Tuesday, February 27, 2018

New and Familiar Feathers; Eleven Swallow-tailed Kites begin migrating north

Before we kick off this season’s Swallow-tailed Kite Northbound Migration blog series, we want to recognize all the members of our Swallow-tailed Kite Tracking Program. We are currently tracking eleven individuals: six new kites, all tagged in the summer of 2017, and five veterans tagged between 2011 and 2016. With each passing year and new addition to the program, we expand our understanding of the complex lives and needs of these fascinating raptors. The 11 Swallow-tailed Kites are listed in chronological order by tagging date.
Remembering each tagging experience (clockwise from top left):
Panther, Sawgrass, MIA, Apopka, Bogue Falaya, Palmetto.

Palmetto: Palmetto is a true champion! Tagged in June 2011 in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, she has been tracked for nearly seven years, the longest we have followed any Swallow-tailed Kite since we began this program in 1996.

MIA: Not far behind for tracking duration is MIA, who was tagged in June 2012 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This year’s pilgrimage to his nesting grounds in Miami will complete six migratory cycles for MIA – that’s over 60,000 miles. Amazing!

Lacombe: Lacombe was tagged in July 2015 by our project partner Dr. Jennifer Coulson, President and Conservation Chair of Orleans Audubon Society. Previous kites tagged by Dr. Coulson migrated over land along the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico. However, for the past two northbound migrations, Lacombe flew north from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula directly to Louisiana. Will he do the same this year?

Panther: Panther was tagged at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County, Florida, in June 2016. Last year, she persevered through strong northerly winds in the Gulf of Mexico to return to her nesting grounds. Hopefully the weather will instead facilitate the kites' return this year.

Sawgrass: This Swallow-tailed Kite is not averse to city life. Sawgrass was tagged in June 2016 at Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg, Florida, one of the few green spaces peppering this densely-developed island. In the winter months, she trades bustling urban centers for the remote ranchlands of southern Brazil.

Bogue Falaya: Bogue Falaya was tagged in Louisiana last May by Dr. Jennifer Coulson. Dr. Coulson shares with us her experience trapping and tagging Bogue Falaya in this blog.

Refuge: Refuge is the second bird we have tagged at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County, Florida. Her nest was deep in the heart of the NWR. It was quite an undertaking to get gear and our trusty owl to the site on a 45-minute swamp buggy ride. She received his transmitter in May 2017.

Sarasota: Sarasota was tagged in June 2017 at T. Mabry Carlton Preserve in Sarasota County, Florida. County staff and local birders were instrumental in locating and monitoring the Swallow-tailed Kite nests in the area (special thanks to Debbie Blanco of Sarasota County). We had a successful evening capture and now Sarasota is sporting a new transmitter as well.

Babcock: Babcock was tagged in June 2017 at Babcock Ranch Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Glades County, Florida. We had last minute permission and a one-day-only trapping window to try to capture and tag a bird at this WMA. Luckily, the stars aligned and Babcock flew off with a new radio, the first of our tagged kites to cross the Gulf of Mexico on their southbound migrations.

Wilson: Wilson was tagged in June 2017 at Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina. In the 2017 breeding season, he frequented the same areas as Palmetto. If they both return, will she choose him as a partner this nesting season?

Apopka: Apopka has a unique story. Needing rehabilitation after a car collision, he recovered quickly with the help of the wonderful folks at Avian Reconditioning Center (ARC) in Apopka, Florida. With the amazing fund-raising efforts of ARC’s Paula Ashby and the generous contributions of Audubon chapters, kind individuals and the City of Apopka, ARCI had the means to deploy a transmitter on Apopka in July 2017, who started his southbound migration just ahead of Hurricane Irma. Read his full story here.

We have many people and organizations to thank for their generous monetary and logistical support of the Swallow-tailed Kite tracking program:

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Friends of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Carlton Ward Jr.
Will Randal
Stephanie Green
Mark Danaher
T. M Mabry Carlton Reserve, Sarasota Co.
Deborah Blanco
Erin Myers
Hans Mooyman
Gabe Vargo
Judi Hopkins
St. Petersburg Audubon Society
Dr. Jennifer Coulson
Friends of the Conservancy
Palmetto Bluff Conservancy
Peace River Audubon Society
Sarasota Audubon Society
Friends of the Carlton Reserve
The City of Apopka
Avian Reconditioning Center (Carol and Scott McCorkle)
Audubon Center for Birds of Prey (Diana Flynt)
Halifax Audubon Society
Oklawaha Audubon Society
Seminole County Audubon Society
Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue
Clearwater Audubon Society
West Volusia Audubon Society
Deborah Green
Janet Marks
Eileen Tramontana
Sandie Selman
Disney Volunteers from ARC, Rebecca Grimm and Alyssa Karnitz

Bogue Falaya's Debut from the Bayou

Dr. Jennifer Coulson, President and Conservation Chair of the Orleans Audubon Society, studies population and nesting ecology of Swallow-tailed Kites in Louisiana and Mississippi. She’s also a long-time colleague and friend to ARCI. Dr. Coulson captured and tagged Swallow-tailed Kites Slidell, PearlMS, Pasc, and Strong River, who have since stopped transmitting, and Lacombe, who’s in his third year of tracking. She uses the same trapping technique we’ve carefully developed over the years to safely capture Swallow-tailed Kites – a strategically placed mist net and a lure bird. ARCI’s favorite lure is Trapper, a disabled educational Great Horned Owl, who has worked with us for over a decade. 

Dr. Coulson recounts her exciting experience tagging Swallow-tailed Kite Bogue Falaya with her husband Tom Coulson:

“We trapped Bogue Falaya a stone’s throw from the Bogue Falaya River, one of Louisiana’s Natural and Scenic Rivers, in a forested subdivision. The river flows through pine and bottomland hardwood forests, ideal habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites. Three pairs of Swallow-tailed Kites are known to inhabit a nesting “neighborhood” along the river.

Bogue Falaya's striking profile.
With permission, we set up our trapping equipment on a lawn near one of those known nests. Only 12 minutes after the owl was in place and the nets were opened, the Bogue Falaya male made a bold, earthbound dive in an attempt to drive the owl away from its nest. In doing so, he encountered the net and unwittingly became part of our kite tracking and suburban nest studies.

Tom Coulson displays Bogue
 Falaya's new transmitter.
The kite’s banding measurements and soiled undertail coverts indicated that it was probably male, but we took a small blood sample for DNA sexing just to be sure. The usually-white undertail coverts were soiled from hauling food; males tend to hunt farther from the nest and thus spend more time carrying food than females. Although robust, Bogue Falaya was somewhat small, also suggesting this bird is a male. In raptors, females tend to be the larger sex.

Once Bogue Falaya was tagged and identifiable, we observed his behavior to determine which nest he tended. Four days after tagging him, we watched him deliver a green anole to one of the nests in the neighborhood. Bingo! Bogue Falaya and his mate successfully fledged two healthy-looking young."

Fatherhood completed, Bogue Falaya left his nesting grounds on 19 Aug 2017 and, unlike the kites from Florida who cross the Gulf of Mexico, made his way over land by way of Mexico and Central America to overwinter in Brazil. Winter (actually summer in Brazil) came and went, and on 22 Jan 2018, Bogue Falaya began to inch northward, indicating an imminent northbound migration.

Bogue Falaya takes to the skies upon release.