Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Three’s Company! Neighboring Swallow-tailed Kites Tracked in South Carolina: Palmetto, Wilson, and Now Pritchard

From left: Nicole, Jody, and Gina together before releasing Pritchard.

Early on 7 June, volunteer Nicole Jones and Trapper the Great Horned Owl made the trek from the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka, Florida, to Gainesville, Florida, to meet ARCI’s Gina Kent. The three of them continued on to Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, where the plan was to tag another Swallow-tailed Kite. ARCI has collaborated with the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy on Swallow-tailed Kite and Great Horned Owl research studies since 2011, and currently have two Swallow-tailed Kites, Palmetto and Wilson, carrying transmitters through these efforts. The Friends of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy has graciously funded the addition of another kite – now the 4th over the years – to our tracking program.

Early the next morning Gina and Nicole were joined by Jody Warwin, our go-to colleague for kite and owl fieldwork at Palmetto Bluff, who made setting up the equipment a breeze in the pre-dawn light.

Gina measures Pritchard's tail.
We knew there were at least four Swallow-tailed Kites in the area, since we found two nests on the property this season. But, two of those kites are Palmetto and Wilson, and we did not want to capture them again. We set up the blind, placed the owl near the net, and before the three of us could even get in the blind, a Swallow-tailed Kite was overhead! Before long, Pritchard, named for the nearby community of Pritchardville, was in the net. Pritchard’s tagging represents a unique opportunity to study three nest-neighbors at the same time, and from their tracking data we see each kite has their own foraging area despite nesting so close together. Soon we will see what migratory paths they take to spend the winter months in South America.

Palmetto, our tracking program’s matriarch, will embark on her 8th (!) migration this fall. Wilson will make his 2nd tracked trip, and Pritchard a maiden-tracked voyage. 

Current July locations of kites tracked in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina. Palmetto (white) has moved
southwest from her nesting grounds, while Wilson (blue) and Pritchard (yellow) remain in the
Palmetto Bluff area.

A big “Thanks!” to the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, the Friends of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, The Avian Reconditioning Center, Jody, and Nicole for the support of this success!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Renewed Swallow-tailed Kite tracking in Jacksonville, Florida

We could not be more grateful to the Jacksonville Zoo for supporting our Swallow-tailed Kite research! They funded both the tagging and tracking of a new adult Swallow-tailed Kite AND our Swallow-tailed Kite population monitoring flights coming up this July. 

Jacksonville Zoo's Donna Bear releases Swallow-tailed Kite
JAX, who now carries a GSM/GPS transmitter.

ARCI had not tagged a Swallow-tailed Kite in the Jacksonville area since 2012 (the last kite was Pace, tracked from 2012-2016), so we were unaware of any current nesting areas where kites could be found reliably. That was not a problem for the staff at Jacksonville Zoo, who led us to a perfect Swallow-tailed Kite nest site in northern Duval County, Florida.

With hard work and a bit of luck, ARCI’s Ken Meyer and Gina Kent, accompanied by Jacksonville Zoo’s Donna Bear, successfully outfitted a healthy Swallow-tailed Kite, nicknamed JAX, with a GSM/GPS transmitter. JAX, short for Jacksonville, is the sole representative for North Florida in our tracking program, and we hope to follow its success for years to come. JAX remains in Duval County, Florida for now.

ARCI's Ken Meyer and Gina Kent agree on the placement of the transmitter. A falconer's hood
is placed on the kite's head to keep the bird calm during the tagging process.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A New Swallow-tailed Kite Joins ARCI’s Tracking Program

It is a wonderful feeling to watch a Swallow-tailed Kite fly strongly away after it was successfully fitted with a transmitter. One mid-afternoon in early June, after the dark thunderclouds that frequent Florida’s summer skies had rolled through and the drizzle of rain had given us a reprieve, ARCI, staff from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (FPNWR), and members of the Caloosa Bird Club all experienced that feeling. FPNWR biologist Mark Danaher released the graceful, black-and-white raptor (see above video) and we cheered as we watched it turn into a silhouette in the cloudy sky.

ARCI's Gina Kent carries Okaloacoochee to our work station after
quickly removing the bird from the mist net.

That silhouette is now known as Okaloacoochee (OK for short). Tagged in Collier County, Florida, south of Okaloacoochee Slough, OK now wears a GPS/GSM tracking unit that will show us its daily movements and migration patterns. We do not yet know if the kite is male or female. With the GPS data we have already received, Mark was able to locate its nest, and to date, Okaloachoochee is in that same nesting area.

Left: Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge staff and members
 of Caloosa Bird Club look on as ARCI fits OK with a transmitter.
 Right: Okaloacoochee's new GPS/GSM transmitter by Ecotone Telemetry.

We would like to thank the Friends of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Caloosa Bird Club for their generous support enabling the tagging and tracking of Okaloacoochee.