4 June 2012: Starr’s Visit to Sterling Forest

English: Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippi...

Mississippi Kite

Starr visited Sterling Forest yesterday and provided this report on the trip:

Long Meadow Road has a variety of habitats, from ponds of various sizes to meadows to second-growth forests and more mature woodlands. Having heard about the pair of Mississippi Kites possibly nesting near the Sterling Forest visitors center, we made that our first stop.

About fifty people were already in the parking lot with scopes and cameras trained on one of the birds, which was perched high in a tree. That was a fairly satisfactory experience, but our mid-afternoon views of the pair were far better.

We decided to have our lunch on the porch of the visitors center but spent about an hour watching the Kites’ courtship behavior. After flying around from tree to tree, occasionally perching in the same dead tree, the male flew onto the same branch as the female. She called back, and we got to see them copulating. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize what happened a few minutes later. He had flown away immediately after mating and she commenced preening. He then flew back to her branch, landed about three feet from her, and started sidling towards her. When they were about eight inches apart they leaned forward towards each other and touched bills. Yes, it very much looked like a kiss!

I get to see Mississippi Kites on the nest in Arizona almost every year, but I’ve never been lucky enough to witness courtship.

After we had seen the one Kite in the early morning, we went to the end of Ironwood Road where we normally start our birding day. Many warbler parents were carrying food to young in nests. There was lots of song, making it easier to find birds. We all got great looks at a couple of Golden-winged Warblers as well as many Yellows, some Blue-wingeds, American Redstarts, Black-and-whites, a Worm-eating, Common Yellowthroats, Indigo Buntings, Baltimore Orioles – well, we ended up with 71 species for the day.

We went from Ironwood Road to Blue Lake, where we had many dragonfly species including Comet Darner and three species of Spiketail (Tiger, Twin-spotted, and Arrowhead).

Black-Billed Cuckoo / Coccyzus erythropthalmus

Black-billed Cuckoo

We had another exciting breeding-bird experience beyond the lake. We heard from a birder coming down the path that a Black-billed Cuckoo was a little farther along. One of my friends had been looking for this species for many years so she was excited about the possibility. We birded to a little pond with many odonates and after awhile the two younger birders in our group went off to look elsewhere for the Cuckoo. Life being what it is, the rest of us ran into a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos close to the path as we started back. None of us had cellular service, so the father of one of the young birders went to look for them. Lenore Swenson and I stayed with the Cuckoos, getting amazing views and watching them carrying long fuzzy things, presumably to young on the nest. After about half an hour the young birders arrived, breathless and almost in tears. We had seen one of the Cuckoos flying away about two minutes earlier. I suggested being absolutely quiet and waiting. After another three minutes a Cuckoo flew in carrying food and all was well.

A little later we had many close views of male and female Cerulean Warblers at Laurel Pond. I think this was our best bird of the day. It’s my favorite warbler, so I was almost completely happy. Only one thing remained. We drove into the town of Warwick for ice cream. Mine was Cappuccino Crunch. I think I’ll have it with hot fudge next year. Cheers!

Good birding,

Starr

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