Hot Pink Summer at the Dry Tortugas

September 7th, 2013

As summer draws to a close at the Dry Tortugas National Park, several changes are happening in the bird world.

All but the very latest-fledging sooty terns and brown noddies have left Bush Key to head out over open ocean to their respective wintering grounds. You may see a stray young noddy still perching on the coaling dock ruins, but not for much longer.

The earliest of the fall migrants have begun to arrive, including shorebirds and passerines, such as ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, hooded warblers, prairie warblers, prothonotary warblers, American redstarts, ovenbirds, and even a stray common grackle.

My first sighting of a common grackle at the Park.

My first sighting of a common grackle at the Park.

Female hooded warbler, August 2013.

Female hooded warbler, August 2013.

Prothonotary warbler, August 2013.

Prothonotary warbler, August 2013.

Purple martin, August 2013.

Purple martin, August 2013.

One of the more exciting species to visit the park this summer was a trio of American flamingos that flew over the islands for an entire day at the end of July. They did not appear to land, but did continue to circle the park for several islands. This was quite exciting news for the park, as their appearance seems to be one of the first confirmed sightings of live individuals on record here.

American flamingo trio flying behind Fort Jefferson, 7.22.13.

American flamingo trio flying behind Fort Jefferson, 7.22.13.

Another close-up of these beautiful birds.

Another close-up of these beautiful birds.

Close-up of the AMFLs.

Close-up of the AMFLs.

With fall approaching, we can only keep our fingers crossed for a plentiful migration this year. For any birders planning on visiting the park this fall for migration, keep in mind that the once-permanent “bird fountain” of so many years past has still not been replaced in the parade ground, which could effect the success of migrating passerines and raptors that stop here. Feel free to contact the NPS with any questions about the status of the replacement fountain.

Swallow-Tailed Kite seen flying over the NPS dock on 7.22.13, the same day as the AMFL sighting. This is the first STKI I've documented at the Park.

Swallow-Tailed Kite seen flying over the NPS dock on 7.22.13, the same day as the AMFL sighting. This is the first STKI I’ve documented at the Park.

Enjoy and happy birding!

–Chelsea

 

 

 

Spring Migration Coming to a Fulfilling End

May 11th, 2013

Greetings Dry Tortugas birders,

I hope everyone made the most out of this year’s spring migration, and maybe some of you made the Dry Tortugas part of the experience.  We had a couple of late fronts that blew some exciting birds down at the park, including a fork-tailed flycatcher and over tw0-hundred yellow-billed cuckoos!

Fork-tailed flycatcher in late April  after a storm.

Fork-tailed flycatcher in late April after a storm.

There has also been a regular black noddy spotted on the Bush Key tern colony for the last couple of weeks, although that particular bird continues to elude me.

Keep an eye out for bridled terns on the ride to and from the park, as they have been regular sightings while underway, and the roseate terns have been regularly sighted from the south coaling dock ruins.

The late warblers to show up were quite beautiful, including yellow, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, magnolia, Tennessee, and Nashville.

Yellow warbler in the parade ground.

Yellow warbler in the parade ground.

Magnolia warbler near the south beach dunes.

Magnolia warbler near the south beach dunes.

Male chestnut-sided warbler at the temporary water source.

Male chestnut-sided warbler at the temporary water source.

Birders coming back for a repeat trip to the Dry Tortugas, keep in mind that the NPS has taken down the long-standing brick bird fountain from the parade ground, and temporarily replaced it with a small plastic container of fresh water. It’s no where near as large as the prior fountain, and the water does not flow, but it does seem to attract the smaller passerines. Please direct any questions about the fountain and it’s future to the National Park Rangers.

Male bay-breasted warbler in the parade ground.

Male bay-breasted warbler in the parade ground.

We also had an Antillean short-eared owl that was sighted several times over a tw0-week period in mid-April.

Antillean short-eared owl that stuck around for several weeks in mid-April.

Antillean short-eared owl that stuck around for several weeks in mid-April.

Also keep an eye out for continuing white-crowned pigeons, bobolinks, upland sandpipers, and a shiny cowbird this week!

Hope to see you out there!

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

Warblers, warblers, and more warblers!

April 13th, 2013

This supplemental post is dedicated entirely to the warbler migration through the Dry Tortugas National Park, which is one of the most spectacular in the country!

Warbler species seen this migration:

Palm

Prairie

Yellow-rumped

ovenbird

American redstart

Louisiana waterthrush

Northern waterthrush

black-and-white

blackpoll

Northern parula

worm-eating

blue-winged

prothonotary

hooded

yellow-throated

Enjoy the photos I’ve added of regular migrants seen in the last two weeks:

Profile of a blue-winged warbler in the parade ground.

Profile of a blue-winged warbler in the parade ground.

The blue-winged warbler was a particular favorite of mine, and is a less common visitor to the Dry Tortugas.

Female American redstart. No male observed yet.

Female American redstart. No male observed yet.

Worm-eating warbler foraging on a buttonwood tree in parade ground.

Worm-eating warbler foraging on a buttonwood tree in parade ground.

Pale palm warbler not quite in full breeding plumage.

Pale palm warbler not quite in full breeding plumage.

Look for the constant tail-bobbing of this funny little warbler, and note that they hang out in large groups and can be seen out in the open in the grass.

Northern waterthrush foraging in the camp site area leaf litter.

Northern waterthrush foraging in the camp site area leaf litter.

The waterthrushes, ovenbirds, worm-eating, and Swainson’s warblers all have similar feeding techniques: rustling through leaf litter on the ground under trees to turn up insects and larvae.

Black-and-white warbler in the parade ground.

Black-and-white warbler in the parade ground.

Blackpoll warbler in the parade ground.

Blackpoll warbler in the parade ground.

Beautiful northern parula on the heli-pad by the south beach.

Beautiful northern parula on the heli-pad by the south beach.

These multi-colored beauties are not shy of people and are not afraid to hop down to a low branch and sing right in front of you.

Male hooded warbler on the south helipad.

Male hooded warbler on the south helipad.

Female hooded warbler foraging in the parade ground.

Female hooded warbler foraging in the parade ground.

These are mostly early migrants, but the two later species yet to be seen at the Park include the Swainson’s warbler and black-throated blue warbler.

Happy birding!

–Chelsea B.

 

After last week’s cold front, the migrants keep coming

April 13th, 2013

Happy April, Dry Tortugas birders!

I hope everyone is having a fun and productive spring migration season this year. We haven’t even reached peak season out at Fort Jefferson yet, but even the casual birder is racking up at least 30-40 species in a day trip out to the Park right now.

The sooty tern chicks have hatched (according to NPS biologists), so the young birds should be fledgling and visible on the shorelines of Bush Key in the coming weeks.

I’ve posted some photos of regular migrants to the Dry Tortugas, and will post an additional warbler post dedicated to the colorful little birds.

One lonely glossy ibis has been hanging out with a large flock of cattle egrets in the parade ground, browsing for insects.

One lonely glossy ibis has been hanging out with a large flock of cattle egrets in the parade ground, browsing for insects.

On this gray kingbird, notice the bulkier overall size, heavier bill, and the head that lacks the distinctive black cap of the eastern kingbird.

First gray kingbird of the season. These tropical migrants will be nesting in the Keys during the spring and summer.

First gray kingbird of the season. These tropical migrants will be nesting in the Keys during the spring and summer.

The songbirds are bright, singing, and abundant in almost any tree in the parade ground or near the camp sites, and several accipiters are still present, including kestrels, merlins, and a pair of peregrines.

One of several merlins present for the last week in the parade ground. The resident kestrel is not too happy having to defend its territory against the marauders.

One of several merlins present for the last week in the parade ground. The resident kestrel is not too happy having to defend its territory against the marauders.

Male scarlet tanager seen last week in the parade ground.

Male scarlet tanager seen last week in the parade ground.

Male summer tanager has been present for at least a week.

Male summer tanager has been present for at least a week.

Notice the key difference between the eastern US’s two most common tanagers: the black wings present in the scarlet, and lacking in the summer.

The first observed yellow-billed cuckoo of the season.

The first observed yellow-billed cuckoo of the season.

A very elusive bird, they flush from the trees when startled, so you must look carefully for this well-camouflaged bird.

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker on a buttonwood in the parade gorund.

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker on a buttonwood in the parade ground.

Three unique birds seen (and confirmed by photograph) by other birders at DRTO but not by myself include: Antillean nighthawk, Antillean (or Arawak) owl, and American golden plover.

Good luck and hope to see you out at the beautiful Dry Tortugas!

Happy Florida Keys birding,

–Chelsea B.

Spring Migration is Here!

March 8th, 2013

 

Greetings Dry Tortugas birders!

I know it’s been a while, but after working out some technical difficulties, out bird blog is up and running again at full force, just in time for spring migration at the Dry Tortugas.

For birders new to this remote and beautiful national park, if you’re planning your spring trip, here are the Dry Tortugas specialties you’re guaranteed to see:

Masked Booby

Brown booby

Magnificent frigatebird

Brown noddy

Sooty tern

There has also been one confirmed sighting of a bridled tern mixed in with the sooty colony, but no black noddy sightings have been made as of yet.

I’ve posted below some photos of spring migrants from the last week, and hopefully there are many more to come.

Barn swallow flying over parade ground.

Barn swallow flying over parade ground.

Young male bunting sitting in first-tier casemate.

Young male bunting sitting in first-tier casemate.

Close-up of young male blue bunting, midway between juvenile and adult plumage.

Close-up of young male blue bunting, midway between juvenile and adult plumage.

Bonaparte's gull seen for several days in moat, eating bugs from between the bricks.

Bonaparte’s gull seen for several days in moat, eating bugs from between the bricks.

Close-up of winter Bonaparte's gull.

Close-up of winter Bonaparte’s gull.

Burrowing owl perched in first-tier case mate.

Burrowing owl perched in first-tier case mate.

Forster's tern in winter plumage, perched on south coal piling with two sandwich terns.

Forster’s tern in winter plumage, perched on south coal piling with two sandwich terns.

Northern parula perched on button wood in parade ground.

Northern parula perched on button wood in parade ground.

Adult peregrine falcon seen perching on Bush Key and flushing tern colony.

Adult peregrine falcon seen perching on Bush Key and flushing tern colony.

Beautiful royal tern on far left in full breeding plumage (full black cap).

Beautiful royal tern on far left in full breeding plumage (full black cap).

I hope these photos were both helpful and exciting for any birders planning to come visit the Dry Tortugas National Park. Happy birding and see you at Fort Jefferson!

–Chelsea B.

Happy New Year at the Tortugas! Sooties, Skimmers, and More!

January 28th, 2013

To all Dry Tortugas birders,

I wish you a happy new year and apologize you haven’t heard from me this year.

I’m happy to announce that Sunday, January 27th, marked the arrival of the first sooty terns of the season, and today was my first glimpse of the flock (~200 birds). The terns have not landed on Bush Key yet, and probably won’t for several more weeks, but they were circling in formation several hundred yards off-shore, and calling constantly throughout the day.

No sign yet of the brown noddies, but we may not have much longer to wait, since the spring season seems to be a few weeks ahead of schedule.

Other terns at DRTO include scores of royal terns, several sandwich terns, and a 25-30 bird flock of black skimmers. All three species can be seen perching on the south pilings.

 

Other regulars at the Park include a willet and whimbrel that hang out together, a lone kestrel, and plenty of palm and yellow-rumped warblers.

Also, not in the Park itself, but I did see two adult pomarine jaegers flying alongside the boat on the return to Key West. They were sighted east of the Marquesas Keys, in the Northwest Channel.

Razorbill Sightings Pepper Coast of Florida, Including Dry Tortugas

December 17th, 2012

It’s been exciting week in Florida for the birding world: scientists think that late aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy have caused record numbers of a large auk called a razorbill to be spotted along the East coast of Florida. Dozens of sightings in the last week have gotten birders excited, especially since there were only a handful of sightings of razorbills for the state of Florida since records started being kept.

Friday, I spotted and photographed a razorbill off S. Roosevelt in Key West, what I believe is the first-ever sighting in the city. Saturday, a razorbill was also spotted off the bow of the Yankee Freedom III when we pulled up to the dock at the Dry Tortugas! I did not photograph the bird at the Park, but the photos posted below are of the bird I saw in Key West, and represent part of this unique movement of north Atlantic seabirds to south Florida.

Wonderful profile of the large black-and-white auk; note the white line at the edge of the secondary feathers, as well as the thick bill.

White underwings visible in this shot. Keep in mind that this bird is also in winter plumage.

These birds dive for fish and other food items, so they will frequently paddle around on the surface with their faces in the water to locate prey.

Did not see the bird at the DRTO on Sunday, but who knows if another sighting may happen while the birds are still down south.

Happy birding and have a safe and happy holidays!

–Chelsea B.

Red-breasted merganser stops by for a visit

December 2nd, 2012

Latest in birding news at the Dry Tortugas,

A female red-breasted merganser has spent the last 48 hours paddling around on the northeast side of the island, between Garden Key and Bush Key. She’s been swimming and feeding in very visible areas, and is quite a beautiful bird. I’ve posted several photos of the hen below.

Beautiful profile of the female red-breasted merganser.

Typical foraging behavior of mergansers, scanning beneath the water for small fish and crustaceans.

Great shot of the merg hen, just as a wave rolled by, obscuring everything but her head.

Lots of royal and sandwich terns are still around for the winter, and today, I saw one very big royal tern chick (indistinguishable from the adults) incessantly begging off of one of its parents. The poor adult was trying its best to ignore the chick, which it had no intention of feeding, but the chick continued to make pathetic chirps for minutes. Quite a sight!

Very big baby royal tern, begging (unsuccessfully) to a parent on the South helipad.

Royal tern parent is not impressed.

One lone American kestrel also remains at the Park, seen regularly flying within and outside Fort Jefferson.

Lone American kestrel hanging out around the camp grounds.

That’s all to report for now.

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

Winter Regulars Sticking Around

November 30th, 2012

Howdy DRTO birders,

Not too much to report in the last couple of days, but the good old stand by winter birds are sticking around.

I’ve had a lone young herring gull that showed up for a couple of days, dwarfing the numerous laughing gulls in the Park.

This young herring gull was paddling around the boat the other day.

The sanderlings are finally starting to arrive, who seem to really enjoy shadowing their larger cousins, the ruddy turnstones. I got a nice shot of one sanderling foraging among a group of turnstones near the Park Service dock.

One lone sanderling keeping company with a group of ruddy turnstones.

A couple other photos I thought that were worth sharing include a juvenile brown pelican taking a nap in a funny pose on one of the south pilings, as well as a grouping of our three tern species on a single piling: note the royal, sandwich, and Forster’s terns.

Very sleepy juvenile brown pelican on the South pilings, complete with leg sticking out to the side.

Another nice shot of the size comparisons between the three most common terns at the Fort (largest to smallest): Royal terns, sandwich terns, and two Forster's terns.

Any future rare sightings, I’ll be sure to report to y’all!

Happy birding and see you at the Tortugas,

–Chelsea B.

Several Surprise Songbirds Seen in Parade Ground

November 26th, 2012

Today at the Fort,

I spotted a few passerines in the Parade Ground that I was not expecting to see so late after fall migration. The usual palm warblers and female American redstarts were among the songbirds seen today.

Winter-plumage yellow-rumped warbler.

An unsuspected visitor was a female scarlet tanager, whose bright yellow body was a stark contrast from her black wings.

Female scarlet tanager, perched in a buttonwood inside the Fort.

I’m also excited to report the arrival of the first black skimmer of the fall to the Park. The funny-looking large tern with the oversized lower mandible spent most of the time I observed it loafing on the south coal pilings. Hopefully more skimmers will soon follow.

First black skimmer of the season, keeping a laughing gull company on the south coal pilings.

I’ll keep you posted on any and all new arrivals this winter.

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

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