Sabine, Pearl, and Pascagoula Rivers
One of the most graceful of the world’s soaring raptors and the largest of the kite family, the swallow-tailed kite looks like a star as it flies, with a deeply-forked tail spread out behind its long, narrow, angular wings in almost a 2-to-1 ratio (wingspan about 4 ft to body length about 2 ft). Black tips and trailing edges on their wings and their black tail contrast sharply with their white heads and underbodies, giving them a striking and distinctive appearance.
Or so the books said. It’s a different story flying 400 feet above the treetops in fog and mist looking for these elusive angels! Even with powerful zoom lenses and fast shutter speeds, it was a challenge to see and count them while maintaining enough altitude and flying quietly enough to ensure that we did not disturb them. Until we actually saw some swallow-tailed kites from the air, and our eyes and brains adapted to the small features we sought among the canopy of trees, it was pretty discouraging. The less experienced among us (myself included) began by eagerly calling out lichen, or egrets, once even a field of watermelon. But that just added to the thrill when we finally started finding the real thing. Check out the following pairs of photos: The photos on the left are what we saw with our eyes, those on the right are what the camera zoom lens showed us later. (The first two pairs of photos are swallow-tailed kites on the Pascagoula and Pearl Rivers, the third pair is a colony of egrets along the Pearl River.)