Friday, July 3: My property
Checking the Swallow-tailed Kite pre-migration roost on my property early in the morning presented challenges, especially lighting with looking into the rising sun. So I decided to check in the evening as the kites returned for the night.
That was a winner! There was shade from the cypress trees, a bit of a breeze, and almost no bothersome insects the entire time. And the the kites began arriving.
The first group of returning kites began showing up around 7:15 in the evening. As their numbers grew, the sky became filled with them. They were still very high in the sky, but it was impressive. The photo at the top of the page shows just part of the gathering.
They circled slowly and drifted to the west toward another roost, probably in Bird Rookery Swamp which was directly west.
There was a lull in the action and then about 10 minutes later another flight of kites appeared. This time, many dropped down onto the trees around me.
It was fascinating to watch how that progressed. The first kites down each picked a different tree or snag and roosted at the highest point possible. Those first trees weren't even close to each other. As succeeding kites began to land, they chose the next highest spots or the most exposed branches. Most just perched, facing the setting sun.
The last of the kites in flew in and landed next to kites already there. Once settled, they began preening.
There didn't appear to be any "tree hopping" -- flying from one tree to another for a better perch. Once they landed, they stayed.
There also didn't seem to be any preference for the type of landing spot. Some landed in snags, some in live cypress trees, and some in fully leafed maple trees. The snags and cypress were the most popular.
A few kites in the second wave continued on to the west, but most landed. By the time I left, I could count 43 that were perched and were visible from where I was standing.
While in the air, the kites were calling to each other, but once they landed, they were for the most part silent even when another kite flew in and landed very close to them.
The only other birds active at that time were Blue Jays much lower in the vegetation, Mourning Doves that flew to perches, and a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that called in the distance.
Tuesday, July 7: Flint Pen Strand
For being hot and well into July, it was a much better than expected day for neat observations.
The best was discovering a pair of Black-necked Stilts with three chicks. All were in one little area with water. One of the chicks is at the left.
It was an accidental sighting. From the trail I saw a deflated mylar balloon and cut through the grasses and Pluchea to retrieve it. When I got to the balloon, an adult Black-necked Stilt flew up and landed about 15 feet in front of me, calling loudly the whole time. I stopped to take its picture and heard a second adult chipping from the water to my left.
When I saw the small birds, my first thought was sandpipers since they've been in that area. But they appeared downy after zooming in with the camera. So... stilt chicks. An earlier nest had been decimated by crows, but the pair of adults obviously nested a second time and this time they were successful.
A second good observation was the Great Horned Owl at the left.
I was on my way out when three Blue Jays flew into a small grove of Slash Pines and were calling. I left the trail and went into the pines to see what had them so excited, and I found the owl perched in a pine.
The Blue Jays weren't close to it, but they were letting everything know that an apex predator was in the area. The owl wasn't in the least bothered by the jays.
Other nice avian observations were the Loggerhead Shrike above and a small flock of Wild Turkeys.
The turkeys wee one hen and six about half-sized poults. All were in a dense cypress dome and flew out one by one with the hen coming out last. I was close and standing still watching Gulf Fritillaries getting nectar at Passionvine, so the turkeys didn't really notice me.
Once everyone was out of the trees and into the open, grassy area, they regrouped and walked into the taller grasses. The poults pretty much stayed in a strait line as they went, and the hen brought up the rear. Then they disappeared from sight.
Lots of tiny Oak Toads were in the sandy areas. They were so perfectly camouflaged that unless they moved, they were invisible. The pair at the right was hopping in the same direction and paused just long enough for a photo before they continued on.
For the morning, 28 species of birds were seen. The most commonly found were Red-bellied Woodpeckers followed by Cardinals and Mockingbirds. The only other species in double figures were Common Grackles.
Only two Red-headed Woodpeckers were seen, but it was mid morning by the time I got to the area where they are usually found.
Additionally, nine species of butterflies and six species of dragonflies were noted. There may have been more dragonfly species, but some were too high, so too far off, and some too fast to make a positive identification.
Only five species of herps were seen including the Oak Toads. Gators were the most common.
Getting up early and arriving before the sun rose was worth it with another beautiful rise over the lakes.
Wednesday, July 8: My property
Another evening check of the Swallow-tailed Kite roost was productive with 59 kites settling in for the night. Forty-five of them were on my property and another 14 chose trees in the neighboring lot to the south. There was no big flyover as there was last Friday, and the kites seemed to come in individually rather than in large groups.
Everyone who was coming had landed by 7:30. There was a little movement from one tree to the next, but by 8 o'clock in the evening, all was quiet and the only action was preening. All were quiet except for two individuals in the top of a cypress, and they sounded as though they were begging for food from an adult on the same branch. They didn't get any.
Original plans for Thursday were to be on a trail early, but at 5:30 when I got up, the temperature was already nearing 80º and the humidity was higher. The forecast was for feels-like temperatures to be around 103-105º, so a couple of hours hiking seemed less and less like a good idea.