I experienced my first kingfisher when I was fourteen. I was walking by the River Arun in Sussex and stopped by a wooden bridge where a small stream joined the river. A dazzling blue shape, glowing as if lit from inside, whizzed under the bridge and away upstream. I was dumbfounded, so overcome by this alien presence that for a few moments I couldn’t think straight. The sheer surprise of it all seemed beyond words, but eventually I worked out what it was.
I still feel that sense of surprise, though I’ve seen a lot of kingfishers since. On a hot summer’s day in my thirties I was leaning on the parapet of an old stone bridge in the Northamptonshire town of Oundle. I watched young fish gently swimming near the surface of the water below, noticing the stripy flanks of some tiny perch. The clear face of the water shattered as a kingfisher shot under the bridge and took a fish right below me. It settled on a branch opposite with it in its beak. I thought how bright its orange breast looked against the blue and tourquoise of its other feathers. Then it was gone.
The only time I didn’t feel astonishment is when I was sitting comfortably on a warm day looking across the river. I stared at the trees on the far bank in an unfocussed way. A kingfisher flashed from left to right across the whole of my gaze. I didn’t jump or startle, just took it in as it happened. That was memorable in itself.
In this diary I’ll gather together images and thoughts about kingfishers from my daily walks along the River Nene between Oundle and Cotterstock. If you know a lot about kingfishers, or have at least seen one, I hope it chimes with your own experiences of this uniquely exciting and colourful bird. If you have never seen one then I hope you enjoy it anyway. And who knows, by giving hints about how and where to look – and listen – it may just help you experience one for yourself.