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Dear Mobirders,

Yesterday morning (around 8:45) I watched a soaring, gliding, plunging 
hunter (raptor?) work the Missouri side of the Mississippi River for more 
than ten minutes. The flight was graceful and puncuated with swooping 
glides and turns. Twice he (?) pulled up short and plunged downward 
(presumably for some food item). The flying took place over a farm a couple 
miles upstream from Portage Des Sioux. The wings had brilliant white 
patches that were always visible when the top of the bird was showing 
(which was most of the time since I was watching from the Elsah bluffs 300 
feet above the river).

The range was considerable at 60 power (nearly a mile). I could not make 
out head details, etc. I hesitated to post this since it seems a couple 
months early for a Mississippi Kite, but I cannot imagine what else it 
could be. I cast about for alternatives. It certainly was not an Osprey 
(which have little white on top of the wing). A Sabine's Gull is even more 
improbable now and it wasn't particularly gull-like in general appearance 
and flight. The wing beats were too energetic and fluid. A Northern Harrier 
would show the white rump (which this bird clearly lacked) and hasn't the 
white patches on top of the wings. Also, this bird stayed higher generally 
than a Harrier which tends to course close to the ground.

After scanning every field guide I own, I _think_ I saw a Mississippi Kite. 
Is that possible on January 27? Has anyone seen one at this time of year 
before? Are there some alternative identifications I overlooked?

By the way, I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, five mature Bald Eagles, and 
the usual suspects too.

Thanks (as always) to this generous and informed community of birders.

Tom Fuller

Elsah, Jersey County, IL

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