Cold front a sign of good things to come?

Hi there Tortugas birders! Sorry it’s been a couple of weeks since my last entry, we’ve just had a cold front move through the Keys and Tortugas for the last week, which caused the Yankee to cancel her trip more than once. Sea conditions were just not safe enough to venture all the way out to the park.  My last day out at the park was Monday, which I realize was four days ago, but I’d still like to let you know what’s been trending out there in the last two weeks.

The sooty terns and brown noddies are quite active right now, and many of both species have started landing on Garden Key at their carefully chosen nest sites. I’ve even had the pleasure of seeing brown noddies resting on both the South and North coaling dock pilings.

The first noddy I saw landed on a piling, at the South docks. What a beautiful bird!

I even believe a couple of passengers spotted a lone black noddy sitting on the beach of Garden Key with some brown noddies several days ago. I only heard of this report, and have been keeping an eye out for it since, but with the number of birds on the island, it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Two brown noddies relaxing and preening on the North coaling dock ruins.

Last week, I did have an adult black-crowned night heron show up unexpectedly on the south pilings.  He only stayed for a short time, but that just goes to show that you should always be on the lookout for the unexpected visitor out there.

The visiting black-crowned night heron, perched on a lone piling at the south dock ruins.

Profile of the same BCNH. very nice contrast here with the water in the background.

Things are starting to get more exciting in the parade ground.  A pair of gray catbirds has been hanging around for the last week; they are usually seen chasing each other through the buttonwoods around the bird fountain. I have also seen quite a few northern parulas, both in the parade ground and around the camping area as well. On Monday, I did see an unidentified flycatcher near the bird fountain.  It stayed there for maybe five seconds then took off, but it appeared about the size of a least flycatcher but had much more yellow plumage than a least.

I had a birder report a sighting of a male indigo bunting in the parade ground, and although I did not see it personally, his photographs showed a mid-molt male indigo quite clearly.

There have also been between 4-6 barn swallows flitting around the moat and in the parade ground.  Their deeply forked tails, bluish backs and ruddy underbellies make them easy id’s even when they are zipping around at a hundred miles an hour.

The pilings on the south side are still reliable for sighting:

Brown pelicans, laughing gulls, herring gulls, royal terns, sandwich terns, black skimmers, and double-crested cormorants.

The willet and whimbrel are back at the south helipad, and don’t seem to be going anywhere, despite their several-day hiatus during my last entry.

For those of you coming out looking for life birds, the sooties and noddies are not difficult to hear or spot with the naked eye, but I wouldn’t come out here without a good pair of binocs or a nice scope to get a look at the timid masked boobies on Hospital Key.

Hope to see some of you out here this week, and fingers crossed for some new birds that came down with the cold front.  Happy birding!

–Chelsea

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