LEGENDARY BIRD A RARE SIGHT
The first thing people tend to relate the beautiful kingfisher to is often that iconic, iridescent ‘ flash of blue’. It is, after all, about the only thing many of us ever get to see of a bird that is seldom seen yet always a treat, if a little fleeting.
Perhaps not amongst the first words used in a description of this fabled bird would be ‘Sappho’ but that word, indeed, that person, is inextricably linked to the kingfisher. To find out why, we need to travel back to the ancient Greeks, around 630 BC.
Sappho was a female Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. The Alexandrians included her in the list of their nine most important lyric poets. Little is known for certain about her life, and sadly the bulk of her poetry, which was well known and greatly admired, has now been lost. However, her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments. Sappho was, like many of her higher ranking contemporaries, quite experimental when it came to her passions. It was Sappho who linked her birthplace with the female love of women.
Sappho the beautiful Greek Poet.
Ben goes on to tell us that one of Sappho’s greatest loves was a remarkably beautiful woman, Atthis who’s beauty was legendary and when the great Carl Linnaeus came to give our bird its specific Latin name ( after the already charming and serene’ Alcedo’ meaning halcyon), he could think of no other way of describing attractiveness than to bestow upon it Atthis.
Alcedo atthis not only fishes happily in the waters of Shropshire in the far west of its range in England but spans Eurasia all the way to the Solomon Islands. And although there are 87 different Kingfisher species in the world, ‘ours is the only one to breed in Europe. If eats fish of course, but also preys upon invertebrates, crustaceans and amphibians. So why mention Kingfishers this early in the year?. Well in many parts of northern and eastern Europe the kingfisher is migratory, some traveling up to 3,000km to their wintering grounds says Ben. The UK’s population of kingfishers is largely non-migratory but some ringed birds have been found on mainland Europe and vice versa.
Ben Waddams Painting of a British Kingfisher. Oil on Board.
Germans have a different name for our species- eisvogel or ‘ icebird’, This reflects the fact that migrants move south to Germany in response to freezing conditions to the north. Indeed winter is the crucial time for kingfishers. A severe one can lead to as many as 90 per cent of Britain’s kingfishers perishing. The population is always on a natural knife edge, so a mild winter would mean that us nature enthusiasts will be treated to more of these beauties come the spring.