Country diary: the kingfisher was mesmerising – until the sparrowhawk got it

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Everywhere, water is seeping. Filling the ditches and field margins, submerging the paths, bringing shards of sky down to earth in unexpected places.

The moist air feels heavy and the sedge beds look flat and lifeless as I squelch across North Meadow in my wellies. I’ve heard reports of kingfishers and snipes in the wetlands, so I’m hoping for an avian encounter to lift the morning gloom.

In the shelter of a hawthorn, I pause to scan a small pond, fringed behind and to the sides with sedges and reeds as if all the water’s a stage. Tuning into the ambient sounds (irregular dripping in the brambles, edgy seesawing of a great tit), I wait with muted anticipation.

A small pond, fringed behind and to the sides with sedges and reeds.

As if on cue, a kingfisher whirrs low over my head and takes centre stage, alighting on a tall reedmace stem at the far side of the pond. In relief against the sepia backdrop, all burnt umber alder trunks and tawny sedges, the kingfisher is cast in warm copper and jade.

White flashes at the throat and neck as it flicks its head, then plunge-dives into the pond. It reappears with a tiny fish – likely a three-spined stickleback – swallowing it in one fluid motion, not even pausing to stun its prey.

Entranced by the virtuoso performance, I’m unprepared for the sudden jolt as the kingfisher disappears in a blur of brown streaks. It calls in alarm, a series of short shrill squeaks that tail off as a sparrowhawk emerges from the sedge, a gleaming body in its talons. Stowing the kingfisher in its undercarriage like an iridescent bomb, the hawk sweeps across the meadow and exits through a pinprick of sky into the alder canopy.

I’m left reeling from the speed and impact of the attack, staring open-mouthed at the deserted pond above which a void now shimmers, radiating a manifest absence.

I half expect the kingfisher to blaze back out of the water, but the surface lies impassive and still. There’s no escaping the finality of this dramatic act. Even so, as I retrace my steps through the meadow, I can’t help but mourn the tragedy of the fisher-king.

o Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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