A Tale of Two Kingfishers
One of my favourite episodes in our Flight Free UK podcast series is an interview I did with Iain Green, a wildlife photographer based in Gloucestershire. Iain spent most of the early part of his career photographing big cats in Africa, but after deciding to reduce his flying carbon footprint he turned his attention to more close-to-home nature.
One winter night he had gone out in the garden to look for something that had blown off the washing line.
“I spotted a blue and orange ball on a branch,” he said. “At first I thought it was a Christmas decoration. Then I realised, it was a kingfisher. For a wildlife photographer, kingfishers are the Holy Grail, and here was one, in my back garden. I came back to the same branch every night for four weeks. It is easily the wildlife experience of my career.”
Often we feel that we have to travel far to find astonishing wildlife, and that exotic, memorable or life-changing experiences only happen a long way away. But in always wanting to be somewhere else, don't we miss what is under our noses?
Distinctive yet elusive, we can probably each clearly remember the times we’ve seen a kingfisher, if we are lucky enough to have seen one at all. That dart of blue, the jewel-like shine. It's easy to see why Iain thought he was looking at a Christmas decoration.
Having glimpsed one in my early childhood it was two decades before I saw one again, on the Kennet and Avon canal in Bath. Heading along the towpath for my daily run one morning I noticed an unmistakable sparkle just above the water, and I stopped short, watching as it landed on a branch.
For about a week I saw it daily, and the delight never lessened. Others would gather on the bank, too, a collective holding of breath, the air loaded with excitement as though we had been given a gift, or let in on some secret. The precious, tense moments before it darted away. The experience stays with you for a long time.
I wrote an ode to that delicate bird. Not quite Keats; but surely, he must never have witnessed the magic of the Kingfisher.
A flash, a splash, a burst of blue,
A rocket of iridescent hue,
A fleeting jewel on endless wing,
He catches fishes as a king.
Alighting on a branch he gleams
In stark contrast to cold-stripped beams,
An orange breast, sharp line of beak:
A fire within the winter bleak.
A sudden movement makes him rise
Into the dull and sullen skies,
His regal coat with glitter shone
Flits up, and drops, and then is gone.