|Bluff, Gulf Hammock and Pace depart the U.S. PearlMS the last tagged bird to remain.
Bluff and Gulf Hammock left their pre-migration areas on the same day, 12 August. Bluff had been cruising the Savannah River floodplain forest and adjacent farm fields for weeks, but recently hopped down to the Altamaha River near Jessup, Georgia, and headed to Florida two days later. Moving quickly, he spent one night on the St. Marys River (the Florida/Georgia border), one night south of Gainesville, Florida, crossed southeast to Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, then made great time on 17 August flying all the way to Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest west of Lehigh Acres, Florida. The next day, he was south of the Florida Keys by 1:00 pm on his way to western Cuba. Flying through the night just off the northwestern shore, Bluff continued another 130 miles across the Yucatan Channel, reaching the shore of Cancun, Mexico, at 11 pm the night of 20 August. We’ll see if he will linger on the Yucatan before continuing south, as most of the tracked kites have done.
Gulf Hammock has been right on Bluff’s tail. On 12 August, she began edging southward along the Oconee River, Georgia, after her six-week stay in the region. She spent one more night in Georgia, in the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, before passing just east of Gainseville, Florida as she picked up speed. Gulf Hammock roosted north of Leesburg, Florida, on 15 August, in the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest of central Florida the next night, then spent her last night in Florida on the coastal fringe of Everglades National Park before flying out to sea by 10:00 am on 18 August. Gulf Hammock passed 15 miles west of Key West, Florida, before coming ashore near Santa Lucia, western Cuba, in the early dark hours of 19 August.
Pace also began his migration last week. After a 12-day pre-migration visit to Sumter County, Florida, where he feasted on flying insects over pastures and melon fields with many other Swallow-tailed Kites, he flew 145 miles south on 18 August to arrive near the Caloosahatchee River just east of LaBelle, Florida, for the night. By the next night, Pace had reached the Florida Keys, where he roosted in Long Key State Park, putting himself in a prime position to cross the Straits of Florida the next day.
We are still watching PearlMS in Mississippi to track his southbound route to Central America, which most likely will be very different from the Florida and South Carolina birds. In the last three years, PearlMS has circumnavigated the Gulf, remaining over land for his entire trip through Mexico.