Fall Birding at the Dry Tortugas

by: Deb

Fall birding in the Dry Tortugas has been outstanding. More bird watchers should take advantage of the excellent sightings in the Dry Tortugas in the Fall. Just about every trip this Fall yielded a good bird or more. Not as dramatic as Spring migration, this Fall has been consistently active with rains grounding numerous unusual sightings.

On September 28, 2008 the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife had a field trip to the Dry Tortugas led by outstanding South Florida birder Larry Manfreidi (www.southfloridabirding.com) and 60 species of bird were sighted including 16 species of Warbler

, Least and American Bitterns, all 3 species of Atlantic Falcons, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, and more (a complete listing follows at the end of this article). Calm seas for pelagic sightings of Booby birds (Masked and Brown) and many life sightings for field trip participants in the Dry Tortugas made this day a tremendous success.

Late September and October was an excellent period for migrating warblers – over 20 species were recorded this fall, but my favorite fall migrant (an unusual sight in the Spring) is the Eastern Wood Pewee. The quiet yet distinct call of this bird is heard around the parade ground of Fort Jefferson every Fall. Both Least and American Bittern sightings occurred for well over 2 weeks – the Least Bittern – a most pleasant surprise in the Buttonwood trees surround the bird fountain at Fort Jefferson.

An usual event this fall was the arrival of 2 Common Morhens to the parade ground of Fort Jefferson in late September. A marsh resident – these birds made friends with all the park service personnel stalking bugs in the grasses near the cistern. Torrential rains in mid-October flooded sections of the parade ground and the Morhens suddenly had a temporary marsh to swim in. A Common Snipe was also seen visiting the marsh.

The second weekend in October delivered a record count of 683 Peregrine Falcons in one day at Curry Hammock State Park (north of Marathon) by the Florida Keys Raptor Migration Project. Some of these birds appeared over the Dry Tortugas that weekend. On Saturday October 11th I counted over 70 Peregrine Falcons on Bush Key alone and Friday through Sunday birds circled over Fort Jefferson by the hundreds. Fall and Spring are exciting times for raptor watchers in the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys as these birds travel over land before water and they funnel down through the Keys and Dry Tortugas to Cuba and across the Yucatan passage to South America – spending as much time over land as possible. After the Peregrine Falcons we had large numbers of Cooper and Sharpshinned Hawks as well. Watching the Cooper’s Hawk fly through the Buttonwood and Mahoe trees in the parade ground is a thrill – this bird is fast, agile and hungry. For the later weeks in October Warblers and songbirds lived in fear with all the raptors circling the fort. Early November has now arrived and Broad-winged Hawks are the bird of abundance now.

Pelagic bird watching from the Yankee Freedom II has also been interesting. Large numbers of Brown Boobies

are seen plunge feeding along our trip to the Dry Tortugas and Masked Boobies are seen flying near Hospital Key and Middle Key where nesting will start in Spring. Early November brings our first flocks of Northern Gannets and arrival of Jaegers for the Winter season.

Shorebirds are also on the move. Only two of our Wimbrels have returned to the helipad on Dry Tortugas this year. Lots of Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, an occasional Dunlin and a few Willets. The first Black Skimmers were observed in early November. I spotted my first ever Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in the Dry Tortugas on Saturday November 15th.

My thanks to Judd Patterson who is kind enough to allow me to use some of his excellent pictures of birds taken in the Dry Tortugas. Check out his website www.juddpatterson.com for outstanding nature photos and photos of the Dry Tortugas. Thanks also to Larry Manfreidi for the Least Bittern pictures.

Birds observed on September 28, 2008 on the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival field trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park:

Masked Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
American Bittern
Least Bittern
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
American Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Common Moorhen
Black-bellied Plover
Willet
Whimbrel
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Dunlin
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Belted Kingfisher
Eastern Wood Pewee
Gray Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Swainson’s Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tennessee Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-White Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Blue Grosbeak
Chipping Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole

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