Kites Ho!

Dayna had a doctor’s appointment in Cape Girardeau last week and I took off to go along. Her appointment was at 11:00 a.m. so I knew that if we ate lunch quickly and I could keep Dayna from spending all day at the mall, we would have time to stop somewhere and take some photographs. But where to go? I was looking around on the Missouri Conservation Atlas, not feeling very inspired, and worked my way all the way south to Donaldson Point Conservation Area, in a bend of the Mississippi River not far from New Madrid.

The area summary said it was “predominantly forest with large stands of bottomland hardwoods,” which is cool if you’re willing to actually get out of the vehicle and look for things, but it was forecast to be in the upper 90s and likely very humid, so we weren’t willing. I was about to move on to another area, but decided to look at the Audubon Society of Missouri’s list for the site and discovered that about 75% of site visits this time of year reported Mississippi Kites. Now granted, it was a small sample size, but Mississippi Kites were high on my “want to photograph” list and this looked like a good shot. We had a plan.

On the day of the trip, Dayna went to her appointment then kept the mall visit to about an hour. We went through the Arby’s drive-through to save time and made it to Donaldson Point about 2:00 p.m. It was hot, as expected, and it’s always humid under a forest canopy in the summer. There are two routes through the area, one to the south and another that heads north and west, eventually leading back towards New Madrid, so we started by heading south.

We immediately found kites, a group of three flying high overhead. Many photos were take, they were all crap and I later deleted all of them. We found two more birds just before the road leaves the area, but they were also way up there and didn’t offer any opportunity for decent photos (we shot anyway, which led to more deletions). The road runs between cornfields where it leaves the CA to the south and here, before we turned back to the north, we saw a Red-tailed Hawk circling low over the field and a group of five Black Vultures heading west.

On the way back to the fork in the road, we encountered the group of three kites again. This time they were a bit lower, though the light was less than ideal, and I got several photos like this one:

That’s good enough to confirm identification, no more. Nothing to do but move on and keep looking.

We got back to the road fork and headed out the other route. Again, we found birds almost immediately, another group of three. We could tell that one of these was a juvenile, his brown streaked underside giving him away . This group was more cooperative—more accurately, one of them was—and we managed some decent photos.

First, this one flew across the road behind us, crossing from the crop fields to the north towards Bowman Hole, the big slough to the south.

Still not a very good photo, but the light’s better and he’s very clearly carrying something in his mouth. Surprisingly, he came about and landed in a dead snag, on the north side of the road, seemingly oblivious to us. We could watch him eat but couldn’t tell what it was. It looks furry to me, so I’m guessing mouse or vole.

When he finished eating, he sat there and posed for a couple of minutes before moving to another perch nearby.

When he moved, I managed to shoot this flight sequence:

The second photo in particular gives a good look at the light-colored head, nearly black tail and dark gray wings, with their white rear margins and reddish color (chestnut? rufous?) in the otherwise darker “hands.”

He didn’t stay at this perch long before sallying out to snatch a dragonfly on the wing (which was damned impressive), then landing on yet another perch to eat it. I managed to photograph most of the sequence of him catching the dragonfly, but the photos are poor enough quality that I won’t post them.

At this point, we had followed him around for ten minutes and even though our presence didn’t seem to bother him in the least, we decided to move on and leave him along. Besides, we were both now soaked with sweat and very ready to get back into the car and crank the air. That was the last kite we saw, but we saw ten birds in all and got to spend enough time with one to “get to know” him, so we were content.

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