The Letter-winged Kite is an emblematic bird of the dry interior of Australia. People drive for miles up the Strzelecki track or over toward Birdsville on the Queensland/South Australia border. They feed mainly on the native Long-haired Rat and when conditions are right and the rat breeds in large numbers the kite population can explode. Sadly, when the rats die off the kites struggle for food and disperse, looking for food. This is rough on the kites but for birders the kites can end up a long way from home. This one was in north-west Victoria, some 800 km from their normal range.
To add the bird to my Victorian list and enjoy a weekend in the country I and 4 friends drove to twitch this rare visitor. The drive took us through wooded grazing farms and out onto the flat northern plains. As we came onto the plains there was a heavy, low ground fog with clear blue sky above it, an then something I had never seen before, a fogbow. I am so glad I had friends along to share this special sight.
We had left early so as to get there before the bird left its normal roost tree and got there at about 0900. The tree was on a dirt back road and as we turned off the highway the standard question came up “how will we find the tree?”. Easy, the land around Rupanyup is dead flat wheat farming land. Driving toward the road we wanted finding the tree, and the bird, was easy … there were about 10 cars and 15 people who all had cameras and binoculars pointed at a bird silhouetted against the sky, sunning itself in the morning sun. By the time we left the group had grown to 20 cars and 36 people, a big twitch by Australian standards.
After chatting and watching the bird we drove into Rupanyup and got fuel and food and took photos of the local wheat silo. It is one of a series up that way and each town has had an artist paint local scenes on their silo with the result that they have become a real tourist attraction with people traveling through these “off the highway” farm towns.
All text and images © Jenny Spry