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The kingfishers of Maiden Erlegh Lake
The bird identification chart, on a board by the feeding station on Maiden Erlegh lake, suggests there are kingfishers to be seen, but experience tells us these brilliant birds are a rare sight indeed. A year elapsed before I saw my first, after moving to this area some years ago. I remember it clearly, skimming the water as it headed for the trees opposite the end of Allendale Road. I had several sightings in the summer the reedbeds were planted, flying long and low over the centre of the lake - but then nothing. Then these past 12 months, for me at least, have seen a considerable change, with kingfishers appearing regularly around the lake.
I first noticed this relative abundance on 9th September 2012, when on a morning stroll. I was at the fishing platform opposite the Duck & the World, when two kingfishers, only inches apart, flew "in formation" just above the water. They were five or six feet from the bank - unmistakable with their long beaks and iridescent colouring. Not long afterwards, there was one of them, flying to the fallen tree on the opposite bank. I went to fetch my wife and son, knowing that they would be keen to see these infrequent visitors. Another flew past Swan Island, along the reed bed fence and alighted on a post. For the next half hour we saw them flitting from place to place. Finally, having wondered around to the fishing platform, I saw them both fly directly overhead and beyond the treetops, in the direction of Laurel Park.
It has been suggested that kingfishers on the lake come up from the Loddon - along the wooded "green corridor" formed by the stream - and here was an indication at least that these two birds had come from that direction. Were they simply occasional visitors, or nearby residents? Well, days later I saw two together again, and at the end of the month, three more sighting of a single bird. Things were getting busy!
On several weekends over the next three months I would see a kingfisher, sometimes once, sometimes twice at a time. On 12th December one flew some distance across open water between the weir and the far end of the large island. In January, after a week in which the lake iced over, I saw a kingfisher near the sediment pond at the Beech Lane end of the lake; the water here, at least, had not frozen.
However, that was the last for a while. It was not until 19th April that I saw one again, which prompted me to keep my eyes open, and my best sighting followed soon afterwards. It was a lovely sunny Sunday and I had gone for a walk down to the Loddon, following that very same "green corridor" mentioned above. Should I take my camera? I'd carried it around the lake that morning and taken nothing, so I left it behind. Imagine my frustration, then, when walking along the bank I glanced momentarily into a riverside tree and caught a perfect glimpse of the kingfisher's classic profile. What a picture! But with no camera, I could only look. Still, it is a treasured memory: the bird was perched just feet away, the sun catching the colour of its feathers. Of course it flew off eventually, but its presence at the end of the corridor gives weight to the proposition that Maiden Erlegh gains its visitors along that route.
In June, with unconscious irony, a kingfisher was looping back and forth in the overhanging branches by the "No Fishing" sign, opposite Swan Island, and in August another flew straight over open water across the centre of the lake. So this year, those of us who admire this brilliant bird can take pleasure in its increased visits and hope that perhaps it will stay.
Edwin A.R. Trout
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