Friday, September 30, 2011

Back to the Blogosphere

It's been almost 4 weeks since my last post, so a few words of explanation might be in order. It's been perfect storm of obstacles to getting online: minor accidents that befell a family member (everyone's OK now), a snafu that left me without phone or internet service for a week, deadlines at work, a reunion, and living with amazingly energetic puppy. Blogging is sort of like taking an online course, with the topics chosen by me. I missed reading blogs, conversing with bloggers and other readers, and writing. Hopefully, things are returning to the usual pace and I'll have a chance to post regularly. Thanks for staying with me!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Last Kite of the Season

Mississippi Kite's keystone-shaped tail shows in this silhouette composite photo by George Thomas
I may have seen my last Mississippi Kite of the year yesterday. My puppy Chunk and I visited Emmenegger Nature Park, climbing the trail along the bluffs above the Meramec River and paused at one of the glades. Chunk investigated the scents along and under the limestone rocks. I scanned the wide valley below with my binoculars. The landscape is urban, with remnants of oak-hickory woods on the hills. Floating over the former site of the Chrysler plant, a beautiful male Mississippi Kite sailed on the warm, still air. The open glade afforded me a rare view of the kite from above. Contrasting with the dark grey body, I could see the white head and secondaries—the flight feathers close to the body along the trailing edge of the wing. The creative image above is by George Thomas, and the beautiful one below is by MRHSfan. Thanks for licensing your photos with Creative Commons, George and MRHSfan!

adult male Mississippi Kite, photo by MRHSfan
I see Mississippi Kites almost daily in my area, starting in early May. They can be hard to spot early in the season. They tend to be silent and avoid being conspicuous as soon as they begin nesting. A friend who has a nest nearby said she often sees them flying low—under the radar, so to speak—as they approach the nest.

By August, the young are in flight and I occasionally hear them call. It's a strange sound—imagine a flycatcher impersonating a Broad-winged Hawk's two-note whistle. Click the play button to hear the recording below, also Creative Commons. Kites show up predictably at favorite perches around the neighborhood; always on dead snags atop mature trees. About 3 weeks ago I saw a group of 6 kites, including at least 2 juveniles, in a half-dead oak. Not far away, I could hear a 7th bird calling. Sometimes 2 or 3 will circle overhead. Are these local birds or the first migrants? I wish I knew.

When I first started birding seriously, in the early 90s, I saw my life Mississippi Kites in Webster Groves. Birders at that time said Webster was about as far north as they were found in summer, but now they breed up into Iowa.

They are predominantly insect eaters, so they must head south in fall. Conventional wisdom says that all the kites will be gone from Missouri by the end of the first week of September, but curiously, the first are record of Mississippi Kite was in autumn, on September 22, 1956 (Birds of the St. Louis Area; Where and When to Find Them, Webster Groves Nature Study Society, 1995). They migrate through Texas, along the east coast of Mexico, through Central and northwestern South America. Their non-breeding range is Bolivia, western Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. See this range map on the Cornell U website. Check out this spectacular video of a flock of kites migrating through SoberanĂ­a National Park in Panama, taken by Dave Jackson in April, 2007.

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