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Walkers along the Banavie section of the Caledonian Canal were pleased to see a welcome flash of bright turquoise and orange after the recent series of storms, writes Kirsteen Bell.
A kingfisher has been delighting local people and visitors through the winter as it darts between the canal and the surrounding watercourses.
The heavy wind and rain may have put an end to the sightings: rough weather and higher water levels often send kingfishers searching for more sheltered territory, such as along Loch Eil or into Loch Linnhe. However, when the skies cleared – albeit briefly – it was seen once again.
Kingfishers have been spotted with varying success for many years in the area as they feed upon the minnows and sticklebacks in the canal.
Jon Mercer, from Glenloy Wildlife, told Lochaber Times: ‘They may have been set back by the very cold winters experienced in the area around 2010 when the canal froze to a depth of a foot for over a fortnight.’
Populations of kingfishers can take years to recover from a bad winter.
Lochaber is the northern edge of the kingfishers’ range in Scotland, although they have been seen occasionally at the Inverness end of the canal. Mr Mercer added: ‘Their territories depend on the available food. They can normally be found around a couple of miles of productive water.’
The sightings this winter have ranged from the weir at Corpach basin and the top of the locks, to beyond the river at Loy Sluice. The range indicates that the sightings could be of different birds.
There is very little difference between male and female kingfishers, making them harder to identify. For those who manage to get a closer look, the male beak is entirely black and the female has an orange-pink tinge to its lower beak.
February is usually the beginning of their breeding season, and there is a chance that, if a male and female have neighbouring territories, they may form a pair. If so, they will nest in burrows along the banks of a waterway, which affords the birds some protection from predators such as mink and pine martens.
If the nests are successful, walkers along the canal may want to keep their eyes peeled for an increase in the birds’ activity around April and May, as they attempt to feed their first brood of new chicks.
Once the young kingfishers have left their nest, however, do not expect a corresponding increase in sightings – the parents will soon chase their offspring away from the territory before laying a second clutch of eggs.
Humans can also pose a risk to the future presence of kingfishers on the canal. If the nests are disturbed at all then these shy birds may stay away from their young for too long, which can have disastrous consequences at a time when feeding is so important to the survival of the brood.
For now, we keep a hopeful eye out for their continued brilliance with the approach of spring.