Thursday, August 22, 2019

16 GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites Begin Their 2019 Migration to South America

Many of the 16 kites ARCI is currently tracking have already left the US on a 5,000-mile trip to wintering destinations in South America. In last week’s blog, we described the importance of tracking Swallow-tailed Kites with GPS-equipped tracking devices, and introduced you to the 5 adults tagged during the 2019 nesting season.

Now, we would like you to meet the rest of the fleet and track their migration with us. Following is a list of the 16 birds and their supporters, without whom this study would not be possible.

From earliest to most recently tagged:

Sawgrass is a female tagged in 2016 at the Sawgrass Lake Park in Pinellas Co., Florida, with financial support from the St. Petersburg Audubon Society (SPAS). A big thanks to their Raptors on the Move program.

Babcock is a female tagged in 2017 on the Babcock Ranch Wildlife Management Area in Charlotte, Co., Florida. We thank conservation photographer, Carlton Ward Jr., for helping us gain permission and access for this capture.

Sarasota, a male, was captured and tagged in 2017 on the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve in Sarasota Co., Florida. Funding was granted from Sarasota Audubon Society, Peace River Audubon Society, Venice Area Audubon Society, and the Friends of the Carlton Reserve.

Apopka, a male, is a rehabilitated kite we tagged in 2017 and released at the Lake Apopka Restoration Area in Orange Co., Florida, with the assistance of the Avian Reconditioning Center and additional care from the Audubon Bird of Prey Center. Organizational funding (with special thanks) included challenge and matching donations from: The City of Apopka (Mayor Joe Kilsheimer); Halifax Audubon Society (David Hartgrove); Oklawaha Audubon (Stacy Kelly); Seminole County Audubon (Lewis Gray, Margaret Terwilliger, and Sarah Donlan); Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue (Barbara Walker); Clearwater Audubon Society; and West Volusia Audubon Society. For their personal contributions, we thank Stephen Kintner, Deborah Green, Janet Marks, Eileen Tramontana, Sandie Selman, Rebecca Grimm, and Alyssa Karnitz.

Wilson, tagged in 2017, is the second of two males tagged on Palmetto Bluff Conservancy land in Bluffton Co., South Carolina, with funding from the Friends of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy.

Pritchard, tagged in 2018, is the other male kite we are tracking from Palmetto Bluff Conservancy land in Bluffton Co., South Carolina.  He was tagged in 2018 with funding from the Friends of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy.

OK (Okaloacoochee) is a female kite tagged in 2018 on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier Co., Florida.  Funding was provided by the Caloosa Bird Club and the Friends of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

JAX is a female tagged in 2018 in northeastern Jacksonville, Duval Co., Florida. This bird’s telemetry costs were covered by a generous contribution from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Suwannee is a male from the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge in Dixie Co., Florida. We are grateful to the Friends of the Lower Suwannee NWR and the National Audubon Society for providing funding. This kite will be featured in a joint bioGraphic and National Audubon online article later this month, with photos from conservation photographer, Mac Stone.

Sanibel is a male from Sanibel Island in Lee Co., Florida. The Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society is graciously covering Sanibel’s telemetry expenses.

PBC-ERM Male and PBC-ERM Female were both tagged in Palm Beach Co., Florida on Environmental Resource Management county property, with funding from the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society.

Four Swallow-tailed Kites were tagged by our colleague, Dr. Jennifer Coulson, with Orleans Audubon Society funds:

Lacombe is a male tagged in 2015 near Lacombe, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. He has been tracked the longest of the 16 tagged kites.

Bayou Vincent is a female from St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, that was tagged in 2018.

Hobolochitto Creek is a male tagged in 2018 near its namesake in Pearl River Co., Mississippi.

Ponchitolawa is a male tagged in 2019 near its namesake creek in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

Where are they now?

As of 19 August 2019, 11 of our tracked Swallow-tailed Kites had already left the U.S.  Their current positions are listed below, beginning with the southernmost bird.

Babcock was the first to leave Florida, in mid-July. She has crossed the Andes Mountains and is entering the Amazon Basin of Colombia. Bayou Vincent, OK, and PBC-ERM Female are in Panama and will soon cross into Colombia.

Farther north, Sanibel is hugging the Nicaraguan Coast and Lacombe is trailing behind in Guatemala.

There is a stopover party in the Yucatan Peninsula where JAX, Suwannee, Sarasota, PBC-ERM Male, and Sawgrass are lingering to rest and replenish after crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

Hobolochitto Creek and Ponchitolawa had begun migrating southward across the Gulf of Mexico only to be forced by headwinds back to the U.S. coastlines of Texas and Florida, respectively.

Apopka has been moving among a few communal roost sites in central Florida. Wilson and Pritchard remain near their respective summer ranges in South Carolina.

We can’t wait to see where these birds go.  Thanks for following along with us!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Five Kites Join the Class of 2019

Left to right: Grace Campbell (ARCI, volunteer), Ken Meyer (ARCI),
Larry Woodward (Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge,
and Jeff Gleason (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

ARCI has some exciting news to share! With the generosity of many wonderful partners, both old and new, we were able to deploy GPS-equipped cell-phone transmitters on four breeding adult Swallow-tailed Kites, and our colleague Dr. Jennifer Coulson, President of Orleans Audubon, tagged an additional kite in Louisiana!

This brings our fleet of remotely-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites to 16 across the southeastern United States. We are grateful to all the organizations and individuals who make it possible to continue our long-term research to understand the ecology and conservation needs of Swallow-tailed Kites.

Each tagged kite will produce an enormous amount of highly-accurate, time-stratified, and unbiased location data that can be used to address many of the most important questions about the species’ conservation biology, including:
  • nesting locations
  • home-range and core activity areas
  • pre-migration communal roost sites
  • timing of seasonal movements
  • migration corridors and habitats
  • site fidelity
  • exposure to potential natural and anthropogenic threats (e.g., severe weather, climate change, drought, habitat loss and degradation, contaminants)

By using the kites’ data to answer the above questions, we can directly shape science-based management, conservation, and policy for this spectacular species. These data will enable local land managers to identify important nesting, roosting, and foraging locations for Swallow-tailed Kites in their respective management areas. There’s an added benefit as well – managing for kites creates an “umbrella effect” where the plants and animals using the same habitats as the kites flourish too.

Let’s introduce you to our Class of 2019:


ARCI's Ken Meyer and Gina Kent remove
Suwannee from the mist-net. Photo by Nan Soistman.

Suwannee, a male, comes from a fantastic landscape for nesting Swallow-tailed Kites – the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge in Dixie County, Florida. We are grateful to the Friends of the Lower Suwannee NWR and the National Audubon Society for provided all the funding needed to track Suwannee. We were joined by Nan Soistman from Sunrise Wildlife Rehabilitation and Einstein, their educational Great Horned Owl. Suwannee’s tracking story will be featured in upcoming publications in the international online conservation magazines National Audubon and bioGraphic (California Academy of Sciences).


ARCI's Ken Meyer and Gina Kent fit Sanibel with a GPS-equipped cell phone (GSM) transmitter.
Photo by Janet and Aaron Kirk.

Tracking a kite nesting on an island is a first for us! Quick action, cooperation among old friends from several outstanding organizations, and a lot of love-of-kites made the tagging of this kite possible. Sanibel was captured on Sanibel Island in Lee County, Florida, thanks to the skilled assistance, logistical support, and land access by the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF). We were joined by Bre Frankel and Great Horned Owl, Mina, of the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc. (CROW)

The San-Cap Audubon Society is graciously funding Sanibel’s transmitter and tracking data in memory of their late president and dear friend of Sanibel conservation and ARCI, Mr. Jim Griffith.

Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management (PBC-ERM) Female
Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management (PBC-ERM) Male

Melissa Tolbert (PBC-ERM) prepares to release PCB-ERM Male.
Photo by Mike Rogers.

These birds are the first representatives from Palm Beach County, Florida! A big thanks to Margo McKnight and the Palm Beach Zoo for generously funding these two kites. We also thank Melissa Tolbert and David Witmer of the Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management team for nest finding, monitoring, permission and logistical support. Nicole Jones with the Avian Reconditioning Center (ARC) and Gordon, ARC’s Great Horned Owl, were there for our first capture. For our second capture, we were joined by Callie Coxon and Hino the owl from the Palm Beach Zoo.

Further thanks to Carol and Scott McCorkle and Bill Hammer of Avian Recondition Center (ARC) for additional Swallow-tailed Kite trapping attempts at the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, another area we would like to target for kite-tracking.


Tom Coulson holds Ponchitolawa. 

This adult male Swallow-tailed Kite was captured near Covington, Louisiana, by our colleague and dear friend Jennifer Coulson, Orleans Audubon Society, and her husband, Tom (pictured). Dr. Coulson shares Ponchitolawa’s data with us (along with Bayou Vincent, Lacombe, and Hobolichitto Creek) as part of a long standing (over 20 years!) and cherished collaboration between she and ARCI.

The Coulson’s rigorous research has contributed greatly to everyone’s understanding of kite conservation biology and management needs, including continuous monitoring of threats and population changes.

PCB-ERM Female flies away after release.

Wishing all the Swallow-tailed Kites a safe migration full of plentiful food sources!