Monthly Archives: August 2014

Fall rally will offer chances to look for birds, explore other natural wonders

Looking for a fun way to get outdoors and see some birds? The yearly Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally is always a great way to enjoy a preview of the imminent autumn bird migration. The three-day rally offers more than birding opportunities, however, and features hikes to look for everything from reptiles, wildflowers and mushrooms to butterflies, moths and other insects.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A curious Gray Catbird peeks from dense cover. Attendees at the fall rally can look for catbirds and other species at any of the offered bird hikes.

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       A curious Gray Catbird peeks from dense cover. Attendees at the fall rally can look for catbirds and other species at any of the offered bird hikes.

This year’s Fall Naturalists Rally will be held Friday-Sunday, Sept. 5-7. For 52 years the rally has drawn nature enthusiasts from far and wide to Roan Mountain on the weekend after Labor Day. Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.

Gary Barrigar, director of the fall rally, noted that the event  continues to celebrate the natural world by providing two top speakers. This year the event will feature naturalist and ecologist Jennifer Frick and photographer Mark Peacock.

Because of the continued support of the Friends of Roan Mountain, Barrigar noted that all the seasonal rallies have the resources  they need to prosper and grow and that Friends of Roan Mountain provides support for research and restoration projects on the Roan.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       A Horace’s Duskywing is a late-season butterfly that could possibly be found on some of this year’s butterfly walks.

Barrigar encourages people to consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not already a member. Membership provides free admission to all rally events and a subscription to the newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.”

He also expressed many thanks to Roan Mountain State Park for its long-time support of the rallies, as well as to the trip leaders who donate their time and expertise.

Evening and Lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and field trips will leave from the field on the left before the cabins in the park.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                               Wildflowers and butterflies are only some of the topics for hikes and activities at the fall rally.

As always, programs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.

This year’s rally will kick off Friday with registration at 5:30 p.m. at the Roan Mountain State Park Conference Center. Evening meals will be held at 6:30 p.m. both days. Dinner reservations are required.

On Friday evening, Jennifer Frick will present “Why Is There Such High Biodiversity in the Southern Appalachians?” It’s a question many attendees will probably have asked themselves.  A full professor of biology and environmental science at Brevard College, where she has taught since 1997, Frick will provide some answers to that question.

In January of 2014, she was promoted to Division Chair of Science and Mathematics.  She teaches courses in environmental perspectives, biodiversity and natural history and was awarded the 2003-2004 Award for Exemplary Teaching. She earned her Ph.D. in Zoology from Clemson University in 1995 and completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Smithsonian Marine Station in 1996-1997.

For nearly 15 years, she and her husband, Edward Ruppert, lived in a log cabin that they built in Balsam Grove, N.C. They generated their own electricity and lived “off the grid” without a direct connection to the power grid.

Once their son, Fritz, was born, they decided to adopt a more traditional lifestyle and built a “normal” home that does connect to the power grid, but is energy efficient and fits into the landscape.

Frick is working on a book titled “Dreams of Eden” that describes both the skills they acquired in living off the grid and the philosophy they developed in living so close to nature.91g3czbBOxL._SL1500_

Many of the skills necessary to live without modern conveniences were cultivated during a period in which she and her husband lived aboard a sailboat, cruising the Southeast.  Frick has recently published Waterways: Sailing the Southeastern Coast, which relates these experiences. Combining insights from ecology and sailing, she blends travel narrative and nature writing to inspire and educate.

Originally from South Carolina, she grew up with a love of nature and an appreciation for her surroundings.

She has written several scientific articles, most recently on the biology of the Blue Ghost Firefly and the caloric values of native fruits, in such journals as Biological Bulletin, Invertebrate Zoology, and North Carolina Academy of Science. She has also authored two websites for South Carolina Educational Television on the Natural History of the Saltmarsh and the Natural History of the Swamp. From 2001-2005, she wrote a regular column for The Transylvania Times.

As an outgrowth of those newspaper articles, she published a book called Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians. Illustrated with both color and black-and-white images, it conveys the seasonal change in animals and plants of the region, emphasizing their interactions and unique characteristics.

Her program will focus on describing of the astounding local biodiversity and explaining why this region supports such a profusion of life. It will be illustrated with her photographs, many of which are taken from Mountain Nature.


Photo by Bryan Stevens            Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common on the Roan during fall migration.

Born and raised in Morris, Illinois, Peacock moved to the hills of northeast Tennessee in 1995 to attend Emmanuel Christian Seminary following law school and practicing law at his family’s law firm. He was soon hired by Milligan College to teach courses in business, law and ethics. Later he added digital photography to his list of courses offered. His love for photography was instilled in him by his grandfather, who taught him lighting and composition and that, at its best, photography is storytelling. Most weekends, he is out hiking and exploring the area with friends and his dog, Blue – and sharing his discoveries on his blog, “Appalachian Treks,” which seeks to promote this region and its beauty.

His landscape photography has been featured in various local and regional publications and graces the walls of numerous homes, offices and organizations. Recently, his work was featured in photographic shows “Seasons of the Blue Ridge” and “East Meets West” at the Nelson Fine Art Center in Johnson City. He often leads workshops for organizations and individuals, teaching the art and craft of photography. In addition to landscape photography, he enjoys working in the areas of family portraiture, sports photography, and higher education photography. Please  visit his gallery and blog at for more information.

In his Saturday evening program, he will explore the natural beauty of the Southern Appalachians through his photography. Journey with him as  he shares his landscape photography of many of the well-known scenic attractions of our region along with images of many lesser known, but stunning destinations found in these hills. Along the way, you’ll learn about some of the colorful characters who came before us in these beautiful mountains.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Spotted Jewelweed is a common wildflower on moist, shady slopes of the Roan.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Spotted Jewelweed is a common wildflower on moist, shady slopes of the Roan.

In addition to the evening programs, a variety of hikes and activities will be held Saturday morning and afternoon, as well as Sunday morning. Visit for a brochure outlining all the available hikes and other programs.

For more information on this year’s rally or FORM, call Barrigar at (423) 543-7576.


At home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton, I am getting glimpses of the start of fall migration. I’ve seen a few warblers along the edges of the woods and yard, including Chestnut-sided Warblers and American Redstarts. To share an observation, make a comment or ask a question, email me at or “friend” me on Facebook at


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                    The Aphrodite Fritillary is a fun discovery for butterfly enthusiasts attending the Roan rally.

Common Nighthawk member of nightjar family that is neither nocturnal nor a raptor

With September looming just a few pages ahead on the calendar, I have been keeping an eye on the skies. For the most part, I focus on the trees and feeders during the migration season, but I also make sure I look up from time to time.

The reason? Well, that’s the best way to detect flocks of migrating Common Nighthawks.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service A Common Nighthawk finds a perch for a brief rest.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Common Nighthawk finds a perch for a brief rest.

So, what is a Common Nighthawk? First, this bird, despite what is implied by its name, is not a hawk. It’s also not strictly nocturnal.

My observation of this particular Common Nighthawk completed my tally of the members of the nightjar family found in the region during the summer months. The nightjar family is represented by three species of birds — Common Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow  in Northeast Tennessee. Readers may recall from earlier columns that I have already heard Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-will’s-widows this year. Each fall, Common  Nighthawks form large flocks, ranging in size from dozens to hundreds or even thousands of individuals, as they migrate south for the winter.


Painting by early American naturalist John James Audubon of Common Nighthawks.

The Whip-poor-will, after the Common Nighthawk, is the second most widespread member of its family to spend its breeding season in North America. The Whip-poor-will ranges from southern Canada to the Gulf states. The Whip-poor-will also occurs in Arizona, New Mexico and southwestern Texas. The Whip-poor-will favors habitat consisting of deciduous woodlands and the edges of forests.

All members of the nightjar family feed exclusively on insects that are caught on the wing. In this respect, the nightjars can be considered the nocturnal counterparts of the swallows. The nightjars have comparatively large, gaping mouths they use to scoop up flying insects. They also have large eyes, an adaptation to their nocturnal lifestyle.

Whip-poor-will numbers have apparently been declining in the past few decades. These nocturnal birds frequent woodland edges, but they seem to be rather particular about such habitats. A forest that is too mature seems to hold little interest for them. Disturbed habitats, such as those created by logging, are acceptable to the birds once secondary growth begins. As this new growth matures, however, the Whip-poor-will apparently abandons such territory. Because of these requirements, Whip-poor-wills can be somewhat localized in their distribution and sometimes difficult to locate.

When I was a kid one of my favorite summer activities was sitting on the front porch of my grandparents’ home on Simerly Creek Road and listening to the Whip-poor-wills call after dark. I remember how the plaintive call would be repeated for long intervals before a passing automobile’s headlights might frighten the bird into silence for a short while. Then, tentatively, the calls would renew.

Today, I’m living in my grandparents’ old home and the Whip-poor-wills no longer call. Well, there was a single individual that called for a single evening back in May of 1997, but that was apparently a migrating bird that did not remain in the surrounding woodlands.

The only member of the nightjar family that I dependably encounter at home on Simerly Creek Road these days is the Common Nighthawk, and then only during that narrow window of late summer and early autumn.


Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter A Common Nighthawk rests on a metal railing.

So, keep looking skyward. The next flock of migrating Common Nighthawks may fly over your home. These flocks are usually on the move from mid-August to mid-September.

Unlike Whips and Chucks, the Common Nighthawk does fly only at night, which makes it much easier to observe these birds. They look somewhat like swifts and swallows but are much larger. They are brownish-gray birds with pointed wings and forked tails. They are easily identified by distinctive white patches on the underside of their wings.

The nightjar, or Caprimulgidae, family of birds is also sometimes known as “goatsuckers.” There are almost 80 species of nightjars in the world. Less than 10 occur in North America. The Common Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will and the Chuck-will’s widow are neotropical migrants. While they breed in a wide range of territory in North America, they spend their winters in Central and South America. Like all nightjars, Common Nighthawks feed almost exclusively on insects, which they catch on the wing.

Keep looking skyward once September arrives, and you’re likely to see one of these impressive migration flights of Common Nighthawks. I’ve seen flocks that would easily number more than 500 birds in locations ranging from Greeneville and Unicoi to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton.

Invite butterflies into your gardens, yards


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                    Spicebush Swallowtail and Tiger Swallowtail seeking salts and minerals from the edge of a gravel driveway.


I’m taking a break from the birds for one week to bring you some other things with wings in the form of a pictorial essay on butterflies, which include such families of winged insects as skippers, swallowtails, fritillaries and much more.

Most of these photos were taken at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton, TN. A few were taken in other locations, including South Carolina and Georgia.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                             White Peacock found on Fripp Island, S.C., in October of 2012.  Resident from Argentina north through Central America, Mexico and the West Indies to South Texas and southern Florida. This butterfly migrates and temporarily colonizes to central Texas and coastal South Carolina. It is a rare wanderer to North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

According to the North American Butterfly Association, there are about 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. About 725 species have occurred in North American north of Mexico, with about 575 of these occurring regularly in the lower 48 states of the United States, and with about 275 species occurring regularly in Canada. Roughly 2,000 species are found in Mexico.

Butterflies are part of the class of Insects in the order Lepidoptera. Moths are also included in this order.

Butterflies are not newcomers to the world of insects. Fossilized butterflies are known to date back to the Eocene epoch, some 40 to 50 million years ago.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                Some butterflies, such as the sulphurs, are known to migrate.

According to NABA, species that move northward each year include Cloudless Sulphur, Little Yellow, Gulf Fritillary, Painted Lady, American Lady, Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Long-tailed Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Sachem and Ocola Skipper.

In especially good years, one can see Painted Ladies, Cloudless Sulphurs or Clouded Skippers streaming northward along migratory routes. Most years, however, these migrant dispersals are so gradual they don’t attract much notice. During fall trips to coastal South Carolina, I have often noticed hundreds of Cloudless Sulphurs along the edges of the interstate highway system.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Monarch sips nectar from blooming Ironweed.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Monarch sips nectar from blooming Ironweed.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                            Pipevine Swallowtails seeks nectar from zinnia blooms. This butterfly was the most common one found during the recent Roan Mountain Butterfly Count. A total of 236 individual Pipevine Swallowtails, many located on milkweed in the fields at the Dave Miller Homestead at Roan Mountain State Park, were found.

The North American Butterfly Association holds annual Butterfly Count in much the same manner as the Audubon Society conducts annual Christmas Bird Counts. Locally, an Elizabethton Butterfly Count and a Roan Mountain Butterfly Count are conducted every July and August.

Each count is a compilation of all butterflies observed at sites within a 15-mile diameter count circle in a one-day period. The annually published reports provide a tremendous amount of information about the geographical distribution and relative population sizes of the species counted. Comparisons of the results across years can be used to monitor changes in butterfly populations and study the effects of weather and habitat change on North American butterflies.

This year’s first attempt at conducting the 22nd annual Roan Mountain Butterfly Count was rained out. A week later — July 26 — the count was re-scheduled and enjoyed a convergence of good weather and abundant flowers. A total of 764 individual butterflies were counted. The total of 34 species was considered very high for this count, according to compiler Don Holt.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                  A male Diana Fritillary seeks nectar from a zinnia bloom.

Holt noted that other common species found on this count included Silver-spotted Skipper, Aphrodite Fritillary, Eastern Tailed Blue and Meadow Fritillary. Some exceptional finds included a male Diana Fritillary at the Dave Miller Homestead and a Harvester at Hampton Creek Cove.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Northern Pearly Eye

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                        A Northern Pearly Eye perches on the vertical surface of a concrete step.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                        The non-native Cabbage White is one of the few butterflies considered an agricultural pest. The butterfly’s caterpillars damage such crops as cabbage, as well as other mustard family plants.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                              A Northern Checkerspot finds colorful coneflowers a convenient perch.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                                A Wood Nymph clings to a leaf near a pond.

To attract more butterflies closer to your home, landscape with a variety of flowers and plants. Don’t forget to provide host plants that will feed hungry caterpillars, as well as nectar-rich flowers to feed adult butterflies. Do not use insecticides! You want to welcome these beautiful insects, not kill them.

To learn more, visit this page provided by the Missouri Botanical Garden.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                        The Least Skipper is one of the smallest of butterflies in the eastern United States.

There are several fun Facebook pages for butterfly enthusiasts. Check out  and


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                                Red-spotted Purple perches atop a platform provided by a wide poplar leaf.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                                         A Common Buckeye suns itself in a gravel driveway.


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                                      Red Admiral in the wetlands along the the Ivy Creek Greenway at George Pierce Park in Suwanee, Ga.



Look for herons along edges of local ponds, rivers

I enjoyed a recent trip to Atlanta, Ga. The extended weekend visited gave me the opportunity to see some birds I don’t see often at home in Northeast Tennessee, including Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Great Egret resting on a spit of land in a lake at Murphy Candler Park in Brookhaven, Ga.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Great Egret resting on a spit of land in a lake at Murphy Candler Park in Brookhaven, Ga.

I observed a Great Egret at Murphey Candler Park in Brookhaven, Georgia. Hiking trails around a small lake at this park offer some convenient locations for scanning the lake for wading birds and waterfowl. The egret was the first Great Egret I’ve observed in the Atlanta area.

I had visited this park hoping to find dragonflies, but for the most part struck out on finding these winged insects. I was compensated not only with the egret, but with observations of Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Mallards, Belted Kingfishers, Cedar Waxwings and Song Sparrows.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Great Blue Heron moves stealthily through a wetland.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Great Blue Heron moves stealthily through a wetland.

Egrets are members of a family of birds known as Ardeidae, which includes herons, bitterns and egrets. The Great Egret is a very stately, graceful bird with white plumage, long legs and a sharp, yellow bill. It is smaller than the Great Blue Heron. The Great Egret stands 3.3 feet tall and has a wingspan of 52 to 67 inches. On average, however, they weigh only about 2.2 pounds.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A large flock of Great Egrets flies over the Watauga River in Elizabethton.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A large flock of Great Egrets flies over the Watauga River in Elizabethton.

These egrets nest in large colonies. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the colonial nesting habits of these birds made them particularly vulnerable to humans who slaughtered the birds in the millions to harvest their feathers for use in the fashion industry. The Great Egret and other wading birds were almost decimated in order to decorate fashionable hats for women.

The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905, largely as an effort to combat the unregulated slaughter of birds like Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills. Now, more than a century later, the Great Egret still serves as the official logo for the National Audubon Society. In addition, the Great Egret has rebounded from those dark years. In fact, this bird now ranges as far north as southern Canada in appropriate wetland habitats. During spring and fall migration, Great Egrets also pass through northeast Tennessee. Look for them along rivers, lakes and on small farm ponds.

During visits to favorite birding locations in Elizabethton and Erwin, I have also observed Green Herons and Great Blue Herons.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Green Heron rests at the edge of a pond.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young Green Heron rests at the edge of a pond.

The Green Heron can easily be overlooked as it lurks near a stream’s banks or the edges of a pond. This heron is not tall and stately like the Great Egret or Great Blue Heron. The bird is a patient ambush predator capable of remaining motionless for extended periods as it waits for prey to move within reach of its sharp, pointed bill. I’m always flushing these herons from cover before I even realize they are present.

I do get fortunate on occasion, however, and manage to approach a Green Heron without panicking the bird into a hasty flight. If you stand very still and don’t make sudden movements, you can manage to observe this bird from a respectful distance.

Such was the case of a Green Heron that I found stalking the edges of the pond at Erwin Fishery Park. I had my camera, so I snapped some photographs as I watched the heron’s slow, deliberate steps along the pond’s edge. Then, with a lightning-quick motion, the bird lunged its bill into the water and snatched a large tadpole. The heron required a brief time to get the wiggling tadpole positioned. After that technicality was resolved, the heron swallowed the plump tadpole quickly and almost immediately resumed search for more prey.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Green Heron finesses a captured tadpole in its bill.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Green Heron finesses a captured tadpole in its bill.

The unfortunate tadpole had developed hind legs, which did not prove an obstacle for the bird swallowing it, but still had a tail. Although it was very close to achieving frog-hood, this particular tadpole instead became part of the varied diet of a Green Heron, which can also include fish, crustaceans, insects and even mice. At this same Erwin pond, I once watched another Green Heron patiently stalking and successfully snatching dragonflies that perched on pond vegetation within reach of the bird’s bill.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Green Heron elevates a shaggy crest of feathers, a behavior often initiated when the bird feels alarmed.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Green Heron elevates a shaggy crest of feathers, a behavior often initiated when the bird feels alarmed.

The Green Heron is usually present in Northeast Tennessee from April to October. The bird migrates to Central America for the winter months. A few other herons, including the Great Blue Heron and the Black-crowned Night-Heron, live year-round in the region.

Kingfishers are world-class anglers


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                       A perched Belted Kingfisher rests between attempts to catch fish along the waterfront at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City.

Fishing is a favorite pastime for many people, who like nothing better than to spend a lazy summer afternoon trying their luck at their favorite fishing spot.

There’s also an angling counterpart among our feathered friends. The Belted Kingfisher’s nature as an angler rules out this bird visiting feeders in the backyard, but that doesn’t mean you’re unlikely to see this bird. With a little strategic effort, an observation of a Belted Kingfisher is fairly easy to obtain, especially during the summer months. If you live near a stream, pond, river or other body of water, you have probably been fortunate enough to observe a Belted Kingfisher as it completes its daily routine.

If you are a fishing enthusiast yourself, you’ve likely shared some favorite fishing holes with this bird. The Belted Kingfisher is patient in its pursuit of fish. The birds prefer to perch on an exposed branch or a wire that overlooks a body of water that offers ample fishing opportunities. The Belted Kingfisher, however, is capable of hovering in place in order to spot and then capture its prey in an impressive plunge and lunge into the water.

Most of my observations of hunting kingfishers have involved the birds in their ambush approach to fishing — perching and diving on the unsuspecting fish. I have on a few occasions, however, also observed kingfishers as they hover over the water in a quest for a meal.

The Belted Kingfisher, like most of its kin, looks to have a head and bill that are slightly too large for the rest of the body. It’s the long, heavy bill that the Belted Kingfisher uses to snatch fish from their watery homes.

A walnut tree with some dead branches overlooking my family’s fish pond is a favorite perching site for visiting Belted Kingfishers. A few Belted Kingfishers become regular visitors almost every spring and summer. In past years, I’ve been delighted by pairs of kingfishers that have brought as many as six of their offspring to hunt around the edges of the pond and creek near my home.

When a Belted Kingfisher does manage to capture a fish — not always a certainty, despite their great skill — the bird will usually fly to a perch where they will beat the fish unconscious before swallowing it. I remember one particular kingfisher that liked to catch fish in the creek and then fly to the corner of the metal garage roof where the bird proceeded to beat senseless the unlucky fish.

Worldwide, there are about 90 species of kingfishers that range in size from the 16-inch-long Laughing Kookaburra of Australia to the tiny African Dwarf Kingfisher, which at four inches in length is smaller than most sparrows. This family of birds is divided into three groupings, the river kingfishers, the tree kingfishers and the water kingfishers.

Despite the name “kingfisher,” not all kingfishers exist on a diet of fish. Some members of the kingfisher family instead prey on other quarry, such as snakes, lizards and insects.

Some interesting common names have been used to identify the world’s kingfishers, including Half-collared Kingfisher, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, Indigo-banded Kingfisher, Silvery Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, White-bellied Kingfisher, Cerulean Kingfisher, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Spangled Kookaburra, Rufous-bellied Kookaburra, Shovel-billed Kookaburra, Lilac Kingfisher, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Great-billed Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Lazuli Kingfisher, Ultramarine Kingfisher, Cinnamon-banded Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Mewing Kingfisher, Chattering Kingfisher, Glittering Kingfisher, Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Green-and-rufous Kingfisher.

Kingfishers comprise a cosmopolitan family of birds with species present on every continent except Antarctica.


A depiction of Belted KingfisherS painted by John James Audubon.

The three North American kingfishers, however, are exclusively fish-eaters. The Belted Kingfisher, with a range that spans most of the United States, is the only kingfisher encountered by most Americans.

Two others, the Ringed Kingfisher and the Green Kingfisher, are found in Texas and occasionally in other locations near the Mexican border. The Ringed Kingfisher is similar in appearance to the Belted Kingfisher, but is somewhat larger with a rufous-colored belly. The little Green Kingfisher, not quite nine inches long, has the typical kingfisher appearance, but is green rather than blue on its upperparts.

With the Belted Kingfisher, only the female sports a ring of rufous coloration across her breast. She is an exception to the rule that most male birds are more vividly colored than their female companions.

In her book The Folklore of Birds, Laura C. Martin writes that in some accounts the kingfisher, not the dove, was the second bird Noah released from the ark after the Biblical flood. Instead of looking for land, the kingfisher flew too high and the sun scorched the bird’s feathers. After his setback with the raven and now the kingfisher, Noah made the kingfisher remain on the ark’s deck to catch its food from the water.

Halcyon days, a term meaning a period of peaceful quiet, is derived from Greek legend. According to the legend, the god Zeus restrained the storms during the period when the kingfishers nest. The scientific name for the Belted Kingfisher is Megaceryle alcyon, a variation on the term “halcyon.”


Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                                                                                                          Belted Kingfisher sits on a wire to scan for fish.

Belted Kingfishers nest by excavating a cavity in a dirt bank, usually near water. The tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, and may extend as far as eight feet into the bank.

Again in Martin’s book, there is an account of a Cherokee legend about how the kingfisher acquired its angling lifestyle. The poor bird wanted to be a waterbird, but lacked the equipment to make a living at fishing. The other animals convened a council and, in pity for the kingfisher’s plight, endowed the bird with its spear-like bill. Since that time, the bird has been known as “king of the fishers.”

The “king of the fishers” is indeed to be envied by human anglers. Although not successful in every attempt, the Belted Kingfisher is certainly exceptional in its pursuit of fish. According to John Eastman in his book, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh, the Belted Kingfisher typically captures about 10 fish per day.

If you want to observe this bird for yourself, stake out a pond or section of river. You’re not likely to have to wait for long before you are rewarded with an observation. In my experience, however, the Belted Kingfisher is somewhat shy and wary of humans, so observe from a respectful distance or you’re likely to scare off the bird, which will depart giving its rattling call that sounds so much like the sound of annoyance on its part.