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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Long Live the Kingfisher

Air Date: Week of

(Photo: (c) Salt Marsh Diary)

Salt Marsh Diary writer Mark Seth Lender moves by stealth to watch one of his favorite birds, the Kingfisher, as it readies itself to eat.


YOUNG: When it comes to actually catching fish – humans are amateurs, compared with the kingfisher. And writer Mark Seth Lender finds the belted kingfisher cranky, intolerant, almost impossible to approach, which makes the bird one of his favorites.

LENDER: The mercury is low yet warm for the middle of winter. The sea is calm, the sky clear blue: Kingfisher weather. I know the places he prefers, I know from long experience the times of day. I know where I must bide and where to look so he will be in light and me in shadow. Patience completes the equation. Serendipity the only persuasion might put things right, all in place as they will need to be, before Kingfisher flees.

(Photo: (c) Salt Marsh Diary)

(Photo: (c) Salt Marsh Diary)

(Photo: (c) Salt Marsh Diary)

Kingfisher visits these same pillars and posts there, just off shore, with regularity. He spots me far down the strand and will not have it. Sometimes if I stand absolutely still he will come, very close. Though never long. A heavy breath will drive him, downshore, three or five or seven hundred yards and further.

Shhh! There he is on the outermost pile, Belted Kingfisher, looking down. He is all attention now; Anchovies clear as drinking straws swim flat and fast just below him and do not know him. One comes. He goes – SPLUNJG! – Then again to his place of mooring, thwack-whacking poor fish senseless. Then pauses. Then tips that too-big-for-his-body Kingfisher head waaaay back – and SLP! – swallows poor fish whole. Then sits, digesting bits of scale and fin.

Beneath the white belt about his neck, Belted Kingfisher’s little belly squats above splayed feet, more like a bird who pecks wood for a living and eats un-nautical things. The heavy beak; the pattern of his flight; Old Kingfisher seems closer to that Flicker who clings to the vertical of a nearby pine than to those great and usual eaters of fishes, Eagle and Osprey, Cormorant and Penguin.

East from Argentina to Africa, north and south and all the way to Costa Rica, all these lands Kingfisher knows. Among these many places in his many ways he comes from a single source, unique.

(Photo: (c) Salt Marsh Diary)

Cover to cover, I creep toward the perfect point of vantage. I hold my breath; I am stone; no matter – Kingfisher flies. Proximity is his fuse and I am the match. Looking over his shoulder he waves goodbye, Flap-flap-flap-flap glide, Flap-flap-flap glide, chattering his irritation.

However hard I try there is no besting the Fisher of Kings, and his wise, sharp eye.



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