More than one hundred species of kingfishers are found distributed around the world – every continent but Antarctica. All share oversized heads, dagger bills, and short flicking tails. Many have dazzling rainbow feathers. They range in size from the diminutive pygmy kingfisher of African rainforests to the kookaburra of Australia. Here, Marina Richie takes as her inspiration the belted kingfisher, found all over North America but not as well-known as other common birds. In this first book on belted kingfishers, Richie plunges headfirst – just like a kingfisher would – into their lives, following them from her backyard to archives around the world.
On a small stretch of Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula, Montana, Richie spent hundreds of hours seeking and observing a skittish pair of nesting belted kingfishers. Weaving natural history, mythology, and memoir, Richie celebrates the belted kingfisher through a journey of discovery across multiple seasons. She discusses the scientific literature on kingfishers, the role of citizen scientists, the appearance of kingfishers in religions and cultures from ancient Greece to the Salish tribes, and her own observations: the staccato calls, the sharp dives, the scenes of females chasing after each other.
Her quest taught her not just about kingfishers but also about stillness and the world around her. Spending long hours still on the creek bank, she reflects on the challenges and narratives of wildlife, of environmental change, and of her own life: the death of her father, himself a bird lover; balancing her passion for kingfishers with marriage, motherhood, and paid work; and finally a decision to leave Montana for a different life in Oregon.
Marina Richie holds an MA in journalism from the University of Montana and a BA in biology from the University of Oregon. She has worked as a journalist and managed communications for a number of wildlife-oriented public and private organizations. She is the author of two children's books published by Farcountry Press, Bird Feats of Montana (2008) and Bug Feats of Montana (2009). Her recent writing on kingfishers has appeared in Post Road, THINK, and Birdwatching Magazine.
"We come to know birds and ourselves in new light through this passionate and inspiring exploration. Wonder emerges from meticulous and loving observation of the bright lives of kingfishers."
– David George Haskell, author of Pulitzer finalist The Forest Unseen and Burroughs medalist The Songs of Trees
"Much is still unknown about the belted kingfisher, surprisingly – hence the gift of this beautifully-written book, which offers the best of citizen science and lyrical observation. If curiosity is the definition of love, then this is a true love story, for it is born of pure inquisitiveness. From Montana to South Africa, from the Smithsonian to a creek, from studying flight to nesting to migration to myth, this story soars with Richie's graceful observations of the bird and eloquent words on the page."
– Laura Pritchett, author of PEN USA Award winner Hell's Bottom, Colorado
"In exquisite prose, Marina Richie takes the reader on a meditative and dynamic dive into her search for the kingfisher. Some stories wake us up in time to make a difference. Halcyon Journey is one of those stories. It is also a wondrous story that will transport you."
– Debra Magpie Earling, member of the Bitterroot-Salish tribe, author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea
"As one of North America's most widespread breeding birds and one whose life is wedded to clean fish bearing waters, Belted Kingfisher could serve as the poster child for North America's waterways. Those whose lives are enriched by periodic deep dives into the natural world will be enchanted by Marina Richie's insightful treatment of this very special bird – a favorite of mine."
– Pete Dunne, author of 15 books on birds and birding, and founder of the World Series of Birding
"The kingfisher has long deserved a queen from our own kind, and here she is: Marina Richie. This sharply observant author has written a book that can draw us all into the fascinating and secret lives of the fresh-water king. My own cherished moments in seeing these birds along rivers will forever be enhanced by the stories told here and the insights revealed."
– Tim Palmer, author of America's Great River Journeys, Rivers of Oregon, and other books
"In a world that is rapidly losing its birds, we need reminders of how glorious they really are – their songs, their colors, their eagerness for life. Halcyon Journey is a lively, joyous celebration of kingfishers and rivers, by a writer whose love for birds sings on the page."
– Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Earth's Wild Music
"In this crazy world, it's good to have a teacher, a spirit guide, a guardian. Marina Richie has found hers in the blue ball of fire called the kingfisher. In Halcyon Journey we join her quest to know this bird through startling science, resonant field observation, and a storyteller's knack for putting us breathless into the presence of this divine bird."
– Kim Stafford, author of Singer Come from Afar
"Marina Richie's unsentimental yet passionate quest to know the belted kingfisher delights the senses, with descriptions of the natural world that are both photographic and poetic. Getting to know this elusive and storied bird produces an unexpected suspense – not only for the author reflecting at the midpoint of her life, but for all of us and our common planetary fate. With sustained and sustaining attention, this "citizen scientist" shows us what it means to be present in our lives and in the world."
– Suzanne Matson, author of Ultraviolet