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Birds, Conservation, Family Travel, UK Travel

Halcyon Days

Photo: Stuart Conway

Photo: Stuart Conway

A tantalising glimpse of the electric blue and orange stripe of a kingfisher streaking past me and I was hooked.

I waited all day, tried to spot it again, but nothing.
What is it about kingfishers? Once you’ve seen them, they work their way into your consciousness and you have to see them again. It becomes an obsession. I needed to see these birds.
For years they eluded me, and it definitely wasn’t for want of trying. I’d sit in bird hides all day, brave nettles and brambles along quiet river paths where there were reports that they’d been spotted.
I started to think the only time I’d ever see them was on the side of one of my favourite mugs.
It was my eight-year-old son, Meely (Emil,) who unlocked the key to this mysterious bird for me. We’d been sitting in a hide waiting and watching. It was late afternoon and I could hear the rest of my family in the hill above, playing in the bluebell covered woods. I had the picnic bag and I knew our girls would be getting hungry.
I packed up my binoculars, flask and notepad and assumed Meely would be relieved to be leaving after sitting so still for so long.
But he refused to move, his eyes transfixed on the river.
‘We can’t leave, he’s here I know he’s here,’ he said with absolute certainty and determination.
‘We’re not going to see him, I’m so sorry,’ I said.
I got up and stood by the door ready to lift the heavy wooden latch, but he still wouldn’t come.
‘Lets go,’ I said, ‘I can’t see him.’
‘No, but I can hear him,’ said Meely. ‘He’s been calling, the sound is close we are going to see him.’
And at that moment the beautiful elusive bird, called with his distinctive sharp whistle…. zoomed in to the branch and sat on it, while another hovered, wings fluttering before disappearing down the river.
The king of birds sat on the branch for almost a minute and then disappeared. I felt elated, at last I’d seen this special bird. I hugged Meely tight. He was so proud, he chattered and chattered about every detail, every moment.
 
He taught me the most important lesson, to spot a kingfisher, listen first, then look. Now I hear them regularly. And most of the time I see them too.
And everytime I still feel the same elation and I’m grateful to my boy.
K2

Photos: Stuart Conway

Did you know…
The ancient Greeks called the bird the ‘halcyon.’ They believed the female built her nest on the waves and the Gods calmed the seas while she brooded her eggs around the time of the winter solstice.
Now the phrase, ‘halycon days’ refers to nostalgic summer days even though the original halcyon days were in winter.
Kingfishers build their nests in a burrow 60-90cm deep into a sandy riverbank. 
They bring more than 100 fish everyday to feed their brood.
At 24-25 days old the chicks are usually ready to leave the nest.

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Animals, Birds, Conservation, Family Travel, Islands, Photography, Travel, Wildlife

Perfectly Puffin

Every year thousands of puffins land on a select few islands and we have three short months to see them before they go out to sea again for the rest of the year.
We took our four children to the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland for their annual puffin pilgrimage.
There’s a storm brewing. The sea has turned a menacing petrol blue.
‘I’m sorry we have to cancel,’ says the captain. ‘You won’t enjoy it, there’s 47mph winds predicted. You don’t want to get thrown around on a boat out there.’
But that’s where he was wrong. My husband Stuart and my children don’t care about getting thrown around. They do care, however, about seeing the puffins.
The puffins have been elusive to us this year. We were in Scotland hoping to sail from Anstruther, in Fife, to the Isle Of May to visit them, but bad weather kept cancelling the boat.
Undeterred, we drove to Northumberland to try our luck in the Farne Islands, a seabird nirvana that we’d always intended to visit.
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Animals, Birds, Conservation, Ecuador, Islands, Photography, Travel

Photography – in The Galapagos

How to make the most of your camera in the Galapagos. Stuart Conway, an award-winning photographer, tells Julie Conway .

Splat. A splodge of goo landed right on my lens. It had been snorted out of the nose of a Marine Iguana sitting inches from my camera. Another narrowly missed my arm. This dragon-like creature wasn’t telling me to get out of his space; he was expelling salt water taken in while feeding.

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Animals, Conservation

Warrior of the Waves

Captain Paul Watson has dedicated his life to saving the planet. As a founder member of Greenpeace and creator of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society the story of his life reads like an action thriller.

By Julie Conway

When he was 12-years-old Paul Watson shot a boy in the bottom with a B B gun.

‘He was shooting birds and I wanted him to know how it felt,’ he explains unapologetically. ‘I felt it was terribly unfair that I got into so much trouble, the local authorities thought I was crazy. I thought it was the boy who was the crazy one.’

When he was just nine, he destroyed the traps that killed his best friend, a beaver.

Fifteen years later people from around the world watched Watson, numb with shock, as he became the first man to put himself between a harpoon and a whale.

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Animals, Catskills, Conservation, Travel

A Walk on the Wild Side

Just 160 kilometres northwest of one of the busiest and most congested cities in the world, over 1,000 black bears lurk in the wilderness, coyotes taunt and terrify domestic cats and mountain lions stalk their prey.

By Julie Conway

The road to wilderness from New York City is surprisingly simple. Head north on the Henry Hudson Parkway taking care to avoid the yellow taxis erratically changing lanes.

Drive straight over the George Washington Bridge and within two hours of the skyline disappearing from view you’ll be in bear country.

The Catskill mountains encompass over 9,000 square kilometers and are often referred to as America’s first wilderness because scholars trace the beginnings of the environmental conservation movement to this area. Continue Reading

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