Letter-winged Kite In Victoria

Health-wise, we have had a bumpy start here in Lara. Nothing 'serious' thank heavens! But Lynn had a chest thing that turned into laryngitis, and then she caught a nasty, long lasting cold. I acquired that cold around Easter and was sick for about a week. Also, not to flog a sad horse, but depression had been gnawing away at my life force. I mention this only to share with others who fight the “blues.” You are not alone! And even wacky, theoretically fun people are not immune to the dark forces of depression and anxiety. However by Monday, I was feeling much better physically, although tired and rundown in general. And then on Tuesday, Dan Ashdown and Owen Lishmund found the Kite.

On the first of March, I wrote a comment on a photo of a beautiful Letter-winged Kite posted by Mark Carter. I said that it was… “at this point, my number one avian desire.” And that was the truth. I have long, long wanted to see an LWK. That raptor to me is legend. It is a bird of Big Years. It was the 800th Aussie tick for my friend Jen Spry. It was a bird of the Strzelecki Track and the Birdsville Track, a denizen of the most desolate outback. Well, the boys had found one in Victoria only about three and a half hours north of Lara.

Dan’s report hit the Facebook Australian Twitchers page at 12:18pm. I saw it about fifteen minutes later. Dan and Owen are both excellent birders. There was a photo. There was no doubt. There was indeed a Letter-winged Kite in Victoria! It was in something called the Terrick Terrick National Park the Meadows. I Googled the route and location. I considered it. But the clock was ticking and I was not really up to snuff. At that point I would not have gotten there until around 5pm. But honestly, if I had not been just getting over this cold, I reckon I would have pulled it together and shot up there. But instead I waited… gathering more information and following the story on Facebook. Several other friends did make the dash and had seen and photographed the bird. I decided to leave the next morning.

The road where the bird had been seen was reported to be 4WD necessary, so Troopi and I headed out at 6:30am. There had been a lot of rain down here and leaving town I encountered a closed road that added some time to my trip. I finally arrived at the beginning of Davis Road about 10:30am. We rolled slowly down the very muddy, slippery road to the area where the bird had been seen. There was a vehicle ahead and there was a guy with binoculars. Yay.

I pulled over and asked, “Have you seen it?” And he answered, “Yes, but not for about ten minutes now.” The twitcher's nightmare.

The birder was Mark Buckby and he had watched the bird for over an hour that morning, but had lost track of it. He had last seen it heading west. He spent the next couple of hours looking for the bird with me. His camaraderie and encouragement, in what had become a howling wind, was much appreciated. Finally he packed it in and left the area. The Kite had not returned.

I spent the rest of the afternoon looking and hoping. Neil Macomber (Birdswing Birding Tours) and a client arrived and searched with me for a little while. According to my FitBit, I walked over 15 kilometers. The wind was, as I said, howling. For the rest of the afternoon I did not see any raptors. Toward dusk the wind lessened slightly and a few Black-shouldered Kites showed up again, but no LWK was to be seen.
Troopi in the distance patiently awaiting my return yet again.
Tired and fading fast, I took a “basic cabin” in a caravan park near Echuca. I grabbed a bite and hit the bed early. First thing the next morning, I started back over to the Letter-winged spot. As I turned onto the quiet highway, I saw a lone vehicle rolling toward me. It was a familiar looking high-top Troopy. My old friend Robert Shore had driven down from Parkes, NSW.

The two troopies headed over to the Meadows. As we started down Davis Road, Robert stopped and gave James Mustafa a lift. He had been walking-in after parking his 2WD car at the beginning of the muddy road. They followed me to the spot at the north end of the reserve where Mark had showed me it was possible to easily cross the irrigation canal. It was also the area where Mark had first seen and photographed the kite the previous morning.

After about fifteen minutes of searching, an elanus-type kite perched on the fence behind us. There were a few Black-shouldered Kites about, but there was something different about this bird. It seemed slightly larger. Snapping photos and zooming in showed that the eye looked correct for Letter-winged. I said as much. There was black in front of the eye and not behind it. I was hanging back as the bird flushed. LETTER-WINGED KITE! My heart flew with that bird. I stared at that gorgeous jet-black marking on the under-wing that I had looked for, and hoped for, on so many Black-shouldered Kites over the years. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I managed to take some photos. Grateful does not even come close. Experiencing this bird is now a part of my heart. Others have gotten better photos, but no one could have been more thrilled.

One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

We saw it a few more times as it perched up in the brush. Sometimes in the company of Black-shouldered Kites. My friend, Simon Starr of Firetail Birdwatching tours arrived and also got good looks before the bird flew off, once again, to the west.

After I was sure that Simon was on it, I did not continue to follow the bird. I walked back to Troopi alone, and for a few moments allowed the elation, euphoria, relief, fatigue, and sheer joy of experiencing this magnificent bird to roll down my cheeks. Yes, real men cry, although we’re usually sort of quiet about it.

As I write this, the Letter-wing Kite has not been seen since the four of us saw it that morning. Much as I had done on the day before, my friend Warren Palmer arrived and missed it by not more than fifteen minutes. Timing is everything. I am so grateful that I was able to stay another day and see this legendary bird. I hope that some of my friends who are going to look this weekend can re-find it and experience it as well.
Letter-winged Kite Lifer "Pie" (after a wonderful Fish and Chips Lifer Dinner!).
I just had to add a few more photos. I will relive this experience for a long time.

Black-shouldered Kite above and the Letter-winged Kite below. One of the spots where it perched.
There was something in its left talon... could not tell what it was.

That long black mark under the wing... even now the photo makes my heart jump!
Peace. Love. Birds.