Leeds Castle is buzzing with kingfisher activity, much to the excitement of Wildlife Warden, James McComiskey: “I am lucky enough to have at least three or four sightings each day at the moment. A couple of weeks ago I spotted four kingfishers together at one time, two of which were flying around the moat and two fighting on the ground. This was the first time I had ever witnessed fighting kingfishers and it was so amazing that I started showing visitors immediately.”
The small bird is identified by its electric blue and orange feathers and long dagger-like bill. Male and females can be distinguished apart by their bills; males have an all-black bill and females have a red base to the lower part of the bill. Usually found nesting and hunting around large, slow-flowing rivers, canals and lakes, the water rich Castle estate makes for the perfect habitat.
In recent weeks freezing cold temperatures led to the Castle moat being encased with a thick layer of ice, which causes hunting difficulties. Many kingfishers perish because of lack of food that a severe winter can bring and James has sadly seen some evidence of this. Despite high breeding productivity, populations can take many years to recover from a bad winter but thankfully temperatures are now on the increase. Mild winters have led to a population increase resulting in more frequent sightings and the 2016/2017 winter to date has been the best winter for spotting kingfishers in the five years Wildlife Warden James has worked at the Castle.
Kingfishers are notoriously challenging to spot and photograph because of their small size and speed. Most often they can be seen perching motionless when fishing or sometimes hovering before plunging into the water after a fish. Look out for a flash of blue or listen out for their call, which is the best clue to their presence, especially with a noisy territorial kingfisher.
“The best time of year to spot kingfishers is during the winter when there are no leaves on the trees and the young have recently fledged the nest as they are less fearful of people. Kingfishers are most active in the morning but I have seen them throughout the day at Leeds Castle. They prefer quieter days generally, although I have seen them flying around when the Castle has been extremely busy, so I urge visitors to keep a good look out at all times!”
James has been keenly watching kingfishers across the estate and has scouted out the best places to spot them: “Kingfishers are most regularly seen on the moat or the Barbican and can be spotted flying fast and low over all our waterways. Sitting patiently in one of the quieter parts of the wood garden will also produce sightings. In summer, I love seeing them from the Black Swan ferry boat – the crew are really good at pointing them out!”
Learn more about how to spot kingfishers and other wildlife species residing across the estate by joining James on a pre-bookable Wildlife Experience. See wildlife in their natural habitats in the early morning before the Castle opens to visitors for a truly memorable experience. For younger visitors interested in wildlife, the Wellie Walks taking place during Birds, Bugs and Beast at Half Term provides the perfect chance to capture the imagination of future wildlife enthusiasts! If you are lucky enough to capture a photo of a kingfisher at Leeds Castle please share it via Instagram.