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In pursuit of the elusive blue-eared Kingfisher

In the state of Goa, India on a birding expedition, one afternoon we set out to look for the blue-eared kingfisher. Amongst birders, certain birds become sought after as they are more difficult to sight. The blue-eared kingfisher is one such bird – at least it was for us. We had already seen several other types of kingfisher but wanted to see this one in particular not least because of its wonderful name.

After an early start, well before the sun peeped over the surrounding mountains, earlier in the day we visited a temple complex, the grounds of which contained several large and old trees acting as great homes for many birds. Wandering around a wildlife sanctuary getting glimpses of exotic bird life, we were accosted by a troop of Bonnet Macaques. They simply ambled around us continuing their chatter, squabbling and preening at the same time. Our attention was diverted by the macaques, but we returned to our quest for the blue-eared kingfisher with determination. We even parked on the side of the narrow bitumen strip, at a place where a small waterway came near to the road. This was a potential site for the blue-eared kingfisher but he was not home today.

So after a brief rest and opportunity to fortify ourselves with lunch, we embarked on the final foray in search of our elusive blue-eared kingfisher. For this expedition, we returned to a nearby temple but instead of approaching the temple grounds, we turned off scrambling along a small path on the edge of the river. Soon we were enveloped in the jungle, only the narrow path keeping the grasping vines and trees at bay. We walked eagerly; eyes peeled to see any hint of blue among the patchwork of greens laid out before us.

We scramble up and down the forest track, stretching our muscles as we did the limbo under branches fallen across our path. Eventually we reach the waterhole, our destination on this search. Our bird whisperer Loven, instructs us to find a seat and wait quietly.

There are many large smooth boulders providing suitable sitting places, and it was not difficult at all to lazily gaze around at the jungle coming down the banks to reach the life-giving water. We admired the large old trees clinging precariously to the riverbank, their roots undercut by periodic river flushes as the monsoon seasons come and go. The water runs into a large pool, spinning around and then exiting at the bottom of the pool. An eddy swirls a collection of golden brown leaves in a vigorous dance, providing a mesmerising interlude and distraction from scanning the trees for our elusive bird.

We sight a white-throated kingfisher perched on a nearby tree. He remains perfectly still gazing intently at the water seeking his dinner. He is a beautiful bird and I feel privileged to see him in his own environment. Sunset comes early this deep in the jungle and this kingfisher hid himself behind a curtain of leaves so there was no photograph to be had. We settled for enjoying the experience, of being in the dense Indian jungle not unlike our North Queensland rainforests.

Just before we departed for the return trek, Loven checked downstream. Returning ten minutes later, he showed us a blurry photo taken on his phone. With a mixture of relief that he had found the elusive blue-eared kingfisher and resignation that we, his clients, had failed to see it Loven showed his photo. We were dutifully impressed but resigned to failure in our quest for the blue-eared kingfisher. And so, we departed into the deepening gloom now anxious to return to the comforts of our accommodation, the promise of a welcome shower and a delicious dinner.

Some quests are not about reaching your goal. The process, the journey or the experience can be the reward. Just being there and having a purpose can, as in this case, make memories that easily become even more valuable than a brief glimpse of an exotic bird on a continent half way around the world from home.

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