Paper pub. date
April 2022
ISBN 9780870712036 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870712043 (ebook)
6 x 9, 264 pages. 19 b&w images. 1 map. Bibliography. Index.

Halcyon Journey

In Search of the Belted Kingfisher

Marina Richie
Illustrations by Ram Papish.

Winner of the 2024 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Natural History Writing

More than one hundred species of kingfishers brighten every continent but Antarctica. Not all are fishing birds. They range in size from the African dwarf kingfisher to the laughing kookaburra of Australia. This first book to feature North America’s belted kingfisher is a lyrical story of observation, revelation, and curiosity in the presence of flowing waters.

The kingfisher—also known as the halcyon bird—is linked to the mythic origin of halcyon days, a state of happiness that Marina Richie hopes to find outside her back door in Missoula, Montana. Epiphanies and a citizen science discovery punctuate days tracking a bird that outwits at every turn. The female is more colorful than the male (unusual and puzzling) and the birds’ earthen nest holes are difficult to locate.

While the heart of the drama takes place on Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula, the author’s adventures in search of kingfisher kin on the lower Rio Grande, in South Africa, and in London illuminate her relationships with the birds of Montana. In the quiet of winter, she explores tribal stories of the kingfisher as messenger and helper, pivotal qualities for her quest. For all who love birds or simply seek solace in nature, Halcyon Journey is an inviting introduction to the mythic and mysterious belted kingfisher.

National Outdoor Book Award medallion





Winner of a 2022 National Outdoor Book Award and a 2022 Foreword INDIES Award

About the author

Marina Richie is a nature writer based in Bend, Oregon. She has worked as a journalist and managed communications for a number of wildlife-oriented public and private organizations. She is the author of the children’s books Bird Feats of Montana and Bug Feats of Montana. Her articles and essays have appeared in Birdwatching Magazine, A.T. Journeys, Post Road Magazine, and many other publications.


Read more about this author

“We come to know birds and ourselves in new light through this passionate and inspiring exploration. Wonder emerges from meticulous and loving observation of the bright lives of kingfishers.”

—David George Haskell, author of Pulitzer finalist The Forest Unseen and Burroughs medalist The Songs of Trees

Much is still unknown about the belted kingfisher, surprisingly—hence the gift of this beautifully-written book, which offers the best of citizen science and lyrical observation. If curiosity is the definition of love, then this is a true love story, for it is born of pure inquisitiveness. From Montana to South Africa, from the Smithsonian to a creek, from studying flight to nesting to migration to myth, this story soars with Richie’s graceful observations of the bird and eloquent words on the page.

—Laura Pritchett, author of PEN USA Award winner Hell’s Bottom, Colorado

“In exquisite prose, Marina Richie takes the reader on a meditative and dynamic dive into her search for the kingfisher. Some stories wake us up in time to make a difference. Halcyon Journey is one of those stories. It is also a wondrous story that will transport you.”

—Debra Magpie Earling, member of the Bitterroot-Salish tribe, author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea

“As one of North America's most widespread breeding birds and one whose life is wedded to clean fish bearing waters, Belted Kingfisher could serve as the poster child for North America's waterways. Those whose lives are enriched by periodic deep dives into the natural world will be enchanted by Marina Richie's insightful treatment of this very special bird--a favorite of mine.”

Pete Dunne, author of 15 books on birds and birding, and founder of the World Series of Birding

“The kingfisher has long deserved a queen from our own kind, and here she is: Marina Richie. This sharply observant author has written a book that can draw us all into the fascinating and secret lives of the fresh-water king. My own cherished moments in seeing these birds along rivers will forever be enhanced by the stories told here and the insights revealed.”

Tim Palmer, author of America's Great River Journeys, Rivers of Oregon, and other books

"In a world that is rapidly losing its birds, we need reminders of how glorious they really are – their songs, their colors, their eagerness for life. Halcyon Journey is a lively, joyous celebration of kingfishers and rivers, by a writer whose love for birds sings on the page."

—Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Earth’s Wild Music

"In this crazy world, it’s good to have a teacher, a spirit guide, a guardian. Marina Richie has found hers in the blue ball of fire called the kingfisher. In Halcyon Journey we join her quest to know this bird through startling science, resonant field observation, and a storyteller’s knack for putting us breathless into the presence of this divine bird."

—Kim Stafford, author of Singer Come from Afar

"Marina Richie's unsentimental yet passionate quest to know the belted kingfisher delights the senses, with descriptions of the natural world that are both photographic and poetic. Getting to know this elusive and storied bird produces an unexpected suspense—not only for the author reflecting at the midpoint of her life, but for all of us and our common planetary fate. With sustained and sustaining attention, this "citizen scientist" shows us what it means to be present in our lives and in the world."

—Suzanne Matson, author of Ultraviolet

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