Archive for April, 2012

Front out of the NW blows in dozens of migrants; warblers abound!

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Hi there Dry Tortugas birders! It’s been a long time, but it seems that for now, the wind and the waves have subsided. The Yankee stayed docked for two days last week due to high winds and dangerous storms, which dampened the Fort a little but also paid off big for birders.  While it had seemed that spring migration was coming to a close across the Dry Tortugas, it seemed that the wind and rain dropped down one last hurrah of migrants.

There was a slew of new warblers, other passerines, raptors, and shorebirds. On the shoreline, right next to the NPS docks mostly, lesser yellowlegs, semipalmated sandpipers, least sandpipers, and even a Baird’s sandpiper have been seen for several days straight. There was even a constant sighting of a leucistic male hooded warbler (seen and confirmed by many seasoned birders) hopping around under the two bridges connecting the dock to the beach.

Profile of a semipalmated sandpiper on the beach near the NPS dock. In this shot, the slight webbing (semi-palmated) between the toes of the bird are easily seen. The least sandpiper can be distinguished from this bird by its yellow legs and lack of webbing.

I was also pleased to hear from some of our birding campers that a black noddy was sighted two evenings in a row. This bird was not sighted during the day when the boat was there, but later on in the evening, after all of our passengers departed; sighted once on the north coaling dock ruins, and once on the tip of Bush Key near the land bridge.

Inside the Fort, we had a handful of peregrine falcons and merlins, which have been dining on the migrating passerines with relish; we even had a merlin take a fully-grown sora last week! Our smaller, resident kestrel seems to have finally moved on.

Great shot of a merlin taking flight from a snag. Take a look at the talons on this bird, perfect for snagging passerines out of the parade ground.

Baltimore and orchard orioles, scarlet and summer tanagers, bobolinks, dickcissels, and blue and rose-breasted grosbeaks made up the majority of the larger passerines, although male and female indigo and painted buntings were a colorful addition to the mix as well.

Beautiful close-up of a male scarlet tanager, almost out of his molt, perched on the bird fountain.

Close-up of the bright orange breast of this male Baltimore oriole, hanging out around the fountain.

One of several male bobolinks that came in with the storm. Keep an eye out for the flock of dickcissels out there as well.

Profile of a male rose-breasted grosbeak at the fountain.

Notice the Tennessee warbler and gray catbird that were also hanging around the fountain.

There’s been a swarm of ruby-throated hummingbirds move into the parade ground, and they have been observed feeding from the sea grape blossoms.

Fat little veery perched in the tree above the bird fountain. The veery has almost no spotting on its breast compared to the gray-cheeked or Swainson's.

Two eastern kingbirds perched in a snag. They have been seen around along with one or two gray kingbirds.

This rock dove has been hanging out at the Fort for the last week. The banding may indicate that this bird is a homing pigeon that lost its way during the storms last week. It's been spending a lot of time on the Yankee.

In terms of warblers, the pickings have been great:

palm, prairie, blackpoll, hooded, common yellowthroat, Cape May, northern parula, worm-eating, Swainson’s, ovenbird, yellow, Tennessee, black and white, northern waterthrush, prothonotary, and american redstart, to name a few.

profile of a male yellow warbler at the bird fountain

Female prothonotary warbler at the top of a buttonwood tree in the parade ground.

Perky little northern waterthrush hopping around near the fountain; several were also seen on the beach near the NPS dock.

Beautiful close-up of a male Cape May warbler in the sea grapes.

In other news, the brown boobies have been sighted pretty regularly on Iowa Rock (green channel marker #3) for the last week, so keep your eyes open on the ride into the park.

I’m sure as the days progress, these migrants will slowly make their way to their respective breeding grounds, but while they’re here, happy birding!

–Chelsea B.

Spring Migration is in Full Swing!

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Happy spring migration, Dry Tortugas birders!

Things couldn’t be more exciting out here this week. The warblers just keep coming in, as well as a few other exciting songbirds.

So far, regular migrant sightings in the parade ground include:

  1. black-and-white warbler
  2. Swainson’s warbler
  3. worm-eating warbler
  4. palm warbler
  5. prairie warbler
  6. yellow-rumped warbler
  7. hooded warbler
  8. common yellowthroat
  9. northern parula
  10. prothonotary warbler
  11. ovenbird
  12. eastern wood pewee
  13. orchard oriole
  14. scarlet tanager
  15. summer tanager
  16. rose-breasted grosbeak
  17. white-winged dove
  18. barn swallow
  19. northern rough-winged swallow
  20. cave swallow
  21. cliff swallow
  22. merlin
  23. peregrine falcon

…and many more!

This little Swainson's was more than happy to pose for my camera to get this shot!

This is a great shot showing the foraging behavior of the busy little Swainson's warbler, notice the overall tawny color and dark eye stripe.

This Swainson’s warbler was a life bird for me, and I’ve been able to see it several times in the last week. The best spot for viewing this bird, and most of the other warblers, is by sitting on the benches under the buttonwood trees by the bird fountain.

A constant summertime sighting for the Tortugas, these ovenbirds are not nearly as shy as the ones heard out in the woods on the mainland. They have quite the outgoing personality here!

Beautiful black and white warbler on the benches across from the visitor's center.

These outgoing little black-and-white warblers can be tracked down by listening for their “squeaky wheel” call in the parade ground.

A side shot of this wonderful backyard bird.

You can’t mistake this male grosbeak for any other songbird when you see that stark red patch on his chest!

Here's a nice shot of the male rose-breasted grosbeak perched high up in the gumbo-limbo tree near Dr. Mudd's cell.

Here’s a scruffy male indigo bunting that’s been out at the Fort for a few weeks, and just can’t seem to get his molt under control…

Here's a molting indigo bunting spotted for the last couple of weeks in the parade ground; at the bird fountain in this shot.

Here's the best shot I could I could get of one of the shy orchard orioles hanging out around the bird fountain. Compare this dark, rusty color to the brighter orange of the Baltimore oriole.

Another surprise out at the Fort for me, there are at least two orchard orioles hanging out in the buttonwoods by the bird fountain. This one came down as close as the benches for me to photograph for a split second.

Sleeping nighthawk (most likely a common) on a snag above the benches in the parade ground.

I was even lucky enough to get a look at a sleeping nighthawk last week, waiting for night to fall so it could take flight and chow down on thousands of insects!

Here's a nice close-up of one of the four white-winged doves that I've been seeing in the parade ground in the last week.

This white-winged dove can be distinguished from the similar mourning dove by the squared off, ruddy tail, the lack of wing spots, and the obvious white trim on the wings, visible in flight and when perched.

One of the many merlin sightings out at the park these days.

The abundance of warblers at the Park these days has attracted a fair number of bird-eating raptors, such as: merlins, peregrines, and sharp-shinned hawks.

Although these are a year-round sighting at the Fort, take a look at the breeding vs. non-breeding ruddy turnstones. The bird on the far left is in breeding plumage, i.e. bright orange and black.

Even our plucky resident ruddy turnstones have molted into their brighter breeding plumes.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some fantastic birders from around the country and the world in the last month, and I can only say thanks for what I have learned from them, and hope that I can share my knowledge with birders in the same way, through these entries.

Happy birding and see you soon!

–Chelsea B.


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