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Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!




Sunday, March 21, 2010

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Yesterday was the best birding day of the year, not because we added several birds to our year list, but because of one especially magnificent bird that flew right over our front deck.  I was as awed as the speaker of  Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "The Windhover":   "my heart in hiding / stirred for a bird."  His poem describes the emotions he felt as he watched a Kestrel (the windhover) ride the wind.  I had the honor of watching an equally stirring Swallow-tailed Kite.

It was just after a front had blown in yesterday afternoon.  Though the wind was blowing fiercely, I had returned to the deck to catch any migrants that had been stopped by the front.
Watching for early warblers at the bath, I almost forgot to scan the skies.  When I did, the large kite (they can have a wingspan of 50 inches) was veering north towards the river and  trying to gain altitude. The afternoon sun, especially intense as it often is after rain clouds have broken up, illuminated the bird so that its dazzling white and black pattern gleamed.  If you haven't seen at least a photograph of this bird with its wings and deeply forked tail spread out to ride the wind, look at the photo linked here from the Peregrine Fund.  That's what it looked like,  but more brightly spotlighted by the sun.

My years of teaching (and loving) English literature cause snippets of poetry to be snagged in my head.  So first Hopkins' poem flitted out from my brain (the windhover hovering as its "hurl and riding rebuffed the big wind"), and then it told my hands to grab the camera. By that time, the battle with the wind had triggered aerobatic maneuvers by the bird and it was too low and to the side of me to get an underneath shot of those outstretched wings and long deeply forked tail.

My two photos aren't perfect, but they record a great moment. Not as well as a poem can, but they evoke the image in my mind of the bird that soared so magnificently.  See how the sun casts the wing's shadow on the white breast of the bird?   See how it leans into the wind?   In his poem Hopkins affirms "the achieve of; the mastery of the [bird]."  This lovely bird that I was privileged to watch yesterday was a master of his (and my) world.

(If you want to experience Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem you can link to it by clicking its title in the quote at the top of this blog's sidebar.)

Swallow-tailed Kites are larger relatives of the White-tailed Kites (formerly called Black-shouldered) that are residents here in the Rio Grande Valley.  Their striking colors  are  the same:  snow white against deep black.  I have watched a White-tailed Kite devour a rabbit on the fence post across the river, and we often see them hovering over the fields across the way. Although fairly common in our area,  I never tire of seeing them.  Another kite, the Red Kite that soared gracefully over a field near Inverness, was my favorite bird of a visit to the Scottish Highlands three years ago.  I've also watched Mississippi Kites with my grandchildren as they kettled above their house in south central Texas during migration. (editing note: the kites were kettling, not my grandchildren!  I should just change the sentence around, but it strikes me as too funny to change:  sometimes the seven of them do seem to be kettling.)

 The range of the Swallow-tailed Kites in the United States is mainly Florida but we do see them in south Texas in migration.  Several years ago one was embedded in a kettle of hawks that soared above our house.  That was exciting, a lifer for me,  but the bird was so high that I could see it only with binoculars.  This one was close, a surprisingly short distance for raptor migration, not far above the palm trees really, close enough that it is now truly a "yard bird."

I didn't see a group of kites, only one exquisitely beautiful one, but I've learned that one of its collective nouns is a string of kites.  I like that.  Kites, like those flown by my grandchildren and by my brother and sisters and I as children, are  beloved and fascinating toys that were named after this bird.  My father used to make paper kites and taught us to fly them.  I was reminded of that when the Swallow-tailed Kite flew between me and the sun yesterday, a brief childhood memory of flying kites on sunny days.  Last week we flew kites with our grandchildren.  I wish we had seen the Swallow-tailed Kite then so that I  could have shared the spectacular bird with them.  

15 comments:

KaHolly said...

When I got to the end of you post today, and came across the pictures of the grandkids, esp. your grandson donning field glasses, I had goosebumps. It's clear to me that I need to manipulate my life so that I am in S. TX more, esp. this time of year!! ~karen

Jan said...

Thank you so much for the lovely visuals. I hadn't thought of Daddy's kite-making in years, and it brought back wonderful memories. The pictures of Sadie and Mitchell are wonderful too, as well as the highlighting of my favorite bird, the Swallow-tailed Kite!

Kay said...

Thanks, Jan! It's neat that we saw Swallow-tailed Kites on the same day--all these miles apart! Keep looking up: there in Florida you will probably see more. Remember when Daddy made box kites out of wallpaper? It's a wonder he ever got them up in the air!

ramblingwoods said...

Thank you for leaving this on my blog.. I have added it to my list. 'Sally Wasowski's Requiem for a Lawnmower' Amazing photos of the bird and of children sharing in nature and outdoor activities..priceless....Michelle

ramblingwoods said...

I was just going to leave a suggestion. If you change your blogger comments settings to 'popup' instead of the default setting of 'embedded', it will be much easier to leave a comment. With firefox the letter code doesn't show up and I have to default to internet explorer....Michelle

Larry said...

One of my favorite Connecticut sightings was that of a Swallow-tailed Kite.I watched it feed on the wing for over 30 minutes.It was right over our heads.A beautiful and graceful bird.

Kay said...

Michelle, Thank you for both your comment and for the technical suggestion!
-Kay

Kay said...

Larry,
I wish "our" kite had stayed for over 30 minutes! You are right--they are beautiful and graceful and watching even for a few moments is a memorable experience.
Kay

Jules and Ken said...

My husband and I saw our first Swallowtail Kite today at Santa Ana, they are beautiful. I'll have to read the poem. I really enjoy your beautiful photos and informative blog.

Kay said...

Thank you! I just read your post about the Santa Ana Hawk Watch and the Brownsville trip for parrots. But the photo I like the best is of your 4 cats in the window!
Kay

Nicole said...

Oh what a Beauty!
Aren't you lucky :D

The Early Birder said...

A magical moment Kay. I remember seeing Swallow-tailed Kites in Texas and your pics and words brought back some joyful memories of a graceful species. Cheers FAB.

Carver said...

Wonderful shots of the kite and I also love the shots with the children. Very informative post too.

MyMaracas said...

Thanks for the great post! Your photos are beautiful, and your text is so informative and well-written. I feel as though I'm there with you, watching the kite fly.

Kay said...

Thank you for the comment! I hope you drop by again.
Kay