Searching for a Kite

The Carolinabirds email listserv has been on fire lately due to the incredible news that a Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) has shown up near Lake Marion, South Carolina. This is the first record of a Snail Kite ever occurring north of Florida. The first ever. Needless to say, the Carolina birding community is really really excited, if that actually means anything at all, haha.

So I figured, hey, I have nothing better to do, why don’t I go seek out this creature? It sounds like it’s sticking around, and I don’t anticipate being in the Florida Everglades any time soon, and they’re rare there anyways, so why not give it a shot? I sketched out a quick itinerary, adding a second day to bring Huntington Beach State Park into the trip, and made the necessary preparations.

It was a long and grueling drive down, but after four hours I finally got off I-95 at the necessary exit. From there, I went further and further down unmarked rural roads. Every time I thought I’d gone too far and missed the unmarked turn, I spotted a noted landmark and knew I was on the right track. How in the world this bird was found in the first place, I will never know.

10 miles out from metaphorical Nowhere, I finally found myself at Elliott’s Crawfish Farm, where the bird had been spotted. Srsly, how the original discoverer or the Kite itself found this place is a complete mystery to me. I noted a lone birder standing by Pond #1, and after speaking with him, I learned that he’d been circling this pond for the past hour, and had not found the Kite. I helped him search for a few minutes before the eponymous Mrs. Elliott showed up with her toddler in a pickup trick, and gave us some tips on where it’d been seen that morning.

As we headed around, I suddenly noticed a dark bird flying low over Pond #2. Brought up the binoculars, and found myself looking at a slate-gray raptor, white base to the tail, and then the distinctive orange bill. Frickin’ Snail Kite, baby!!!

By the time we got to Pond #2, it had flown again and perched itself on a low overhanging branch in plain sight of our vantage point. Beautiful, beautiful bird. We got great binocular views, and it filled a scope view as well. I watched the Snail Kite for a full hour, as it flew to various perches around the pond, and unsuccessfully dove for crawfish several times. I hope this guy makes it okay; the theory regarding why he’s up here is that the drought and wildfires down in Florida have driven him desperate and up into this unfamiliar territory, eating crawfish instead of the usual Apple Snails. All indications are that he’ll stick around, but hopefully the crawfish diet will suit him just fine. I wanted to get to my hotel in Myrtle Beach in time for a dinner, so I bid farewell to the two newly-arrived birders who had joined the Kite’s entourage, caught one last glimpse of the Kite soaring to another perch, and headed back on the road.

Other birds noted: A cooperative Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Pond #2, replete with long breeding-plumage head plumes, first time I’ve seen them with those plumes, cool stuff. Also, a soaring Wood Stork on the drive to Myrtle Beach. At first, my heart skipped a beat as I thought it might be a Swallow-tailed Kite, but no such luck. Of all my remaining Nemesis Birds, the Swallow-tailed Kite is the most beautiful, alluring siren of them all…someday, you will be mine…wow that sounds a little creepy, haha.

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