On 13 March, Panther had flown as far north as she could before crossing the Gulf of Mexico. She hovered on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, faced with strong headwinds produced by the same unseasonably late cold front the late Bullfrog encountered. We hoped she would wait for the winds to calm, as we are all too aware how profoundly weather can affect a migrating Swallow-tailed Kite’s journey across the Gulf. Panther crept east out over the sea, skirting the north coast of Cuba before briefly seeking refuge on a barrier island north of Corralillo, Cuba. After a day of rest, she resumed her journey and made what appears to be an attempt at reaching Florida, just 100 miles north of her. Thwarted by winds from yet another cold front, she careened northwest until stalling over open water on 18 March. Finally, and thankfully, able to direct her path towards land, Panther reached Bradenton, Florida on 19 March. Despite having spent nearly 5 days over the Gulf, she wasted no time in settling back to her nesting grounds on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge on 20 March.
Palmetto, our longest tracked kite from South Carolina, covered a significant amount of ground in the last week (we last saw her entering Nicaragua on 14 March). She has surpassed Lacombe and will be the next kite to make the Gulf crossing. Southeasterly winds are increasing in strength over the next two days, but will calm by Sunday morning. We wish Palmetto the best of luck.
Not far behind Palmetto is Lacombe, a male Swallow-tailed Kite tagged in 2015 by our colleague Jennifer Coulson in Louisiana. Last year, he, like most of our satellite-tracked birds, migrated through the Gulf earlier in March and caught a lucky break that took him straight north to familiar grounds of Louisiana (see his path in "Sublime Creatures of the Wind"). What will his route look like this year?
The last time we checked in with Sawgrass, she was still in South America. We have yet to receive data from her, but we aren’t yet worried, as the lack of cellphone coverage in this remote area is likely to blame. We experienced the same communication breakdown when Panther went through this entire area, not receiving data from her until she came online in Panama.
MIA is already paired up and working on a nest in the Miami area. We hope all Swallow-tailed Kites (tagged and un-tagged) will be able to get back to the breeding grounds and have the opportunity to perpetuate this beautiful species.