Kingfishers of the World

Azure Kingfisher, Australia

A bird widely distributed across the world today, the kingfisher inhabits almost every continent (map below). This successful and thriving species has fossils that date back 30-40 million years.

Forest Kingfisher, Australia

 

Contrary to their name, not all kingfishers catch and eat fish; some species prefer frogs, snakes, worms, and more. Wikipedia overview.

 

Green Kingfisher (female), Belize

 

Though sources differ, there are approximately 100 species of kingfishers. Largely tropical birds, the majority inhabit the Old World tropics and Australasia.

 

The species we see most in North America is the belted kingfisher,.   In Europe, the kingfisher most commonly seen is appropriately called: common kingfisher. There are 10 species in Australia, 18 in Africa.

 

Whenever I am walking around a lake or river and hear the characteristic ratcheting of the belted kingfisher, whatever I am doing, I look up and search for this avian friend.

 

Australia, Kakadu Nat’l. Park

Kingfishers have a disproportionately large head and long, pointy bill; with short legs and stubby tails. They range in size from 3.9 inches long (10 cm) (African dwarf kingfisher) to 18 inches (45 cm) (giant kingfisher).

 

Giant Kingfisher, Botswana

When you come across a kingfisher, they are often perched on a branch, scanning the ground or water below. One of the easier birds to spot, they have bright colors, a distinct shape, and a predictable behavior.

 

Kingfishers have excellent vision, including binocular and color; and are able to recognize water reflection and depth. Some species have eye membranes for water protection. The pied kingfisher, for example, has a bony plate that slides across the eye on water impact.

 

Pied Kingfisher, Botswana

 

Blue-winged Kookaburra with frog in mouth, Australia

 

Little Kingfisher, Australia

Once the kingfisher spots the prey, they swoop down and snatch it, return to the perch. Holding the prey in their strong bill, they beat it against the limb, breaking it down to a sizeable portion for consumption.

 

Sometimes kingfishers will hover above water and dive in for fish.

Green Kingfisher (male), Belize

 

A kingfisher discussion would not be complete without mentioning the laughing kookaburra. Although this kingfisher lives primarily in Australia, many of us all over the world have heard of it, from the song. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree….”

 

Laughing Kookaburra, Australia

You can hear the great old children’s song, written by an Australian music teacher in 1934, here: the song

 

The real-life sound of a laughing kookaburra is truly wonderful. When I first heard it in a park in Sydney, it startled me.

 

Loud and cackling, it sounds nothing like laughter. You might think it was a monkey (or a wild beast) if you didn’t know better. Kookaburra call. 

Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Zambia

With a variety of specialized hunting skills, successful worldly range, and striking  colors, this bird is one that many of us have been celebrating our whole life.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Kingfisher range. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

Daintree Rainforest, Australia

Australasian Darter (female)

The earth’s numerous rainforests vary widely depending on rainfall, climate, proximity to equator and many more factors. Here’s a look at the Daintree Rainforest, the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent.

 

Daintree River, Australia

Approximately 460 square miles (1,200 sq. km.) in size, it is nestled in the northeastern part of the continent on Cape York Peninsula.

 

One of the world’s rarest and most unique birds, the southern Cassowary lives in this rainforest. It is listed as Endangered, with 1,500-2,500 individuals left in Australia.

 

Southern Cassowary, Australia

Standing six feet tall with bright red and blue features, Casuarius casuarius is elusive. A flightless bird and second heaviest in the world, other features include: a keratin helmet atop the head; and one toe with a blade-like claw used for kicking, capable of killing dogs and humans.

 

One day our guide took us birding deep into this rainforest. We were quietly elated when a male cassowary came upon us. But soon we noticed he was very agitated with us, in spite of our respectful distance and quietness. As he became more agitated, we did our best to flee without disturbing him, and fortunately we did get away.

 

You can read more about it in a previously-written post (Bowerbird Bowers).

 

Spangled Drongo, Australia

Daintree Cassowary Crossing

During our two weeks in the Daintree Rainforest, I asked all the Daintree people we met if they had ever seen a cassowary. Only one person had.

Casuarius distribution map.png

World distribution of Southern Cassowary. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

It’s a quirky part of the world, that’s what I love about it. The Village has a population of 78. We were the only guests in the only hotel.

 

Papuan Frogmouth, Daintree River, Australia

We lodged in Daintree to take the Daintree River early morning river cruise–a marvelous adventure. Although we saw many beautiful birds on this cruise (a few photographed here), our favorite was the Papuan Frogmouth. (Study the photo carefully, he is camouflaged, in the center.)

 

Queen Elizabeth II, Daintree Village

Our first night in Daintree Village, we ate dinner at their only evening restaurant. There was a shrine of Queen Elizabeth II next to the cash register, and we listened several times to Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire.”

 

After dinner we walked the short distance (100 yards) back to the hotel, and in that brief nighttime walk we came across six large cane toads, and two-inch cicadas swarming our heads; and watched as a grass snake tried desperately to get into the room next door.

 

Stalking killer birds, persistent reptiles, and a place where the only busy nightlife is wildlife. Ah, that’s my kind of place.

 

All photos taken by Athena Alexander.

 

Wicked Walkabout by Jet Eliot

A mystery novel I wrote, with Australian bird and wildlife scenes.

Click here to buy e-book Wicked Walkabout – $4.99

or from Amazon

 

 

 

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

 

Answering Your Questions

Golden Gate GraveyardI have happily received emails and questions lately about the process of my novel writing. In response, I have written a brief page addressing how I determine aspects like the setting, plot, characters, and researching.

 

Visit the “Writing Novels” tab above to learn more about how I write mystery novels. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you want. If you have an additional question that didn’t get answered here, you can also contact me at my email address, via the “Contact” tab.

 

Keep the questions coming, and thank you for your interest.  Tell a friend!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

 

Wishing you this holiday season…

 

Lioness, Africa

Lioness, Africa

 

 

Time to relax,

 

 

 

 

Otter, Alaska

Otter, Kenai, Alaska

and enjoy~~

 

 

 

 

Denali, Alaska

Denali, Alaska

Plenty of beauty on your path,

 

 

 

 

Elephants, Tanzania, Africa

Elephants, Tanzania, Africa

lots of love,

 

 

 

 

Purple Finch, California

Purple Finch, California

health,

 

 

 

 

 

Kangaroos, Australia

Kangaroos, Australia

and hoppin’ good times.

 

 

 

 

 

Elegant Trogon, Mexico

Elegant Trogon, Mexico

Happy Holidays, my friends, and many thanks for your valuable friendship~~

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

 

 

 

Golden Gate GraveyardA good last minute gift is a digital e-book, and I know just the one — it’s hot off the press, suspenseful, and written by someone you know. Also available in paperback.

Purchase from the publisher or Amazon or any major online book retailer.

 

Birds of Australia, Part 2 of 2

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu, Aus.

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu, Aus.

My previous post highlighted some of the many colorful and unusual birds of Australia, and today we’ll cover the little penguin and a few other special birds from Down Under.

 

Red-browed Finch, Australia

Red-browed Finch, Australia

One favorite sighting was the little penguin on Kangaroo Island, just off the southern coast.

 

Penguins are only found in the southern hemisphere, many reside in the colder climates of Antarctica. Flightless seabirds, penguins are warm-blooded, and have feathers and lay eggs like other birds.

 

Eudyptula minor Bruny 1.jpg

Little Penguin, Australia. Photo: J.J. Harrison, courtesy Wikipedia.

The little penguin, found in southern Australia and New Zealand, is the smallest penguin on earth.  More info here. 

 

A ranger had told us to go to this coastal corner at dark and look around the rocks. He warned not to turn on our “torch,” because that would startle them.

 

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

So there we were in the dark, tripping around between parked cars with steamy windows, looking for another bird.

 

Eventually, on the other side of the parked cars, a few quietly clambered toward us. I backed up, thinking it was three large rats. But then a few more appeared over the crest of some rocks, and we got a better look.

 

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australia

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australia

Only knee-high, they waddled among the rocks and in about ten minutes they had all disappeared into their burrows.

 

Another favorite was in Queensland on the mainland, in a rainforest. The rainforest is a cacophony of vibrant bird song; screeches, squawks, and screams burst forth from the tangle of palms and vines.

 

Magpie-lark, Granite Gorge, Aus.

Magpie-lark, Granite Gorge, Aus.

One bird song I found especially soothing was the onomatopoeic call of the Wompoo Fruit Dove.

 

This dove was especially difficult to see or photograph because they are well-hidden in the upper canopy, and have quiet ways.

 

Amid the loud whip sound of the Eastern Whipbird, and other shrieks, the wompoo dove has a gentle, almost human call: “wom-poo.”

 

Ptilinopus magnificus -North Queensland, Australia-8.jpg

Wompoo Fruit Dove, Australia. Photo: Jim Bendon, courtesy Wikipedia

Wompoo Dove sound, click here.

 

Other fun Australian bird anecdotes can be found on previously-written posts:

Spotted Catbird

Paradise Riflebird

Black Noddy

 

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu, Aus.

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu, Aus.

It’s impossible to share the hundreds of birds I experienced in Australia, but I trust the dozen or so I have highlighted in this series gave you a glimpse of the lively bird life in this country.

 

Emerald Dove, Australia

Emerald Dove, Australia

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

 

 

 

Wicked WalkaboutMystery novel I wrote set in Australia: e-book for $4.99 available here.

 

Birds of Australia, Part 1 of 2

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

Some of the world’s most colorful birds live in Australia, a continent boasting over 800 bird species.

 

For anyone new to this curious land–whether they’re a birder or not–seeing brightly-colored parrots and birds as big as humans is a fun adventure.

 

This week I present a two-part series on the birds of Australia, highlighting photos and anecdotes of some of my favorite birds.

 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Here is a list of Australia’s birds, impressive with so many exotic species.

 

Do I have a favorite? Oh yes.

 

My favorite Australian bird siting:  the southern cassowary.

 

Southern Cassowary, male, Australia

Southern Cassowary, male, Australia

Listed as threatened and declining, this was a true thrill. The bird was taller and heavier than me, and took an aggressive approach when we unknowingly came close to what we suspected was his nest.

 

Never have I been so threatened by a bird.

 

Emu greets us at Mareeba Wetlands

Emu greets us at Mareeba Wetlands

You can read about it here: cassowary and  bowerbirds.

 

As an American where we have no native parrots, I can never get enough of the parrots, parakeets, and cockatoos in Australia.

 

It seemed the sky was an endless kaleisdoscope.

Blue-winged Kookaburra, Queensland, Australia

Blue-winged Kookaburra, Queensland, Australia

 

Crimson Rosella, Australia

Crimson Rosella, Australia

Previously posted stories on parrot-like species: the crimson rosella, rainbow lorikeet, and gang-gang cockatoo.

 

Look for more bird stories and photos this Friday. I hope you have a great week full of living color, my friends~~

 

Tawny Frogmouth, Granite Gorge

Tawny Frogmouth, Granite Gorge, Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos taken by Athena Alexander.

Wicked Walkabout by Jet Eliot

For more wildlife adventures in Australia, here’s a mystery novel I recommend–lively with bird and wildlife scenes.

Click here to buy e-book Wicked Walkabout – $4.99

 

Platypus

Platypus, Australia

Platypus, Australia

Many people who live in Australia have never seen a platypus in the wild. They can be seen on the 20-cent coin, postage stamps of the past, and even as a mascot at national events.

 

But in the wild, the platypus eludes most people.

 

platypus

platypus

They are a unique egg-laying mammal with a large duck bill, fur and feet like otters, and a beaver-like paddle tail.

 

Only found in Australia, their unusual features baffled early naturalists, who didn’t know know how to characterize this “amphibious mole-like” animal (David Collins).

 

Other interesting features of the platypus include their ability to:

  • locate prey by detecting electric fields;
  • deliver venom powerful enough to kill smaller animals; and
  • use the front feet for propulsion, and the back feet and tail for steering.

 

platypus

platypus

Read more about the platypus here.

 

Our first trip Down Under, we spent an entire day at the Black Swamp searching for the platypus, to no avail.

 

Eleven years later, on our second trip, we made the playtpus a budgetary priority and hired a guide.

 

The guide drove us to a small river behind a housing development, where he had seen Ornithorhynchus anatinus before. It was 6 a.m., their hunting time.

 

Platypus print by John Gould, 1863. Courtesy Wikipedia.

When he told us what we had to do to see the “platy,” it was clear this wildlife adventure would be entirely without dignity.

 

Platypus are extremely shy and sensitive, so we could not utter a sound; and we could move only when the platypus was submerged.

 

If the platypus detected any movement, he would disappear into the riverbank mud.

 

Therefore, we had to freeze in place when the platypus lifted his head out of the water; and move only when he submerged.  “Just do as I do” said the guide.

 

Excellent swimmers, they paddle quickly along in the water hunting for crayfish and shrimp, their heads frenetically darting back and forth. After about a minute, they come up for air.

 

Within minutes we spotted one.  Below the water’s surface was the big bill and his 20-inch long (51 cm) body.

 

We tromped along the shore following him.

 

Then as soon as the animal lifted his head, came up for air…we stopped. Froze. When he’d go back under water, we’d run again.

 

Due to the rain, the grass was slippery and the trees limbs were hanging low.  So the three of us were ducking and sliding around, getting muddier by the moment. We each had on a backpack that was soaked and awkwardly swaying as we ran.

 

It would have helped to laugh at this silly escapade, but we couldn’t make a sound.

 

This stop-and-go game lasted for nearly one glorious hour, until it had become more light out. By then the platypus was done hunting, and people were heading for work and walking their dogs.

 

An elusive Australian mammal that lays eggs and looks like a duck, beaver, and otter…sure, I would make a fool of myself any day to see such a creature.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Wicked WalkaboutAuthor’s Note: Jet’s mystery novel Wicked Walkabout is set in Australia. Purchase the e-book here for more Australian wildlife fun.

 

 

 

 

Distribution of the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).png

Platypus range, courtesy Wikipedia. Red=native, yellow=introduced.