Birdwatching on the Shroppie

PUBLISHED: 16:54 02 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:34 20 February 2013

Birdwatching on the Shroppie

Birdwatching on the Shroppie

Fenella Gerry invites you to join her on a date with nature

Halcyon Days on the Shroppie

Fenella Gerry invites you to join her on a date with nature

In April, I moved my home from Somerset to Shropshire, navigating northwards up the inland waterways.

Back in the 18th century, my journey by narrowboat would have had far greater urgency, involving carrying cargo to aid Shropshires industrial development, in the Ironbridge Gorge in particular.

With the increased pressures and pace of life today, Im not so sure Shropshires industries would be content to wait the three weeks it took to navigate to receive their precious supplies. Back then, however, the network of canals and rivers were an integrated national transport system, carrying vital cargoes and bulky goods.

For the present, our inland waterways offer us all the chance to reclaim the slow and meditative pace of life. Messing about on the waterways gives you a pretty spectacular view and privileged connection with the natural world, from watching a cormorant skilfully devour a reluctant eel to a newly fledged moorhen desperately tripping over itself to keep up with mum.

For me, it is the elusive and majestic kingfisher that still makes my heart skip a beat. They are the jewel in the kingdom of the waterways, skimming over the water in a flash of brilliant blue and orange, perching patiently before plummeting toward the water with unerring accuracy and returning seconds later with a catch.

Not surprisingly, the kingfisher is subject to many myths and legends. Ancient Greeks said the bird, which they called halcyon, bred in a floating nest at sea at the time of the winter solstice, calming high winds and storm waves. Today, the phrase halcyon days appropriately describes a calm, peaceful and happy time.

In folk medicine it was believed that the tiny birds body did not decompose but rather possessed the power to prevent other materials from decaying. In the 12th century raconteur Giraldus Cambrensis wrote: If when dead they are hung up by their beaks in a dry situation, they change their plumage every year as if they were restored to life, as though the vital spark still survived and vegetated through some mysterious remains of its energy.

In our times, our eagerly anticipated visitor likes fresh, rather slow-flowing rivers, canals, lakes and ponds where there is a ready supply of small fish such as minnows, bullheads and sticklebacks. They also eat insects such as caddis fly larvae and dragonfly as well as tadpoles, small molluscs and crayfish.

Kingfishers are solitary most of the year; each bird protects enough territory for continuous fishing and a good nest site. In the breeding season, the male will find his mate and ply her with fresh fish. They will find an old nest or burrow a new one with their beaks, a fastidious task. After three weeks of brooding, the eggs will hatch and chicks will be fed copious supplies of fresh fish for the three to four weeks they are in their nest.

If you are lucky enough to spot a kingfisher, I guarantee you will remember where you were, and you will never forget that experience.
On the River Severn at Ironbridge, the RSPB is running Date With Nature events this summer. Who knows, maybe youll see this iconic river bird if you come and visit us. To find out more about Date With Nature visit: www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/sites/ironbridge

Fenella
Gerry lives on a narrowboat in Shropshire and
heads the RSPBs Ironbridge-based Date With Nature project.

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