Sunday, September 12, 2010

White-tailed Kite FAQ #2

I did a FAQ blog entry about the White-tailed Kite and Stratford Point over a month ago. Since things have changed a bit in that time I thought it might be a good idea to do version 2, which is below. Thanks to our friend Kevin Doyle for all the great photos!

1) Where should I go to see the White-tailed Kite?
Stratford Point is the place to go in the early morning or evening, when it is likely to be hunting. The next best choice would be mid to late morning or late afternoon at Stratford Point where, because fewer people stop by to see it, the kite may be roosting or relaxing, or even hunting as it eats more than it used to. This may be because it is colder and the raptor requires more calories in the cooler weather, or because it is preparing to take a journey back south or west. Otherwise, it is occasionally at Short Beach in Stratford or very far down the beach at Milford Point (this is often viewable from the Coastal Center tower).

2) So what and where is Stratford Point?
Stratford Point is what we call the 28-acre coastal grasslands management area that is managed by the Connecticut Audubon Society and owned by Sporting Goods Properties, a subsidiary of DuPont. It is located at 1207 Prospect Drive in Stratford, Connecticut. You cannot miss it on a map or if you come to that address in person. It is a very spectacular and unique property situated on the mouth of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound. It is open to many forms of passive recreation, including all birding, when the gate is open and we are here.

3) So when does the gate at Stratford Point open?
There is no set time or schedule, though it is usually open during business hours on weekdays. This is approximately 8 or 9AM until around 4 or 5PM, sometimes a bit earlier or later. This is not a guarantee. Sometimes it is not open at all. It is also not open on the weekend. Despite the beautiful property and buildings, please remember that Stratford Point is not a) owned by the Connecticut Audubon Society or b) one of our centers. It is a piece of private land with some buildings that are used for offices.

When the gate is closed you are welcome to watch the White-tailed Kite from outside of Stratford Point property on Prospect Drive, or down on the beach, but please do not venture onto the site when it is not open. It is private property and a coastal grasslands management area. The birds, including the kite, benefit greatly from everyone respecting this.

4) Why was the gate open before and not now?
As said, it is open during the time described above. Otherwise, the only reason it was open was that I took the time to go there, open it, and stay at the site, or return in the evening to close it. I can no longer maintain that schedule. Unfortunately, life must go on, and the kite cannot be the center of attention. I wish it could, believe me. Doing nothing all day but watching the birds at Stratford Point was a highly enjoyable time.

5) OK, but where do I go once I'm there?
If the gate is open drive up very slowly, watching for people, birds, and the kite. Proceed to the visitor parking area by the second building. If you do not see the kite hovering or flying around over the grasslands anywhere, check the third tree from the beach behind the second building. Then scan every tree there. Be sure to keep a distance while looking or you will flush it off or scare it away to Short Beach. It is a very uneasy raptor, and does not tolerate close approaches by people on foot or any vehicle. Always talk to any visitors there as they likely have experience with the kite, or CAS staff if they are outside and not in the offices. If none of this works, give it some time. The kite may be at Short Beach or Milford Point.

6) I missed the kite before and I can't find it now, what do I do?!
Do just what I said. As with every chase, nothing is guaranteed. I am very sorry you missed it before and are having trouble, but it seems like you had some bad luck and nothing more. If you go to Stratford Point on any given day early or late for a substantial period you have a high (over 90%) chance of seeing it. Coming to see the White-tailed Kite is as easy as it gets for mega rarities, but that does not mean it is without a chance of failure. Perhaps a Peregrine chased it away around sunrise. Maybe the afternoon or evening hunt is fast, for 10 minutes and nothing more. Things happen, but the vast majority of people have success with it.

7) I thought you said the kite was leaving, right?
It was...probably. A few of the regular visitors and me noted how much more it was feeding in late August. Instead of one kill in the evening, it would grab two, three, or four rodents. I also watched it take a tremendously high flight thousands of feet into the air, then start heading southwest, only to stop and return back to Stratford Point. This test flight was in the middle of a lot of feeding, and near what we thought was the end of a molt. Not long after the tail went through a molt, and feeding returned to normal levels. In the past week, it has once again been feeding much more, though I suspect it could be because temperatures are rather cold for the species. This is in relative terms. If it was living in south Texas or south Florida then it is used to warmer days than, say, a high of 65 and a low of 52. Perhaps one of the upcoming cold fronts will push it south. My original prediction was that a strong and cold September front in the middle of the month would push it out. We are just about there now.

As always, if you enjoyed a trip to see the White-tailed Kite, please consider
donating to the Connecticut Audubon Society. It makes all of this possible. Please consider joining us as a member here too. Thank you!

All photos © Kevin Doyle

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