Spring Migration Peaks in Dry Tortugas

April birding is always a thrill in the Dry Tortugas and this April was no exception. Late March and early April were good, but the arrival of a large number of Merlins in early and mid April did result in death for many migrants. Late April was awesome – 92 species in 3 days (23 were warblers).

Week of March 22nd

First adult Northern Gannets observed on ferry ride to Dry Tortugas heading north to the breeding grounds. Peregrine and Merlin are being seen in the paradeground. An Upland Sandpiper is feeding on the septic drainfield in the paradeground and joined later in the week by Pectoral Sandpipers.

Upland Sandpiper

The first Ruby throated Hummingbird of spring. Lots of LA Waterthrush, Black whiskered Vireo, Yellow throated Vireo and a few Parula Warblers. On March 24th birding really picked up.

Yellow throated Vireo

Rain storms brought many birds including Wood Thrush, Gray Kingbird, Hooded, Black & White, Yellow throated, Prairie, Prothonatary , LA and Northern Waterthrush and Worm eating Warblers, lots of Hummingbirds – White eyed, Red eyed, Yellow throated & Black whiskered Vireos.


Yellow crowned Night Herons – numerous in the paradeground and sleeping the Buttonwood trees. Purple Martins, Northern Rough Wing, Tree and Barn Swallows swoop thru the fort and occasionally rest. Mast Booby birds have chicks on Hospital Key. Week of March 29th

Strong east winds lead to the departure of many migrants. Yellow throated Vireo are singing. Gray and Eastern Kingbird common.

Gray and Eastern Kingbird common

A Solitary Sandpiper was seen as well as a Blue Grosbeak and Blue winged Warbler. Late in the week serious watching for the Black Noddy begins with little success. On Saturday there was a Mockingbird, Cape May Warbler and Merlins (at least 12) as well as Peregrines and Cooper’s Hawk.

Cape May Warbler


A new group of Sooty Tern seem to be arriving to nest at the east end of Bush Key. Week of April 5th

East winds and Merlins continue to slow birding. Gray Kingbird common, Black & White Warblers abundant and first Tennessee Warblers. On March 10th, the Florida Keys Audubon took place. Results will be in the next blog. New Warblers this week include Black throated Blue and Redstart. Spotted Sandpiper was seen on the beach. Summer Tanangers and Yellow billed Cuckoos arrive.

Week of April 12th

Strong east winds continue and our Thursday trip was cancelled due to high wind gusts. Merlins continue to eat – almost all the Yellow rumped Warblers (fearless for months in the paradeground) are gone. A Wood Thrush hides near a thick limb in the Gumbo Limbo tree for hours. Even the bird fountain unsafe because of the agile fast Merlin. This week did bring Blue headed Vireo, a bird not seen frequently in the Tortugas.

Week of April 19th

Weather has improved and many of the Merlins have finally traveled north. Roseate Terns are sighted on the Rebecca Channel marker, soon to begin nesting in the Tortugas and in Marathon atop the county office complex. Painted Buntings, lots of Indigo Buntings , Dicksissels and Bobolinks have arrived.

Indigo Buntings

Thrushes are quite common – Wood, Swainson’s, a few Gray Cheeked, and Veery. Both Summer and Scarlet Tanangers , Blue and Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Eastern and Gray Kingbird, Barn, Tree, Northern rough winged Sparrow are here.

Scarlet Tanangers

A Lincoln’s Sparrow was observed in the old foundation to the enlisted men’s barracks. Warblers include LA and Northern Waterthrush, Hooded , Black throated Blue, Cape May , Black & White, Worm eating, Ovenbird, Tennessee, Common Yellow throat, Prothonatary, Swainson’s Prairie, Palm and on Saturday a Blackburnian was seen in Searocket flowers along the beach, and also a Kentucky.

Hooded Warbler

Cape May Warbler

A Greater Yellowlegs was on top of the Fort Jefferson. A Chimney Swift was a new bird this week. Very abundant were Bobolink and Red-eyed Vireo . On April 21st, a Black billed cuckoo slept in the Mahoe tree over the fountain all day – much to all the birders delight.

Red Eyed Vireo

Black Billed Cuckoo

A Wilson’s Phalarope was seen near the south coaling dock. Spotted, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plovers were observed along Bush Key beaches. Week of April 26th

A weak cold front blew through the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas on Monday and the birding became excellent. Lots of Bobolinks and Dicksissels. New Warblers include Chestnut sided and Yellow and still more Tennessee. Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Scarlet and Summer Tanangers, Rose breasted Grosbeaks, Red-eyed and Black whiskered Vireos are fighting over the last berries in the Gumbo Limbo trees. A Western Kingbird joins the Eastern and Gray Kingbirds in treetops. On the beaches are Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectural Turnstones and Sanderlings. Bridled Terns are being seen almost daily in Rebecca Channel.

Bridled Tern

Warblers include Kentucky, Black & White, Blackpoll, Parula, Hooded, Palm, Yellow-rump, Prairie, LA and Northern Waterthrush, Worm Gating, Chestnut sided, Cape May, Redstart, Magnolia , Yellow, Black throated Blue, Black throated Green, Blackburnian, Prothonotury, Overnbird and Swainson’s.

Magnolia Warbler

A Cerulean Warbler was reported although I did not see the bird. Nighthawks sleep on many tree branches both common and Antillian. Catbirds have arrived in abundance and feast on Ranger Tree’s tomato plants. Veery and Gray checked Thrush now outnumber wood and Swainson’s, Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s are in almost every tree in the paradeground and campground.

Yellow Billed Cuckoo

Sitting by the bird fountain in the paradeground can be a thrilling experience, especially with a camera. A Pomarine Jaegar was sighted on our return trip to Key West on Wednesday.

This Bonapartes Gull was seen in the harbor along Yankee Freedom II on March 17th.

Bonapartes Gull

April is just such an awesome month to schedule a day or camping trip to the Dry Tortugas for bird migration.  The weather is definitely a determining factor for fall outs.  Any rain event can result in new birds just as quickly as the sun shines.  Camping allows you the time to really enjoy your birding experience, especially for the photographers.  Renting a kayak will allow you closer access to the Frigatebird colony on Long Key and Bush Key with the nesting Sooty and Brown Noddy turns.  We welcome birders on the Yankee Freedom II.  Remember to request your captain to take you by Hospital Key to view the Masked Booby birds. They have young chicks in April.  Happy birding and we look forward to seeing you in the Yankee Freedon II.  Call our Reservations office at 800-634-0939 to secure your camping time and any kayak rental arrangements.

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