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.

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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