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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Homage to Kingfishers: 2

Last time I had the pleasure of introducing some of the Tree Kingfishers, by far the most numerous of the three kingfisher families as generally recognised. Today I've been looking forward to completing this little alcenid homage by meeting, with you, some members of the other two families, the ones who actually do fish as a key part of their lifestyle. The best-known of these, via the literature, calendars and Christmas cards, is probably the Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, found right across Europe, North Africa and most of Asia. However it's been decades since I was in those parts, and I can't offer you any pics - there are some superb shots out there in webland however!

The smaller of the two fishing families is Cerylidae, the Water Kingfishers. (This is not a very helpful name compared with the other one, Alcedinidae, the River Kingfishers, but I wouldn't have wanted to have to come up with anything more useful either!) It comprises just nine species and oddly I have photos of six of them - this is because they comprise all the American kingfishers, which are ubiquitous and evident in South America. It seems that they arose only a few million years ago when an ancestral ceryline crossed from Asia, via the Bering Strait. In the orthodox view this ancestor did not leave any direct descendants in the Old World, though this is certainly not an unheard of occurrence. 

However it has been recently suggested that this ancestral line is represented by the Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis, found across most of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. It is a very handsome bird, without the usual bright kingfisher colours, common and evident on lakes and rivers, perching on branches and reeds, poles and buildings above water; moreover, unlike other kingfishers it greatly increases its hunting range by hovering conspicuously above the surface. Like many kingfishers they draw attention to themselves by constant calling. Less typically they roost in flocks.
Pied Kingfisher, Kazinga Channel, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda (where all these Pied Kingfisher
photos were taken). This is a female, with just one breast band.
Typically, fish are carried back to a perch, battered into stillness and swallowed headfirst so that fins don't catch in the throat.
Part of a sequence, above and below, of bashing the fish then swallowing it.
(This is a male bird, with a second narrow breast band.)
 
Like many kingfishers, Pieds nest in a burrow in the bank, which they excavate themselves.
Male Pied Kingfisher at the mouth of a nesting burrow.
By one theory the American cousins then divided into two genera. Megaceryle is represented in South America by the Ringed Kingfisher M. torquata, an imposingly big bird found from the Amazon basin to the Strait of Magellan, and north into the southern USA. (Further north it is replaced by the closely related Belted Kingfisher M. alcyon.)
Ringed Kingfisher, Isla de Chiloé, Chile.
Despite its size (similar to that of a kookaburra) it's a fishing bird, diving spectacularly into the water.
In this scenario a Megaceryle kingfisher later recrossed the Atlantic to give rise to two Asian-African species, but more recent thinking has the genus arising in Africa and later arriving in the Americas. Either way the African representative, the appropriately named Giant Kingfisher M. maxima, is a most impressive bird, found throughout the non-desert lands of the continent.
Giant Kingfisher, Benoue NP, Cameroon.
This one too, despite its considerable bulk, hurls itself into the water after fish, frogs and crustaceans.
The other American kingfishers - all from the South American tropics - are very similar birds of the genus Chloroceryle, which neatly divide into two species-pairs, one pair with rufous undersides, the other with substantial white below (though males have a broad rufous breast band). In each pair there is a large and a small species, thus avoiding competition.
Male Amazon Kingfisher C. amazona, Cocha Salvador, Manu NP, Peru.
He is a big bird, 30cm long, with no white spotting in the green.

Male Green Kingfisher C. americana, Manu NP, Peru.
He is less than 20cm long.

American Pygmy Kingfisher C. aenea, Yasuní NP, Ecuador.
This scarce and tiny bird is only 13cm long; this one was seen at roost at night above a creek from a canoe.
Its 'pair partner', the Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, also scarce, is 24cm long.
The third kingfisher family, also specialist fishers, is found throughout most of the world except the Americas. Mostly smaller birds, they are notably short-tailed and typically blue above and rufous or white below.
 
Azure Kingfisher Ceyx azurea, Barmah Forest, Victoria.
Ceyx, you may recall from last time, was one of the doomed couple who just got too happy for the liking
of the typically grumpy Greek gods, and got turned into birds.
This exquisite bird is found along streams in near-coastal eastern and northern Australia and, as here,
inland along the Murray River.
African Pygmy Kingfisher Ispidina picta, Queen Elizabeth NP, Uganda.
A tiny bird, the size of the relatively unrelated American Pygmy Kingfisher. It will sometimes hunt
insects far from water.
Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo (or Corythornis) cristata, Lake Mburo NP, Uganda.
One of the jewels of Africa, no bigger than the Pygmies, common and widespread in Africa.
Oriental Dwarf (or Rufous-backed) Kingfisher Ceyx erithaca, Gomantong Caves, Sabah.
This little gem is found across much of southern and south-eastern Asia.
Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting (here at Sepilok, Sabah) is a little fishing kingfisher
of forest streams and mangroves, found across southern Asian.
So, this is the end of our kingfisher journey; I hope you've enjoyed meeting them as much as I have. Wherever you are, there'll be one or more not too far away. And every one's a pleasure.

BACK ON THURSDAY

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1 comment:

Flabmeister said...

At the risk of being accused of being a Yimby (Yes in my back yard) I will mention the recent outbreak of Azure Kingfishers on the Mighty Molonglo, where they have previously been rather unusual.

I used to think of them as preferring warmer areas, until I saw one at Inverell in July. It was fishing with an air temperture of about -1C!

Martin