Slight front out of SW blows in killdeer, barn swallows

Hi everyone, I hope those of you visiting in the Lower Keys this week are taking advantage of the warmer weather, and consequently, smoother days on the water.  The last week has given the Yankee Freedom II several very calm, clear days en route to the Dry Tortugas. Hopefully, we will start to see more and more of these days on a weekly basis.

Between the 17th and 18th of February, however, a slight front from the south moved across the Tortugas, slightly cooling the temperatures, and bringing with it some new avian visitors to Garden Key. I got a good look at a lone killdeer wading along the brick rubble on the eastern side of the Fort, and saw a pair of barn swallows flitting in front of the sally port for several minutes as well.  Neither species seemed to stay long, as I did not see them again over the next few days.

Lone killdeer seen on the eastern side of the Fort after the southern front. I only observed it for one day.

The sooty terns and brown noddies have now completely overtaken Bush Key, which gives some eager birders ample opportunities to check two unique species off their life lists.  Many of both species can now be seen settling on the island, courting and looking for potential nesting sites.  The sooties tend to nest in scrapes in the sand, whereas the noddies prefer to be slightly above the ground, making messy nests of sargassum and sea grass in the scrub a foot or two above the ground.

I’m seeing double-crested cormorants on an almost daily basis these days, usually sleeping or nesting on the south coaling dock ruins.

A double-crested cormorant winnowing on one of the south dock ruins. Winnowing is the process cormorants and anhingas use to dry their wings after a dive for fish, since they lack the well-developed preen gland to waterproof their feathers.

The south docks are also still reliable spots for sighting:

  • Laughing gull
  • Herring gull (1 or 2)
  • Brown pelican
  • Royal tern
  • Sandwich tern
  • Black skimmer

Unique shot showing the resting behavior of the black skimmer, whose large bill and head is easier to rest on the ground for long periods of time.

I’m sad to say I’ve only seen our friends the willet and whimbrel once in the last week. Perhaps they’ve moved from their usual haunt on the south helipad to another shore or island, or they have moved on to find their own breeding grounds. Either way, I would not consider either bird a sure thing in the coming days, but I will keep you posted.

The parade ground is still rather stark, but you’re likely to see:

  • Eurasian collared dove
  • Palm warbler
  • American kestrel (1)

The magnificent frigatebirds are still carrying nesting material back to the nests on a daily basis.

Close-up of an adult male magnificent frigatebird carrying nesting material back to Long Key.

I’ve seen more than one brown pelican molting into breeding plumage, whereby the white feathers on the back of the neck are traded out for a black, then deep red color.

This is a brown pelican going through the molt transition of the solid white neck to what will soon be a rusty red color. The short, under feathers seen here are black.

More to come next week, but until then, happy birding!

–Chelsea B.

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