A thrilling encounter on the most inauspicious of days

A surprisingly fruitful week in terms of random bird encounters: a sizeable, noisy flock of long-tailed tits breezing through the back garden one afternoon; a great spotted woodpecker on the bird-feeder earlier the same day; a close fly-by of the barn owl as I headed towards the compost heap in the gloaming one evening; a large formation of high-flying geese as I went to open the garage this lunchtime.

But the most unexpected encounter occurred last Saturday afternoon, as I walked back towards Jen’s mum’s house from an errand in Hebden Bridge. It was pissing with rain, and ridiculously cold, feeling more like the week before Christmas than the first week in October. Cars had their headlights on at three in the afternoon. As I walked beneath my umbrella along the canal viaduct high above the River Calder, I heard a single, high-pitched squeak—a sound I had not heard for several years—and spun round to see an iridescent blue streak flying towards me along the river: my first ever Hebden Bridge kingfisher! It shone in the gloom, as if in a spotlight.

As always, I was astonished at just how small kingfishers are: only slightly larger than house sparrows. It landed on a riverside branch way below me, flitted back and forth for a few seconds, then shot off down the river, back the way it had come.

A thrilling encounter on the most inauspicious of days.

By Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Website · Facebook · Twitter · Newsletter · Book

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