The Post – Reflections on a Belted Kingfisher

The first time I saw the belted kingfisher, I nearly missed him.

It was that brief time in the early morning when the pond and woods behind us are still shrouded in night’s shadows. The sun hasn’t yet come up and the view is mostly dark silhouettes that blend together against the steel-gray mirrored surface of the pond. It’s the time of day when nothing is quite what it seems.

In the pond, there is this large tree trunk that lies on its side, a casualty of Hurricane Fran in 1996 when the wind snapped a large oak tree into three chunks and threw the largest one into the pond. It has remained there since, a gift to the wildlife. Everybody hangs out there, from spiders, fish and ants, to hawks, muskrats (at the same time no less), and ducks. It is the inter-species resting place, the sunning spot for 10 or 12 turtles, and the staging area for birds fishing in the pond.

On this particular morning I looked out, my eyes barely open, at the odd collection of shapes and shadows in the backyard. You couldn’t make out anything clearly. I think if an elephant had been out there, you might just have mistaken it for fog. As my eye skimmed the pond’s surface, I noticed this shape – rather clearly defined, which is why it caught my eye. It looked almost like a bird.

Being a bird-watcher, I immediately woke right up and looked closer. It was the image of a bird, perfectly outlined on the water. But where was the bird? I didn’t see one anywhere. I dug out the binoculars and scanned the area until finally I could make out a similar shape on the tree trunk right above the water. It had blended so well into the darks of the woods behind it, you could barely make it out. I never would have seen it if I hadn’t noticed its reflection in the pond.

It was a belted kingfisher. He is a maniacal-looking bird. He’s got a white ring around his neck that makes it look like he had been leashed, but escaped. His blue-gray feathers stick straight up out of his head like he stuck his foot in an electrical outlet. He has large wild eyes and a fishing technique that would do the Three Stooges proud. Essentially, he jumps up, flaps his wings, then flings himself at the water. He doesn’t so much dive as plows in a full body flop, through the surface of the pond. He’s effective – he always comes up with a fish – but he gets failing grades for aesthetics.

I see him out there a lot now, especially now that I know what to look for. And it’s usually on those foggy mornings.

It occurred to me that life can be like that. There are gifts or important truths, understandings, that we often don’t see. They blend into the background fabric of our lives, and we overlook them unless something reflects them back at us and they catch our eye. Without that moment, we’d never know they were there.

I think the thing I keep in mind now is that Belted Kingfisher rule: When something catches your eye in life’s fog, take the time to look because some things in life can only be seen on reflection. You never know. It might be a gift.

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