Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fueling up for a long flight

It’s an exciting time of year for Swallow-tailed Kites as they gather in big groups, finding food and resting for their migration ahead. Five of our nine GPS-tagged Kites have started moving.
Movements and locations of nine satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites between 20 July and 27 July 2015.

Palmetto, from South Carolina, has returned to her favorite spot on 17 July on Georgia’s Altamaha River. 

Gulf Hammock made her yearly trek 170 miles north to Georgia’s Ocmulgee River on 17 July as well.

Day, from Daytona, moved into a large roosting aggregation on 1 July but started south on 23 July.

Two of the newly-tagged birds have also moved. Bullfrog, from the Tampa area, has moved to Lake Okeechobee on 24 July, and Strong River from Mississippi headed to the Sabine River on the Texas border on 16 July.

The four remaining birds are still near their summer ranges: Pace in Jacksonville, MIA in Miami, and PearlMS and newly-tagged Lacombe along the Pearl River on the LA/MS border.

Today is the last of our three Swallow-tailed Kite survey days. We hope you will report your sightings, but if you are seeing large numbers of birds foraging/flying or roosting after that, we would like to know those dates and locations too.

Go here for sightings in North Florida
Go here for sightings in Central Florida
Go here for sightings in South Florida

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another Swallow-tailed Kite migration about to begin! Who are we currently tracking?

In 2011, 2012 and 2014 ARCI deployed GPS-equipped satellite transmitters on 13 Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia; and our collaborator, Jenn Coulson of Orleans Audubon Society, tagged three additional birds in 2011 in Louisiana and Mississippi - a total of 16 tracked kites. Seven of these birds were still alive and transmitting at the start of the 2015 breeding season. Four had disappeared during migration, one on the South American winter range, and four while in the U.S. during or after nesting. One of the latter was Bluff, the male of a breeding pair we had tagged near their nest on Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, who disappeared the night of 5 June 2015. The circumstances suggest that he may have been killed by a predator at a night roost near his nest (a Great Horned Owl would be the most likely possibility). The next day, Bluff’s mate, Palmetto, captured in 2011 (three years before we tagged Bluff), moved 10 miles southwest to the Savannah River floodplain, an area she occupied prior to her southbound migration in each of the previous four years. Palmetto would not have left so soon if she still had dependent young, leading us to believe that the nestlings may have been killed the same night as Bluff. 

That was at the end of May. Now, in mid-July, other Swallow-tailed Kites – adults that may or may not have nested, and young-of-the-year that are just two to three months old – are moving about the Southeast, forming foraging flocks by day that prey on insects over pastures and farm fields, and gathering at night in roosts large and small as they prepare for their southbound migration. These may be places they know from prior experience; or, they may find them anew simply by consorting with kites who have learned of these sites in previous years - traditions passed on, an annual ritual that will lead them 5,000 miles to their species’ ancestral wintering grounds. 

By the third week of July, as we have over the last 26 years, we will begin ARCI’s annual synchronized aerial surveys of the largest pre-migration roosts of Swallow-tailed Kites, all in Florida. This protocol is designed to track trends in the U.S. population of Swallow-tailed Kites by systematically counting them when and where most of this population is concentrated at the start of their southbound journey. These photographic counts tallied 6,741 individual kites at the peak of last year’s roost season. This year, for the first time, ARCI has secured enough funding to do the job more thoroughly than ever, thanks to contributions from a consortium of Florida zoos that feel strongly about supporting conservation: The Florida Aquarium, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and the Brevard Zoo.

1) Gina Kent of ARCI sets a mist net. 2) The serial number from the transmitter is recorded on a data sheet. 3) Bullfrog is ready for release; the antenna of the transmitter is visible at the bird's back.  [Photos: Allison Miller]

In addition, our kite telemetry project now has a new tagged bird, which Gina Kent captured in short order near a nest with recently-fledged young on Hillsborough County’s Bullfrog Creek Scrub Nature Preserve. This effort was made possible by the generous support of friends and volunteers of The Florida Aquarium and beyond, all due to the enthusiastic efforts of Glory Moore. Furthermore, Jenn Coulson successfully tagged two additional kites, one along the Strong River in Mississippi and another near Lacombe, Louisiana. Thanks to all for bringing our current sample of tracked kites up to nine with the addition of “Bullfrog”, “Strong River” and “Lacombe”!

"Bullfrog" is outfitted with a backpack-style, GPS-equipped solar transmitter bringing the total number of  satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites in the U.S. to nine. 

We will begin posting updates soon on 2015’s southbound Swallow-tailed Kite migration. You also will be seeing reports on other exciting work ARCI is doing in Florida and the Caribbean:
  • Adding another nine satellite-tracked White-crowned Pigeons, in Puerto Rico and southern Florida, to our collaborative range-wide project examining seasonal movements, threats, habitat use, and survival (these new tagging efforts thanks to Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). 
  • Expanding our satellite-telemetry study of Reddish Egrets northward beyond the Keys by deploying three more GPS-equipped transmitters on birds in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the first study of prey selection and abundance for this species (with generous funding and in-kind support from the Ding Darling Wildlife Society, Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, an anonymous donor, and the Refuge).
  • Beginning new research on the potential occurrence of an insidious disease in Snail Kites, which may be affecting this Endangered species on the central-Florida lakes where most of its nesting effort now occurs (we thank The Bailey Wildlife Foundation for funding this project).
  • Joining with Microwave Telemetry, Inc. (MTI), the Jost van Dykes Preservation Society, and the University of Roehampton (UK) to deploy solar-powered satellite transmitters on Roseate Terns in the British Virgin Islands (with major support from MTI and the Darwin Initiative). This species is endangered and declining throughout its western North Atlantic range, yet migration, stopover, and wintering areas are poorly known. The two terns we recently tagged represent the first use of MTI’s ground-breaking 2.2-gram transmitters, which are the smallest satellite-tracking devices ever produced, only half the weight of the next-largest satellite transmitter and 2% of a Roseate Tern’s body mass (the safe limit is considered 3%). If all goes as planned, we will expand this important study over a larger portion of the species’ breeding distribution in the coming year.

Correction: An earlier version stated we are tracking ten kites. The correct number is nine.