Friday, February 20, 2009

I Missed a Bird (and I Liked It!)

What IS this bird? Hint: It's NOT a northern harrier.

Earlier this week I flew down to Fort Myers, Florida to give a couple of presentations at events associated with Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to the fine Florida weather, and some early glimpses at birds we would not see in Ohio for two months, I had one particualr species on my hit list: short-tailed hawk.

I have never seen a short-tailed hawk in North America. In fact, it's one of just a couple of raptor species not yet marked on my life list. Some of the others are: gyrfalcon, California condor, the two "sea" eagles that sometimes make it to Alaska, and Eurasian hobby. Some day I will go after a gyrfalcon. And the Cali condor will be mine the next time I visit the Grand Canyon. The others I don't have any particular urge to see. But the short-tailed hawk intrigued me. So I gathered some intel on this species near Fort Myers and made my plans.

My parents had been sent by a birding friend, Phil, to a place called Harns (sometimes spelled Harnes) Marsh northeast of Fort Myers, in Lehigh Acres, Florida. They scored a short-tailed hawk there in a matter of an hour or so. My hopes were up for similar good fortune.

But fate had other ideas.

I arrived at Harns Marsh after a longish drive in heavy afternoon traffic. It's an out-of-the-way place tucked on the edge of a suburban neighborhood. Several houses on the road in to the marsh still bear the damage from recent hurricanes. I found the marsh itself and got out of my rental car. First bird: Turkey vulture. Second bird: Osprey. Third bird: Black vulture. Fourth bird: SNAIL KITE!!!

I love snail kites and this place was full of them. I kept scanning the skies and scoping the trees looking for my target bird, but my eyes kept falling back to the kites. A lot of beautiful, dark-gray adult males were hunting for apple snails in the marsh shallows. Working my way around the marsh edge to get the sun at my back, I was treated to wonderful looks. Such graceful birds!

For the next three hours I watched the birds of Harns Marsh. Sandhill cranes garroo'd, wood storks glided past, a peregrine, then a kestrel flew over. Ducks and blackbirds and limpkins and fish crows all made themselves known. It was a peaceful afternoon. So peaceful, in fact, that I was not disappointed about never seeing anything resembling a short-tailed hawk.

Oh well. I'll be back.

Here are some imags of the kites that I was able to capture.

Snail kite taking off. Note the bright orange-red feet!

An adult male snail kite.

Portrait shot of an adult male snail kite. See the elongated bill with the bodacious hooked tip? This is their escargot utensil.

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At 4:06 PM, Blogger Kyle said...

Lovely pictures of the snail kites, Bill! And those Florida marshes sure do look a lot warmer than the frozen tundra you've been showing lately! Sounds like a great opportunity to thaw out, kick back and enjoy life. And kites.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger bill said...

Photo 1 looks like an Osprey.

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Is that a short-eared owl in the first photo? I have never seen a snail kite. That hooked beak is impressive! I have been to Ding Darling and driven through Lehigh Acres but I have never heard of that Marsh. However, I have only been to the Ft. Myers area once several years ago. I did make it to Six Mile Cypress Slough and Crokscrew swamp, however! Have fun. I hope you get your short-tailed hawk.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Dave Lewis said...

Who's the lucky boy?
We were in Florida a few weeks ago and had no luck with the kite...or the hawk. But I did see Painted Buntings!
I just look at your photos and dream...

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, If you are ever in the vicinity of the Anhinga Trail at Everglades National Park, watch for a few smaller Short-tailed Hawks (dark morph) hidden among the early morning lift-off among the hundreds of larger Turkey Vultures. A local kayak guide from the International Hostel in Florida City shared that tip with me a few years back and it worked! Probably works elsewhere in Florida, too. Not so reliable in the Buckeye State.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Janet Creamer said...

Snail kite, very cool!

And, from your previous post, does that mean you are a "seedy" character? :)

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Mary said...

Your title cracked me up. Only you would think of it :o)

Leave some birds on your wish list so you'll always have something to look forward to. I'd like to see a kite one day.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Mary said...

Oh, actually there are several hundred birds I'd like to see one day. LOL!

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Scott in Fort Myers said...

I think the first one is an Osprey as well. We are so blessed in southwest Florida to have so many great places for birding. Just recently I have discovered that our backyard has almost the same variety as Sanibel. We saw this guy about 4 months ago. I plan to do a post on more of the birds we have seen more recently soon.

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Bill of the Birds said...

Photo #1 is a young snail kite. That white face and throat are diagnostic. I guess the way I wrote the caption left that open for debate.

The wings do look a bit osprey-like, though, I would agree.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger MicheleRF said...

I agree with Mary. It's always nice to get a life bird, but it's also good to have something to look forward to:)

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Tootie said...

Beautiful photos and very informative posts.


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