Food fit for a kingfisher

Outdoor Living

A ROYAL ENDING A kingfisher with a freshly caught juvenile roach. 

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

Dawn is progressively becoming a more elusive target, and especially so after dusk last evening. I had gone to watch the annual upstream migration of roach, which even now are heading into the rivers and streams that feed the lakes where they live. We would rather they weren’t there at all, but they are interesting, and not only to ourselves.
Wherever prey species gather there will be predators. In the case of the roach, these include my otter, which has been very active but also hard to locate. I found him early this week, asleep in the sun amid a dense growth of tall sedge. He slipped into the stream before we properly met and took himself toward the lake where his arrival was heralded by a cloud of anxious gulls.
I was intrigued, too, by the double-handfuls of dried grass that littered the river bank. I imagined the badgers had been busy changing their bedding, although it does seem a long way from their sett. When I chewed the matter over with James he gave me food for thought. “That’s otters,” he said, “gathering straw for the young ones.”  
So dawn it is, and while waiting for my friends to appear I find myself immersed in a world of birds, with one in every tree and bush.
A pair of wood pigeons sail into the new-green of a nearby ash tree, he close at her tail. He bows and coos with that delicious, intoxicating voice. She turns her back as he makes his move, but is having none of it and takes herself away. The two of them share moments in the air, pink breasted and wide eyed until they become silhouettes against the sun. Their calls still reach my ears long after they have gone.
Beneath the footbridge I find my roach in a shoal several hundred strong, and as I do one of the local heron appears over the treeline. He fancies one or two for breakfast and I am in his spot. He lets me know it too, uttering a stream of invective as he turns away, pale grey in the growing light. A second heron kicks up a fuss in nearby woodland. Then I see her flying in tight, low circles, screeching endlessly. Something is afoot. A predator at her nest? Perhaps. Or a fox or a mink at its kill. I want to go and see, but the sun is warming and the stream pleasant and restful.
A flash of blue and orange catches my eye. There! I knew it – a kingfisher streaking home with a his catch, probably one of the juvenile roach from last year’s spawning. He has his nest nearby, then, probably in the high bank a quarter mile off.
It is now after eight and I hear the traffic building on the road nearby; people rushing to get there ahead of the rest, and for what?
A wild female mallard suddenly appears, wading at the waters edge and probing weeds with her bill, ignorant of my presence. Today she will dine on freshwater shrimp and a variety of sweet greens; soon she will feast on the eggs of roach. Her drake flew in to join her. ‘Quick!’ he pressed her. ‘Quick! Quick!’ Fully aware of his intentions she burst into the air with and took a wide circuit of the moor, he in hot pursuit. She should have her nest feather-lined and filled with eggs by now, or even be trailing a string of ducklings. The mink have them destroyed.
I turn my attention to the shoals of fish which are now milling around, chasing each other in anticipation of spawning. They are pretty creatures, that much is certain, all silver-green, cream and orange, and there are some fine specimens among them. They are not native though, and the changes their arrival has made are yet to be quantified. So very many fishes in such a small river cannot possibly be sustained. After spawning the adults will head back to the lake, leaving behind them many millions of eggs, then millions of fry.
Nobody is certain how roach populations came to be established in our great trout lakes, although it is likely they were being used as livebait by pike anglers and either escaped the cruel hook or were released at the end of a day’s fishing. I must catch one and eat it, just to see.