Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Wind Chaser - Swallow Tailed Kite

When a birder reported seeing a singly Swallow-tailed Kite (STKI) in north Georgia, Mark McShane and I went to the spot, tried to relocate it and we found nothing. Mark mentioned there is a place in Brantley County (Click here for GPS Location link), every year these kites will forage in a large flock about a month or so for their after breeding dispersal and seeing a huge flock of STKI is the most amazing and exuberant experience he has! I jokingly told this friend my love goes to hummingbirds and no other bird can take my breath away. Mark tried very hard and wanted to convince me to go see these kites, due to my other obligations, I'm not sure if I want to drive over 300 miles to see one bird. Plus, there is no guarantee if these birds will be still there when I go down ..... Few days later while hesitating, my phone rang. Mark's weary, but happy voice at the other end. He just finished his pelagic trip down to the Florida's coast, he wanted to know if I'd like to come down Brantley County to join him on his way back to Atlanta. He said "Linda, I am sure you will change your mind about your hummingbird after seeing these graceful Swallow-tailed Kites, plus you can photograph them ..." As soon as he said "photograph them", that tickled my fantasy for snapping a unique species which only nests in a very small, localized area of south Georgia.

A graceful wind chaser! Click image to enlarge.

Next question is the timing.  Mark especially instructed me to be at "Blue Jay Rd" (click link to see GPS pin point location) no later than 9:30 in the morning. I know Mark don't want me to miss any thing interesting, but why 9:30? I puzzled..... Because an experienced birder like Mark, knows what time these birds come out for feeding and when they will be all gone. That means I have to start driving at around 4 AM.... OMG! I doubt I have this kind of strength and if I can get up that early. I told him I can not promise if I can come but we will see. "For some reasons if I could not fall to sleep or if I had nightmares, sure I will be there :) ", I jokingly replied. Mark told me to monitor weather forecast before leaving home as coastal weather is very unpredictable. As long as someone can hold an umbrella for me while snapping, I have no problem standing in the rain, and I guessed I found this volunteer :)

Swallow-tailed Kite trying to snap a bug with his talons ...
See how he rotates his tail to hold his head and body in the air. No need a landing gear!
Click Image to enlarge.

I planned to arrive my destination at 9 AM but Mark beat me with 30 minutes earlier. STKIs, as he predicted, started to show up more in number after 9:30. I had to set up my camera gear over a bar-wired fence as these kites were feeding over a meadow next to a large, privately owned, multi-story chicken farm. Another birder from North Carolina also joined us for this spectacular kite watching.I was so overwhelmed to witness such a huge flock of "wind chasers"with their seemingly effortless flight, catching juicy bugs with their skillful twist and turn without landing, just like playing kites! The coolest thing for me is to watch these kites constantly rotate their tails to near 90 degrees without flapping their wings in order to keep their head up during sharp turns (I made a short video in the end of this post and I hope you enjoy it!). I don't think there is any aircraft could maneuver in such an elegant, deliberate fashion. Nature rules!! In the next one hour the only thing I heard was happy kite calling, woos and wows...from Mark and he kept on telling me "Linda, don't stop, take more pictures" :) ...

Swallow-tailed Kite is abundant throughout south America and breed sporadically in southeastern United States. They mainly catch aerial insects and also feed on lizards and small mammals. They are black and white with a wingspan over 48 inches. I agree with Mark that they are one of the most striking raptors I have ever seen. But, that still does not change the ultimate love I have for hummers :) --- Happy Birding! -- Linda


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  1. Linda, I'm the birder from North Carolina who you met at the kite site. Sharing the kites with you made it even more fun. I loved seeing your excitement and appreciation of the kites. Your photos are video are wonderful.


  2. Thanks Shelley and I'm glad meeting you at this magical place! Thanks for those "pushes" and finally I got saved! I am sure we will bird together in near future and feel free to drop me an email so I will have yours too!

    Have a great weekend!


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