Archive for November, 2012

Winter Regulars Sticking Around

Friday, 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

Monday, 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.

Unusual sea-duck spotted at DRTO!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

One of the most exciting birds I’ve seen at the Tortugas all year is the arrival of a female black scoter yesterday. This is a species of completely oceanic duck that only sees land to breed. A lone female hung around the harbor all day yesterday. I managed to get a nice shot of her as she swam past the boat.

My first sighting of a female black scoter at the Park!

The whimbrel has decided to join the willet back at the fort, which was nice to see.

The whimbrel has arrived. This photo was taken on the dinghy beach on the south side of the island.

I also managed a nice comparison shot of several royal terns, a sandwich tern, and the little Forster’s tern, all of which were perched on the same piling. One banded royal tern was just trying to land on the same piling, and scared off the lone sandwich tern.

Left to right: sandwich tern, three royal terns, and the tiny little Forster's tern on the right. Note the band on the left leg of the landing royal tern.

Happy Thanksgiving and happy birding!

–Chelsea B.

Plovers stop over, gannets on the way

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Now that the fall and winter seasons are approaching, this means we’re seeing much more shore bird activity out at the Fort, as well as sea bird activity en route to and from the Park. I saw a flock of about forty northern gannets feeding out by Ballast Key this evening, and managed to snap a shot of this adult in flight.

Northern gannet feeding in the Gulf near Ballast Key, one of a larger flock seen today.

I’ve seen two winter-plumage piping plovers together, trying their best to be inconspicuous on the south coaling pier platform. Note the lack of black banding that is more characteristic of the breeding plumage birds. If you manage to see them up close at the Fort, listen carefully for their little whistle-like alarm calls.

Two winter-adult piping plovers, note the bright orange legs, stubby black bill and lack of black neck bands.

I also captured a nice shot of an adult male resident frigatebird flying overhead with a piece of nesting material; this was one of several I saw today exhibiting similar behavior.

Male frigatebird carrying nesting material.

The windy days have been blowing in some interesting birds, including a flock of 300 + turkey vultures that took refuge in the Fort last night to roost. They were gone early this morning.

Keep your eyes to the skies.

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

Shore birds and sea birds abound!

Friday, November 16th, 2012

This week, we’ve had some exciting activity from several species of sea bird and shore birds at the Dry Tortugas. The magnificent frigatebird colony on Long Key is gearing up for breeding season, as many of the males can be seen flying overhead with their throat pouches inflated.

Male magnificent frigatebird flying over the Fort, displaying a not-fully-inflated throat pouch.

I’ve also managed to snap some shots of two winter-plumage Forster’s terns, seen on the south coal pilings, hidden among the numerous sandwich and royal terns. The Forster’s are much smaller than the smallest sandwich tern, and lack the black cap that the sandwich terns exhibit all year long.

One of the dainty Forster's tern in winter plumage; note the dark eye patch, dark bill, and dark red legs. Much smaller than the other terns at the Park.

Our trusty willet is back for yet another fall and winter season, and while it’s been seen on a daily basis, his constant companion last year, the whimbrel, has only been seen on occasion.

Winter willet, possibly the same bird from last year at the Tortugas.

In passing, there have been several stop-over flocks of winter-plumage black-bellied plovers, usually seen gathering on the south pier heli-pad.

Medium-sized flock of black-bellied plovers resting on the edge of the south helicopter pad. Their traditional black "bellies" have been replaced by their winter whites.

Only time will tell what the rest of the winter winds will bring in.

happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

Some late raptor migrants linger at Fort

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

This week at Fort Jefferson, a handful of raptors are still visible on a daily basis. An American kestrel, cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, and female northern harrier were all spotted in the last twenty-four hours.

The last large (presumable female) cooper's hawk seen patrolling the parade ground.

I’ve posted two photos of the harrier that show the white rump patch that helps sex the bird as a female, as well as a profile photo depicting the distinctive owl-like facial “disc” of feathers unique to the harrier in the hawk world.

Shot of the female harrier flying away, showing the stark white rump patch.

Profile of the female harrier, note the indentation of facial feathers, or "disc," which is used to aid in sight hunting.

The photo of the white-winged doves shows two clean profiles of the birds as they were milling about the parade ground. They are easily distinguished from mourning doves by their lack of black spots and stark white wing edges.

Two of the four white-winged doves seen in the parade ground yesterday and today, the white wing patches visible on each bird.

Hope these photos help in your identification quest of birds of the Dry Tortugas.

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

Burrowing owl, merlins, and kestrels bring a great end to fall migration

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

So we’ve had a lot going on in the last couple of months at the Dry Tortugas National Park. Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy put a damper on the Park, briefly halting all commercial transport out, but the weather has taken a turn for the better, cooling down in the low seventies in the last week with a nice breeze. This has made soaring quite easy for the raptors that remain out at the fort, late migrants.

I’ve seen a female harrier, peregrine falcons, merlins, kestrels, and cooper’s hawks in the last couple of weeks. I even saw the remains of a kestrel in the parade ground, most likely predated by a cooper’s hawk of merlin.

Peregrine falcon perched on the tower.

Cooper's hawk cruising over the parade ground.

American kestrel perched on the top tier of the Fort.

However, the most exciting recent sighting was the return of a lone burrowing owl that hadn’t been seen since December of 2010 at the Park. As of last Wednesday, the bird was roosting peacefully in the main powder magazine, clearly visible when you walked into the magazine.

Burrowing owl perched inside the main powder magazine.

Hopefully the beautiful little bird sticks around for a few more days.

More updates to come.

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.


Copyright © 2016 Dry Tortugas, Bird Blog. All rights reserved.