HALCYON

Bird Watching (UK) - - Uk Bird Sightings -

bill. He was watch­ing, lis­ten­ing, turn­ing his head from time to time. After a while, with a deft hop, he turned to face away from me, jew­elled flash of azure and sap­phire. Even­tu­ally, he took off to the bank and landed on a slen­der reed stem that bent un­der his min­i­mal weight, curv­ing into an arch over the wa­ter. Like an ac­ro­bat, he turned again on the al­most non-ex­is­tent bal­ance line of the reed. He re­mained there watch­ing, lis­ten­ing, wait­ing, re­volv­ing his head from side to side, scout­ing for fish be­fore mak­ing a light­ning dive, turquoise tor­pedo dis­ap­pear­ing mo­men­tar­ily into the wa­ter with a plop, then out again on to a wil­low branch, fish in beak. Halcyon bird, bird of the Greek gods who hurled a thun­der­bolt at Al­cy­one’s lover and killed him, upon which she drowned her­self for grief. Re­pen­tant, the gods turned the lovers into a pair of blue-plumaged Male King­fisher (Al­cedo atthis) emerg­ing from wa­ter with a fish birds who built a float­ing raft of fish­bones on which to lay their eggs. They saw to it that the winds and the wa­ter were calm enough for the in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod, en­sur­ing that new life could emerge: halcyon days. Days to make the most of, for King­fish­ers are short-lived. One year may be their al­lot­ted span. As they laser through our vi­sion with flash of sap­phire light, these be­ings rep­re­sent ephemer­al­ity. Ice and sap­phire con­jure flame, wrote Nor­folk poet Peter Scupham of the king of fish­ers who can catch up to 100 fish a day while feed­ing their young; and they can have two or three broods of up to 10, in a good year, so that’s a lot of fish. Poet John Clare ob­serves how a King­fisher feeds on fish and sits on a branch of a tree that hangs over a river for hours on the watch for any small fish that passes by, when it darts down and seizes its prey in a mo­ment. King­fish­ers were spir­its of good luck in bird folk­lore, and Clare tells how, in some places, they hang a dead King­fisher up in the kitchen to note the weather by, as it is said that its head turns to the rainy quar­ter when rain is ex­pected. Shoot­ers on the Nor­folk Broads used to get one shilling a piece for a King­fisher’s skin: too bril­liant to be real, wrote pi­o­neer­ing pho­tog­ra­pher and or­nithol­o­gist Emma Turner in the early 1900s, a tiny statue be­decked with pre­cious stones of sap­phire, turquoise, ruby, and scar­let feet. My King­fisher shot off from his branch, rapier-fast, jew­elled streak of lapis and flash of rust, fly­ing dead straight along the mid­dle of the river, and dis­ap­peared around a bend like a mis­sile, pip­ing, fleet­ing streak of elec­tric blue sear­ing the wa­ter to land some­where out of sight. Rosa­mond Richard­son

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