Jim Thomson | Darter, a spearfishing champ with feathers

No doubt the Darter is one of our most interesting birds.

TAKE-OFF: A Darter takes to the air after drying its wings on a stump.

TAKE-OFF: A Darter takes to the air after drying its wings on a stump.

It is found around our shores and inlets and is a truly great hunter.

On my many trips up estuaries as well as along our coast, many times I have came across them with speared fish, ready for a feed.

 Their hunting method is somewhat different to other waders – the Darter does not swim after its prey, but stalks it, or waits until it gets close.

As the target approaches the Darter holds its neck in an ‘S’ shape until its intended victim comes in close, then it darts its head forward and spears the victim.

It chief source of food is fish, although they also happily feast on small tortoises, water insects and plants.

Darters can sometimes be seen with their body submerged and  head and neck above the surface.

It is sometimes referred to as the snake bird as it resembles a snake rising from the water.

Darters breed mainly in the spring and summer, but nesting pairs have been found nesting all year at Lake Cowal.

At the swamps near Sandgate the Darters are easily identified from each other as the female is lighter in colour, while the male is mostly dark.

Just recently I was kayaking in a swamp area searching for Kingfishers when I came on a female Darter on a stump drying its wings.

As always my camera was handy and ready for any opportunity that may arise. So, with fast shutter speed, checking as we go along (this is most important), I managed to take a number of shots before it lifted off.

YOUNG FAMILY: A female Darter on the nest with chicks.

YOUNG FAMILY: A female Darter on the nest with chicks.

As I wasn’t expecting to see the bird, I was very pleased with the results –  some great shots.

DRYING OFF: A darter on a low lying branch enjoying the sun as it dries off.

DRYING OFF: A darter on a low lying branch enjoying the sun as it dries off.

The Darter is not affected by salinity or murky waters, but does require waters with sparse vegetation that allow it to swim and dive easily.

It builds its nests in trees standing in water, and will move to deeper waters if the waters begin to dry up.

Nests are usually solitary, but Darters may nest within loose colonies with other water birds that nest in trees, such as cormorants, spoonbills and ibis. 

In hot weather, the adults will even shake water over the chicks after a swim. Chicks can swim after about four weeks in the nest and start to fly at about 50 days.

Darters can move over long distances (often more than 2000 kilometres) when not breeding, but populations tend to contract to breeding areas during summer.

A spectacular bird.

What’s that? How did I go on my quest for the elusive Azure Kingfisher?

Well, let’s just say the journey continues.

I have been partly successful and managed to get a few good images, but not the knockout image I want.