12 November, 2011

An adequate concentration

A pair of Sacred Kingfishers
Until a week ago I had never seen a kingfisher. This is despite various descriptions telling me that they are widespread across Australia and easily recognised. Then, as I wandered along the banks of the Moorabool River during the week, I spotted a pair of unfamiliar birds, but with a rather familiar shape. Clearly they weren't Kookaburras - too small - and even despite having to squint into the sun, I could see the occasional flash of blue.
As it turns out, yes. Sacred Kingfishers. This was interesting as I had not seen them anywhere on the Barwon. Then, on a ride along the Barwon yesterday morning, I caught a flash of blue disappearing into the trees opposite the Queen's Park Golf Course. I leaped from my bike, abandoning it beside the path, grabbed my camera and headed for the riverbank.
By the time I got there, my quarry had removed itself to the far bank which meant that whilst I could get a clear shot, it was not going to be a close one. It was good enough however, to once again identify a pair of Sacred Kingfishers.
Sacred Kingfisher
So, who are these kingfishers and why are they sacred?
I am informed that they are a medium-sized kingfisher and common throughout coastal areas of mainland Australia. They move south to breed during spring, returning to more northerly parts for the winter months. They are also found on many of the surrounding Pacific Islands including New Guinea and in New Zealand where they are known by their Maori name of Kotare.
It is said that the name Sacred Kingfisher was given to these birds by the ornithologist W.H. Oliver in the late 18th century upon seeing that the bird was venerated by some of these Pacific Island peoples.
Kingfishers are meat-eaters, consuming insects, small reptiles, rodents, crustaceans and sometimes fish. Like butcherbirds, they perch on a low branch to scout for prey. Once caught, the kingfisher returns to the tree with its catch, beating larger victims against a branch to kill them.
Their nests are burrows dug into earthen banks, soft tree trunks or termite mounds and they lay clutches of about five eggs at a time.
Like many birds, there are several collective nouns used to describe a group of kingfishers. Whilst the most common seems to be a concentration, others include a rattle, clique, acknowledgement or perhaps more appropriately a realm or crown. Call them what you will, I will soon be heading back to see if I can get a better shot.

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