Monday, August 23, 2010

White-tailed Kite and Cattle Egret

Day 23 of the White-tailed Kite watch was a tough one for the poor raptor. After a night of torrential rain this morning started with still more rain. The bigger story was the wind. Right on the coast, and on Stratford Point property, wind gusts were well over 30MPH, nearing 40 at times. This northeast wind was sustained at around 20 to 25 or even 28MPH. Twan spotted the kite this morning over Great Meadows Marsh in the Stratford Great Meadows Important Bird Area. This was by the airport just to the northwest of Stratford Point. It has been seen in this area several times in the past. Obviously, this is a more sheltered area to hunt in, protecting it much more from the elements. However, the salt marsh habitat does not have near the quantity, density, or variety of small mammals the kite almost exclusively feeds on.

I spent some time measuring the wind speeds at Stratford Point while watching for rarities like Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, as our friends Bill Banks and Greg Hanisek saw one earlier in the day. This type of storm system, with such strong northeast winds, is perfect at bringing birds to the coast that you would normally only find out on the water. I was also waiting for the White-tailed Kite to return for its evening meal.

Not the White-tailed Kite. From last week, the infamous banded Milford-born juvenile Peregrine Falcon asking me "Where's the kite now?" while looking for it for another fight.

Sustained winds were in the 25-28MPH range, gusts to the mid-30s. At about 5:08PM I saw what I presumed was a distant Snowy Egret flying towards the point with the wind, going southwest. As it came in closer, I noticed with the naked eye it had all very dark legs and feet - not a Snowy. Staring at it in my binoculars as it passed close in front of me over our Purple Martin gourds, I noticed it was small, had a short black bill with some light yellow only near the base, and had quite a thick, large chest and neck for its small size. However, the size and shape cannot be relied upon fully with the strong wind making for some oddly shaped flying birds. For what it is worth it stood out to me. The legs and bill were wrong for a juvenile Little Blue, and it was obviously not a Great. It was a juvenile Cattle Egret.

In that wind and with the limited observation time there was no way to get a picture of it and still get the important great looks at it that I had. Unfortunately, it kept going past the Stratford lighthouse that is next to Stratford Point, so the only hope now is to keep an eye out for it on the coast to the west. You cannot come see this one, similar to the Brown Pelican. I wish everyone could. While I went inside to check for more information on what I had just seen the kite reappeared. A subsequently happy man named Tom said it came in around 5:15. It hunted for about five minutes before seemingly flying off. I do not know if ate or not. Obviously, it was very difficult to fly or hover with the winds, even for the kite.

It goes without saying that tomorrow, as windy and rainy conditions continue, will be a great day for shorebirds and rarities of all sorts on the coast. Please come to the seemingly unstoppable Stratford Point to see what you can find - you know, besides the White-tailed Kite. What a ridiculous month. Here are a couple more White-tailed Kite photos via Karen Fung - thanks! I receive many of them each day, but please send some if you like and perhaps I will put them in an entry.

Diving for prey...

...and flying with prey.

Photo 1 © Scott Kruitbosch; photos 2-3 © Karen Fung

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