still around and still being fed by the male.

Kingfishers squabbling over a fish

Kingfishers squabbling over a fish

So it seems nature doesn’t always conform to what the books and experts say.

It may be that the loss of the female has meant the males paternal instinct has overridden the need to chase them off, and with no partner to try for another brood has meant he will tolerate the juveniles for a bit longer. I do hope so. As many of you know, I’m a bit obsessed with these beautiful birds and the longer they’re around the happier I’ll be. As soon as they’re gone the riverside will be a lot quieter place.

Until next year!!

Juvenile kingfisher

Juvenile kingfisher