At 4am my alarm rang. I was headed to Lykes Bros. near the western edge of Lake Okeechobee’s Fisheating Creek. Here were gathered, for their annual assembly, thousands of roosting Swallow-tailed Kites. As a kid, growing up in Stuart, I don’t remember ever seeing these, gorgeous, black and white birds, but today they can be seen gliding almost everywhere: over the woodlands on the side of I-95, around the edge of the Indian River Lagoon, and near Lake Okeechobee. No matter where I see them, time stops. Their graceful beauty surreal, their sharp forked tails unforgettable. These large dove-like birds are raptors in the family of hawks and owls, but eating mostly insects.
–Credit: Audubon image, Swallow-tailed KiteYesterday, Lykes Bros., one of Florida’s largest landowners, invited me to visit their land and water resource project, Nicodemus Slough, where an estimated 2500-5000 swallow-tailed kites are roosting. This only occurs sometime between July and August before the birds migrate 10,000 miles to Central and South America. Thank you to Lyke’s Noah Handley, Director of Engineering and Land Management, for being the guide of this field-trip. Thank you to Lykes Bros. for giving shelter and protection to Florida’s wildlife. It was a sight to see. In the early morning hours the birds sat quietly. As the day warmed up, one at a time, they rose in groups of up to a thousand flying like a vortex in the thermals, calling to each other, finally dispersing. A memory for a lifetime! Today I share my photos of this special day.
-A video and close ups of hundreds of dying oak trees where the swallow-tailed kites are roosting. The trees are dying because these lands are being brought back to their natural wetland status inside 15, 858 acres of Nicodemus Slough, a section that the Herbert Hoover Dike had destroyed. My phone camera only captured what was in front of me. This scene went on for miles. Video in slow motion and not the best quality, but it gives the best idea of the extensive area the birds were in.
-Kathy LaMartina, SFMWD Region Representative listens to Lykes Bros Director, Noah Handley explain how the company supports wildlife like the swallow-tailed kites. Researchers and scientist study and learn about their not totally understood 10,000 mile migration. -Part of the Herbert Hoover Dike between Fisheating Creek and Lykes Bros. -Noah Handley and JTL –This cypress wood carving shows better than any map where Lykes Bros.’ extensive land holdings exists and where the roosting area of the swallow-tailed kite exist.