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Sneak a look at one of our finest birds; NATUREWATCH.

While driving home in my native Iowa, USA, some years ago, cobalt blue flashed across my line of vision. A kingfisher! My first kingfisher. It perched on a telephone wire over a stream I'd played in as a child.

I immediately pulled over, and took out my binoculars. It was a male belted kingfisher in all his glory. I'd waited nearly a quarter of a century to see one, and there he was, in such a familiar area no-less, posing for me for just a few moments before dashing off to a better perch.

Kingfishers live all over the globe, but the common kingfisher is the only species that calls the UK home. Equally as exciting and elusive as the belted kingfisher I saw in the States, the common kingfisher is a lovely iridescent blue with warm, chestnut orange underparts. Their beaks are long and pointed - essential tools of the trade for fishing in the slowmoving waters where they typically hunt.

Streams, ditches, the River Tame, and the Birmingham-Fazeley canal - all of which flow in and around Middleton Lakes - provide an excellent source of food for this amazing creature.

Being high up in the food chain, kingfishers are extremely vulnerable to build-up of harmful chemicals. Industrial pollution and contamination by agricultural run-off kills the fish these birds rely on, effectively excluding the birds from many stretches of river that would otherwise be suitable.

The harsh winter we've recently experienced has meant there are less sightings than usual at the RSPB's new Middleton Lakes nature reserve on the outskirts of Birmingham. As you can imagine, frozen water makes it quite difficult to hunt for fish, but overall we're seeing more and more 'blue flashes' - a good indication that Britain is gradually cleaning up their waterways.

Now that I've seen a kingfisher in the States, I'm desperate to catch sight of one here in the UK. I envy those who come into the office to boast of their most recent sighting of our kingfishers at Middleton Lakes.

In fact, while carrying out a breeding bird survey on the reserve, some volunteers caught sight of a male carrying a fish.

If you share my desire to spot this beautiful bird, come along on one of our regular guided walks at RSPB Middleton Lakes. The reserve is not open to the public yet but this is a great way to get a sneak preview of this spectacular site. Call the reserve on 01827 259454 to find out more and book your place. And cross your fingers for me, will you? I don't want to wait another 25 years to see one!

Alexis Johnson, Field Studies Officer at RSPB Middleton Lakes

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 15, 2010
Words:450
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