Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Third Time is a Charm!

Third time is a charm! Apopka, a rehabilitated Swallow-tailed Kite tracked by GPS returns to Florida.

Apopka, like all our GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites, has a wonderful story, but his is unique in that it began in the summer of 2017 after he was hit by a car, when he was skillfully rehabilitated by the Avian Reconditioning Center for Birds of Prey (ARC). The good folks at ARC asked if ARCI would be interested in fitting this doomed-but-turned-lucky bird with a tracking device. Given the kite’s excellent recovery, and knowing that we had little time (by then, southbound migration was already underway), we quickly got in gear. Simultaneously, an enormous amount of support began pouring forth from the greater ARC community, several Audubon Society chapters and other conservation organizations, and caring individuals. See the heart-warming thank-you list below, and view Apopka’s full story in our other blog: http://www.swallow-tailedkites.org/2017/09/a-swallow-tailed-kites-second-chance_1.html 

This year, Apopka wintered in Rondônia, Brazil, as he had the previous two years, and started northward on 16 January, 2020. He, like other GPS-tagged kites before him, slowed his pace in the Amazon region of Brazil and Colombia, most likely taking advantage of good feeding conditions to put on some body weight for the lengthy journey ahead.

Apopka’s northbound GPS track was the safest of all the Kites we’ve monitored this year, staying over land until reaching the north central shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. On 17 March, he set off over the Gulf of Mexico and arrived on shore thirty hours later near Mobil, Alabama. His was a very quick and direct flight. Most likely exhausted, he took four days to reach his former summer territory near Altamonte Springs, FL.

We were ecstatic to receive a message from Sam Mitcham, a birder from the area, who was in the right place at the right time. Sam was photographing Swallow-tailed Kites when he noted one with a transmitter on its back! We were quickly able to identify this as Apopka. It’s a rare treat when we get to see our known birds, but even better when the photographs are so good showing the transmitter in its safe position on a fine-looking kite!

**Note the photos above are of Apopka. Look for the "bump" transmitter on the back.

Apopka’s story would not be possible without the support and generosity of the following people and organizations:

Avian Reconditioning Center for Birds of Prey – Paula Ashby and Carol McKorckle
Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
City of Apopka- News, Events, & Info - Mayor Joe Kilsheimer
Halifax River Audubon - David Hartgrove
Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society - OVAS - Stacy Kelly
Seminole Audubon Society - Lewis Gray, Margaret Terwilliger, Sarah Donlan
Raptor Center of Tampa Bay - Barbara Walker
Clearwater Audubon Society - matching the challenge issued by Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue
West Volusia Audubon - Stephen Kintner
Deborah Green from Orange Audubon Society(personal donation)
Janet Marks from West Volusia Audubon (personal donation)
Eileen Tramontana, Director of Trout Lake Nature Center (personal donation)
Sandie Selman from West Volusia Audubon (personal donation)
Disney Volunteers from The Avian Reconditioning Center for Birds of Prey - Rebecca Grimm and Alyssa Karnitz

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Good news from Northbound Kites

Let’s give you some good news. Plenty to celebrate with GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites on migration.

ARCI, together with Orleans Audubon has been tracking Swallow-tailed Kites with GPS-transmitters on their return to the US from wintering in South America.
We have 8 kites back in the U.S!  

Ponchitolawa has made it back to Louisiana, and from our last few posts, you know that Sanibel and PBC-ERM male had similar migrations to Florida. Also, back on Florida territories are Babcock, Sarasota, Suwannee, and most recently, Apopka.

Pritchard made it back to Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina on 24 March.

We’ve received news on Sawgrass! He’s creeping through Nicaragua and our next Swallow-tailed Kite to cross the Gulf of Mexico.  

Not pictured are Wilson and JAX, last in Brazil and away from cell-network data uploading and we anxiously await their signal. OK and PBC-ERM female are two kites that we have not heard from since August but hope to see them alive and well near their last breeding locations in Florida.
Wishing speedy tailwinds to all our kite friends heading back to the US.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Northbound Routes of Two Swallow-tailed Kites

As our GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites are completing the last and most dangerous stage of their return to their United States nesting areas, we will be sharing their migration progress with you here. Each individual kite writes a new, unique story each year as it faces extraordinary, unpredictable risks unlike those they must overcome in any other season. Migration is very difficult and dangerous for any bird, but it is especially so for those that must cross large bodies of water, something that very few raptors ever attempt even over very short distances of just a few miles.

In our previous post, we shared Sanibel’s migration story (gray). Now, we would like to show you how the male Swallow-tailed Kite PBC-ERM accomplished the same dangerous mission just a few days later by taking a route that was, with some very impressive-but-frightening exceptions, nearly identical. We have temporarily used red here instead of white to contrast the routes. The data pins will help you track their progress along the map.

Sanibel wintered 525 miles south of PBC-ERM and started north 8 days earlier, on 18 January, 2020. On his way north, Sanibel passed right through PBC-ERM’s wintering area. Soon, they were within 50 miles and 3 days of each other as they glided northward, a time-space relationship they maintained all the way to Mexico.

Tailwinds apparently encouraged both kites to make an otherwise unusual and very risky over-water crossing from the northern coast of Honduras to the city of Cancun, on the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The difference was that, after flying 10 hours, Sanibel stopped for the night, whereas PBC-ERM skirted Cancun and embarked on a nonstop over-water flight to Florida. His daring passage spanned 930 miles of open ocean without rest, food, or water, a trip he completed in just 38 hours at an average ground speed of 25 miles per hour! Most northbound Swallow-tailed Kites cross no more than about 600 miles of the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan to the panhandle of Florida, which is already an amazing feat for any raptor.
Early on the morning of March 6th, PBC-ERM reached land within the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge of Collier County, Florida. He rested there for 5 hours, waiting for the day’s thermals to begin forming so that he could use their lift to continue his journey. Once aloft, he immediately headed east across peninsular Florida and soon reached his former Palm Beach County nest site. 

As we noted in our previous post, Sanibel ended his rest on the northern Yucatan Peninsula on March 5th by catching a fast ride on strong southerly winds, crossing the Gulf of Mexico to the Big Bend region of northern Florida in just 24 hours. En route over the Gulf, he shot past Sanibel Island (at considerable distance). However, immediately after making land-fall, he turned southward along the shoreline towards his familiar Sanibel breeding grounds.

We are waiting for the next data upload and hoping it will show that Sanibel has settled back into his nesting neighborhood on Sanibel Island.

ARCI is grateful to the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society and to the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management for making it possible for ARCI to tag and track male Swallow-tailed Kite PBC-ERM. We also thank the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, the family of the late Jim Griffith, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife(CROW) for supporting the tagging and tracking of Sanibel.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Sanibel’s trip to Florida

After a winter holiday in Campo Grande, Brazil, Sanibel, the male Swallow-tailed Kite with a GPS-GSM transmitter, started his journey back to Florida. Each day he made northbound progress, roosting at night in a safe place until the morning’s sunlight stirred rising thermals on which he could continue gliding northward with as little expenditure of energy as possible. Sanibel slowed down in the State of Amazonas, Brazil where, we can imagine, the diversity of insects and small prey were boosting his fat reserves for the long flight ahead.

His first major obstacle was the Andes Mountains, with their barren, high-altitude peaks and ridges that are devoid of the insects on which migrating kites rely. He managed to cross the mountains from February 21 to 23, soon reached coastal Colombia, and continued through Central America by hugging the Caribbean coast. 

Tailwinds apparently encouraged Sanibel to make an otherwise risky over-water crossing from northern Honduras to Cancun, Mexico, in just 10 hours! He spent the night there in a wooded area. At 10:00 the next morning, he resumed his fast ride on strong southerly winds, flying 24 hours across the Gulf of Mexico to the Big Bend region of northern Florida, thereby overshooting Sanibel Island, his 2019 breeding area on southwest Florida’s coast. However, on reaching shore, he immediately turned southward along the shoreline towards his former nest site. 

We now are waiting for the next data upload, with hopes it shows Sanibel settled back into his familiar neighborhood on Sanibel Island.

Our gratitude for Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society, SCCF, and CROW - Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc. to make it possible to tag and track Sanibel.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The good and the bad of GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites on migration

ARCI, together with Orleans Audubon has been tracking Swallow-tailed Kites with GPS-transmitters from their breeding grounds in the US to their wintering grounds in South America. Kites are returning to the US now on favorable winds from the Yucatan.  

Ponchitolawa has made it back to Louisiana, however we’ve lost the signal from Lacombe, a male Orleans Audubon has been tracking since 2015. His last location, in northern Costa Rica, can be seen in this map. He was the living kite we have tracked for the longest time, almost 5 years. We are fortunate for him, and the data he’s contributed over these past years that have led to our accruing knowledge of Swallow-tailed Kites.

Our friend Sarasota also reached Florida in the last few days, landing in the Panhandle, and now making his way back to the T.M. Carlton Reserve over dry land.
Next in line for a Gulf of Mexico crossing is Apopka, Pritchard, and Suwannee, all with last locations in Nicaragua this week.

Not pictured are Sawgrass, Wilson, and JAX last in Brazil and away from cell-network data uploading; as well as OK and PBC-ERM, two kites that we have not hear from since August, but hope to see them alive and well near their last breeding locations in Florida.

Wishing speedy tailwinds to all our kite friends heading back to the US.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Two more GPS-tracked Swallow-tailed Kites in the US!

ARCI, together with Orleans Audubon has been tracking Swallow-tailed Kites with GPS-transmitters from their breeding grounds in the US to their wintering grounds in South America. Kites are returning to the US now on favorable winds from the Yucatan.  

Babcock has been on her breeding range in Charlotte Co. FL since 27 February. This passed weekend both PBC-ERM male and Sanibel have returned to FL! PBC-ERM male had a perfect tailwind to carry him straight to Palm Beach Co., while Sanibel’s tailwind took him straight to Dixie Co. and he will be making his way to Sanibel Island quickly.

Five birds are quickly passing through Central America. Next in line to make their way to the US are Ponchitolawa and Sarasota at the north shore of Honduras. Not far behind is Apopka, Suwannee, and Lacombe in southern Nicaragua. 

Pritchard has set off on his own path, a few hundred miles east of the path others had taken in Colombia. He is soon to cross the Andes Mountains.

We are waiting anxiously to hear from three kites that last were in Brazil and are now out of cell reception to transfer their location data. Sawgrass and Wilson were last in Rondonia, and JAX’s last fix was in Mato Grosso in January.  

Wishing speedy tailwinds to all our kite friends heading back to the US.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Swallow-tailed Kites fly in!

We’ve seen many reports of Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida already! We hope you get to see these beautiful birds soar across the sky if you haven’t already. Remember that ARCI is interested in your Swallow-tailed Kite sighting, especially if it is a nest site or roost site. Please follow this link to report your sightings to us: http://arcinst.org/report-sightings

Twelve GPS-tracked kites have begun their northbound migration as of 2 March, 2020. Babcock not only produced data last week, but he snuck back to Florida!! He’s our first of 14 kites back in the US!

JAX is the farthest south, in the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil, while 4 kites are in the State of Rondônia, Brazil with Pritchard in the lead and Wilson, Apopka, and Sarasota not far behind. Sawgrass gave us relief when she showed data once again from northern Bolivia. These birds will be crossing the cell-free area of the Amazon and we hope they travel safely through to cell range once again to tell their migration stories.

Suwannee checked in from Colombia this week and is about to cross the treacherous Andes Mountains. The two Louisiana Kites, Lacombe and Ponchitolawa have cruised over the Andes of Columbia and are just getting to Panama now.

Two Kites tagged in 2019, Sanibel and PBC-ERM Male are in Nicaragua and will be our next to watch returning to Florida.

Not pictured are OK and PBC-ERM female where we lost their signals in August of last year in Colombia on their southbound migration. We are holding hope that they will be seen on their breeding grounds this season and that their transmitters produce data once again.