Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Locations of eight Swallow-tailed Kites on 16 June 2014

We have much to share with you about Swallow-tailed Kites and this year’s nesting season. This also is a good time to ask if you would become part of our tracking efforts by making a one-time donation, or by pledging to become a sustainer of our “Keep on Trackin'” program for as little as $10 a month. We learn so much every day from our satellite telemetry studies of Swallow-tailed Kites and the six other species we are presently tracking. At $100 per bird each month, the costs add up quickly for the 33 birds now transmitting (grant funds cover only the first one to two years). 

Locations for eight satellite-tagged Swallow-tailed Kites  on 16 June 2014

In our last Swallow-tailed Kite blog, we reported that all seven tagged kites made it back to their prior summer/breeding territories. All but one nested this year. The exception was Suwannee in Dixie Co, FL, who stayed within a tight area in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge until we suddenly lost her signal on 2 April. Although we have not been able to locate any remains, experience suggests Suwannee died, perhaps due to predation, while in her night roost.

Gulf Hammock nested in Levy Co, FL, and produced one nestling that was depredated at about three weeks old. Very soon after, a pair of Mississippi Kites took over the abandoned nest and produced eggs. It is unlikely that the Swallow-tailed Kite nestling was killed by one of the Mississippi Kites. We’ll keep monitoring this nest to determine its fate.

Pace in south Jacksonville, Day of Daytona Beach, Pearl MS in Mississippi, and Palmetto in South Carolina will all have fledged nestlings by this week. MIA in Miami has young nestlings in what may be a second nesting attempt after an early failure (we do not know if his present mate is the same as his first). His offspring should fledge by early July. Re-nesting is very rare for Swallow-tailed Kites, which have a very short breeding season sandwiched between two 5,000 mile migrations. This case is noteworthy because we have never seen it at the same nest within the same season.


Our best news is the deployment of an additional satellite/GPS device on a male Swallow-tailed Kite in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina. This is particularly exciting because Bluff, a male, is the mate of Palmetto, which we tagged at the same site in 2011. 


Movements of Palmetto and Bluff from 28 May 2014 to 16 June 2014

We are now obtaining valuable data on this breeding pair of Swallow-tailed Kites, providing an opportunity to learn how the nest-season activities, migrations, and wintering destinations of these mates compare. Already, we can see the contrasting movements and behaviors of these adults in their respective parental roles (e.g., extended foraging trips for the male, close nest guarding by the female). 

The financial and logistical support of the Friends of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy and the Conservancy staff (Jay Walea and Charlie Bales), and the field assistance of Mike and Shane Rahn of Walcam Land Group, were instrumental in tagging this kite. We are grateful for all their contributions to this collaborative project, and excited that this pair of kites makes Palmetto Bluff their home.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Five tagged Swallow-tailed Kites back in last year's nesting areas, two more yet to reach the US.

ARCI’s 3/12/14 blog confirmed that one kite, MIA, had reached the US and was already back near his Miami nesting neighborhood. We also described oceanic flights-in-progress for four additional kites. We are glad to report that all had favorable outcomes, but not without very hard work and many dangerous hours for the birds.

MIA remains settled into the area where he nested in 2012 and 2013. As you can see on the map, it was a long and winding trip back. In mid-Gulf, MIA encountered strong headwinds and circled out to the west to save energy while awaiting better conditions. Riding on the continuously changing wind, his path soon brought him right back to his original pathway where he had begun his life-saving excursion. The winds had become more favorable by then, so he flew swiftly to the nearest shore, then turned immediately toward his south-Florida nesting territory.

After a rapid trip over the western Caribbean aided by consistent winds from the south, Pace crossed Cuba and the Florida Straits, passed 25 miles west of the Dry Tortugas, and reached the Florida Panhandle near Santa Rosa Beach on 11 March, a 15-hour over-water flight from Cuba. He quickly made his way to the area near Jacksonville, Florida, where he had nested the previous two years.

Our last report for Day had her over the Gulf of Mexico benefitting from tailwinds but due for a change in the weather. Fortunately, she beat the shift to strong northerly winds and came ashore just southeast of Panama City early on the morning of 12 March. Since leaving the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Day had endured 33 hours of over-water flight. The same day she reached the Florida coast, she began a long flight east to her previous nesting site, arriving 13 March. Soon after, local observers who had alerted us to Day’s nest in 2011, identified her by the short transmitter antenna above her back.

Gulf Hammock made a very long, downwind flight from Honduras northward along the western edge of the Caribbean, stopped briefly near the northeastern tip of the Yucatan, then pushed on for 34 hours across the Gulf to arrive before daybreak on 12 March in Levy Co., Florida. Rather than resting, Gulf Hammock continued through the dark another 25 miles to the area where she had previously nested.

In our previous blog, Suwannee was the bird we are most concerned about. She took off from northern Honduras and flew 18 hours in favorable winds before resting briefly on the northeastern Yucatan near Playa del Carmen on 10 March. She launched out over the Gulf of Mexico the next day and made good progress at first, but strong northerly winds soon pushed her southeast onto Cuba. Suwannee spent at most five hours over land, resumed her journey late on 13 March, and encountered strong headwinds. It seemed unlikely she would survive long enough to reach any shoreline (four days has been the maximum any kite has survived over water). However, sometime late on 15 March, 56 hours from the Yucatan and almost to the northern Gulf coast, Suwannee turned and flew hard to reach the west coast of Florida near her previous nesting area. As you can see on the map, her flight was both long and circuitous, at one point creating a long, looping extension far east to the coast of Cuba as she explored ways to exploit the rapidly changing winds that characterize this region.

Palmetto has crossed the Andes and flown the length of Central America to the northern coast of Honduras, where he has lingered during onshore winds. PearlMS made it to Panama before his radio turned off to recharge. Still no further signal on Slidell, last detected in northwestern South America two weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MIA is back! Four birds over water.

**Note: Today's narrative reflects the most recent satellite data as of late last night, 11 March. The map shows movements only through 10 March. 

MIA launched from the Northern Yucatan at about 1 p.m. on 4 March. When still 220 miles off the coast of Sarasota, Florida, he encountered headwinds and turned back toward the southwest. After a loop of almost 300 miles, he finally regained his northwesterly course and reached land near Tarpon Springs, Florida, around midnight on 7 March, where he roosted. MIA had been over water for 58 hours. After daybreak, he turned south, traveling to the Corkscrew Swamp area south of Lehigh Acres for the night. On 8 March, he arrived in the suburban area south of Miami, Florida, where he had nested in 2012 and 2013.

Pace is now crossing the Straits of Florida from Cuba toward southern Florida after an amazing trip over northern South America and the Caribbean. In the Colombian Andes, he passed between snow-covered, 17,000-foot peaks, some of the highest in the entire mountain chain, to eventually arrive at the Colombian coast southwest of Barranquilla. On 6 March at around 11 a.m., Pace started a 68-hour over-water journey following the coast of Central America to the western tip of Cuba. Like MIA, Pace landed to rest for the night. After taking a day to make his way northeast over Cuba, he departed for Florida on the morning of 10 March.

When Day reached Panama, she took an over-water shortcut and made good time to the coast of Nicaragua. From there, she flew out across the Bay Islands until making landfall near Belize City. Day moved quickly from there and was over the northern Gulf of Mexico approaching the Florida panhandle when her transmitter turned off at 2:00 p.m. on 11 March. If the southerly winds continue as expected, Day should have seen a beach pass under her wings before dawn of this morning, 12 March.

Gulf Hammock left the northern coast of Honduras sometime on 9 March while his solar-powered transmitter was recharging. By 8 p.m. on 11 March, he had flown downwind more than 900 miles over the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to a point just seaward of his nesting territory in Gulf Hammock, Florida. As we write this late on 11 March, Gulf Hammock’s transmitter has turned off and he is making his way across the last 60 miles of the Gulf of Mexico. The tailwinds that brought him all the way from Honduras are forecast to continue for at least four hours – enough time for him to reach land and get some rest before starting his day where he has nested at least since 2011.

In mid-afternoon on 11 March, Suwannee had just flown out to sea from the northern coast of Honduras, very near the place from which Gulf Hammock departed two days before. The favorable winds that carried Gulf Hammock swiftly north are expected to persist through the 12th. However, before sunrise on the 13th, just about the time this kite will be passing between the eastern Yucatan Peninsula and the western tip of Cuba, the winds are forecast to reverse direction quickly, becoming strong from the north. This is the scenario that poses the greatest risk to Swallow-tailed Kites – and no doubt to many thousands of other migrating birds – at this time of year when they must navigate through the volatile and sometimes deadly weather of this region. Suwannee’s transmitter will be off to recharge until the afternoon of 13 March, so we will not know until then whether she made it safely to southern Florida, took refuge on the Yucatan or Cuba, or could fly no more and perished at sea.

Palmetto has picked up speed and should be crossing the Andes Mountains in southwestern Colombia by early 12 March. Pearl MS is not far behind, inching through the western fringe of the Amazon Basin toward the eastern foothills of the Andes. It is in this area where we received the last transmission on 25 February from Slidell, a bird tagged in Louisiana in 2011 by our collaborator, Dr. Jennifer Coulson. We are still hoping that the long lapse (it has now been two weeks) may be due to a temporary obstruction of the solar panels. However, at this point, based on how well the transmitter was performing prior to 25 February, we suspect that Slidell has died, perhaps killed by a predator.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Swallow-tailed Kite Migration: Birds on the move


MIA has coursed up through Central America, making his way to northern Nicaragua. With a tailwind, he could fly directly from Honduras, overwater to the Yucatan, or even all the way to Florida. We’ll see by the next report.

Day and Gulf Hammock have both safely crossed the Colombian Andes. Day is ahead by 130 miles in the Choco region of Colombia while Gulf Hammock is in Valle del Cauca, Colombia.

Also within Colombia are Pace in Meta, and Suwannee, 80 miles south in Caqueta. Both are nearing the Andes, a dangerous place for kites.

Slidell has shifted her path farther to the west and is now in Loreto, Peru, now closer to the pathway of the eight satellite-tracked kites who are ahead of her.

After a few days rest in Rondonia, Brazil, Palmetto has made her way to the northeastern corner of Bolivia.

PearlMS, the last to leave his winter range, trails Palmetto 60 miles to the south and is over an extensive forested area in northwestern Rondonia, Brazil.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Swallow-tailed Kite Migration


MIA is making headway through Colombia, crossing a challenging obstacle along the migration route, the Andes Mountains.

Day, also in Colombia, broke from the pack at the Peruvian border and is 460 miles south of MIA.

Gulf Hammock has moved into northeastern Peru, traveling slowly through this largely forested area.

Still in Amazonas, Brazil, just south of the Peruvian border, are Suwannee and Pace, feeding over productive floodplain forests.

To the east 330 miles, Slidell also remains on her foraging grounds in Amazonas, Brazil.

500 miles south is Palmetto, slowly making her way through the state of Rondonia, Brazil.

PearlMS continues to hold closely to his winter range.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Swallow-tailed Kite Migration: MIA takes the lead, PearlMS still at wintering site





As of 17 February, MIA has taken the lead among the eight satellite-tracked kites. He skipped through the northeastern corner of Peru and is just across the border into Colombia.

Two hundred and fifty miles back are Gulf Hammock, Day, Suwannee and Pace. They are deep in the Amazon River Basin where Brazil, Peru and Colombia nearly converge. They seem to have slowed down here for the last five to ten days, where resting and foraging conditions may be optimal, giving them an extra boost for migration.

Also in Brazil’s Amazon River Basin, is Slidell. She has paralleled the group to the northeast, however she broke out to the west for 200 miles only to turn back around and end where she started. This area appears to be a stopover site 60 miles south of Rio Solimoes.

Palmetto is steadily progressing north and is in the western part of Rondonia, Brazil.

PearlMS remains on his winter range in southern Rondonia, Brazil.

WHICH KITE ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Swallow-tailed Kite Migration: Pearl MS last to begin migration

Movements of eight, satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites as they begin their journey north. 
Day and Slidell are about tied for first place on their northbound migration. Both are in the Brazilian Amazon Basin, but Slidell has taken a more eastern route.

Most of the eight kites we are tracking by satellite are still in Brazil. The exceptions are Gulf Hammock, moving north through Bolivia, and MIA, which has taken a southward turn into Bolivia, where he appears to be following the Mamore River. Along the way, he passed through Rondonia Brazil, where Pearl MS has been wintering.

Suwannee is making good time passing through the vast agricultural areas within Rondonia, Brazil.

Pace is migrating over the floodplain of the Guapore River, which serves as the border between Bolivia and Brazil.

Palmetto remains the farthest south of the eight northbound satellite-tracked kites. On February 4th, she began her northbound passage over the Pantanal, 350 miles of expansive wetlands.


Pearl MS is the last kite to begin migrating but his winter range was the most northerly of all the kites' ranges.