Monday, August 18, 2014

Swallow-tailed Kite migration update on all birds

13 August 2014 update of seven satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites.

Pace continues to stage in Sumter County, Florida (west-central peninsula), where he has been since 6 August. He makes foraging trips 13 to 28 miles north and east from his roost site.

PearlMS seems to be exploring a little farther and wider from his nesting area. He’s got a favorite foraging field 8 miles southeast, and also is making forays north on the Pearl River.

Bluff continues to use his roosting and foraging areas along the Savannah River between Sylvania, Georgia and Estill, South Carolina.

Gulf Hammock has been lingering along the Ocmulgee River south of Abbeville, Georgia for the last month, but her latest GPS location, on the night of 12 August, was 21 miles to the south. She could be our next Swallow-tailed Kite to leave the United States.

After arriving on to the Yucatan Peninsula 3 August, Palmetto exhibited true stopover behavior within Quintana Roo. She stayed in one area for seven days, no doubt resting and feeding after her 200 mile overwater flight from Florida via Cuba. On 11 August, Palmetto proceeded south, took a shortcut from Placencia, Belize, to Cuyamel, Honduras. She is now nearing the Nicaraguan border in the Reserva Biologica Tawahka, Honduras.

Day is moving along steadily in Central America. Once she made it to southern Nicaragua, she began hugging the Caribbean coastline, a good navigational aide and, with its coastal lowlands, probably a good source of food. Day is nearing Panama City, Panama.

MIA is 640 miles ahead of Day and recently crossed the Andes Mountains near Popayan, Colombia. He is almost to the State of Huila and moving steadily.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pace: Not lost but found!

Pre-migration movements of Pace, a satellite-tagged Swallow-tailed Kite.  
Pace had been using a relatively small area around Doctors Lake in southern Jacksonville, Florida close to his nesting area. On 6 August, he made an abrupt move to northwest Sumter County, about 100 miles, where he spent the night. The next day, he set off to forage with 200 or so other kites over farm fields west of Oxford, in central Florida. This foraging aggregation has been giving birders and photographers a spectacular show for several weeks. 

One such photographer, Will Randall, captured an amazing photo of Pace amongst the hundreds of foraging kites. You can see the GPS satellite transmitter, which looks to be in excellent condition after over 2 years on the back of a Swallow-tailed Kite that has carried it on two round-trips to Brazil and while helping raise two broods of young in northern Florida. During this time, Pace has clocked over 25,000 miles! 

Pace photographed by Will Randall on 
7 August 2014 Sumter County, Florida. 
A real needle in a haystack! 
Pace is one of three of our tagged kites that have been photographed in foraging aggregations, which aid swallow-tails in locating large groups of insects on which to feed. You may recall that Palmetto, from South Carolina, was spotted in 2013 north of the Altamaha River in Georgia. In addition, Bluff, Palmetto’s mate, recently was seen over a foraging field near Allendale, South Carolina. These communal feeding sites are vital to Swallow-tailed Kites as they put on fat for their long-distance migration. Some individuals will return to the same areas year after year and remain a month or more before migrating southward. 

These locations provide a great opportunity for bird enthusiasts – or those so encouraged by such a sight – to watch impressive numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites in beautiful aerial displays as they repeatedly snatch and swallow insects, often just above the ground.  The photographer of Pace's photo, Mr. Randall, a seaplane pilot most of his life, described it in his email to us:

"I always marvel at the way god created the swallow-tailed kite. The bird has a high aspect ratio wing, a small low drag head and beak, a nearly retractable landing gear, low drag body, and scissor tail. This is everything a high performance sailplane has today. The bird came several hundred thousand years before the sailplane!"

Some of these flocks will number in the hundreds, another striking example of how the Swallow-tailed Kite’s highly evolved social behaviors have helped this species persist.

You can be a guardian of Pace and the other six Swallow-tailed Kites by pledging to be a monthly sustainer in our Keep on Trackin' program. Your gift will keep their streams of information beaming to satellites, granting ARCI the precious opportunity to learn more about their lives in order to develop techniques to protect them in a world that threatens to change faster than they can adapt.

Learn more about your opportunity to "Keep on Trackin'"

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day and Palmetto set forth

If you guessed that Day would be the next of our GPS satellite-tagged Swallow-tailed Kites to migrate, you would have been correct! However, Palmetto was not far behind.

Day and Palmetto set forth on their 2014 southbound migration. 
Day departed her communal roosting sight on 27 July after spending 20 nights there in preparation for migration. She roosted 18 miles east of Lake Kissimmee on the night of the 27th and traveling east of Lake Okeechobee the following day, she made good time southbound (most of our satellite-tracked kites, including Day, usually travel south along the western side of the lake), passing through sugar cane and other agricultural fields and over the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge just in time to sleep in southeastern Hendry County. From there, it was a non-stop flight to Cuba via the Everglades, Florida Bay, and the Florida Keys, arriving near the town of La Teja in the middle of the night of 30 July. Unlike the usual route through western Cuba to the Yucatan Peninsula, Day flew directly south at mid-island and embarked on an amazing 550-mile trans-Caribbean flight to the Honduran island of Roatan where she remained for the night. After a quick 35-mile flight the next day to the Honduran mainland, Day struck out over land and reached northern Nicaragua by 3 August.

Palmetto also has made the big move to Central America. She had been in her pre-migratory location along the Altamaha River on the coastal plain of Georgia for 19 days before starting south along the river on 29 July. After one more night on the Altamaha, she made a run for central Florida, flying 210 miles to spend the night in the northern Green Swamp in Sumter County. Her last night in Florida, 31 July, was in the Babcock Ranch Preserve in Charlotte County. Continuing her speedy way south, she left Cape Sable at the extreme southern tip of peninsular Florida around 6 pm and arrived on Cuba, 30 miles west of Havana, in the middle of the night. She took the predictable westerly route through Cuba the next day, and made her way across the Gulf of Mexico to arrive in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, on 3 August before the sun rose. She is now in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Preserve, which often serves as a stopover location for our southbound Swallow-tailed Kites. We’ll see how long she stays here.

Because of Day’s long over-water flight, she is now within 470 miles of MIA. He slowed a bit in Honduras and Nicaragua, hugging the Caribbean coast, and is now in eastern Panama.

Bluff continues to forage and roost along the Savannah River near Allendale, SC. (Local Swallow-tailed Kite enthusiasts, including the dedicated conservationists of the Lower Savannah River Alliance and their supporters, recently spotted a bird with a transmitter, most likely Bluff, within a flock of kites foraging on insects over a farm field), Gulf Hammock is on the Ocmulgee River in Georgia, her habitual pre-migration conditioning site many miles north of her Florida nesting territory. Pace is still along Doctor’s Lake in southern Jacksonville, and PearlMS remains near the Pearl River in Mississippi.

Friday, August 1, 2014

MIA on the fast track

Movements of MIA from 18 July 2014 to 29 July 2014

MIA has wasted no time on his southbound trek that began 18 July.

After a brief respite east of Havana, Cuba, following his midnight arrival, he left the shoreline of Guanahacabibes Peninsula on the evening of 20 July, coming ashore again in the middle of the night 14 miles south of Cancun, Mexico. When the sun rose, he continued south to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, where many southbound Swallow-tailed Kites are known to stopover for a week or more after their arduous over-water flight (ARCI’s Gina Kent described this and other details of kite migration in her Masters research). MIA, on the other hand, spent less than 24 hrs here before continuing south. 

He left the Belize coast near Placencia on a short-cut across Guatemala’s Amatique Bay, then continued moving rapidly over the Caribbean coastal plain of Honduras and Nicaragua to his present location not far from the Costa Rican border. MIA has made impressive southbound progress every day since leaving Florida, stopping only at night to rest. 

Which Swallow-tailed Kite will be the next to leave Florida?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pre-migration begins!

By now, nearly all Swallow-tailed Kite nests have either fledged young or failed (on average, a bit more than half fledge at least one juvenile). This is the time when all the birds – including the 4 to 5 month old young of the year – need to add significant fat reserves to their light-weight frames so they can endure the 5000-mile flight ahead of them. The first big obstacle will be crossing 400 miles of water from southern Florida to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula without any rest.

Three of our seven GPS-satellite tracked Swallow-tailed Kites have started moving into pre-migratory roosts and foraging aggregations where they can fatten up on ephemeral insect swarms and congregate with other kites.

Pre-migration of seven GPS-tagged Swallow-tailed Kites 

Gulf Hammock left Levy County, Florida, a few days before her regular 3rd of July departure. She heads to Abbeville, Georgia, every year, where she roosts at night along the Ocmulgee River and forages in nearby fields during the day.

Late in her nesting cycle, Palmetto began using the area between Palmetto Bluff and the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and lands along the New River in South Carolina. On 10 July, she moved west to the Altamaha River and the fields near Glennville, as she and many other Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites have been known to do at this time of year.

On the evening of 9 July, Day began roosting 25 miles west of her nesting area in Ormond Beach, Florida. On some days, she flies back to Ormond Beach and Daytona, but she also has made daily 60-mile round-trip commutes to feed on the Lake Apopka Restoration Area, where impressively large aggregations of Swallow-tailed Kites are regularly seen at this time of year.

Bluff patrolled his nesting territory in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina until 17 July. He probably was tending to his recently-fledged young. He then began foraging and roosting in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, but has since headed farther north along the Savannah River, where he now roosts and feeds west of Allendale, South Carolina.

Pace remains in his nesting area, spending time around Doctor’s Lake in southern Jacksonville, Florida. He most likely has young in tow.

PearlMS has a recently-fledged chick, so it makes sense that he is still close to his nest area on the Pearl River in Mississippi.

For one of our tagged Swallow-tailed Kites, pre-migration is already over! Unfortunately MIA’s nest failed. However, he never strayed far from his nesting home range in southern Miami, Florida, indicating that he was able to find ample food in this urban area to prepare for migration. He left for Cuba on the afternoon of 18 July, making him our first satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kite to migrate this season. This was nine days earlier than he did so in 2013, perhaps because his parental duties ended sooner this year.

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.