Friday, July 16, 2010

Go Fly a Kite

The summertime here in Charleston brings lots of things: oppressive heat, mosquitoes, fire ants, hurricanes, tourists and beach traffic.  Fortunately, it also brings one of my favorite things as well. Kites.  This remarkable group of raptors are found all over the world and its members show some of the most incredible adaptations for spectacular flight and strange diets.   There are approximately 20 species of kites, 2 of which can be seen with regularity over the treetops in SC during the warmer months and no matter how many I see, I still get giddy like a schoolgirl whenever I spot one.

Today, for example, we were nearing the end of our morning flying demonstration with our trained Yellow-Billed Kite (Milvus migrans parasitus).  This is an African species that, while significantly larger than the native kites, is a great example of the typical kite morphology: long tapered wings and a long triangular and forked tail.  He is one of the most amazing birds to watch as he nimbly catches bits of beef thrown by the trainer often  becoming completely inverted in the process.

As often happens, some wild birds were attracted to the activity near the ground on the flying field (birds near the ground often indicate the presence of food.)  Today it was a pair of Mississippi Kites (Ictinia = Greek for Kite mississippiensis = the type specimin was collected in, you guessed it, Mississippi) who came in to check out the action.  As hard as I tried to keep my eye on the bird I was training, I kept peeking over my shoulder to see if the wild birds were demonstrating any wild acrobatic skills and in fact, they were.  I saw several stoops, and amazingly enough, only a few flaps of the wings in the 10 minutes they were overhead searching for dragonflies.  Even though I have seen it a million times, it was breathtaking.

In case you thought you had to be in the middle of nowhere to see kites, I will relate another kite encounter from earlier this week.  I was preparing to take my wife and daughter out for a morning on the water when I realized that the paddle was conspicuously missing from our  boat.  While it is well equipped with 90 horses of Japanese power, it is never a good idea to travel up the creek without the paddle, so it was off to Wal-Mart.  Something about Wal-Mart (well, lots of things about Wal-Mart) immediately puts me in a fowl state of mind.  But, since the Folly road store is mere minutes from my house and all I could think about was getting on the water quickly, that was the only option.  After nearly crashing with someone driving the wrong way in the parking lot and having to pass up 2 parking spaces due to the shopping carts carelessly left behind, I climbed out of the car prepared to go on a rampage when I heard one of my favorite sounds.

1 comment:

  1. I love kites, as you well know. and today (sept 10th) I was walking through the shopping center I work at and heard a mississippi kite calling, I about dropped everything in my hands and scanned the skies to find nothing but a mocking bird singing the familiar "pee peeeeee". I was faked out..... it was still neat though