The scene shortly after 9 am this morning in Hide-A-Way Hills, Hocking County. This was the site of Ohio's first ever Mississippi Kite Day, and from 9 am until noon the good people of this private, gated resort allowed birders to enter and meet what are rapidly becoming their most famous residents.
Many thanks go out to Elizabeth vanBalen Delphia for finding and bringing the birds to light, then serving as the host for the 60+ birders who came to visit this morning. She and her husband Michael were exceedingly patient and gracious hosts, visiting with everyone and guiding people to the best spots. I also want to thank the management of Hide-A-Way Hills for tolerating this rather out-of-the-ordinary invasion of the human kind. The security staff was great, as everyone else down there has been.
Finally, as is nearly always the case, all of the birders that visited, from as far away as Michigan, were great. Many a life bird was notched and lots of fantastic photos were made. Photographers the likes of Steve Jones, Jerry Talkington and Dane Adams were on the scene, and they'll have much better stuff than mine, but I haven't yet had time to seek their permission to use photos.
One of the subjects of our quest: a freshly minted juvenile Mississippi Kite. There were two of the still downy beasts, and fabulous views at great length were had of both. These guys normally just sit like dummies high in the branches of dead trees - the most conspicuous perches about, the better to beg from. As Mississippi Kites normally have only two young, this means that the pair has successfully fledged both.
When a youngster detects an adult flying back with a morsel, it begins emitting high keening whistles reminiscent of a truncated Olive-sided Flycatcher call. While perhaps annoying to the adult kites, it is great for us on the ground, as we have advance warning of an impending food transfer - one of the exciting moments of kite-watching.
A few times, the juvenile kite would shy away from the cicada when it was offered, and the adult would then appear to do a bit of surgery on the bug. I am only speculating, but what I suspect was going on is that the cicada was still alive and struggling. When cicadas are threatened, they make incredibly loud agitated buzzes, and that display may have frightened the young kite, requiring the adult to administer the coup de grace before Junior would accept the meal.
This is huge talent. One just doesn't pip from the egg, stretch its wings, and launch right into 70 mph cicada-nabbing power dives. It seems as if the Junior kites spend lots of time on their snags watching the adults, and probably learning by example. This may be in part why they choose such high conspicuous perches - the better to watch mommy and daddy ply their trade.
By early to mid September, this kite family will be off for the South American tropics to winter. There, in remote jungles, surprisingly little is known of them and how they operate. Come next spring, if all goes well, these birds will begin the long northward flight back to Ohio, hopefully to once again set up residence in Hocking County and Hide-A-Way Hills. And perhaps their offspring will also set up territories of their own nearby, further expanding Ohio's new Mississippi Kite population.