Dr. Gabe Vargo

Raptors on the Move

Sawgrass Flight w Transmitter - Bartley

ROTM: Our Mission

Sawgrass Flight Clayton

In the Fall of 2016, St. Petersburg Audubon Society (SPAS) launched a new initiative , Dr. Gabe Vargo Raptors on the Move (ROTM) - an education program designed to bring the world of raptor movements and migration into primary and secondary school classrooms.

Raptors on the Move is a joint effort between SPAS, represented by board member Dr. Gabe Vargo, and the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI), headed by Executive Director, Dr. Ken Meyer - an avian migration and Swallow-tailed Kite migration expert.

The goal of Raptors on the Move is to expose students to the world of raptors; their behavior, their capabilities, their interactions with people and a changing environment, their basic ecology and the perils that they face over a year. The transmitters will provide location data for classroom use. The type of information can be used to amplify math skills, such as calculating distances and speed, map locations, changing geography and hence ecologic zones, and interactions with other information since weather data can be super-imposed on the movement tracks to show how such events like fronts and wind patterns affect migration movements.

SPAS has sponsored two GSM transmitters which have been attached to a Swallow-tailed Kite and a Short-tailed Hawk. Kites migrate to South America whereas the Short-tailed Hawk, if it migrates at all, will stay within the Southeastern U.S. Therefore we will have an example of a long distance migrator and one that stays in the area.

Sawgrass' Transmitter

Transmitter - S. Tavaglione

ROTM: Connect

Teachers : to join ROTM, email Gina Kent ( ginakent@arcinst.org) at ARCI stating that you are a teacher and would like to receive the weekly data update for Sawgrass the Kite and Dark Arrow the Hawk. You will be asked to sign a data use agreement stating that you will only use the information in the classroom. Two files, one a Google Earth map and the other, data files, will be updated daily.

To Receive Daily Updates: email Gina Kent (ginakent@arcinst.org) stating that you are a SPAS member and would like to follow Sawgrass and Dark Arrow.

Gina Kent

Research Ecologist & Coordinator

To follow the birds you'll need Google Earth or Google Earth Pro installed on your computer. Just click on the "kmz" file, select Google Earth to open and it will download the data points to GE. Click on the file name in your locations list and choose "properties" to set the color of the data points and the connecting line.

Data is also being placed on Movebank , a website dedicated to wildlife tracking. Teachers and others may register to view the data and maps. Registration with Movebank and ARCI (both free) is required. Gina Kent is the project manager at ARCI.

Questions: If you have any questions, email Dr Gabe Vargo at birdsofprey@stpeteaudubon.org

ROTM: Our Story - Tagging Sawgrass & Dark Arrow

On June 12, 2016 two of ARCI’s staff, Gina Kent and Amanda Powell, and helper-bird, Trapper, the Great Horned Owl, set out to trap a Swallow-tailed Kite at Sawgrass Lake Park. They were unsuccessful that first day, but on the 13th, a flock of Swallow-tailed Kites appeared. One was caught in the net as she dove after the owl.

Gina & Trapper - J. Clayton

Gina & Trapper - J. Clayton

Dr. Vargo & Sawgrass - J. Clayton

Dr. Vargo with Sawgrass - J. Clayton

After a series of basic measurements were made, the bird, a large female (confirmed by DNA analysis), was fitted with a GSM transmitter. The transmitter only weighs 16 grams (the bird was over 500 grams) and is solar powered. It sends a signal with its location date and time of day whenever it encounters a cell phone tower. It can also store over 10,000 data points if it is out of contact with a cellular network and download them all the next time a cell tower is encountered.

Sawgrass' Transmitter - S. Tavaglione

Upon release, Sawgrass headed back to just east of Lake Seminole (see map below) and continued to stay in the same area for over a week. Since she is female, this suggests she may have been using Sawgrass Lake as a training and feeding site for this year’s youngsters. Given that she has stayed in the area of Lake Seminole, it’s likely that this is her home area.


Release! - S. Tavaglione

On May 23, 2017 Gina Kent (ARCI) trapped a Short-tailed Hawk at Sawgrass Lake Park, Pinellas County, FL. After banding, a GSM-cell phone transmitter was fitted to the Hawk and it was released at the site of capture. We have named the Short-tailed Hawk Dark Arrow after a small lake within Sawgrass Lake Park and the fact that the bird is a dark-morph and hit the mist net like an arrow!

Dark Arrow in Flight - Clayton

Dark Arrow in flight - J. Clayton

Collecting Data Dark Arrow - J. CLayton

Collecting data from Dark Arrow - J. Clayton

Dark Arrow Tagging - Clayton

Dark Arrow - J. Clayton

Dark Arrow Tagging 02 - Clayton

Dark Arrow's transmitter - J. Clayton

DNA samples were taken to confirm the sex, but based on observation, Dark Arrow is most likely a male.

Dark Arrows Release - J. Clayton

Release! - J. Clayton

ROTM: The Data

The map below describes Sawgrass' movements her first five days carrying the transmitter (disregard the single track that runs by “Town N Country” - that's the trip down from Gainesville and the transmitter was on). After her release, Sawgrass stayed within central Pinellas County for several weeks, then went to an area near The Villages called "the melon fields" where kites gather to eat the large numbers of insects found there - increasing their energy stores prior to migration. Sawgrass then unexpectedly moved on to Southern Georgia, where she remained for several days. Next, she flew to southern Collier County, turned west, and flew the width of the Gulf of Mexico, reaching land in southern Texas, near the Mexican border.

Route of Swallowed-tailed Kite

Sawgrass's First Tracking Data

Below is Sawgrass' entire migration track from June 2016 through April, 2017. Before heading to South America she spent time in Georgia and North Carolina eating insects to build up energy supplies for the migration. She made it the long way across the Gulf of Mexico then followed the coastal areas of Central America down to an area in Bolivia where she spent several months. She started her northern migration in late January/early February and all went well until she got to southern Columbia where her transmitter started working intermittently.

Sawgrass Migration 2016-2017

Sawgrass' 2016-2017 Migration

We next received data when she made it to Honduras but then again lost contact until she made landfall near Franklin County in the Florida panhandle. Subsequently she showed up in Sawgrass Lake Park, her point of origin. Shortly thereafter her transmitter downloaded all of the stored data so we now have her complete route from Columbia to Sawgrass Lake Park (see above map). The photo at the top of this page was taken by Becky Bartley on April 13, 2017 at Sawgrass Lake Park, just a day after we received the data from Sawgrass in the panhandle area. Sawgrass made it from north Florida to Sawgrass Lake Park in less than 24 hours. The transmitter can be clearly seen on her back. So, our Kite is back home safely and after a breeding cycle in the area – not sure exactly where – she will do it all over again next year. Hopefully she gained some knowledge from her first migration that will make her next journey easier. She just has to learn to stay away from long stretches of water!

A map of Dark Arrow's movements during its first week after release shows that it is staying pretty close to Sawgrass Lake Park with a few excursions out to the shoreline of Tampa Bay.

Dark Arrow Movements Weeo One

Dark Arrow's First Week of Data

Photo credits: Becky Bartley, Joanna Clayton, Sue Tavaglione

ROTM: Follow Sawgrass & Dark Arrow

You can follow Sawgrass, the Swallow-tailed Kite, and Dark Arrow, the Short-tailed Hawk, on the SPAS website. See "Connect" (above) to receive updates on the bird's journeys.