Another stirring tale from the banks of the River Wissey
The days are now short and the nights even longer. Today there is a strong northerly wind and it is bitterly cold. The ground is still hard from last week's icy spell but at least it is dry. There is a welcome brightness but it is unconvincing - snow and sleet is forecast again. The countryside is bare and just waits for the onslaught of real winter. There is no escape and Long Johns must overrule fashion! Seagulls circle the river and momentarily land with a splash and then take off again. Strangely these birds are now permanent residents. Once they were just visitors when the sea was rough but their geography has now changed. Likewise an alien cormorant has also been gliding round and round and looks menacing as he searches for fish.
Suddenly there is a blue flash streaking down the river. It disappears under an overhanging tree further along the bank. The kingfisher has been busy all morning speeding backwards and forwards. He travels at a break-neck speed just inches above the rough surface and always in a straight line. He knows exactly where he is going and heads directly for it without deviation.
I am fishing for pike alongside the river Wissey. The tall reed beds and a large willow tree provide me with good shelter. I have had two dropped runs but am determined to connect with the next one!
The kingfisher has been constantly passing in front of me - only a few feet away. He is either unaware of my presence, or as I hope, he realises that I mean him no harm! His bright emerald blue makes him instantly recognisable. The startling colour is the complete reverse to camouflage but his sheer speed enables him to avoid any danger. His underside is robin red but because he flies so low it is rarely seen in flight.
Again he flies past - this time upstream. He is catching fish and returning to his nest to regurgitate his success to feed his family. His home is a long narrow tunnel in the opposite riverbank. You can imagine its foul and acrid smell from the fish remains and the droppings of the all fish diet.
A while latter he returns and alights in my very tree!! I dare not breathe. He sits on a branch over the water and is completely motionless. Through a network of branches I can clearly see him. I can now enjoy his magnificent colours. He shines and glistens and is quite small. Then without warning he just drops into the water with a plop. In that split second he resembled a dart with his long sharp beak pointing downwards and wings slightly poised. I wait for him to reappear but I do not see him surface. A minute or so later he surprises me again when he is back on the same branch and this time with a tiny fish across his beak. What a picture! With a single movement he swallows the fish and resumes his watch. There is no wait for digestion and he dives again with another loud plop. This time it does not return. No doubt he is full up and has gone home to empty yet again. Blow my fishing - I just sit there in complete awe of the moment. What a privilege to witness a kingfisher at such close quarters.
We are fortunate that our river Wissey is home for large numbers of these birds and thus they provide endless pleasure for the fishermen who sit quietly alongside the water. For a long time they have been one of my favourites but after today they are definitely King of the Fishers for me!