Wow! Sometimes what else can you write after two splendid hours in the presence of chattering, rattling, prattling, trilling, clickety-clackety belted kingfishers? If you can roll your Rs in Spanish, that’s the speed of their highest pitched calls when in a state of high excitement.
The two males kept up a constancy of vocalizations while chasing, swerving, hovering, sparring, rocketing, and very possibly playing. Why wouldn’t they be exuberant on the first sunny morning after a week of fog here on Oregon’s Coos Bay close to Cape Arago?
Once, a third kingfisher joined in the fray and tripled the intensity of chatter, a bit like those wind-up toys that go skittering across the floor, except in this case the birds were arcing through the sky above the rippling cobalt waters of the bay.
(Note: The video below of kingfishers chasing and calling will play on the website. Turn up the volume for full effect. See if you can trace the flight of the kingfishers. My favorite part is the hovering sequence).
I couldn’t ask for a better gift here on the coast as our house sitting comes to a close. I’m in the midst of revising my kingfisher manuscript for a due date of September 1st to the publisher, Oregon State University Press. To be here overlooking the bay is to revel in the richness of the birds I’ve come to know and love. I say “know,” yet I’m always confounded, uplifted, and in awe of what kingfishers continue to teach me.
All the birds of the bay seem particularly peppy today. Like me, they must be feeling the endorphins of sunshine. Why else would the kingfishers keep up their banter for so long with never a sign of stopping to fish? While I’ve tended to chalk up such behavior to a fierce territoriality over fishing rights, this morning I had to wonder. Why not enjoy the chase? Play tag? Laugh.
Usually when I’ve encountered kingfisher confrontations, one bird appears to be the winner and the other flies away to find another fishing spot. Both genders can be feisty when it comes to claiming a stretch of prime angling waters. On coastal bays, there are fewer demarcations with such an abundance of prey. Still, they are generally wary and solitary, except during the nesting season.
Never have I heard this much calling and seen this much wing-sprinting between two birds. In comparison, the bald eagle that landed in a fir tree close to the carousing kingfishers seemed content with a slower melody of chitter now and then. Once, I heard the raspy call of a great blue heron lifting into the air. I took note of squawks or screes of crow, gull, and Steller’s jay. A lone wrentit sang a bouncing ball jingle. But the kingfishers? Nonstop.
So I stayed awhile, mingling with the pungency of the intertidal. In rubber boots, I waded into shallows or found my way on flat rocks and sand where I would not squish the sea life of aggregating anemones and barnacles. Striped shore crabs scrabbled under ledges. A flock of sandpipers whisked by. Double-crested cormorants glided or flapped past the kingfishers as if oblivious to their antics.
Egrets, as white as the wakes of fishing boats heading out to the ocean, added a touch of slender, long-necked, and long-legged elegance to the dripping and slippery low tide rocks and pools. Occasionally, I paused to exclaim over the emerald brilliance of algae or a fossilized shell.
Mostly? I gawked at the kingfishers and tried to follow their careening flights in my binoculars. Sometimes, they’d pause to land in a tree or on a rock, usually far apart, but not always. There was a certain familiarity with each other, like brothers who grew up wrestling and tumbling.
As the air show at last came to a close (at least an interlude), I felt like cheering for the performers. They had slalomed around obstacles, almost brushed wings, skyrocketed high and low, hovered, and vamoosed into the trees–all the while giving those reverberating, staccato calls that shifted in cadence, rhythm, and pitch.
Face it. Belted kingfishers are awesome birds. I’m one lucky writer and also fortunate that the talented artist Ram Papish has agreed to be the illustrator. Stay tuned. The book will come out in spring of 2022.