Tuesday, 17 May 2011

More Kingfishers!

KF_14, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.
Stick with what you know. That's my motto for the moment - I've had so little success with Barn Owls recently that I've conceded defeat for now. I did spot one bird quartering a field near the A29 on Friday night, after an evening visit to Pulborough Brooks, which may be an indication of things to come. More on that later…

My visit to view the Kingfishers yesterday was really in the hope that the juveniles would make an appearance. These were dashed as they had already been driven away by the adults (apparently the young were first sighted around 4th May - very early, going on my calculations from when the female laid). This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise… the adults were courting again and hung around the nest site for most of the day. Having seen them twice in six hours on my first visit here, it was quite a contrast and amazing to watch. The male came and went, going off from time to time to find a meal for his partner. She waited in the same spot quietly for long periods; the silence punctuated occasionally by his return, with a frenzy of "eeps" that preluded an exchange of fish - and then mating. This happened three times that I observed, two of the three were blighted by light that resulted in images showing nothing more than a messy blue-orange blur (Oh for a D3s!). On the third occasion, I did manage to get a couple of acceptable (but by no means brilliant) images. It didn't help my cause that they chose a distant branch, under thick vegetation and times when light was at a premium. You're always going to be a bit restricted in a fixed hide on a nature reserve anyway, it comes with the territory. One of my photographic ambitions is to find and shoot a Kingfisher on my own terms. But I was generally happy with the day, despite the unfavourable conditions I managed my best Kingfisher shots yet.

So on to Barn Owls. I've had little success tracking them and there have been few sightings in West Sussex. I'm trying to maintain a positive outlook on numbers after the awful winter - so by my reckoning there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, while eggs remain unhatched the male is only providing for himself and the female. Hunting is not as frequent as it will be when there are several hungry mouths to feed. Those eggs should start hatching soon, if breeding is "on schedule" this year . Secondly, we've had predominantly dry weather in the South East for a good couple of months now, so hunting is more likely to be in dark hours. This is excellent news for the Barn Owl; rain means a reduced ability to hunt and less successful attempts at a kill, as they lose the advantage of silent flight and consume more energy. Barn Owls are extremely light for their size; imagine trying to swim fully clothed - that's the battle a Barn Owl has when it's feathers are soaked. A high percentage of owlets starved in the North last year when heavy, persistent rain blighted June - some just days from fledging. We were more fortunate here in the south east, but the rain that came in late July will have hindered the owlets who were learning to catch prey or were searching for their own territory. And then later in the year came the snow…

The main concern is how many birds survived over winter and what condition the females were in. Gut feeling based on these factors is that breeding will be late this year and the size of the broods will be below average. At some point, activity should pick up in the evenings. I'll continue searching; hoping for increased sightings and healthy broods - and keep my fingers crossed for more good weather.

If you're interested in the behaviour of Barn Owls and their young in the nest, take a look at this feed from a nest box down in Dorset. Last time I checked, there were four noisy owlets, that could become six if the remaining eggs hatch!


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