Mississippi Kites – Update #2

On Friday July 3, I once again traveled to the town of Root in Montgomery County, New York to try and get a more satisfying look at the Mississippi Kites in the area.  Unlike the last time I was there, there were many other birders there and I’m happy to report that thus far, everyone has been on their best behavior!

Among the many birders there were Rich Guthrie, Andy Guthrie, Corey Finger, Tom Burke, Shai Mitra, Andy Baldelli, Pat Lindsay, Alison Van Keuren, Sue Adair, John Hershey, Kevin McGowan and I’m sure others whom our paths did not directly cross.

I arrived around 9:30 and joined the mob on Mapletown Road as one bird foraged over the tree tops to the west of the road, when a good portion of the mob went down to Donato Road to try and get better looks, I went a bit further west on Lattimer Hill Road and waited and watched, but saw nothing, save a high flying Bald Eagle, Great-Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk and common field edge birds, including one persistantly singing Savannah Sparrow, which kept me company most of the time there.

Soon however my phone was ringing with reports of good looks at the bird.  Now I normally don’t like standing around in crowds waiting for a bird to appear, but after about 1pm or so I headed down to Donato Road, where I waitied with Shai Mitra and his crew, Alison Van Kueren and Sue Adair and Kevin McGowan and his nephew.

Around 2:30 or so, a Thunderstorm passed over chasing us from the watch.  One group thought it a fine time to go get Ice Cream, but a majority of us waited for the rain to pass  We were joined by a couple from the Syracuse area and as soon as the rain stopped, we got out of the cars and began searching the fields again.  About 3:45, I happened to catch sight of a bird flying low across one of the fields.  I got it into my binoculars, white head… I had the bird!  “Here we go!” I shouted over to the group standing down the road from me, as the bird then quickly flew over our heads before heading into the woods where both birds have been frequently seen.  Kevin McGowan was called in and joined in the vigil.  About 10 minutes later, I spotted the bird again above the tree tops, the bird proceeded to fly into the field in front of us and sort of float around, allowing everyone to get excellent long looks that was a state bird for most of us and life bird for some!

Even after I left a 4pm, I recieved word that the bird was seen frequently that evening and was seen well on July 4th and 5th as well.  As for any more nesting proof, I’ll save that for another post…

Mississippi Kites in New York State – Update

Hi folks, just a quick update on the Mississippi Kites in the Town of Root, Montgomery County, New York.

This appear to be the 1st Mississippi Kite record for NYS Kingbird Region 8.  There are 3 American Swallow-Tailed Kite records (1 Albany County, 1 Greene County (yours truly) and apparently one from the 1880’s (which implied nesting!)  in Rensselaer County. (Information courtesy of Rich Guthrie)

The birds were seen by several observers the next day on the 29th, although no one commented on getting ‘great’ or even ‘good’ views.  They remain difficult to see and it may take many hours of siting in one spot to get a 15 second view of the bird(s) flying over.  A very frustrating twitch to be sure.

On the 30th only a couple of reports of a positive sightings came in, with several others striking out.  Severe Thunderstorms and flooding (heavy rain at least) might have limited the birds movements on this day.

As of this writing, there have been no sightings as on July 1.

I’m sure some of you in other parts of the country are saying to yourselves, “Whats the big deal?”  Interesting according to Bull Birds of NYS (Levine:1998), Mississippi Kite was only 1st recorded in the New York on Staten Island in 1979!  In a 30 year period, this species went from 1st record to possible breeding!  Perhaps these birds are simply following the long list of “southern” species that have steadily moved north, such as Turkey Vulture, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren and more recently Black Vulture.

I plan to be back in the area later this week, and should have some images (of something) to share then!

Mississippi Kite Nesting in New York State?

Well it’s certainly possible!

On June 1st, a report was made on the OS Birds List-serv (Otsego-Schoharie Counties in NYS) about a Mississippi Kite being seen in the Town of Root, Montgomery County, New York (The Town of Root, you may recall had a Northern Hawk Owl a few years ago).

Now I will freely admit I was skeptical of this report.  The next day, the same people posted they saw the bird again and this time took some photos and posted them on the OS Bird yahoo site (must be a member to view), I viewed the photos and sure enough, it was clearly an adult Mississippi Kite!

At this point, word began to spread more and there was at least some attempt to relocate the bird, without any success.  Not even the original spotters saw the bird.

Fast foward nearly 4 weeks and on June 27, the same people who first spotted the bird reported the bird once again in the same tree the 1st spotted it in.  After this report, Danika and I had no plans for Sunday and decided to go check it out, turns out we were not alone.

Montgomery County is still very much agricultural, located in the Mohawk Valley, the landscape is a lot of rolling hills, wide open vistas and lots of farms.  This county is one of the most reliable spots in NYS Region 8 for both Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow.

Since raptors don’t get up at the break of dawn, we saw no need to either and slowly made our way to the location, birding of course along the way.  Late June of course is the middle of the breeding season and we found nothing unexpected that occurs in hedgerows and field edges.  Stuff like Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Kingbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Bobolink, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Yellow Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Northern Flicker, 55 Species in all for the day.

We arrived in the area, armed with nothing more than the name of the road the kite was seen on.  We drove down Mapletown Road, scanning every tree, sky, field for anything flying.  As we drove along we saw another birdwatcher pulled over to the side of the road.  Were we not alone?  Pushing further ahead, coming to the top of a hill, who should we find by the side of the road but the esteemed Rich Guthrie!  He filled us in with some additional details, and we continued on our way.

About 1pm, Danika spotted a hawk taking off in the distance near where the bird has been seen.  It is small in size (at least compared to the nearby Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture), Crow sized, pointed wings, spread tail and no color visible.  Now we were quite a distance away, but even the distant Red-tailed Hawk, we could clearly see a red tail!  Danika managed to get it into our poor excuse for a scope, which didn’t help much other than we could clearly see extensive white on the top part of the bird secondaries.  Consulting Sibleys (something I loath to do) this fit perfectly for Mississippi Kite.  Of course we still had our doubts, we were about 85-90% sure of the sighting, but wanted a better look.

We headed up the road, where we found Rich again, this time joined by Kevin McGann.  We informed them of what we saw (I think giving them more hope) and continued circling around the area.  Lucky for Danika, on one of our tours, we managed to get some Eastern Meadowlarks singing, giving her yet another year bird.

We had stopped to try and turn a Savannah Sparrow into a Grasshopper Sparrow (we didn’t) when the phone rang.  Rich and Kevin had seen not one, but TWO Mississippi Kites!  Little did we know we were very close to where they were.  We rushed up the road, but the birds had moved on.  We spent the next hour chit-chatting and theorizing about 2 Mississippi Kites being seen in the same spot in New York in late June, and obviously birds that had been around for at least the last couple of weeks.  I had just turned around, when I saw a bird gliding along the hilltop behind us.  Everyone was able to get on the bird and it was clearly a Mississippi Kite! A new life bird and state bird (and county bird too!)  With everyone satisfied, we split up again, Danika and I went to try for Grasshopper Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper in nearby Ames, Montgomery County (We got the Grasshopper Sparrow, but not the Pipers, although they were mowing the field I’ve normally seen them in).  Before we finally headed home.

Now there will be some debate (and an obvious search) to see if this will be a confirmed nesting or simply a pair on territory.  But given the fact that a pair of Mississippi Kites nested in New Hampshire last year, anything is possible.  I’ll obviously have more on the subject as we learn more.