GOTCHA: This azure kingfisher with its prize catch.
GOTCHA: This azure kingfisher with its prize catch. Vic Jakes

Noosa nature delights: Tapping in to the king of fishers

HOW many of us take a walk along Gympie Tce and cannot resist the urge to tarry when reaching an angler - just to see what may be caught?

A late evening stroll past a creek near home in the Noosa hinterland resulted in an hour of intense and revealing observation as I watched one of our most accomplished fishing experts at work.

I'm referring, of course, to the resplendent azure kingfisher, Alcedo azurea, one of only two kingfishers in Australia that feed exclusively on fish and other aquatic prey. The other is the little kingfisher which is found in the north of Queensland.

The azure kingfisher is named for the deep azure blue plumage of its back, while the white throat and orange underparts combine to produce a most handsome looking bird.

I have been passing this particular spot along the creek for many years, during which time I had realised that this delightful bird knew precisely when this location, given different conditions, would be the place most likely to provide its next meal.

On this occasion, I watched the alert azure kingfisher on its carefully selected hunting perch in a shady spot on the creek bank. With considerable patience the bird waited until it caught a glimpse of a possible meal.

The kingfisher's concentration suddenly intensified. It became transfixed on the potential meal below and then started to bob its head up and down to assess the under-water depth of the identified prey and to judge the precise distance and angle of dive.

Then, a strictly controlled plunge, a loud splash - and success. The meal is secure.

The image captures the moment as some water droplets fly through the air while others remain on the kingfisher's feathers.

The fishing routine was, however, not yet complete. Having caught the fish, the bird then took it to an alternative perch for rapid despatch by a sharp tap of the fish's head on the branch.

This was followed by juggling the fish in its beak to turn it around for swallowing head-first. As I continued to watch further dives, almost every one successful, it became apparent that this routine - the dive from the hunting perch, the alternative perch for swallowing, a return to the hunting perch - was faithfully repeated.

The bird continued this process while other fish remained in the vicinity.

Keep an eye out for these wonderful, but easily missed, inhabitants of the shade along our creek banks.

Often, the first indication of the kingfisher's presence is a high pitched shriek as it flies from the hunting perch, providing only the briefest glimpse of iridescent plumage as it disappears into the gloom or around a bend in the creek.

"If only I could have seen it earlier,” you may then be thinking.


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