Greetings Dry Tortugas birders!
A lot has happened out here in the last two weeks, so to do the birds justice, this will be the first of a two-part entry to catch you up. Here, I’d like to catch everyone up on what’s going on outside of the parade ground. I’ll let you know what’s going on coming into the park, on the surrounding islands, and on Garden Key.
For those of you coming out to the Tortugas for the four big breeding species, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. On the way into the park, the nesting masked booby colony is still clearly visible on Hospital Key, and we’ve even had some of the birds fly close to the boat for a better look. Unfortunately, the brown boobies that are usually seen on the channel markers in the park have not been spotted in several weeks.
The magnificent frigatebirds are both a common and impressive constant sight out here, whether above their nesting colony on Long Key or soaring above Fort Jefferson like some ancient pterodactyl. Frequently, immature frigatebirds (white heads) can be seen flying overhead with nesting material in their bills, most likely emulating their parents for when they, too, reach breeding age.
Beautiful juvenile frigatebird "practicing" with nesting material.
Bush Key is certainly the life of the party these days. The island is literally alive with thousands of sooty terns and brown noddies. Many of the birds have chosen nesting sites, although thousands of them can still be seen swarming the island at any given time of day. The calls of the sooty terns can be heard constantly from any point inside Fort Jefferson. Keep an eye out for two or three large white shapes flying among the colony, however, as herring gulls constantly patrol Bush Key, looking for nests filled with eggs, or, better yet, young terns.
Bush Key teeming with terns. Note the lone cattle egret walking in front of the sign.
In the last two weeks, I’ve seen a brief visit by a yellow-crowned night heron, who did not stick around long enough for a photograph, as well as two great blue herons. An adult and a juvenile great blue have stuck around the fort for the last week, possibly blown in from some recent strong winds. The birds have been seen on the tip of Bush Key closest to the seaplane beach, on the actual seaplane beach, an on the north helicopter pad. The first few cattle egrets of the summer have made an appearance as well, as you could see from the above shot of Bush Key.
The young great blue heron on the seaplane beach.
Can you spot the great blue heron blending in with the ruined wall on the North beach?
The other species I’ve been keeping you informed are all still here, if in fewer numbers: laughing and herring gulls, royal and sandwich terns, black skimmers, double-crested cormorants, and ruddy turnstones. I’m still seeing the willet every day, although the other half of the duo (the lone whimbrel) is now only an occasional sighting.
And for your viewing pleasure, I thought I’d include some great action shots of pelicans working the North swim beach for lunch. The shots here are of an adult breeding pelican, hanging out on the north side of the moat wall with two juveniles. The adult would very methodically fly off the wall, circle above the north side of the fort, then dive ten-twenty yards off the swim beach. A minute or two later, each of the juveniles would follow suit, clearly still learning the ropes of a successful dive. Though these birds may not be the most unique or coveted species for birders visiting the Dry Tortugas, they have an incredible natural history and beauty all their own.
The three musketeers on the north moat wall. This adult is schooling the two juveniles behind him on the right way to dive for fish!
The adult before stooping into a dive. He's spotted the fish he wants!
The first turn into the stoop...
Hurtling like a rocket towards the water!
We have contact!
Juvenile scouting the terrain.
The three musketeers looking for lunch.
Part two (songbirds) coming soon!
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