Thursday, August 25, 2016

Carlton the Swallow-tailed Kite takes a classic migratory course

One of the three kites GPS-tagged this summer includes an adult male (Carlton) captured 14 June 2016 on the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida, the first Swallow-tailed Kite tagged in this part of the state. The dedicated staff of the Reserve, especially Debbie Blanco and supporting biologists, were instrumental not only in finding nesting Swallow-tailed Kites, but also by seeking the help of local conservation organizations to cover ARCI’s costs for the transmitter, data acquisition, and the work involved. The Venice Area Audubon Society immediately and very generously rose to the challenge, gradually leading Sarasota Audubon Society, Peace River Audubon Society, and The Friends of Sarasota County Parks to join the cause. Thanks to their help, the tagging process began just in time to deploy a transmitter on one of the Reserve’s nesting kites before the birds departed the area on their southbound journey. 

Avian Research and Conservation Institute staff Dr. Ken Meyer, Amanda Powell, Gina Kent, and Trapper the Great Horned Owl safely handle a recently captured Swallow-tailed Kite. Trapper has worked with ARCI for over 16 years and volunteers from the Avian Reconditioning Center, her permanent home. Photo by Mac Stone.

Carlton first moved east to a large foraging aggregation and roost site on the western edge of Lake Okeechobee in Glades County, Florida, on 7 July. After 28 days, he flew 25 miles south to another core roosting area for an additional six days, feeding on insects and adding further to his fat reserves. His migratory restlessness got the best of him on 10 August, when he flew to the westernmost Everglades for one last night in the United States. The next day, he crossed the Straits of Florida for Cuba and continued west over land before striking out over the ocean once again from the narrow tip of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. After 400 miles over the Gulf of Mexico, Carlton arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula on 13 August. A week later, Carlton is still resting and feeding on the Yucatan, the only major stopover point for the U. S. breeding population on its 5,000 mile southbound migration. 

Swallow-tailed Kite "Carlton's" track from his tagging location in the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida through his pre-migratory movements and the start of his southbound migration into the Yucatan Peninsula.

Everyone is excited about watching the stories of Carlton and the other tagged Swallow-tailed Kites unfold as each bird moves through the fascinating annual cycle of this spectacular species.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A 600-mile, northbound, pre-migratory destination for a South Florida Swallow-tailed Kite

Tracking data from "Panther," a Swallow-tailed Kite tagged at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in June 2016. Yellow star indicates tagging location.
Adult Swallow-tailed Kite Panther was tagged on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (FPNWR) on 8 June 2016.  Although this bird’s sex is unknown, we believe it is a male based on its size. ARCI is grateful to the US Fish and Wildlife Service staff at FPNWR in southwestern Florida for their interest in our long-term Swallow-tailed Kite telemetry study, and for helping us increase our sample of tracked kites with a bird from the Big Cypress Swamp. We also thank The Friends of FPNWR, who provided much-needed monetary support for the transmitter, data acquisition, and tagging effort.
Mark Danaher of Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge with Gina Kent of Avian Research and Conservation Institute as she places a hood on a Swallow-tailed Kite to calm the bird prior to radio-tagging. Photo by Kevin Godsea, USFWS
Panther remained on FPNWR for just five days after being tagged (due to unmanageable delays, we began trapping at the very end of the capture season). He then flew north from his summer nesting area, foraging over agricultural fields near Ocala, Florida, for a week before continuing northward up the Atlantic coastal plain of eastern Georgia and South Carolina until reaching the Pee Dee River in eastern South Carolina.  

Panther spent his pre-migratory preparation time ranging throughout the Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee drainages, as far north as southernmost North Carolina, at least 660 miles from his FPNWR nest territory!  Swallow-tailed Kites often make these long-distance moves after nesting and prior to southbound migration, probably to find good foraging areas to fatten up on insects, but also to explore the larger U. S. range of their species while they can, learning where other kites nest, feed, and roost together as they get ready for their long journey to South America. 
Adult Swallow-tailed Kite flying over the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Danaher, USFWS
After 17 days over the beautiful coastal lowlands of South Carolina, Panther began flying south. Along the way, he spent his nights roosting in the swampy flood-plain forests of the region’s major rivers, including the Savannah, Altamaha, and St. Mary’s. He also hunted some of Florida’s most beautiful and biologically-diverse conservation lands - Pinhook Swamp, San Felasco Hammock, Green Swamp, Corkscrew Swamp, Picayune Strand, Fakahatchee Strand, and Ten Thousand Islands. 

Panther left Florida on 22 July, crossing the shoreline just east of Marco Island. Flying nonstop (how else?) across 490 miles of open ocean – 490 miles! - he reached the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula on the evening of 23 July, a flight as speedy and true as it was perilous. After resting and feeding in the area for a week, he took up a southerly heading, moving steadily through the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Belize, and Honduras before reaching the Caribbean shore of eastern Nicaragua. In the 56 days since he left his family’s nest site, Panther traversed a total of at least 2,600 miles (measured in a succession of straight-line segments). Half of these miles were devoted to his round-trip excursion to southern North Carolina, before he finally began his actual southbound migration from his Big Cypress breeding territory. 

Other tracked kites are following Panther’s lead. We love sharing their stories with you, and hope you enjoy knowing that your support is what makes this research possible.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Swallow-tailed Kites on the move: Introducing The Class of 2016 and the first southbound movements of the season

It’s been a great summer for ARCI and the satellite-tagged birds we are following. We have so much to share, but we will take it one blog at a time so we can give you lots of details. The first news is that we successfully deployed three new GPS-equipped transmitters on Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida in June, bringing our total sample of tracked birds to seven, including Lacombe, the kite tagged in Louisiana by our long-time colleague and friend, Dr. Jennifer Coulson. First, we will tell you about the three newly-tagged kites.

Panther was tagged on 8 June at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County, Florida. Many thanks to The Friends of Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Refuge staff for their monetary and logistical support, which made this possible. After completing his nesting duties, Panther made some incredible pre-migratory moves, which we will share in our next blog.

Sawgrass was tagged on 13 June at Sawgrass Lake Park in Pinellas County, Florida. We have great support and interest from the St. Petersburg Audubon Society, which has started a Raptors on the Move education program with which teachers and students can apply the movement data from Sawgrass to any lesson. We will have more details on Sawgrass’s movements soon. 

Carlton was tagged on 14 June at the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve in Sarasota County, Florida. The fantastic staff, especially Debbie Blanco, and supporting biologists at the Reserve were instrumental not only in finding nesting Swallow-tailed Kites on the property, but also by helping us fundraise with the local citizen conservation organizations. We are grateful for the financial support of the Venice Area Audubon Society, Sarasota Audubon Society, Peace River Audubon Society, and The Friends of Sarasota County Parks.

The four previously-tagged Swallow-tailed Kites we are tracking have completed the nesting season. All four attempted to nest, and all except Lacombe (in Louisiana) were successful, raising two chicks each. MIA and Bullfrog re-used their 2015 nests, while Palmetto, in South Carolina, had moved to a new area, 4.5 miles north, after her mate, the tagged male Bluff, and young were killed by a predator near their 2015 nest.

Lacombe and MIA are still on their summer ranges. Palmetto has spent her pre-migration time in Georgia, first along the Savannah River and recently on the Altamaha River, as she has done in the past.

Bullfrog, the real mover, already is on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! She spent some pre-migration prep time in Glades, Hendry and Manatee Counties. On 25 July, she flew at noon from Marco Island and arrived just south of Cancun, Mexico, 30 hours later. 
Movements of 7 GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites from 15 to 27 July 2016 showing their tagging location and the start of fall migration.