Country Diary: Shy bird that is often located by its shrill call

Kingfisher's are especially vocal in spring and autumn.
Kingfisher's are especially vocal in spring and autumn.
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“Looking for great crested newts?” I jokingly enquired of a couple, gazing intently with binoculars over the muddy bed of a drained area of the lake near the Open Air Theatre. No, they were seeking a pair of kingfishers in a willow tree. Apparently three days of observation out of five recently, had proved successful. Yes, they were present, but we must wait. It’s a shy bird, and is often first located by its call. Some move to sheltered coasts in winter.

It was a dry, but bitterly cold day as we slowly walked on towards the North Bay. However, all was not lost when we heard the repeated loud, shrill, “chee”, of the kingfisher just beyond. They are especially vocal during spring and autumn when establishing breeding and wintering territory.

Kingfishers suffer a high mortality in hard winters, unfortunately.

In Ancient Greece, a dead kingfisher would be hung up as a protection against lightning!

Now is the time when flocks of widgeon may be seen along the coast, and shallow, fresh water ponds or lakes. During winter months birds move south from Iceland, northern Europe and Russia. We’ve observed them at sea from Scarborough’s Sea Life Centre, and inland at Johnson’s Pond. When feeding in flocks, as they move forward you have excellent sighting of their beautiful colours in good sunlight. Their tiny bill is used for cropping vegetation.

Two species of bird which occur in mixed thrush flocks in winter tend to be dominated by fieldfares and redwings. So far we have seen few this year. Some years, even our roadside verges proved popular feeding grounds especially for redwings.

Although fieldfares are usually birds of open countryside and farmland, cold weather will drive them into gardens where fallen apples and remaining berries will be eagerly consumed. There’s been a great harvest of those this year!

Both fieldfares and redwings will join other birds at feeding stations.

The largest flocks of these visitors we’ve encountered was at Thixendale, on the way to Robert Fuller’s gallery. Peak numbers are not reached on the east coast until October or November. Sometimes flocks of several hundred cross the North Sea and often arrive exhausted. Their winter food is largely insects, if the ground remains unfrozen due to mild weather. They’ll also eat worms, along with berries and fruit.

We look forward to re-visiting Robert Fuller’s exhibition at Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale tomorrow. His remarkable wildlife paintings, photographs and sculptures are truly inspirational and must certainly mark a red-letter day on your calendar.

Locally, rat-watching has proved a captivating and relaxing experience at the Mere Cafe off Seamer Road. The mere itself is teeming with swans, geese, ducks and gulls. Rats enjoy sharing the food, quite unheeded by the birds, and almost ‘rolling’ along on their short, rapid legs in the vicinity of the jetty.