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Will another search for a swallow-tailed kite bring success?

The swallow-tailed kite has distinctive coloration and tail shape.
The swallow-tailed kite has distinctive coloration and tail shape.

Two weeks ago, I acted on a report of a swallow-tailed kite in the Steele Creek area by spending a half day in the area hoping to get just an identifiable glimpse. I thought it was a long shot to invest even a little time in looking. I was satisfied with the day though; I had at least given it a legitimate try. On to the next bird.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Last week local birder Kevin Metcalf sent out a report that he had seen two swallow-tailed kites in the same area as previously reported. At about the same time, reader Richard Hoover emailed me that he was seeing two kites daily over his house. Where? The exact spot where Kevin had seen them.

That’s a bunch of reports of swallow-tailed kites from the same area. The birds are unmistakable. Suddenly, the odds were in my favor of adding that species to my county list.

I woke up Saturday morning with the dangerous feeling these birds were slam dunks for me this day. Many a birder has had that feeling early the morning only to be disappointed by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, by nine o’clock I and two other birders were at Richard’s house waiting for the kites to glide over. An hour and a half later we were still waiting. Could those birds have packed it in and taken my hopes south?

We decided to leave and drive around the area for a wider view. Five minutes later, as we drove around the outlet shops on Steele Creek, a hanging form in the air caused me to hit the brakes. It was a raptor … was it the right one? The bird banked, exposing the black and white patterned underside and the unmistakable deep forked swallow-tail. Swallow-tailed kites are thought to be among the most beautiful and graceful raptors in the world. Looking at that bird I had to agree. Today’s photo is the actual bird we saw.

These kites are about the fourth or fifth Mecklenburg County record for the species. Until these birds showed up and decided to hang around, all other records were of single birds fast heading somewhere else. They have been sort of a nemesis county bird for me, but those days are over. On to the next bird.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.

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