Deschutes River folds around an underwater rock to form a heart-shaped eddy. All splash. No waltz in three beats yet. The soft humming rush of water feathers my bare hands warming in the sun on an afternoon winking in false spring. Tell that to the pair of dippers courting in aerial chases and duetting love songs among rocks exposed in low flows. Their melodies are fountains flinging whitewater in a ricochet of romance.

I have come to perch on a basalt ledge to wait for a belted kingfisher. A few days earlier, I’d sat here with my kingfisher-besotted (in the best of ways) friend Mary. She’d spotted him first on a lichen-fronted boulder across from us. Quiet as if in a dreamy doze, he was the off-duty lifeguard lounging before returning to his paladin command of the aquatic realm.

Belted Kingfisher, @Marina Richie

We watched for his awakening, and in the wait came our awakening to a mink undulating along the undercut bank. His sinuous passage furrowed the water’s edge until he slipped under the shadowy alcove of a jutting rock.

The male kingfisher did perk up to fly from rock to rock, and to let fly not one but two arcs of whitewash and a pellet, which catapulted from his beak into the pool below. Only then did he zing headfirst to snip a minnow-sized fish from the shallows and thump his prey on the resolute boulder before swallowing. Ready for the next plunge, his tiny tail snapped, his two-part crest sparked navy blues, and his stiletto beak aimed at the pool below.

River Otter in the Deschutes. @Marina Richie

On this day, I stay until sun rays end their flirtation with my chosen spot. Just before I turn to meander on, I catch a glimpse of movement in the wave train. A river otter shoulders up from the glossy glaze and sinks below. Gone. I am left in the gaze and gawk of witness to wonder. Walking to the edge of the cliff, I scan up and downriver. No otter. Yet in the searching, I notice the afternoon sun is spotlighting a red-osier dogwood tendriling up a stone face splotched in tangerine-hued lichen. Be bright. Be tropical. I take the cue.

My solo waltz away to the next dance floor is a step forward, to the side, and back. Never a straight line. Not a box step either–more of a circling and encircling. How can I not when the sky is flax blue, when a cluster of rose hips bangle from a stem, and when a Douglas squirrel churrrrs from a lodgepole pine? His tufted ears, whiskers, gripping toes, and brush of a tail laid flat on his back is not the equation for “squirrel.” Add those big brown lover eyes rimmed in creamy fur and now that’s a squirrel. We lock brown eyes in the pause between beats.

Douglas Squirrel, @Marina Richie

Moving on, I breathe in the beat of sunlight that now limns the chartreuse moss curtaining a midstream stone. I taste the beat of one seedy yet slightly sweet rose hip. And there it is! The third beat is a kingfisher trill of one note rolling my way. And now I quicken toward the sound.

He is resplendent on a driftwood gray branch of a fallen tree splayed upon the waters. The kingfisher cocks his head downward to study the pool. Alone, he tuts and mutters. Who am I to know if he likes the sound of his voice or if he is in dialogue with the murmur of river? I am certain he is the same male as the one Mary and I watched. This is his domain to fend off other kingfisher intruders. I think he has a good mile or two of terrain and like the best of anglers he knows the ways of pools riffles, light and shadow.

Now the waltz slows. I duck behind a tree and see a promising fallen pine closer to his perch. Scuttling low to the ground I’m there and he is not alarmed. Propping elbows on the wood, I hold the camera still and focus on a wild Valentine.

When at last the kingfisher spears the lingering light and wings upriver, I retrace my steps as the river continues to waltz in a whirl of endless partners always ready for a spin.


My related Blogs to check out: Valentine Bird, Winter Solstice: On the Wings of Kingfishers

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Finally–check my schedule here for the latest calendar of events for my book, Halcyon Journey, In Search of the Belted Kingfisher.

Photos below are taken by Marina Richie-all on the day of river waltz and heartbeat (except for my dipper photo -from this 2015 blog: California Coast: Moonlight, Redwoods & a Long & Winding Road).

Belted Kingfisher on his driftwood perch
Two dabbling mallard ducks
Ring-necked ducks
American dipper
Mallard drakes paddling along
Rosehip cluster in the golden light
Sunlight limns the moss-covered rock in the river
Belted Kingfisher–Halcyon bird!