You are about to enter a very special woodland. This place isn’t just special because it has rare plants (which it does) or because it is pretty (which it is). It is special because of a little bird and her story. Let me tell you what happened here.
Not very long ago there was a baby kingfisher named Eleri. She was born on the banks of this very reservoir. Kingfishers don’t have fluffy nests like the ones you see in trees. Instead, they build small tunnels along ponds and rivers where they can keep safe and hunt for fish.
Have you ever seen a kingfisher? They are birds with brightly coloured feathers: blue, green, orange and white. On a sunny day, kingfisher feathers shine in the light like the surface of a lake.
Well, actually, only some of them shine like this.
You see, when kingfishers are born, they don’t have any feathers at all. Then, when their feathers do grow in, they are dark and dull. When Eleri was young she shared a tunnel with her mother and father and three brothers. One day, she asked:
‘Mum, how come you and Dad are so bright and colourful and the rest of us are so plain and grey? We want to shimmer too!’
‘Well, my darling girl,’ her mother said ‘you will just have to wait and see. Be patient.’
The next day, one of her brothers was missing from the tunnel. She asked her mother and father where he had gone and they told her not to worry. The next day another brother was missing. She asked again:
‘Mum, Dad, where are my brothers going? Are they okay?’
‘Don’t worry my girl’ her father said ‘just enjoy the extra fish and the extra room. We promise everything is okay.’
By the end of the week, all of her brothers were missing from the tunnel and Eleri was the only one left. This frightened her. In fact, Eleri was frightened by lots of things. She still had not dipped her feet in the water, had not flown very far from home, had not talked to any of their neighbours: the tufted duck or the moorhen or the swan. She knew that nothing was wrong with her – everyone is a little afraid of something – but she wished she was braver. She also missed her brothers. Where had they all gone?
Soon her mother returned from a morning of fishing and told Eleri: ‘My sweet girl, this is an important time for you. We kingfishers are patient and proud, brave and beautiful. But this is not something that we are born with, this is something that we have to earn.’
‘What do you mean?’ Eleri asked.
‘There comes a time in every kingfisher’s life when they must complete an important test to earn their colourful feathers and leave home. Your brothers have passed their tests and now it is your turn.’
Eleri was in shock. She had never heard of a test like this before. She imagined her brothers flying with their new orange and blue and green and white feathers around the reservoir. How she longed to see them and to hear stories of where they had been.
‘Every test is different’ her mother said. ‘It must be set to challenge each kingfisher in their own particular way. For instance, your brother Lewis – with his tiny wings – had to fly to Caerphilly mountain and back. Hari – who hates getting his feet wet – had to walk all the way down the muddy reservoir track without flying at all. And Rhys – who is afraid of the dark – had to sleep outside on a moonless night, far away from our tunnel, all by himself. They were all afraid but they completed their tests and earned their colourful feathers. Now it’s your turn.’
Eleri was beginning to worry. These tests sounded scary and hard.
‘So, what will my test be?’ she asked.
‘You, my shy and quiet girl, will have a very tough challenge because you are frightened by many things. You will need to fly across the reservoir to the woodland. Once you are there, walk through the woods and talk to every creature you meet. Then fetch a needle from the very top of a pine tree at the end of the path. Remember, you cannot fly up to get this so you must find another way. Once you’ve retrieved the pine needle, swim back across the reservoir and bring it to me. If you do all of this, then, you will earn your bright feathers.’
Eleri froze. This was going to be very tough.
‘You should go now, my girl, while it is still light. A friend in the woods will be watching to make sure you follow all the rules’ her mother said as she gently led Eleri to the front of the tunnel. She pointed at the trees across the reservoir. ‘Now, fly there to the top of that small hill. You will see a woodland path, that is where you will start.’
Can you imagine it? Where you are standing is where Eleri began her adventure. She flew here all the way from her family tunnel across the reservoir. How frightened she must have been just getting to this new place. Follow in her footsteps and go into the woods now. Imagine what it would be like to be Eleri – so small she could fit in the palm of your hand – walking into these woods for the first time.
(story by Christina Thatcher)