Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guest Author Barnie Day; Spring Post

Boss Bird Is Back In Town

By Barnie Day

HEADWATERS OF THE DAN—The kingfisher kept his word and came back yesterday. He left out in mid-October—probably to South America. I don’t know for sure. He keeps his secrets, too.

I was on our back patio, watching the sun come streaking and flaring over the mountains, and he announced his return from his favorite perch, a maple limb that hangs out over our pond. He is an exuberant, raucous male in his flashy prime.

This is his sixth trip back. I don’t know that he’s the same bird, but he says he is. He doesn’t strike me as a liar.

He is always first, always early. There are still slips of snow in fence corners and along the line of trees that flank our driveway. The willow tree is barely budding. The frogs still sleep.

Other water birds come and show proprietary interest—ducks, herons, cranes, plovers, pipers, egrets. Big geese glide in, flaps down, honking loud enough to
wake the dead, and slalom the water as if wearing skis.

In mid-summer, an osprey, heavy enough to sway the pine boughs back and forth, will come to fish—and bicker back and forth with the shrieking crows, and other water dwellers—beavers and muskrats, lizards and water snakes, booming, bellowing bullfrogs—will show themselves—but the kingfisher gets dibs on this pond. He always does.

The Dan is birthed from a clear, cold fissure spring in a swampy place half a mile distant, ponding on my neighbor’s place, then on ours. From here, it meanders back and forth across the Virginia-North Carolina border for maybe a hundred and fifty miles until it joins the Roanoke River and disappears into
Kerr Lake Reservoir, a 50,000-acre Corps of Engineers flood control and hydroelectric impoundment built in the 1950s—a place better known as Bugg’s Island.

This bird is mouthy. He screeches and clacks. He fluffs himself. He buffs his beak against the maple limb. Boss bird is back in town.

I know his exuberance—to splash your face in a spring that is a river’s origin gives rise to such—but I know, too, that he doesn’t preen and brag for me.

A mate is somewhere near. I haven’t seen her yet, but I know that she is here. No doubt, he is promising her the moon. She will settle for something less—a
tunnel dug into the bank across the pond from where I stand, a six-to-eight foot tunnel, and at the end of it, a cubbyhole nesting room.

No, they won’t peck it out—they will dig—more a dance—it with their feet. They bring tiny shovels. The middle toes on each of their feet grow together and
make small scoops just for this. They will raise a small brood of chicks on insects, small fish, and other aquatic life.

In all, there are maybe ninety species of kingfishers spread across three families—Alcedinidae (river), Halcyonidae (tree), and Cerylidae (water) and scattered in woodland and water habitats throughout the world.

This is a Belted Kingfisher, the most common in North America—and here in Meadows of Dan—if you can call such an exquisite creature “common.”

(Photo Credit / Wikipedia)

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