Summer Solstice – Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites

About 9:45 this morning – a hot, sunny, perfect day for the Summer Solstice, with a burning blue, empty, cloudless sky – a slender-winged bird came flying toward me from the southwest, with strong, deep wing-beats. As it got closer and passed, it turned swiftly to one side and flashed white and black – a Swallow-tailed Kite, a large, graceful raptor that we rarely see here, with dramatic white and black coloring and a deeply-forked tail. It flew steadily on, disappearing over the trees in the northeast. Although Swallow-tailed Kites usually soar and glide, riding the air, rarely flapping their wings, this one was using its wings in slow, deep, steady motion.

About five minutes later, another slender, dark raptor with long wings and a shallow, fan-shaped tail, circled low over the treetops and then settled into the top of an oak. From there, its white head gleamed in the sun – a Mississippi Kite. It stayed only for a minute or two before flying again and disappearing behind a tree line. Mississippi Kites are not as large and less flashy than the Swallow-tailed, but falcon-like, buoyant and acrobatic in flight, with dark gray plumage and round white heads. They also are uncommon here, so to see both kite species on one day was a nice surprise – and a perfect celebration to mark the Summer Solstice.

I stayed outside, walking through the neighborhood and watching the skies for more than an hour, and didn’t see the Kites again, but a Cooper’s Hawk soared and circled above me slowly for several minutes, and two juvenile Red-tailed Hawks perched close to each other on a wire and a utility pole overlooking the old field and the highway beyond. They have recently begun to perch out here, more in the open, after two or three weeks of staying mostly back in a stand of pines near a pond, screaming often for attention from the adults.

A Wood Thrush sang from a low, deeply-shaded part of the woods near a creek, and another sang from patchy woods on higher ground. Their liquid, lyrical songs are among the loveliest parts of a summer morning, and it feels lucky to have them here because they’ve been less and less common in the past few years. Most other birds were rather quiet, few tanagers or vireos. A Great-crested Flycatcher called whreep, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers speee, one Red-eyed Vireo repeated its four-phrase refrain, and an Indigo Bunting sang in the field. Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers continue to sing here and there, and Acadian Flycatchers call wheet-SIT from near the creeks. The rise and fall of cicadas’ songs continues all day, and grasshoppers snap and crackle, wasps buzz and chimney swifts twitter overhead. Chipping Sparrows sing long, thin trills, Bluebirds flash their startling vivid blue, and Phoebes hunt quietly from low perches in the shade.

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