I've been giving some thought lately to a project. Perhaps a better label would be pipe dream, to see every kingfisher, bee-eater and roller species that currently inhabits this wondrous world in which we live. I dreamt up this plan following a 'bucket list' session with the mem sahib down our local pub a couple of weeks back (which more than filled the paper napkin on which I scribbled). Realising such an endeavour would benefit from a modicum of research, I fished around on Amazon and there found a book wonderfully entitled ‘Kingfishers, Bee- eaters & Rollers’ which contains colour plates, detailed descriptions and distribution maps for every one of these colourful species known to science: fate or what? Needless to say I purchased the book and have been flicking through it for the past week or so wondering if it would really be possible to actually put this plan into action.
The 24 species of bee-eater seem relatively straightforward since most are to be found in Africa and India, with one species in Australia. Most seem reasonably widespread and where they occur at least locally common. Also they tend to be very bright, generally colonial and by their nature openly active in pursuit of their insect prey. So far so good.
Rufous-crowned Roller - Kenya
The 12 species of roller would be slightly trickier, with the range of a couple of species limited to parts of Indonesia and one or two of the African species occupying more out of the way countries. Additionally one or two species appear to inhabit thick(ish) forest, providing logistical and access problems as well as making the buggers difficult to spot. Manageable though with sufficient planning, a good guide and a bit of patience.
Green and Rufous Kingfisher - Ecuador
This leaves the kingfishers. Yes the kingfishers, bit of a problem there. These multi-hued bane of small aquatic creatures have 87 representatives worldwide....and they are worldwide. So wide is their world that you would have to visit huge chunks of it to see them all. Now I'm not at all adverse to travelling (I'd hardly contemplate this quest if I was), but some of these little gems can only be found on remote Polynesian islets that seem to be no more than a pile of rocks and sand dumped somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. For example we have the Niau kingfisher that, as its name suggests, can only be espied on the island of Niau positioned in the Tuamotu Archipeligo (I’m aware you know this, but I thought I'd include it for those few who failed Geography GCSE). Similarly the Marquesas kingfisher, a delightful creature with bright turquoise back and wings, a pure white front and head with a thin band of blue through the eye, perches unmolested by any other member of its family in forests on the Marquesas Islands. It gets worse: the chestnut-bellied kingfisher occurs only on Vanuatu which is a speck several hundred miles off the North-western coast of Australia, whilst the Numfor paradise kingfisher sits patiently in the sun dappled forest of Numfor Island off Indonesian New Guinea waiting for me to photograph it. If nothing else we would be racking up one hell of a set of air miles.
I’m aware that we are extraordinarily fortunate even to be able to consider such a thing; it would be hugely expensive and time consuming. However we have the time and absolutely no intention of taking even so much as a groat with us, so I'm not too concerned about that. Is it really feasible? To be honest probably not, at least not for the kingfishers, but wouldn't it be fun giving it a go?
And now the downer, there’s always a downer but bear with me. I've just seen a post on Facebook regarding the vast blazes that are raging in Indonesia. These appear to be resulting from forest fires which I guess have been deliberately set to create room for palm oil plantations. Habitat destruction on a huge scale. So immense are these fires that the smoke they create is fouling the air at the raptor count station in faraway Thailand. I've been depressed all evening. After all it is our consumerism here in the west that fuels the destruction. I'm sure if people really understood what the use of soaps, cosmetics and even chocolate really means then they would be horrified and cease use immediately.
My gloomy mood led me to think about our own track record in this department which over the centuries has not been too clever. This country used to be covered in forests, complete with wolves, bears, lynx, beavers and goodness knows what else. Our ancestors slowly hacked these temperate jungles down without much of a thought as to the effect on the ecosystem, whilst systematically setting about killing off any animal they regarded as a threat to themselves or their livestock. When the woodlands were cleared, a new set of creatures moved in, such as the great bustards that once sedately stalked across the Brecks; of course in our blood lust we successfully eradicated them not much more than 100 years ago. And then the wetlands. Never mind how even in our lifetime we have allowed much of the Broads to become a polluted, sterile cess pool, we also drained the Fens, arguable the single most important wetland this country ever possessed. Once home to serious number of cranes, bitterns and other assorted lovers of marsh and reed bed, it is now largely flat, featureless farmland. Surely there were better ways to organise food production?
Of course happily the tide is turning here to some degree; certainly with regard to the Broads and Fens sterling efforts are being made to clean up waterways, protect and manage sensitive sites to ensure optimum biodiversity, and where possible buy land to recreate the wetland havens they once were. But even now in the 21st century we seem to be reluctant to show tolerance and exercise wisdom: we still shoot badgers, the gentry dress in red and take pleasure from watching their hounds tear foxes limb from limb, hares are similarly torn to shreds by thugs who don't give a damn for the hare or for the law, ancient woodlands are bulldozed, hedgerows are grubbed up, birds of prey are indiscriminately persecuted and at the current rate most of the country will be under concrete or Tarmac within 50 years. So who are we to preach to the peasant in Sumatra or the ivory poachers in Kenya when most of our indigenous wildlife is under threat? Who are we to point fingers and shake our heads in dismay when another tiger is skinned or rhino dismembered when the bones of every big mammal that once roamed these Isles is now fossilising under out of town superstores? What right have we got to take the moral high ground when half our populace can't tell a hawk from a harnser?
In a strange way my doom and gloom lifted a little because I realised there is really precious little I can physically do about the Indonesian fires, the poaching in Africa and India, the decimation of just about everything in Vietnam, the selling out by various South American governments to the Chinese in exchange for mining rights in the Amazonian rainforest: the list goes on. But I can make a difference here, a small one admittedly, but nonetheless something positive. We can all make a difference. We can look after our own modest patch to encourage wildlife, we can plant native hedges, we can dig a pond, we can cultivate native plants, we can build bird and bat boxes and we can take an interest in the natural world surrounding us. We can even get out there and engage in some conservation activity with a multitude of charitable trusts. And we can stop using palm oil.
In this regard charity really does begin at home, because surely only when we literally look after our own backyards can we expect others to follow suit.
Anyway, returning to my fanciful quest. To try to see all the kingfishers, bee-eaters and rollers of the world would have been difficult if I'd started yesterday. Today it is even more of a challenge because there will undoubtedly be fewer of them following the continued rape of the Indonesian forest. Add in the carbon footprint issue and one wonders if it can even be justified. But then I'm thinking there may be a way I can help these little birds after all. There must be a way to link the quest with some fundraising initiative or campaign for greater awareness? After all some of these species are uncommon or maybe threatened and raising awareness of their plight might help. Embryonic musings at the moment and clearly further thought needed. However if any of you have any suggestions or observations they would be very gratefully received. I’m serious about that.
Apologies for the long post.For the record, here are a few more pics of the very few species of these families we have so far logged on our travels, lovely aren't they?
Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater - Kenya
Grey-headed Kingfisher - Kenya
Little Green Bee-eater - Israel
Lilac-breasted Roller - Zanzibar
Little Bee-eaters - Kenya
Pied Kingfisher - Kenya
Ringed Kingfisher - Ecuador
White-throated Kingfisher - Israel
White-fronted Bee-eater - Kenya