Kingfishers a harbinger of the halcyon days of summer: Nature News

A photo of kingfishers taken from the National Geographic expedition ship Sea Bird in the Endicott Arm Fjord in southeast Alaska.

This month I am writing from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. This is a temperate rainforest, a very different ecosystem from our temperate deciduous forest; milder temperatures, more rain, bigger scale of everything, yet one which is familiar.

While exploring a precipitous glacially-carved fjord, we heard a bird that was very familiar – the belted kingfisher, a bird that is very common along Seacoast rivers, tidal shorelines and estuaries.

A fun fact about fjords: They are estuaries. An estuary is a place where the river meets the sea. Here on the East Coast, we have bar-built salt marshes where rivers meet the sea and deposit sediment and nutrients that help build a salt marsh. In Alaska, glaciers have carved deep U-shaped valleys where glacially fed rivers meet the sea – no salt marshes, but estuaries though. And so, it makes sense that kingfishers might be as common here in Alaska as back in New England.

Belted kingfishers are usually migratory in the Seacoast area, but will live year-round along the more mild southeast Alaskan coast. For me, kingfishers are a sign of summer. When I hear their raucous cry along my river in North Berwick, I know that summer is truly here.

Belted kingfishers are stocky birds with large heads sporting a shaggy crest on top and a straight, thick, chisel-tipped bill. They are a beautiful blue-gray, and, for once, the female is more colorful than the male. Both males and females have blue backs and heads and a blue breast band with white bellies and collars.

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