I had been interested in locating a mississippi kite this summer, in part to tally up my annual list but to also hit on a quadfecta of kites found in Florida - snail kite, swallow-tailed kite, white-tailed kite and the mississippi kite. Had not really been able to to travel to the northern half of Florida this summer, but this Labor Day weekend offered some time to try and find the missing kite in the Paynes Prairie State Park area south of Gainesville. This would be crap shot, as the mississippi kites are mostly gone from Florida to winter in Texas by the start of September. But it was not impossible as ebird reports have shown. These birds had been currently reported in the Paynes Prairie area as of August 29th.
Paynes Prairie deer
Being a four hour drive, I left home at 4am to try and arrive at the park's opening at 8 o'clock. Was met by a constant calling of hidden White-eyed Vireos and encountered a pair of white-tailed deer. Near the campgrounds by Lake Wauberg encountered a noisy mixed flock of Carolina Chickadees, Blue-GrayGnatcatchers, Black-and-White Warblers and Northern Cardinals. There were more but the thick foliage did hamper the search. Down by the lake I did find Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart, Yellow-throated Warbler, Fish Crows, a Green Heron, Great Blue Heron and Blue Jay. No Kites.
One of Paynes Prairie's wild horses
Bolan Bluff Trail
A wild citrus, probably wild orange
An American Redstart
Left the main park environment to walk the Bolen Bluff Trail a couple of miles north off US441. This is a popular trail for birders and a good location for sighting kites, acadian flycatchers and migrating warblers. The trail was busy with birders and no one I spoke with was encouraging on finding any kites today. But many were reporting good sightings like Kentucky warblers, blue-winged warblers, yellow-billed cuckoos, acadian flycatchers, prairie warbler, yellow warbler and waterthrushes. I dipped on all of these. I was successful with locating White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, many Blue-grayGnatcatchers, Blue Jay, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warblers (3 males), Pine Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, many Northern Cardinals and an Indigo Bunting. But again no kites. I did find a couple of the wild horses, that along with a small herd of bison, were released to roam the park.
I had planned on hitting the LaChua Trail next, which is located at the northern side of the park, but I was very tired from a long day. So I headed for home instead. The past two years in January I visited the LaChua Trail and had great success with cranes and and sparrows. I '09 I was lucky to score on the pair of Whooping Cranes that do live on the prairie as they mingled with the thousands of sandhill cranes that were wintering there that winter. The whoopers are a part of the flock of birds being reintroduced as part of a permanent, non-migrating population of cranes in Florida. Was pleasantly suprised to view a flock of Snow Geese fly in to graze with the many cranes. The snow geese were LIFERS. I later read reports on the these geese and that one was a Ross's Goose. A review of my photos of the geese shows the Ross's Goose. A LIFER. Another lifer found that day was the Harris's Sparrow that was my target for the day. This sparrow was being reported on the Rare Florida postings and was only the second recorded sighting in Alachua County.
My 2010 visitation was was much less interesting as it was lacking the thousands of cranes. Best birds of that day were probably the long-billed dowitchers, a flock of turkeys and a pair of American bitterns.
I will return again this next summer in search of the kites.