Monday, March 14, 2016

Sublime Creatures of the Wind

Finally! As we write, favorable winds are pushing Swallow-tailed Kites northward over the Gulf of Mexico.

Movements of six GPS-satellite tracked Swallow-tailed Kites from 19 Feb - 11 Mar 2016

Welcome back, MIA, to your nest site in Miami, Florida! Although we never doubted his beautiful GPS track (yellow in the map) as the satellites charted his path, it’s now official: Our friend and fellow birder, Alice Horst, spotted MIA, antenna intact, near last year’s nest. He reached the U.S. on a welcome tailwind that pushed him ashore near Homosassa, Florida, then immediately headed south, safely over land for the last 280 miles of his 5,000-mile+ journey. Welcome, indeed! 

Given their last satellite reports and the long-awaited southerly winds now on their tails, our two most-recently tagged Swallow-tailed Kites, Bullfrog from Florida’s Tampa Bay area and Lacombe from southern Louisiana, should now be safely ashore and heading toward last year’s nest territories. 

Pace, from Jacksonville, last reported from the Yucatan Peninsula’s northern coast, no doubt awaiting a tailwind to speed him across the Gulf. He is most of the way home, but the most difficult and dangerous part of his trip lies just offshore. 

Strong River, from Mississippi, is moving fast through Central America and is now in Nicaragua. Closing the gap is Palmetto, from South Carolina. She has made it safely over the Andes Mountains and is working her way through Panama.

Unfortunately, we have not detected a signal from Gulf Hammock of Florida since 10 February. Her last signal came from the massive rainforest headwaters of the Amazon River, near the border of Brazil and Peru. While we hold out some hope, it seems unlikely she is still alive.

Sea below, sky above, land beyond the horizon. Drama to spare! But there are more layers to these stories. It is the forces of the atmosphere that, ultimately, determine the fate of each one of these sublime creatures of the wind. It is all playing out as we write. We will tell you more soon.

Swallow-tailed Kites coming in off the Gulf at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday March 12, 2016.
Photo by Adam Kent.