On May 16, 2009 the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club held its annual Century Run, where various teams take off across the region in an effort to see 100 or more species of bird in a day. This year was the 1st year in a number of years, I did not participate (because someone was off in Central Asia), with Danika at work I spent the day with kids as text messages and phone calls of people finding good, but not spectacular birds steadily came in.
May 17, 2009 was my oldest daughter Sophia’s 8th birthday. My in-laws were throwing a party for her later in the afternoon, so Danika and I drove out and dropped her off to play with her cousin, while we took a ride to see what we could add to our big year list.
Our first stop was near the Alcove Reservoir in Albany County. Here we added a bunch of common stuff we had been missing, such as Chestnut-sided Warbler, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Great Crested Flycatcher. Further down the road a Common Ravencalled and soared overhead. We wandered some back roads, down into Greene County and eventually turned onto Cedar Lane Road in Greeneville. It was extremely windy and somewhat raw for mid May, but Danika cursed as she couldn’t get a picture of an Eastern Kingbird hovering in the wind, it landed on a nearby sign and she had to “suffer” with the following photo.
Many Bobolinks called from the hay fields and I always feel so sad for them, knowing that many farmers will be doing their first cuts of the year in only a couple of weeks, not nearly enough time for Bobolinks to get a brood off. We continued down Cedar Lane, a rather quaint (ie narrow) country lane. We reached the end of the road and turned right onto Iriving Road, we drove up aways and then pulled over to listen. We could hear some Warbler calls from the woods and so stopped the car to listen some more. I pished and Danika listened. Danika suddenly said “Hey there is a small bird up the road a bit.” Both our attention was of course drawn up the road… And then we saw it.
And our brains could not comprehend what we were seeing.
Danika exclaimed “oh my!” and lunged for the camera and began running up the road, I was able to get my binoculars focused on the bird before it flew behind a tree. Finally I was able to put words to our thoughts,
“Swallow Tailed Kite!” I yelled.
Danika lept back into the car and we zoomed up the road and despite our best searching, both then and then the general area for the next two hours we never did relocate the bird.
As we had started looking for that little bird (we never did find out what it was), we saw the Kite come skimming over the tree tops, it was quite clear it was a raptor as the local crowswere already assembling a response, then the bird banked and gave us a great profile view, the long pointed wings and the very long forked tail were diagnostic. We of course have seen these birds in Florida, but this one was a long way from home. In my brief binocular view, I was also able to get a nice view of the black and white coloration. We had the bird in view for maybe 45 seconds before it was gone, never to be seen again.
The rest of the day birding was dull in comparison. Even when a Black-billed Cuckoo called and then flew low and over our heads and landed in a bush next to us, we barely paid it any attention.
Now this appears to be at least the second Region 8 Record of this species, the 3rd NYS record on E-Bird. American Swallow Tailed Kite is not annual in New York State, but most of the 30-40 records have been in the Spring and either on Long Island or at Hawk watching sites. I bet everyone who did the Century run the day before would have traded 100 species for this one. It always mind boggling to think about fate here. This was a road, I don’t think I’ve ever been down before and we were delayed at all our other stops, so as to arrive at the location at the perfect time. Amazing!
Swallow Tailed Kites had been seen at both Cape May, NJ and Erie, PA in the week before the bird we saw. The day before a strong cold front pushed through the region, so this bird may very well have been one of those birds or not, we will never know. Two days later and Anhinga was spotted in the Mid-Hudson Valley indicating a strong push of birds from the deep south.