Fallout Delights Birdwatchers!!

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Spring bird watching in the Dry Tortugas is always good but once every couple of years a major lightning storm especially during the evening hours will cause literally hundreds of migrants to search out any point of land.  This happened on Tuesday evening April 14, 2009 and the Dry Tortugas was flooded with birds.  Warblers, thrushes, buntings, cuckoos and falcons to name a few.  Good bird watching turns into a birder’s paradise and stayed so for several days.

The campground area of Garden Key was especially rewarding.  An Acadian Flycatcher cruised the buttonwoods.  There ground was covered by Gray-cheeked, Swainson’s, and Wood Thrush, and Veery as well.  Warblers were everywhere – a list follows but Blue-winged warbler topped the list.  Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Summer and Scarlet Tanangers amazed the campers.

Inside Fort Jefferson an Upland Sandpiper patrolled the paradeground.  Merlins were everywhere (at least 7 were counted) as well as Peregrine and Kestrel.  The brightly colored birds – Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet and Summer Tanangers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak feared for their lives.  A Pectoral Sandpiper landed in the open grass of the parade ground and lasted all of 15 minutes before becoming lunch for the Merlin.

Carefully looking through each tree in the parade ground and sitting at the bird fountain revealed Sora Rail, Green Heron, lots of Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Bobolink, White and Red Eyed, Black Whiskered and even Yellow-Throated  Vireos.  And the list goes on.

Cruising the skies were Barn, Tree, Bank, Cliff and Northern Roughwinged Swallows, Chimney Swifts and Purple Martins.  Raptors flew also – the previously mentioned Falcons, Cooper’s, Shar-Shinned and Broad-Winged Hawks, Northern Harrier, and even Swallow-Tailed Kite.

Masked Booby over Middle Key

Masked Booby over Middle Key

Masked Booby over Middle Key

Masked Booby over Middle Key

On a sad note – the Masked Booby colony nesting on Middle Key this season had a nesting failure – the eggs over washed by a spring storm.  However, on a brighter note over 81 birds were counted – a new record for the Dry Tortugas and considering that in the early 1980s only a few pair of Masked Booby were first recorded breeding in the Tortugas – good progress is being made with nesting success.  It will be interesting to watch the health of Hospital and Middle Keys in terms of sand accumulation this summer.  An additional bright note – visits to Middle Key by the Yankee Freedom II to observe the Masked Booby have revealed large numbers of Brown Booby on the island as well.

On Bush Key the Sooty Colony appears to be doing quite well.  Many of the earliest chick are close to fledging and in many areas of the island more Sootys are still laying eggs.  The Noddy Terns are just starting to hatch the first chicks this week (April 20th).

Noddy Terns on Nest with Egg

Noddy Terns on Nest with Egg

Noddy Tern on Nest – Note Shell Decorations

Noddy Tern on Nest – Note Shell Decorations

Noddy Tern with Newborn Chick

Noddy Tern with Newborn Chick

Noddy Tern on New Chick (note broken shell in foreground from recent hatching)

Noddy Tern on New Chick (note broken shell in foreground from recent hatching)

Noddy Tern Chick

Noddy Tern Chick

Pelicans are finally nesting again – 7 nests in mangrove debris.  These birds have not nested since 2004 because of storm damage in the summer of 2005.

Brown Pelican on Nest (note beautiful breeding color)

Brown Pelican on Nest (note beautiful breeding color)

Cape May Warbler on Sea Grape Flower

Cape May Warbler on Sea Grape Flower

Warblers observed April 14-20, 2009:
Blue-Winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-Crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Blackthroated Blue Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Yellowthroated Warbler
Prarie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black and White Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Hooded Warbler

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