A hot summer's morning on the River Usk.

22nd July 2016
Last week I was walking on the River Usk close to where I live and I was fortunate to see a pair of Kingfishers near a historical nest site for these birds. I immediately backed off from the area not wanting to disturb them during the breeding season. Kingfishers are a Schedule 1 bird and it is an offence to knowingly cause disturbance to them, particularly near a nest site. However, this is not the reason I backed off, it is because I have a genuine regard for these birds and I want to see them proliferate because there is no better sight on a river than the electric blue plumage of a Kingfisher.



I positioned myself about two hundred yards further away and just watched as they hovered and dived into the river, hunting fish for what is usually by now their second brood of the season. I started to wonder what had happened to their first brood because they are driven away after about a week to make room for the next brood. If they hadn’t died, which is a distinct possibility because they have a high mortality rate among young birds, they might be around the area away from the nest site.
I returned the following morning at first light and got under cover and after about an hour I could hear the tell-tale ‘Peep Peep’ of a Kingfisher. I could see two birds landing in some overhanging Willow trees about ten yards away and through my binoculars I could see they were juvenile birds by the white tip to their beaks and their smokey coloured feet.

Male.


Female.




These were obviously two birds from the earlier brood mentioned above, they were fishing and chasing each other around in typical fashion. I always like to photograph Kingfishers so I decided to come back in a few days after the forecasted rain. The river would rise and become coloured after the rain and would take a few days for the level to drop back down again.
Before I left I waded into the river and erected a sharpened tree branch near to the Willows and made it secure with some river stones. I always carry a machete with me to cut and shape fallen branches.
The rain duly arrived with a very dull showery couple of days and I didn’t bother to look at the river because I knew from experience what the level would be like. However, for the following Tuesday the weather forecast was lovely, warm and sunny and river levels would be back down, therefore I decided that would be the day. I was up at 04.00 on a stunningly beautiful morning, to quote H.E.Bates’s Uncle Silas, ‘Not a breath of wind stirring an ear of corn’ and as I made my way to the river the temperature gauge in my car read 18C. An early morning mist lay over the river but that suited me because it meant the birds wouldn’t be fishing and I could set up my hide without them seeing me and I knew it would soon burn off.
I was quickly under cover and very soon the mist did indeed burn off but I was unprepared for what was about to happen later. The birds were about soon after and I watched them hovering in front of the Willows but returning back to land without achieving anything. They then typically chased each other down river and I immediately went to see what they had been doing and I could see a large shoal of Minnows in front of the Willows but just too far into the river for them to fish from a perch. Fishing from a perch is always easier than hovering that is obvious so I decided to give them a hand. I found a fallen willow branch and cut it to shape and attached it to an existing branch, thereby creating an extension that overhung the Minnows, that is why I always carry some tools with me.
I quickly returned to my hide and the birds came back up river about half an hour later landing on my extension without hesitation and beginning to dive with immediate results.



It was very pleasing to see this, the more fish they catch the better their chance of survival.

It had now become a glorious morning and the woods were loud with birdsong. The sun's golden moted rays shone through the resplendent canopy and danced upon the clear rippling Usk. Chiffchaffs and Marsh Tits chased each other and a Green Woodpecker ‘Yaffled’ from the trees. Six juvenile Goosanders flew downstream and Grey and Pied Wagtails probed the gaps between pebbles in search of their breakfast. A loud continuous peeping echoed up river and to my surprise three Common Sandpipers landed right outside my hide and began feeding in the shallows. They were too close to photograph, which was frustrating, but two flew off quite quickly, they looked like a pair, and one stayed and just walked into my focusing range which was ideal.
It fed, preened and then fell asleep on one leg for ten minutes before it too flew away.








I continued to photograph the Kingfishers as they caught Bullheads, Gudgeon and Minnows.



Unfortunately for me the sun had now began to really intensify and I was dressed in a light fleece, long trousers tucked into walking socks, wellingtons and in a small portable hide. Although it is important to cover up near a river if you are going to sit in one place for long periods because you can get some nasty insect bites, it can be uncomfortable. As a result of my circumstances and the now incredibly hot sun I was really suffering and after I got some more kingfisher shots I had to pack in, my drinking water had run out and I was baking. The walk back to the car carrying all my kit was horrendous, it was now 11.00am and blisteringly hot.
When I returned home I couldn’t wait to off-load my kit and get under a very cool shower. I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the Tour De France, with a cooling fan pointing at me. (Cycling being my other passion having been a keen road cyclist for many years I can only gasp at these athlete’s fitness). It was a tough day in that heat and I am going to wait until this warm spell ends before I have another try. The sun was too strong for any decent images but it was great to see these iconic birds on my local river.