26 Nov 2021

What a belter of a Kingfisher

In October 1979 I started as an undergraduate studying biology at Manchester University. That same year a Belted Kingfisher turned up at Sladesbridge Cornwall. Although it stayed for awhile it was pretty elusive and getting there would have entailed a long hitch from Manchester to Cornwall. Stupidly I never made the effort. If I'd known then that there wouldn't have been another one in the UK until 2005 I'd have made more of an effort but at the time I was a conscientious student.

For years it had been on my most wanted list of birds to see in the UK. With several birds being seen in Ireland and in Spain the hope was one of these birds would migrate and make it to the UK. April 1st 2005 saw me skiing in Andorra with my wife and two kids. A message about a Belted Kingfisher at Shugbourough was viewed as a April fool hoax. Only it wasn't and most of my Cheshire compatriots made the short journey to Shugborough to see this Jackdaw sized Kingfisher. It's a Mega in so many ways.

April the 2nd dawned with many disappointed faces as the bird had gone. Only to be relocated later that day in Yorkshire. Again it eluded the masses before finally pitching up in Peterculter, Scotland where it showed from the 4-8th April. We arrived home from Andorra on the 9th. Another one missed.

Roll forward to April 18th 2018 when one was found on the Scillies and seemed settled at Porth Hellick. Surely it would be 3rd time lucky? Al Orton and I thought so as we drove through the night to Cornwall and get a flight from Lands End to St Mary's. Or so we thought. Bad weather meant the flight was cancelled and we had to get the ferry from Penzance. Surely the bird wouldn't have moved on in such bad weather? It had and another opportunity was lost. 

Unbelievably a fisherman dangling his maggots on the River Ribble just north of Brockholes NNR in Lancashire videoed one using his phone on 9th November this year. We were there within a couple of hours of the news breaking but despite staying until dark there was no sign until the 14th November when it was reported again from exactly the same spot. Again, birders turned up but failed to find any trace. How could a bird this big and loud disappear? With no more sightings we pored over OS maps to look at areas where there was access to the river bank and where a Belted Kingfisher could possibly hangout. Despite us, & lots of people searching large stretches of the Ribble, there was no further sign.

When a Long-toed Stint was reported in Cumbria it took quite a bit of sleuthing by a few people to determine where it might be. I'd missed the Yorkshire bird in October as we were on Fetlar. We'd arranged to drive straight there after getting off Shetland only for it to disappear the very day we were going. Keen to catch up with this ultra rare stint I arranged with Chris we'd drive to Carlisle in the hope the bird would show and access could be arranged. As we passed Brockholes on the M6 Chris jokingly said he had a good feeling about the day and that he fully expected to get the Long-toed Stint and then the Belted Kingfisher on the way home! Unbelievably the news came through from RBA that the Kingfisher was showing well in exactly the same spot when we were only 20 minutes from Rockcliffe Marsh where the stint had been seen! Deciding to carry on we soon found there was no viewing on site, no access and no sign of the bird.....

With news the Belted Kingfisher was still showing well we decided to cut our losses and head back down the M6 to Brockholes. News kept coming through that it had moved but was still showing, next it had been flushed, by who or what we didn't know, but eventually at 2.20 pm we pulled up in the crematorium carpark and raced down to the river bank down a very steep muddy embankment. Distant it may have been compared to the views people had earlier but finally after 42 years I had my Belted Kingfisher. We watched it move around a bit before at around 2.50 it flew upstream and wasn't seen again.

What an incredible end to a long wait! Hopefully its now getting into a more regular routine & there'll be another chance to catch up with this spectacular bird. Surely it will overwinter in the area now? 

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