Monday, July 28, 2014

Kings of Elmira Pond

The Mares Curtsy (or Perhaps Sleep)
King of the Air
Eastern Kingbird
On His Royal Wire
A Kingly Dive
The Belted Kingfisher
Hunting From on High
King of the Water
Mares curtsy in greeting to the Kings of Elmira Pond.

While no battles are eminent, there are two kings. Perhaps they share a royal tailor as both are feathered in charcoal and white with neat lines. Each seems to be satisfied with his reign--one rules the air, the other the water.

Like most on Elmira Pond, the Eastern Kingbird is a summer visitor. When his highness arrived, he seemed to be a sparrow-but-too-big. His flight, swooping, fluttering and hovering seemed sparrow-like, confounding identification. Then he perched high upon a pine as if it were a throne and we saw his colors which only confounded us more, as my daughter was here to see his royal arrival.

Then I remembered marking several charcoal-colored birds in my book last summer and sure enough, there he was among the marked pages. It seems odd to me that he is "eastern" out west. But looking at the Cornell Ornithology map of his kingdom, his range from South America through the Northern Territories of Canada sweeps up from the southeast.

He's a fly-catcher of reputed tyrannical proportions. I recall reflecting last year that Elmira Pond attracts aggressive sorts when my house came under attack by a catbird and the kingbirds tussled with a red-tailed hawk. A-ha...I am remembering now. It was late July that the King showed up.

In all his fly-catching glory, he zips about the south pasture, dining on insects from the air. He's a delight to watch when not making his loud shrill call. Last year he made a poor impression because the hawk was hanging out. This year, no hawk to cause a chorus of battle pips.

Soon I catch another royal presence and I'm quick enough to follow the flash of white to capture a dive. While I'm sad the the osprey have remained elusive this year, the Belted Kingfisher has been a morning and evening delight to watch. He flutters like a huge hummingbird, and I know that "he" is king because his body is all white. The females are rusty underneath.

The Kingfisher hunts on high. He hovers with rapid wings, glancing downward and then dives beak first into the water. His plunge is the equivalent of an osprey cannon-ball, except I often lose sight because he goes completely under. If unsuccessful, he'll fly low over the water before charging back up to hunt again.

He's a tyrant, too, a bully of bullfrogs. I watched fascinated and yet in horror as he battered a frog to death on the merganser log. Unlike the merganser, Blue Heron and osprey, this king prefers his food not-kicking. He's a king; he can do it his way.

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