Kingfishers ........ the bird which everybody wants/loves to see but which is all to often described as "that blue thing flying away down the river!". If I had a pound for every time I got asked about them I could happily volunteer the rest of my life without financial concern.
Here at Sandwell Valley I am told that these charismatic "blue flashes" actually used to breed on the reserve only a few years ago (may be 4 years - before my arrival) but the nest site was lost after a sudden flood of the Tame. We have in fact christened one viewpoint over the river 'Kingfisher Corner' because of its history of providing excellent views of the bird. Although no longer breeding on the reserve, for the last couple of years sightings were still very frequent suggesting that they had only moved a short distance up or down the river.
However, it probably didn't escape your attention that this winter was a little chilly - it has rightly been described as a severe winter. Kingfishers are one of the birds worst affected by extreme cold weather (see more here) and ours seemed to suffer. The cold weather means they can die of starvation because of a lack of fish, or they move out to coastal regions to feed in salty water which is less likely to freeze. Unfortunately this year Kingfishers have been at a premium on the reserve with very few reports (countable on one hand for the first 6 months of the year) which indicates that the winter hit our residents hard and very few survived!
Now I would hate to write a blog without a happy(ish) ending. You might notice in the previous paragraph I said reports were rare for the first 6 months, but we are now into the 7th month of the year. And yes, sightings of the blue flash have been on the up and I saw my first reserve Kingfisher for the year today from our river viewpoint. Please don't read this as me saying you will definitely see a Kingfisher if you visit, to be honest the odds are still pretty long, but it is certainly encouraging to hear a few more reports trickling back to us. So if you do see one, please let us know either in person or online (this blog, Facebook, Twitter) so we can keeps tabs on whether they are returning.