Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kites return to the Falls


Every spring Anniepie and I look forward to the return of certain friends who mark the season and who, kind of like old mesquite trees budding out, let us know spring is settling in. Scissor-tailed flycatchers, Oklahoma's state bird, arrived some weeks ago; a trifle early this year by our reckoning--I really need to keep better notes and records--but others testify the scissor-tails were about on schedule. We spotted our first a couple Sundays ago out by Lake Wichita Park, and I have since seen them in all parts of the Falls, including one in that big old pecan tree across the street from our house.

Last evening a couple hours shy of sunset, Anniepie and I were camping out in the backyard, toasting Willie Nelson's 79th with a couple of margaritas. The winds finally had laid down to near calm, and the temperature under a pale blue, cloudless sky couldn't have been any more perfect. The seed feeders weren't getting many callers save the occasional dove, mainly because Mr. Beano Miller kept chasing after his lime green squeaky ball ever time Annie would toss it.

I happened to glance up from the dog games and spotted what I took to be a chimney swift at first. On second look, though, the bird was larger than a swift, soaring higher than I had first estimated. As my 62-year-old tri-focaled eyes adjusted to the range, I spotted another bird riding air currents at the extreme limit of unaided vision, hardly more than a speck, yet faintly recognizable. Nudging Anniepie, I pointed to the nearer bird.

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Oh my god, I think so!"

Of course, about that time the bird's flight took it below the tree line, so I broke for the house to fetch the glasses. Before I returned to the yard, however, Anniepie had confirmed the Mississippi kites had returned to the Falls.

Mississippi kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, second cousin to our own bald and golden eagles, is a hawk-sized raptor dressed in shades of gray and elegantly graceful on the wing. I mean, this bird literally does "dance the sky on laughter silvered wings" so beautiful it can make a grown man get cinders in his eyes when there's not a fire within two counties. These guys spend the winter in South America. Why on Earth they return each spring to hatch and raise their young in Wichita Falls is beyond me, but I'm certainly thrilled that they do.

So Annie and I were both grovin' on our first kite sighting of the fledgling spring, watching a couple sky dance at about 10,000 feet, when another pair swooshed past us directly overhead at treetop level! I mean we heard the air whispering through their flight feathers!

"I guess they wanted to make sure we knew they were back," I said.

The literature will tell you that kites feed on insects. I'm here to tell you I watched a pair of them tag-team after a white-winged dove that only escaped by plunging into a dense cedar tree. Others swear they also will take smaller stick and disc golfers who do not keep an eye out overhead while on their rounds.

Final count right at sundown was at least a dozen birds at one time soaring over Brook Village in one of the most magnificent air displays any two-legged critter should ever hope to witness.

Thank you, Lord!
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