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