Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Swallow-tailed Kite

Today at 2:25 PM this adult Swallow-tailed Kite flew past the hawk watch at Sandy Hook. The bird was far away and went by in a matter of seconds, so this is really the only photo I was able to get, before it disappeared into the haze in the direction of Coney Island.

Click on the photo for a bigger view. Some sun glare is visible on the upperside of the left wing, while the right wing's underside shows the white underwing coverts against dark flight feathers.

In the morning, the raptor flight had been disappointing. Around 12:30, the haze suddenly grew thicker and with a cold breeze coming off the ocean, conditions did not seem favorable for a hawk flight. Yet that's when I suddenly started getting a steady stream of birds, practically all flying along the beach. Most of them were falcons and Ospreys; later in the afternoon, harriers appeared into the mix. In only a few hours, I got to 85 American Kestrels, 13 Merlins, 23 Ospreys, 11 Northern Harriers, 10 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 1 Cooper's Hawk, and 1 Swallow-tailed Kite. No vultures and no buteos.

Other interesting sightings included a Raven, a Glaucous Gull, and a first-of-season Cliff Swallow. Later, around dusk, Scott Barnes and I had three Ravens fly over the Hook, and heard an American Bittern.


matthew said...

how can yo tell the Swallow-tailed kite is an adult? I would love to learn from someone with your experience. I am just starting to watch hawks and find it fascinating but can't yet tell alot of them apart


johnvandort said...

Well, the most obvious difference between juvenile and adult Swallow-tailed Kite is in the length of the outer tail feathers: these are shorter than on adults (but still quite long). They start molting those feathers in May or June, replacing them with (longer) adult feathers.
My photo is not very good, so this feature is unfortunately not visible in the photo.
The best way to learn to identify hawks is to spend some time at a hawk watch. If you go to www.hawkcount.org you can probably find one in your area.