A friend visiting from Holland said she’d like to see a kingfisher, so the quest was on. Though it’s not often seen, most people can recognise a kingfisher with its russet chest and vivid blue-green back and wings. It’s actually quite a small bird, no bigger than a dipper, but its big head and heavy, dagger bill make it seem larger. It’s very vulnerable to cold, so has benefited from a succession of mild winters and is now well distributed locally on rivers, streams and ponds. If you’re lucky you might spot one from any of Ilkley’s bridges but the best place at this time of year is at the nest site – and we knew just the place.
Kingfishers need overhanging vegetation for cover and an accessible bank above flood level for breeding. The adults gouge out a tunnel up to 90 centimetres long and lay their eggs at the end. The young crouch here for three weeks while fish bones and scraps accumulate around them, a real mess: imagine the fledgling’s experience of emerging from this dark and clammy den into the air, sunlight and water which is to be its world. Unfortunately at our site, though those tell-tale stains of bird-lime around the entrance to the nest-hole showed recent occupation, the family had already left. However, as we walked away along the riverside, we suddenly spotted a small bird flying rapidly upstream. As it passed, there was that characteristic flash of blue as the sun caught its plumage. Mission accomplished!
Summer is reaching its peak now and vegetation is lush and high. A flowering plant needs to be tall and thrusting to get a share of the action. One which we enjoyed seeing recently is the giant bell-flower. A wild relative of the Canterbury Bell, but even showier, it grows a metre or more high, its flower spike clustered with pale bluey-mauve (almost white) bells which glint in the sunshine. You can see some fine specimens growing along the Wharfe in Strid woods.