IN my last column I described how I built an artificial nest and rigged it with cameras so that I could look in on the secret world of kingfishers.

This pair had seven eggs and I spent this spring watching the adult pair as they took turns to incubate them.

Kingfishers are solitary birds and have to overcome their insular nature in order to breed. This pair had a particularly fractious relationship. There had been several spats during their courtship and occasionally this animosity continued - even coming to blows one day with the eggs underfoot.

It was quite dramatic. I had spotted the male call the female from outside the nest to announce his arrival. Instead of flying out, as was usual when he arrived to relieve her from her shift, she stayed put.

He called again; then entered the tunnel. I watched on camera as he made his way up to the nest chamber. But instead of greeting him when he got there, the female rushed forward to peck him.

Their beaks locked: it was like watching a sword fight. The male grabbed the female by the head and spun her round. The eggs scattered. The female jabbed at the male, grabbed him by the head and chased him out of the tunnel.

She then reversed back up the tunnel and gathered her scattered eggs back under her. I could see that one egg had a dent in it.

Exactly 20 days after they were laid, the first egg hatched. The moment the female shuffled to one side to reveal six eggs and one freshly-hatched chick felt so exhilarating.

I watched as the male tried to encourage the wobbly chick to feed. It wasn’t easy to see inside the pitch-black nest, but I could just make out the male trying to line up the fish with the chick’s tiny open beak. It didn’t help that the hatchling’s head was swaying around uncontrollably. The following morning four more chicks had hatched.

The adults roosted in the nest at night. One brooded the remaining eggs, even though it was apparent by now these weren’t going to hatch, and the other brooded the chicks.

It was quite funny to watch the pair brooding side by side. They would rest their long beaks on one another’s backs and then, as they nodded off, their beaks would suddenly slip off one another’s smooth feathers, making them wake with a start. After such a rocky start, it seemed this stormy relationship had settled down now they were parents. But the family dramas continued. A few days later the chicks nearly perished after the pair left them alone for a long, cold morning. The male had left the nest at dawn to hunt and instead of waiting for him to return, the female left at 7am and didn’t return for an hour.

The male did arrive back in the meantime, but instead of brooding the chicks – which were lying in a motionless heap at the back of the chamber, dangerously cold - he sat on the addled eggs.

Five minutes later the female arrived with a fish and the male left. Again, the female brooded the eggs, rather than the chicks. There was an agonising 20 minute wait before the male returned and, realising the chicks were huddled at the back, brooded them. It wasn’t until midday that they were warm enough to feed.

After this dramatic turn of events things returned to normal, with dozens of fish being fed to the chicks every day. At three days old the chicks were not the prettiest, they looked like pink baby pterodactyls.

They developed a blue and orange tinge as their feather pins started to show. Then, a week before they fledged, their feathers came in. By now these juveniles were venturing down the tunnel to be fed.

Then the moment came and they were out of the nest. It was a privilege to watch their first adventures in the outside world. They would take in everything around them, bobbing their heads at the slightest movement.

When a duck landed on the water they visibly tightened their feathers to their bodies in alarm. They still had to learn who they could trust and who to avoid. I watched one chick as it attempted to catch its first fish. It plunged into the water, but like most first dives, it didn’t go well and the chick had to swim to the edge of the pond, propelling itself with its wings, to get out.

The chicks have now moved on to another territory and the adults did not attempt a second brood. I miss them. Their family were such a big part of my life this year.