Friday, September 20, 2013

Harns Snail Kite Absence Theory

Entering my fifth year of periodic observations of the wildlife at Harns Marsh Preserve in Lehigh Acres, Florida, it has been a disappointment to fail to see Snail Kite during recent visits.


The Red-headed Woodpecker above was photographed northwest of Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

Images presented in this article are of wildlife observations made on 14 September and 15 September 2013, with the final two images captured 8 May 2013. The images taken on the 14th are presented first, and represent areas northwest of Harns Marsh Preserve. Images from the 15th were taken within the Preserve's boundaries.


The Loggerhead Shrike above was photographed northwest of Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Red-headed Woodpecker above was photographed northwest of Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Northern Mockingbird above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Red-bellied Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.

The first two years of observations at Harns Marsh were a boon for personal sighting of Snail Kite of both sexes with the birds seen frequently, if not on every visit. The male Snail Kite has striking slate gray color that differentiates it from the female of the species. The female has markings that might make the bird harder to distinguish from prolific Red-shouldered Hawk in the Preserve.


The Red-bellied Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Red-bellied Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Pileated Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Pileated Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Pileated Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.

One can best distinguish Snail Kite from Red-shouldered Hawk by observing flight characteristics, the feeding behaviors of the species, and most readily by identifying the thick white lateral band on the kite's splayed tail feathers adjacent to the rump. Both the Red-shouldered Hawk and Snail Kite are the same size as adults. These two species are significantly larger and easily distinguishable from the Mississippi Kite observed at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in late July.


The Pileated Woodpecker above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Green Heron above was photographed at Buckingham Community Park in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The sunrise above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

Birding by ear, Red-shouldered Hawk typically scream incessantly while the Snail Kite is generally silent. In this past year there has been a decline in personal observations of Snail Kite at Harns Marsh Preserve with my last sighting of a bird of the species (a female) there documented in mid-May 2013. Male Snail Kite at Harns Marsh have become especially rare to see.


The Great Egret above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Wood Duck above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Wood Duck above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

The lone Snail Kite female observed in May, with an Apple Snail in a talon, was aggressively pursued by a much more agile Red-winged Blackbird. I have given some thought to why Snail Kite have become so infrequently seen at Harns Marsh. The numerous trips to the Preserve these recent weeks (at the time of this publication) have been dedicated to primarily make observations of Crested Caracara.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

The caracara failed to make their expected flight path on my 15 September visit to Harns, as otherwise reported earlier, while two of the birds stayed within the boundary of the Marsh on its western fringe which I consider a good sign for their continued presence. A hot air balloon moving east to west flushed the caracara from their distant perch. Accomplished wildlife photographer, Bob Blanchard, was kayaking the Preserve's waters while making observations this day.


The hot air balloon above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The wildlife photographer above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

It has been my hope to know where the caracara go from their launching point since my first observation of them at Harns Marsh Preserve this year on 28 August. Attempting to anticipate their track, I was making observations at the intersection of Cemetery Road and Skates Circle (east) on 14 September, and then continued to Buckingham Community Park near downtown Fort Myers for my first ever observations at the park.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Killdeer above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The hot air balloon above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Tricolored heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

No caracara were observed outside of Harns Marsh on the 14th, but it was a thrill to observe Red-headed Woodpecker that Tom Obrock has reported occasionally in Alva, Florida, further inland. This sighting of the Red-headed Woodpecker was as far west I thought the species was seen in Lee County until Tom told me of a small family of the woodpeckers he has been observing adjacent to I-75.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Crested Caracara above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


Professional wildlife photographer, Bob Blanchard, above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Sandhill Crane above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

Back to my thoughts about the absence of Snail Kite at Harns Marsh Preserve, egg casings of Apple Snail are evident at Harns Marsh, so where are the Snail Kite? They are certainly to the immediate south where a female was observed with American Birding Association member and wildlife photographer, Hemant Kishan, on 2 September. A male was said to be in the same area that morning.


The Ribbon Snake above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The immature Little Blue Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Tricolored Heron above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The White Peacock butterfly above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Sandhill Crane above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

But why are the Snail Kite absent at Harns Marsh Preserve? Though prolific Limpkin feed on Apple Snails as well, competition from Limpkin for the specialized food source would seem to be negligible. Great Horned Owl and a handful of raptors share the air space over Harns Marsh throughout the seasons including Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier least so in the winter months, and most recently Crested Caracara.


The Sandhill Crane above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.


The Sandhill Crane above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in September 2013.

The Snail Kite above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in May 2013.

While it appears that Snail Kites have been ousted from Harns Marsh Preserve for now, my theory is that the Snail Kite is temporarily foregoing feeding at the Preserve with Red-winged Blackbird still in large numbers and acting in a protective nature of its young. The kites merely may be less tolerant of the blackbirds than the other large birds that ply their trade over the marsh. Your own opinions are certainly welcome.


The Snail Kite above was photographed at Harns Marsh Preserve in May 2013.

3 comments:

  1. Great analysis Bob. The snail kites have indeed been elusive. Great assortment of species in this post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Bob, you made a wonderful blog again. As I understood the snail kites don't show up? Hope you still are able to see them soon. Furthermore I enjoyed the pictures of the Pileated Woodpecker very much, it is a very funny bird to see. The pictures of the cranes are lovely.

    Enjoy your weekend,
    Marianne

    ReplyDelete
  3. Beautiful photos. I add you to my friends :)

    ReplyDelete