Archive for the ‘Dry Tortugas National Park’ Category

Slight front out of SW blows in killdeer, barn swallows

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Hi everyone, I hope those of you visiting in the Lower Keys this week are taking advantage of the warmer weather, and consequently, smoother days on the water.  The last week has given the Yankee Freedom II several very calm, clear days en route to the Dry Tortugas. Hopefully, we will start to see more and more of these days on a weekly basis.

Between the 17th and 18th of February, however, a slight front from the south moved across the Tortugas, slightly cooling the temperatures, and bringing with it some new avian visitors to Garden Key. I got a good look at a lone killdeer wading along the brick rubble on the eastern side of the Fort, and saw a pair of barn swallows flitting in front of the sally port for several minutes as well.  Neither species seemed to stay long, as I did not see them again over the next few days.

Lone killdeer seen on the eastern side of the Fort after the southern front. I only observed it for one day.

The sooty terns and brown noddies have now completely overtaken Bush Key, which gives some eager birders ample opportunities to check two unique species off their life lists.  Many of both species can now be seen settling on the island, courting and looking for potential nesting sites.  The sooties tend to nest in scrapes in the sand, whereas the noddies prefer to be slightly above the ground, making messy nests of sargassum and sea grass in the scrub a foot or two above the ground.

I’m seeing double-crested cormorants on an almost daily basis these days, usually sleeping or nesting on the south coaling dock ruins.

A double-crested cormorant winnowing on one of the south dock ruins. Winnowing is the process cormorants and anhingas use to dry their wings after a dive for fish, since they lack the well-developed preen gland to waterproof their feathers.

The south docks are also still reliable spots for sighting:

  • Laughing gull
  • Herring gull (1 or 2)
  • Brown pelican
  • Royal tern
  • Sandwich tern
  • Black skimmer

Unique shot showing the resting behavior of the black skimmer, whose large bill and head is easier to rest on the ground for long periods of time.

I’m sad to say I’ve only seen our friends the willet and whimbrel once in the last week. Perhaps they’ve moved from their usual haunt on the south helipad to another shore or island, or they have moved on to find their own breeding grounds. Either way, I would not consider either bird a sure thing in the coming days, but I will keep you posted.

The parade ground is still rather stark, but you’re likely to see:

  • Eurasian collared dove
  • Palm warbler
  • American kestrel (1)

The magnificent frigatebirds are still carrying nesting material back to the nests on a daily basis.

Close-up of an adult male magnificent frigatebird carrying nesting material back to Long Key.

I’ve seen more than one brown pelican molting into breeding plumage, whereby the white feathers on the back of the neck are traded out for a black, then deep red color.

This is a brown pelican going through the molt transition of the solid white neck to what will soon be a rusty red color. The short, under feathers seen here are black.

More to come next week, but until then, happy birding!

–Chelsea B.

The Brown Noddies have Arrived

Friday, February 17th, 2012

The last week has been quite exciting as the sooty terns continue to swarm over Bush Key, in numbers now well into the thousands.  They have recently been joined by their less-vocal breeding ground neighbors, the brown noddies.  These elegant terns are covered in uniform chocolate-brown feathers, only interrupted by a small white “cap” on the tops of their heads. The noddies and sooties both nest on Bush Key during breeding season, so they aren’t always easy to tell apart at a distance, given their similar size and build.

Bush Key may be closed to visitors, but it's just opening for business for these guys!

Keep in mind that the noddy is more comfortable on the ground at this point than the sooty, either on the shoreline or in the vegetation; most of the sooties still spend the majority of the day vocalizing and flying over the island.  In flight, the sooty has a stark white underside that contrasts dramatically with its “sooty” back, making it easy to distinguish from the dark brown underbelly of the noddy.

A couple of interesting yet brief visitors to Fort Jefferson this week were a pair of northern rough-winged swallows that made one pass in front of the sally port and were not seen again; a belted kingfisher also flew by the dock just as the boat was heading back to Key West one afternoon as well.

The brown boobies are still very reliably perched on Iowa Rock (green channel marker #3) almost every morning and afternoon, and the masked boobies are in the full-swing of breeding season over on Hospital Key—two great lifers for many avid birders.

Several other species seen on an almost daily basis at Garden Key:

  • Magnificent frigatebird
  • Laughing gull
  • Herring gull
  • Royal tern
  • Sandwich tern

I just liked the nice size comparison here of a sandwich tern (foreground) to the two behemoth royal terns in the background. The "mustard-dipped" tip of the sandwich's bill is nicely visible in this shot as well.

  • Black skimmer
  • Ruddy turnstone
  • Willet
  • Whimbrel
  • Eurasian collared dove

Eurasian collared dove stopping for a drink at the bird fountain in the Parade Ground. These birds are much larger than their mourning dove cousins, and are actually an invasive species in the United States (hence the name).

  • Palm warbler (winter phase)

Palm warbler in winter plumage showing distinctive yellow undertail coverts and white eye stripe. Keep an ear out for their chipping in the parade ground, and watch for the constant tail "bobbing."

  • American kestrel

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. Hope to see you out at the Tortugas!

Happy birding.

–Chelsea B.

May Bird Blog

Monday, July 19th, 2010

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

This Brown Noddy built the largest nest I have ever seen with lots of seaweed and sticks Masked Booby birds with eggs on Hospital Key

May Bird Blog

May is a month I normally spend in Alaska, but this summer I elected to stay on the Yankee Freedom II as a naturalist until Mid-July, returning in early September. I am excited to see the Masked Booby chicks grow and to see the Roseate and Bridled terns nest, but probably most excited to watch the Sooty terns prepare their chicks for departure to the waters off Africa where these young birds will live over the open ocean eating fish and drinking seawater for three to five years.


Migration is commencing Sooty Tern are hatching

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Week of February 14th: Snipe were consistently sited in the Parade Ground. A few Killdeer were arriving as well. Masked Booby birds appeared to be nesting on Hospital Key. The first Prairie Warbler was spotted on February 16th. I saw lots of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, especially in the Parade Ground. (more…)

Summertime at the Dry Tortugas – Update

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
Bridled tern egg at the Dry Tortugas.

Bridled tern egg at the Dry Tortugas.

Thunderstorms and early morning downpours bring a deluge of birds to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Fall migration is well underway and these early morning storms bring to the ground an interesting array of birds. (more…)

– Black Noddy Tern Sightings –

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Debra Hess

Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Noddy Tern with Baby Chick Noddy Tern with Chick

Noddy Terns with Egg Noddy Terns

The northeast coaling docksat the Dry Tortugas National Park have been yielding daily sightings of Black Noddy Terns. (more…)

Spring Migration Underway

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Warblers are starting their northbound spring treks and bird watching activity is increasing dramatically in the Dry Tortugas National Park. The last week in February brought our first Ruby Throated Hummingbird of 2008, with many more to follow. Several Northern Parula Warblers, Blue Grey Gnatcatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Palm Warblers have been seen. Herons and egrets are moving north. Numerous Black-bellied Plovers and even a Belted Kingfisher were observed the first two days of March. We also sighted a Yellow Throated Warbler and a Cape May Warbler.


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