Sunday, February 26, 2017

A new leader, a risky passage

GPS-tracking data for six Swallow-tailed Kites showing their locations as of 21 February 2017. 

The Andes Mountains, the longest continental range in the world, actually consist of three distinct ranges: the Cordilleras Oriental, Central, and Occidental (East, Central, and West, respectively). To continue the journey to their nesting areas, our Swallow-tailed Kites need to cross all three. Our new leader, MIA, is currently in Columbia carefully navigating through the Cordilleras Central. A mere 67 miles behind, Bullfrog is winding through the Cordilleras Oriental. We wish them safe travels through the steep-sided valleys and narrow passes of this demanding terrain, where turbulent winds, quickly-changing weather, and high altitudes must challenge the aviating skills of even the most adept flyers.

Lacombe, 550 miles behind Bullfrog, has moved northwest to the border of Brazil and Peru. Near a meandering branch of the Rio Solimōes and surrounded by dense Amazonian rainforest, Lacombe is likely enjoying a bountiful supply of insects as he makes his way home.

Slowly pushing northward, Palmetto is passing over the farming region surrounding Nova Mamoré in the Brazilian State of Rodôndia. The city sits just east of the Guaporé River, which forms the border between Brazil and northeastern Bolivia. 

Panther’s location depicted on the map was her last fix, which we received on 26 January 2017. She probably has been beyond cell-tower range since then. We are hoping to hear from her soon.

We find Sawgrass in the same area as in the previous blog, now 1,800 miles behind the leader, MIA. She is probably accumulating the last of the fat she needs before taking on the next leg of her northbound migration. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

5,000 miles home

All six of our satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites have left their South American winter ranges on their migration back to the breeding range in the southeastern U.S.  This map will give you a quick idea where they were as of 14 February 2017. 

GPS-tracking data for six Swallow-tailed Kites showing most recent locations
in South America on their northbound migration. 

Bullfrog, tagged near Florida’s Tampa Bay, remains in the lead, but MIA is only 100 miles behind.  Both are in the Amazon rainforest of northeastern Peru. Their tracks reveal a slow-down in this area, most likely to regain some fat reserves by feeding on the plentiful insects this lush forest has to offer. 

We are hoping that Panther is close to MIA and Bullfrog in the remote Amazon.  Although we have not received data from her in a few weeks, we are not yet alarmed because this area has very few human settlements with cell-phone coverage. The location depicted on the map was her last fix, which we received on 26 January 2017.

A little over 500 miles to the southeast of Panther is Lacombe, edging northward.  He is one of the four tracked kites that have not yet made it out of Brazil.

Palmetto is pushing northwestward, having passed through an extensive agricultural region in the state of Rondônia, Brazil.

In the last blog, Sawgrass was on the eastern border of Paraguay. She stayed there a few weeks before continuing east-northeast into Brazil, where the majority of our tracked kites spent our winter (summer there). Sawgrass is now northbound on the same track taken by our other tagged birds before her. She is 500 miles behind Palmetto and 1,400 miles from Bullfrog, the leader. It is interesting that Bullfrog and Sawgrass, the two Swallow-tailed Kites that nested closest to each other (near Florida’s Tampa Bay), are the “book ends” of our 2017 migration story.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Northbound race to breeding sites: Swallow-tailed Kites have started their migration!

It’s that time of year again when we see those familiar GPS fixes in South America begin edging northward. For several years, ARCI has been monitoring satellite-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites on their wintering grounds in South America. We always know that within the last two weeks of January we can expect some of them to begin their migration back to the southeastern United States.

Right on time, the first bird to start north on 17 January was Bullfrog from Tampa Bay Florida, two days earlier than last year. She was our northern-most wintering kite, in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Today, she remains farther north than any of our tracked kites, along the Bolivian border in the northern part of Rondônia state, Brazil.

GPS-tracking data for six Swallow-tailed Kites during the month of January, 2017 in South America and the start of their northbound migration back to breeding sites in the southeastern U.S.
MIA, from Miami, Florida, started north on 18 January. Even though he wintered 225 miles south of Bullfrog in Brazil, he traveled faster and is probably less than 6 hours behind Bullfrog.

Lacombe, tagged in Louisiana by our colleague Dr. Jennifer Coulson, began moving north on 28 January. He appears to be taking a more westerly route across Brazil’s famous Pantanal, where he now resides, in northern Mato Grosso do Sul.

Palmetto, tagged near her nest in South Carolina in 2011, remains on her winter range near Santa Rita do Pardo in Mato Grosso do Sul. MIA, Lacombe, and Palmetto spent most of the winter within the same area, using the same foraging and roosting sites, where they were joined by Panther in late December.

Panther, from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County, is also edging north and last uploaded GPS locations on 26 January from Rondônia, Brazil, where she was only 15 miles away from Bullfrog. Because Panther and Sawgrass transmit their data via cell towers rather than satellite, we have not yet received the entire location track for this bird. GPS data are collected even when the transmitter is too far from a cell tower. The backlogged data will begin uploading once the bird comes within range of the next tower. However, the bird may move beyond range of that tower before the upload is complete, thus requiring a succession of uploads before all the data get delivered.

Our most unusual wintering Swallow-tailed Kite movements come from Sawgrass, a female tagged in St. Petersburg, Florida. She resided in southern Bolivia along the Argentinean boarder where none of our previously tracked kites have wintered. On 8 January, she wandered east across Paraguay to Amambay Department, where she has been since 17 January. This is 180 miles southwest of the four communal Swallow-tailed Kites in Brazil.

The race is on! We hope these Swallow-tailed Kites have an easy journey back to their breeding grounds in the Southeastern U.S. We’ll keep you posted. Buen viaje!