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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … King?

What Is That … King?

Waddells

Since Queen Elizabeth passed away, Charles III has reigned as Canada’s King which, obviously, means that Lanark now has a king.  Not so obviously, we have a number of other kings at the cottage, two of which are birds: the Eastern kingbird; and, the belted kingfisher.  In addition, we have three dragonflies that are members of the king skimmer dragonfly family.

Although we see the eastern kingbird every year at the cottage, we do not have many great kingbird photographs.  We find it difficult to capture in a sharp clear photo, because it often chooses to sit in trees with the sun behind it.  A few times, we have seen them suddenly fly off the perch to capture large insects flying by.  We have seen kingbirds take the insect back to their perch to beat it into submission before eating.  From its perch, it will also strike out to defend its territory from other kingbirds.  The clearest field mark for us to identify the kingbird is the white-tipped square tail which shows well in this photograph.

The second bird that is a king in Lanark is the belted kingfisher.  It too challenges our photographic skills.  It usually sits in a tree that provides a good vantage point of the lake so it can keep its eyes peeled for the perfect fish to swim by.  We are often startled by a sudden splash.  If we look up quickly enough, sometimes we see a wet kingfisher emerging from the lake with a fish in its long daggerlike bill.  Both male and female belted kingfishers show blue-gray breast bands.  Females sport an additional chestnut belly-band, as shown in this photo.

Less obvious, are the kings who are amongst us in the dragonfly world.  One group of dragonflies, known as king skimmers, includes some of our favourite dragonflies.  You know one-way beasties become our favourites … they are relatively easy to identify.  King skimmers qualify because they tend to be large, conspicuous, and distinctively patterned.

The first king skimmer we learned to identify was the widow skimmer.  The male’s striking wing pattern includes a patch of black near its abdomen and a white patch that reaches from the black almost to the tip of the wing.  We tend to see them through the high summer months of July and August.  The one below was photographed on July 19th this year.  Of course, widow skimmer dragonflies are one of our favourites.

Another large, striking king skimmer dragonfly is the twelve-spotted skimmer.  The female we saw once only this year.  With three black spots on each wing, each spot interspersed with white, this dragonfly is a beautiful sight to behold.  Sometimes we have confused it with the female common whitetail dragonfly which has a similar wing pattern but with differently spaced spots on its abdomen.  The female twelve-spotted skimmer’s abdomen spots form a continuous line along each side of its abdomen.

One of the king skimmer dragonflies we find relatively easy to identify in the spring when it flies at the cottage is the four-spotted skimmer.  We saw our first one in 2016 and do not know why it took us so long to identify one because today we find the shape and colour speak to us.  In the spring, the leading edge of the male’s wings glow amber, as does much of its abdomen, as you might be able to see in this photo.  As the male matures, the amber glow fades to an olive brown.  Need we even mention that this is one of our favourite dragonflies?

So, while our summers at the cottage are spent amongst royalty, we are still able to relax and not worry about royal etiquette.  More royalty may be living amongst us but these five species come quickly to mind.  We can hardly wait for cottage season to return so we can again watch for and mingle with our favourites, including royalty.

For this article, we did some extra reading at www.allaboutbirds.org, and in Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East.

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