BY KIERAN LINDSEY, PhD
Sometimes, what may appear as indolence, indecision, or timid reluctance is, in fact, a strategic decision to bide one’s time until the moment is right.
Consider, if you will, the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). These stocky slate-and-chalk hued birds with stout, spiked bills like to chillax near a lake or river, looking like they’ve got nowhere to go and are in no rush to get there.
You could also see a kingfisher poised in a mid-air hover. Maybe taking a few moments to admire the image reflected back from the water’s surface… or perhaps wavering over whether to take the plunge and snag a meal or just cut bait and vacate.
Don’t be fooled by the slacker act. In this context waiting isn’t procrastination, and sitting still isn’t paralysis. Any angler worthy of the title would rightly recognize these behaviors as preparation and patience.
I have cherished memories of watching kingfishers make a living while canoeing on the Current, the Jack’s Fork, and the Eleven Point Rivers of southern Missouri. These spring-fed, rock-and-gravel bedded streams feature the clear waters favored by feathered freshwater piscivores. Generally, the kingfishers were pretty inconspicuous… until one would leap from an overhanging branch or snag, eyes locked on an underwater snack with laser focus. It’s hard to ignore a feathered spear speeding through your field of vision!
Once the launch sequence has begun this bird is all-in. Literally. Head first, eyes closed, pincer-beak primed to snap and grip the slippery target. Who needs a sonar fish-finder when your vision is acute enough to see creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus) or central stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum) minnows beneath sun-dappled waves from high above?
Not that I’m suggesting every fishing attempt is a success. If the water is clear enough to see through from above, it’s transparent from below, too. Fish, crawdads, tadpoles, and water beetles don’t freeze in place when a predator comes to call.
Oh well… the angler shakes him- or herself off, reels in their line, revises the plan, watches for the next opportunity, and tries again.
It’s been several decades since my last float trip through the Ozarks — the circuitous path of my life has lead me far from my Midwestern point of origin and then, remarkably, right back to where I started — but the mental home movies of those avian nose-dives are still tucked deep within the meandering folds of my frontal cortex. How else to explain the fact that, as I walked past Lafayette Park Lake a few mornings ago, a brief peripheral movement to my left followed by a splash brought the words “belted kingfisher!” instantly to mind?
I’ve never seen this species in our neighborhood park before so I certainly wasn’t expecting or watching for one, but I turned and saw the male rise up from the lake, dripping and empty-handed (make that empty-beaked), to park on a limb, dry off, and regroup. He confirmed his identity with the ratcheting, rattling call indicative of his kind. I knew this fellow was male when, turning to face me, I noticed he wasn’t wearing the signature rusty red feathers that girdle all adult female Belted Kingfisher bellies.
Thrilled to have chanced upon this unexpected neighbor, I paused to watch, wondering if our local fisher king would give it another go.
He waited until a gaggle of nearly-grown goslings hauled out onto the gentle slope along the lake’s eastern shore to help themselves to the grass salad bar, and held back until their wake had flattened. Then he flew out over the impoundment, hoisted himself upward to hang in place like a plum-bob for a few seconds, took aim, dove into the drink… and emerged victorious!
I’m sure the kids waiting back home were happy that Dad brought breakfast, and not just another fish story about the one that got away.
© 2020 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author. Thanks to the following photographers who made their work available through Creative Commons License: Andy Morffew, Nicole Beaulac, Mick Thompson, Andy Morffew, Andy Morffew, Jen Goellnitz, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and Andy Morffew.