Magnificent Frigatebirds, Masked Booby, Sooty Tern, and Brown Noddy Terns busy nesting.

Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Frigatebird Sooty Tern Brown Noddy Terns

I recently spent four days in the Dry Tortugas volunteering on Sooty Tern research. These are highlights of my trip:

– Limpkin sighted on Bush Key March 7, 2008. This rare bird to the Dry Tortugas was also sighted on Garden Key on March 12, 2008.

– Sooty Tern chicks are hatching – population estimates for 2008 will post later as birds are still arriving for the 2008 season. Sooty Terns lay their eggs in a scrape in the sand, usually under vegetative cover.

Sooty Tern Egg Sooty Tern on Egg Sooty Tern on Egg Sooty Tern with chick

– Noddy Terns are busy constructing nests. The birds can be seen on Bush Key beaches collecting shells and seaweed which they use to decorate their stick nests, located in bushes and Mangrove trees on Bush and Long Keys.

Brown Noddy Tern Brown Noddy Tern

– Magnificent Frigatebirds have constructed at least 91 nests, many with chicks, some incubating eggs, and still other under construction, all located on Long Key mangroves. These trees are still recovering from the hurricanes of summer 2006, however, nesting is up from about 50 nests in 2007.

Frigatebird on Egg Frigatebird with its chick Frigatebird with its chick Frigatebird with its chick Two Frigatebirds with a chick Two Frigatebirds with a chick

– 61 Masked Booby birds were counted on Hospital Key. 21 pair nested in 2007, 25 pair in 2008. A nest count was not made on this trip but will follow in a later posting.

– New warbler sightings for 2008 on Garden Key include Yellow Throated and Cape May.

Bird watching in mid-March included our first Caribbean Short-eared Owl in 2008. Chuck Will’s Widows, numerous Great White Herons, Great Egrets, Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, and Swallow-tailed Kites were observed on Garden Key and over the water on Yankee Freedom II. Although the calm seas and lack of cold fronts in March have made snorkeling and boat rides to Dry Tortugas National Park spectacular, it has not produced a flurry of awesome birding yet. However, this weather pattern seems to be changing.

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