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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

"Oh, Say Can You See?": Kingfisher on Long Island Sound

Air Date: Week of

A kingfisher zooms towards the water, ready to begin fishing. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

The fourth of July is a time for Americans to feast on hot dogs, veggie burgers and corn on the cob. But as Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender observers, the kingfisher has its own version of an Independence Day picnic.


O’NEILL: The fourth of July is a time for Americans to feast on hot dogs, veggie burgers and corn on the cob. But as Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender observes, the kingfisher has its own version of an Independence Day picnic.

LENDER: Flap-flap glide, flap-flap glide.

Kingfisher powers down the flotsam line headed for the perch he most prefers, that driftwood pole on the end of the breakwater someone’s wedged between the stones. Tied to that pole is an American Flag.

Maybe it is the angle of the pole pitched out from the boulders so he can see, some pocket in the gravely bottom where fish like to hide. Maybe in the breeze the wavy-gravy of the flag so gallantly streaming distracts the fish below. Or that he’s all to himself out there and the high commanding view fifty yards from shore.

Kingfisher dives!

A kingfisher perches atop a flagpole. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

An underwater thrust of his wings, he rockets into the glare. Lands, shaking salt water from his feathers. And looks and looks and looks again, all sides, and doesn’t find, a thing. Not a creature of must and should, unlike the tethered ship of state he is a citizen of the air. Where and when the fishing’s good, his only country.

Sometimes from the periwinkle crusted groin down the beach a ways he will rise, and plummet into the brine! A fish then in his bill every time. And this will be his land, till the little shells are covered by the tide. Or instead the last seaward piling with its trailing beard of seaweed, where young tautog and sanddabs weave between the strands.

Hover – Hover – Hover - PLUNGE!

Until the day’s last gleaming…

By dawn’s early light, Kingfisher will find the flag still there, and take possession (of what belongs to only time and space). Leaping into flight kingfisher barrel rolls on wings of angel blue! That no hawk or falcon can surprise from up, or down, or from the blind side.

Flap-flap glide, flap-flap glide.

Until he disappears from sight…

Cirrus clouds come curling, sweeping color from the sky and the ocean far below its mirror. Winter will come and tear the Stars and Stripes to tatters. When Summer returns, where plankton bloom and silverside and bunker gather, the fishing will be good, and there Kingfisher’s true and only flag will fly.

From which the Cognoscenti derive:

Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria, Piscare!

(Sweet and Proper it is to Fish for One’s Country!)

O’NEILL: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender.



Read the corresponding field note for this essay

Visit Mark Seth Lender’s website

For more on the creatures of Kingfisher’s fluid territory, check out Smeagull’s Guide to Wildlife


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