Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Swallow-tailed Kite and Mississippi Kites – Again!

While I was sitting on the front porch this morning around 9:30, watching the Bluebirds make trips in and out of their house and two Phoebes hunting from low branches in the pecans, two Mississippi Kites appeared above the tops of the trees directly to the north. They did not stay in view long, though it was long enough to see them clearly before they disappeared beyond the trees.

About an hour later I decided to walk down the street, just in case I could see more Kites. It was very hot and humid, but chances to see these remarkable raptors don’t come along very often, so I thought it was worth a try. At first the hazy, bleached-blue sky looked absolutely empty. Not a vulture, not a crow, nothing. Then – as if it had materialized out of nowhere – there it was. A Mississippi Kite.

Its slender shape and elegant flight were immediately recognizable. It was fairly high, over the trees to the northeast, and it was joined in just a few minutes by a second Mississippi Kite. Both were males. I could see their white heads and white secondaries catch the sunlight, and was impressed again with how thin and flat their wings are held, seen from behind, and how gracefully they fly. They remained fairly high all the time, making large circles, and I only saw them swerve for an insect a couple of times. They stayed in view for a few minutes, then drifted away back to the northeast – not moving toward the southwest as they have at other times.

I heard the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk and turned around to find it high above me, an immature, screaming repeatedly and looking handsome and strong, with a dark brown band of streaks across its breast, a dark brown head, and clean, crisp patterns in its wings that are hard to describe. It gradually climbed higher and higher until it was barely an eyelash in the sky.

As I turned to walk back toward home, two Black Vultures were soaring low over the road and beginning to rise higher. As I watched them, I saw another Kite way above them – and this one was a Swallow-tailed Kite. Wow! That’s all I could say, over and over. It was very high, and I’m not sure I would have seen it if I had not been watching the Vultures. But once seen, it was unmistakable – dramatic black and white wings, long swallow-tail, and white flashing in the sun. It stayed very high, circling around for approximately five minutes, drifting from northeast to southwest. I watched it until it grew too small to see at all, and disappeared.


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