What I lack in lens power, I can sometimes overcome with my focus and ability to track a subject even when I can't see what's happening. And this always lends itself to surprises. But before I tell you more about this particular kingfisher, let me fast forward to two days later and a well-timed classroom presentation, "Kingfishers and their Allies", at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
Meet Jeff Gordon, the presenter, bird tour leader, consultant, blogger and personable birding expert. As a fellow blogger, I know Jeff through the Nature Blog Network and have enjoyed his help with bird ID's on several occasions. It was a special treat for me to meet him in person at the festival, along with his wife, Liz.
Below is Jeff's photo of a female Belted Kingfisher, the more colorful gender in this species. The male lacks the rufous belly band.
Female Belted Kingfisher by Jeff Gordon
Besides introducing me to a whole class of beautiful kingfishers and related birds from around the world, Jeff's presentation was packed with fun facts and images of the Belted Kingfisher. As if burrowing in dirt banks to create a nest cavity for their young isn't curious enough, two more bits of information about these birds stood out for me--the interesting structure of their feet and their special style of preparing a meal.
Kingfishers have small, weak feet designed only for perching, similar in function to those of hummingbirds. In addition their toes have a curious syndactyl arrangement, a term meaning fused or webbed. A kingfisher's middle and outer toes are partially fused as shown in the sketch above in the lower right corner. Syndactyl toes, strong, coarse bills, and short, stocky necks are key body characteristics for this class of birds.The Belted Kingfisher is a specialized plunge diver whose primary food is fish. Spotting prey from a high perch, he dives and plunges to capture prey, sometimes hovering prior to the plunge. He then carries his prey to a perch. The size of the fish doesn't seem to matter. Besides having special enzymes in his throat to begin digestion as he swallows, the kingfisher pounds his prey against the perch, "Blam, blam, blam!", as Jeff so aptly put it, a behavior that both kills the prey and 'tenderizes' it for swallowing.Armed with all this new information, I returned to Tennessee and, for the first time, browsed through my kingfisher images. What a surprise. While following this male with my lens, hoping to capture some sort of sketchable image, I had no idea that I had witnessed a dive, nor that my subject had resurfaced with a fish. And look. There it is, just as Jeff described it. Blam, blam, blam! And then it settled on me, the height of this kingfisher's perch, the speed with which he descended. To spot a fish moving underwater, dive with precision, plunge and come up with a fish, all in a matter of seconds--my awe of the Belted Kingfisher magnified in leaps.
One more fun tid bit--kingfishers teach their young to dive. When fledglings are ready to fish, parents drop dead fish in the water for their young to practice retrieving! Wouldn't that be a fun event to witness!
The Belted Kingfisher was one of the many species that I enjoyed while visiting the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands with guide, photographer and Master Naturalist, Charlie Corbeil during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
David McCree's festival reports at Blog the Beach will give you lots more news about the 2010 festival activities. Also visit Space Coast Eco for informative descriptions of key natural areas and field trips, and Space Coast Beach Buzz and FloridaBeachBasics for more Brevard County visitor and wildlife information.
To view all my posts about the fun I had while visiting Brevard County's Space Coast Birds and the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, click here.
And if you aren't familiar with the Nature Blog Network, visit the link to find the Top List in nature blogging.