Northbound – The Birds Are Still Coming

Birdwatchers at fountain in parade ground of Ft. Jefferson – a great place to spot warblers and more.

Birdwatchers at fountain in parade ground of Ft. Jefferson – a great place to spot warblers and more.

A spring surprise Black-Necked Stilt

A spring surprise Black-Necked Stilt

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Spring birdwatching at the Dry Tortugas National Park remains excellent and as summer approaches snorkeling reaches its peak.  Late spring trips on Yankee Freedom II offer excellent opportunities for both snorkeling and birdwatching on a single day trip.  Sea turtles are mating in Florida Keys’ waters now and especially just west of the Marquesas Islands (which lie west of Key West and are passed on our journey to the Dry Tortugas) sometimes hundreds of turtles are spotted.  It’s the perfect nature combination – birds, fish, and sea turtles.  Female turtles will be headed to the Dry Tortugas to lay their eggs all summer.  Dry Tortugas National Park is the most significant nest area for the Loggerhead Turtle in North America.

Warblers continue on their northbound routes.  Blackpoll, American Redstart, Ovenbird and Black-Throated Blue are common sightings.  Birders have been finding the Black Noddy Tern

Brown and Black Noddy Terns – notice the smaller size of the Black Noddy.  (image courtesy of Larry Manfreidi, southfloridabirding.com)

Brown and Black Noddy Terns – notice the smaller size of the Black Noddy. (image courtesy of Larry Manfreidi, southfloridabirding.com)

on the north coaling dock.  Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds visit the orange flowers of the Geiger trees in the parade ground of Fort Jefferson.  Nighthawks and Chuck Wills Widow

Chuck Wills Widow in Buttonwood Branch

Chuck Wills Widow in Buttonwood Branch

frequently sleep on tree branches during the day.  Always watch carefully for Caribbean Short-Eared Owl in the treetops or along the top sides of the fort in the grasses.  Watch for Dicksissel, Bobolink, Indigo and Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak feeding on grass seeds.  Cooper’s and Sharp-Shinned Hawks also patrol the parade ground – such agile fliers – and hungry for small birds.  Sooty and Noddy Terns are still nesting on Bush Key – young Sooty Terns are fledging now.

Sooty Carcass from Peregrine Predation

Sooty Carcass from Peregrine Predation

Peregrine Falcons stop in Tortugas for a snack on Sooty Terns and Merlins leave bird carcasses in the parade ground of Fort JeffersonMasked Booby can sometimes be observed feeding on Flying Fish – their torpedo-like dive is a spectacular sight.

Crew hooking up solar panel to power Roseate Tern calls.

Crew hooking up solar panel to power Roseate Tern calls.

Crew with decoys complete for Roseate Terns

Crew with decoys complete for Roseate Terns

Roseate Tern decoys and sound calls were installed on Long Key April 24th by National Park Service and Florida Fish & Wildlife Service personnel.  Roseate Terns once nested in the Dry Tortugas and have returned here thanks to a little artificial enticement in recent years.  The last two summers Bridled Terns have nested here as well – this was a first for the Dry Tortugas National Park

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Bridled Tern pair on Long Key

Bridled Tern pair on Long Key

Two pair of Bridled Terns were observed on Long Key while Roseate Tern decoys were being set up.  The Bridled Tern looks very similar to a Sooty Tern – however their call is quite different.  The tail of a Bridled Tern is a single white point – in a Sooty Tern it is two points and the body of a Bridled Tern is longer and grayer on the top.  They also fly distinctly different – the Bridled Tern has a slower more graceful sweep of the wings.  Watch closely during summer months – especially over Long Key to the left of the Magnificent Frigatebird colony for these birds.

Bridled Tern House

Bridled Tern House

They seem to prefer to nest in large coral rubble in cave-like areas.  Several were constructed and used last season.

On April 18, 2009 the Florida Keys Audobon Society hosted its annual fundraising event “Birdathon.”  I was very proud to represent the Yankee Freedom II and to enlist the aid of our passengers that day in finding 64 species of birds on our trip to Dry Tortugas National Park.  Thirteen species of birds were unique in the Florida Keys count to our trip.  The “Birdathon” total for the Florida Keys was 165 species – outdoing last year’s total of 101 and raising over $4000 for Florida Keys Audobon, and still more to come.

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