My Halcyon Days

May 8, 2021 My search for the elusive Ruddy Kingfisher, or Aka Shoubin in Japanese, has been going on for some years now. They migrate north, from the Philippines to their breeding grounds in Japan and Korea among other countries every year, arriving around the beginning of May. One area they are known to return to in Japan is The Miike Wild Bird Sanctuary in Kirishima Kinkowan National Park. I was there two years ago, ( May, 2019 blog post) when I was able to record a pair of Ruddy Kingfishers calling to each other. However, I did not make a sighting of these shy birds.

The following year, ( May, 2020 blog post) I was surprised to hear it’s beautiful call at Yasukogen, which is only a 30 minute drive from my home in Dazaifu. Again, I was only able to record it’s call without ever getting a good look at it, let alone capturing it’s photo.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to returning to Miike Lake in the hopes of seeing and photographing this phantom of the forest. Over the years, it has taken on a kind of mystical quality for me. My ‘Holy Grail’ of birds so to speak.

I reserved a site at the same campground I stayed at two years ago, but ended up going one day earlier without a reservation due to a sudden change in the weather forecast. Without a reservation for that night, I drove straight to the Wild Bird Sanctuary, planning to sleep in the car if I was unable to get a campsite, but it turned out to be no problem at all.

I set off on the same trail I used previously, but this time I went deeper into the old growth forest. The trees were huge, often with ferns and mosses growing upon their large trunks and boughs. The beautiful songs of many different species of birds such as the Eurasian Wren, Narcissus Flycatcher, Blue and White Flycatcher, various Warblers, and Woodpeckers, created a constant symphony of sound.

As I neared a group of benches at the top of a small hill, I heard the call of a Ruddy Kingfisher, soon followed by the answering call of another. I sat on a bench and waited. A few minutes later, the call repeated right behind me up in a tree, along with the repeated sound of a beak stabbing upon wood. Could it be making a nest hole? Soon after, as I slowly turned, the other kingfisher appeared, but both of them were obscured by some leafy branches, and I could only see an occasional flash of red through the leaves. Trying not to frighten them away, I slowly stood and walked twenty meters back down the way I had come, until I found a clearing through the branches and leaves with an unobstructed view. It was then I was able to confirm a nest excavation in progress about 15 meters up the trunk of a dead pine tree. They took turns clinging briefly to the hole as they chipped with their long, chisel-like red beaks. They returned to the same branch over and over, sometimes flicking away chips of wood they came away with. I covered myself and my camera with camo cloth, photographing and videotaping for some three hours or so, in very good light at times, as the shadows moved with the sun. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this. I mean, I was in the right place, at the right time, and the nest tree was right next to the trail, (park rule is you are not to leave the trails). The Latin name for the Ruddy Kingfisher is Halcyon Coromanda. ‘Halcyon’ comes from the Greek word for Kingfisher. According to Greek legend, Halcyon, or Alcyone and her husband were turned into Kingfishers by the Gods. They built their floating nest on the sea, and the wind god, Aeolus, (Halcyon’s father) would calm the waves while she sat on the nest. Thus, Halcyon Days has come to mean a time in the past when times were especially happy and successful. Fittingly, the Ruddy Kingfisher has provided me with my Halcyon Days.