On June 21, 2010, I attended a Gulf Coast League (Rookie League) baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota (the local team lost). At about 12:30 p.m. when I looked up to follow a pop fly hit to right field I saw what I was certain was a Mississippi Kite slowly moving southward over the baseball field. I had been out birding before going to the game and luckily had my binoculars with me in my day pack. With them I was able to confirm that the bird was an adult Mississippi Kite. What it was doing in Sarasota County on the first day of summer remains a mystery.
The booklet "Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties" (Fourth edition, 2008) published by the Sarasota Audubon Society does not include Mississippi Kite in its checklist of birds seen in both counties. Data from the eBird database maintained by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology shows that Mississippi Kites are quite common in the Panhandle and North Florida but spotty (at best) south of about Gainesville. Further, the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas, although currently 19 years old, shows confirmed nesting by this species in Florida south to Levy and Marion counties. Thus the bird on Monday may have been the first record for Sarasota County.
I wonder if this was part of a pair that had a failed nesting attempt and this bird was making its way back south already? I put a notice about this bird on the BirdBrains list serve that covers much of the Florida birding community. In response to the message, Rex Rowan from Gainesville directed readers to a summary of nesting season Mississippi Kite records south of the known breeding range through 2006. His summary from that 2006 message to BirdBrains is reprinted verbatim here:
Subject: Mississippi Kite range extension.
From: Rex Rowan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Rex Rowan <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2006 21:29:25 -0400
Mississippi Kites seem to be in the midst of a rather rapid range expansion. After arriving in the Gainesville area in the latter half of the 1960s, they seemed to stop moving, and the 1986-91 Breeding Bird Atlas found them well established in Alachua and Levy Counties, with nothing beyond that limit except one confirmed nesting in Ocala and a sighting in Hernando County:
However in the past two or three years they seem to have worked their way both south and east:
NASSAU COUNTY: Pat Leary saw one in northern Nassau County in late April this year, though given the date it could have been a migrant rather than a resident.
DUVAL COUNTY: This month Noel Wamer reported two birds south of the St. Johns River and Kevin Dailey reported up to three north of the St. Johns. A pair has nested in south Jacksonville in recent years.
CLAY COUNTY: I saw four or five near Green Cove Springs on May 29th; Lenore McCullagh informed me that they'd been present for at least one year previously. Bill Pennywill saw two sitting in a tree at Penney Farms in western Clay County this spring.
BREVARD COUNTY: Tom Dunkerton reported one at Tosohatchee Preserve in June 2005.
MARION COUNTY: Last spring Angela Luzader made multiple observations of 30 or so over fields between Ocala and Belleview.
CITRUS COUNTY: If I'm remembering correctly, they're resident in Crystal River.
HERNANDO COUNTY: Bev Hansen reported a nesting near Brooksville in July 2004.
SUMTER COUNTY: Yesterday I saw one soaring over a treeline just north of where CR-514 dead-ends at I-75 in Coleman.
Any other sightings outside the range shown on the BBA map?
During June 3-10 2010 I was in the Panhandle and north Florida visiting State Parks and looking for birds for my "Big Year". Mississippi Kite was one of the target species and I found them as far south as the intersection of US 19 and State Highway 24 (the road to Cedar Key) in Levy County.
I guess now I could have stayed home and just let the year birds come to me.