Posts Tagged ‘Dry Tortugas Birding’

Spring Migration Coming to a Fulfilling End

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Greetings Dry Tortugas birders,

I hope everyone made the most out of this year’s spring migration, and maybe some of you made the Dry Tortugas part of the experience.  We had a couple of late fronts that blew some exciting birds down at the park, including a fork-tailed flycatcher and over tw0-hundred yellow-billed cuckoos!

Fork-tailed flycatcher in late April  after a storm.

Fork-tailed flycatcher in late April after a storm.

There has also been a regular black noddy spotted on the Bush Key tern colony for the last couple of weeks, although that particular bird continues to elude me.

Keep an eye out for bridled terns on the ride to and from the park, as they have been regular sightings while underway, and the roseate terns have been regularly sighted from the south coaling dock ruins.

The late warblers to show up were quite beautiful, including yellow, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, magnolia, Tennessee, and Nashville.

Yellow warbler in the parade ground.

Yellow warbler in the parade ground.

Magnolia warbler near the south beach dunes.

Magnolia warbler near the south beach dunes.

Male chestnut-sided warbler at the temporary water source.

Male chestnut-sided warbler at the temporary water source.

Birders coming back for a repeat trip to the Dry Tortugas, keep in mind that the NPS has taken down the long-standing brick bird fountain from the parade ground, and temporarily replaced it with a small plastic container of fresh water. It’s no where near as large as the prior fountain, and the water does not flow, but it does seem to attract the smaller passerines. Please direct any questions about the fountain and it’s future to the National Park Rangers.

Male bay-breasted warbler in the parade ground.

Male bay-breasted warbler in the parade ground.

We also had an Antillean short-eared owl that was sighted several times over a tw0-week period in mid-April.

Antillean short-eared owl that stuck around for several weeks in mid-April.

Antillean short-eared owl that stuck around for several weeks in mid-April.

Also keep an eye out for continuing white-crowned pigeons, bobolinks, upland sandpipers, and a shiny cowbird this week!

Hope to see you out there!

Happy birding,

–Chelsea B.

Warblers, warblers, and more warblers!

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

This supplemental post is dedicated entirely to the warbler migration through the Dry Tortugas National Park, which is one of the most spectacular in the country!

Warbler species seen this migration:

Palm

Prairie

Yellow-rumped

ovenbird

American redstart

Louisiana waterthrush

Northern waterthrush

black-and-white

blackpoll

Northern parula

worm-eating

blue-winged

prothonotary

hooded

yellow-throated

Enjoy the photos I’ve added of regular migrants seen in the last two weeks:

Profile of a blue-winged warbler in the parade ground.

Profile of a blue-winged warbler in the parade ground.

The blue-winged warbler was a particular favorite of mine, and is a less common visitor to the Dry Tortugas.

Female American redstart. No male observed yet.

Female American redstart. No male observed yet.

Worm-eating warbler foraging on a buttonwood tree in parade ground.

Worm-eating warbler foraging on a buttonwood tree in parade ground.

Pale palm warbler not quite in full breeding plumage.

Pale palm warbler not quite in full breeding plumage.

Look for the constant tail-bobbing of this funny little warbler, and note that they hang out in large groups and can be seen out in the open in the grass.

Northern waterthrush foraging in the camp site area leaf litter.

Northern waterthrush foraging in the camp site area leaf litter.

The waterthrushes, ovenbirds, worm-eating, and Swainson’s warblers all have similar feeding techniques: rustling through leaf litter on the ground under trees to turn up insects and larvae.

Black-and-white warbler in the parade ground.

Black-and-white warbler in the parade ground.

Blackpoll warbler in the parade ground.

Blackpoll warbler in the parade ground.

Beautiful northern parula on the heli-pad by the south beach.

Beautiful northern parula on the heli-pad by the south beach.

These multi-colored beauties are not shy of people and are not afraid to hop down to a low branch and sing right in front of you.

Male hooded warbler on the south helipad.

Male hooded warbler on the south helipad.

Female hooded warbler foraging in the parade ground.

Female hooded warbler foraging in the parade ground.

These are mostly early migrants, but the two later species yet to be seen at the Park include the Swainson’s warbler and black-throated blue warbler.

Happy birding!

–Chelsea B.

 

After last week’s cold front, the migrants keep coming

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Happy April, Dry Tortugas birders!

I hope everyone is having a fun and productive spring migration season this year. We haven’t even reached peak season out at Fort Jefferson yet, but even the casual birder is racking up at least 30-40 species in a day trip out to the Park right now.

The sooty tern chicks have hatched (according to NPS biologists), so the young birds should be fledgling and visible on the shorelines of Bush Key in the coming weeks.

I’ve posted some photos of regular migrants to the Dry Tortugas, and will post an additional warbler post dedicated to the colorful little birds.

One lonely glossy ibis has been hanging out with a large flock of cattle egrets in the parade ground, browsing for insects.

One lonely glossy ibis has been hanging out with a large flock of cattle egrets in the parade ground, browsing for insects.

On this gray kingbird, notice the bulkier overall size, heavier bill, and the head that lacks the distinctive black cap of the eastern kingbird.

First gray kingbird of the season. These tropical migrants will be nesting in the Keys during the spring and summer.

First gray kingbird of the season. These tropical migrants will be nesting in the Keys during the spring and summer.

The songbirds are bright, singing, and abundant in almost any tree in the parade ground or near the camp sites, and several accipiters are still present, including kestrels, merlins, and a pair of peregrines.

One of several merlins present for the last week in the parade ground. The resident kestrel is not too happy having to defend its territory against the marauders.

One of several merlins present for the last week in the parade ground. The resident kestrel is not too happy having to defend its territory against the marauders.

Male scarlet tanager seen last week in the parade ground.

Male scarlet tanager seen last week in the parade ground.

Male summer tanager has been present for at least a week.

Male summer tanager has been present for at least a week.

Notice the key difference between the eastern US’s two most common tanagers: the black wings present in the scarlet, and lacking in the summer.

The first observed yellow-billed cuckoo of the season.

The first observed yellow-billed cuckoo of the season.

A very elusive bird, they flush from the trees when startled, so you must look carefully for this well-camouflaged bird.

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker on a buttonwood in the parade gorund.

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker on a buttonwood in the parade ground.

Three unique birds seen (and confirmed by photograph) by other birders at DRTO but not by myself include: Antillean nighthawk, Antillean (or Arawak) owl, and American golden plover.

Good luck and hope to see you out at the beautiful Dry Tortugas!

Happy Florida Keys birding,

–Chelsea B.

Spring Migration is Here!

Friday, March 8th, 2013

 

Greetings Dry Tortugas birders!

I know it’s been a while, but after working out some technical difficulties, out bird blog is up and running again at full force, just in time for spring migration at the Dry Tortugas.

For birders new to this remote and beautiful national park, if you’re planning your spring trip, here are the Dry Tortugas specialties you’re guaranteed to see:

Masked Booby

Brown booby

Magnificent frigatebird

Brown noddy

Sooty tern

There has also been one confirmed sighting of a bridled tern mixed in with the sooty colony, but no black noddy sightings have been made as of yet.

I’ve posted below some photos of spring migrants from the last week, and hopefully there are many more to come.

Barn swallow flying over parade ground.

Barn swallow flying over parade ground.

Young male bunting sitting in first-tier casemate.

Young male bunting sitting in first-tier casemate.

Close-up of young male blue bunting, midway between juvenile and adult plumage.

Close-up of young male blue bunting, midway between juvenile and adult plumage.

Bonaparte's gull seen for several days in moat, eating bugs from between the bricks.

Bonaparte’s gull seen for several days in moat, eating bugs from between the bricks.

Close-up of winter Bonaparte's gull.

Close-up of winter Bonaparte’s gull.

Burrowing owl perched in first-tier case mate.

Burrowing owl perched in first-tier case mate.

Forster's tern in winter plumage, perched on south coal piling with two sandwich terns.

Forster’s tern in winter plumage, perched on south coal piling with two sandwich terns.

Northern parula perched on button wood in parade ground.

Northern parula perched on button wood in parade ground.

Adult peregrine falcon seen perching on Bush Key and flushing tern colony.

Adult peregrine falcon seen perching on Bush Key and flushing tern colony.

Beautiful royal tern on far left in full breeding plumage (full black cap).

Beautiful royal tern on far left in full breeding plumage (full black cap).

I hope these photos were both helpful and exciting for any birders planning to come visit the Dry Tortugas National Park. Happy birding and see you at Fort Jefferson!

–Chelsea B.

The Brown Noddies have Arrived

Friday, February 17th, 2012

The last week has been quite exciting as the sooty terns continue to swarm over Bush Key, in numbers now well into the thousands.  They have recently been joined by their less-vocal breeding ground neighbors, the brown noddies.  These elegant terns are covered in uniform chocolate-brown feathers, only interrupted by a small white “cap” on the tops of their heads. The noddies and sooties both nest on Bush Key during breeding season, so they aren’t always easy to tell apart at a distance, given their similar size and build.

Bush Key may be closed to visitors, but it's just opening for business for these guys!

Keep in mind that the noddy is more comfortable on the ground at this point than the sooty, either on the shoreline or in the vegetation; most of the sooties still spend the majority of the day vocalizing and flying over the island.  In flight, the sooty has a stark white underside that contrasts dramatically with its “sooty” back, making it easy to distinguish from the dark brown underbelly of the noddy.

A couple of interesting yet brief visitors to Fort Jefferson this week were a pair of northern rough-winged swallows that made one pass in front of the sally port and were not seen again; a belted kingfisher also flew by the dock just as the boat was heading back to Key West one afternoon as well.

The brown boobies are still very reliably perched on Iowa Rock (green channel marker #3) almost every morning and afternoon, and the masked boobies are in the full-swing of breeding season over on Hospital Key—two great lifers for many avid birders.

Several other species seen on an almost daily basis at Garden Key:

  • Magnificent frigatebird
  • Laughing gull
  • Herring gull
  • Royal tern
  • Sandwich tern

I just liked the nice size comparison here of a sandwich tern (foreground) to the two behemoth royal terns in the background. The "mustard-dipped" tip of the sandwich's bill is nicely visible in this shot as well.

  • Black skimmer
  • Ruddy turnstone
  • Willet
  • Whimbrel
  • Eurasian collared dove

Eurasian collared dove stopping for a drink at the bird fountain in the Parade Ground. These birds are much larger than their mourning dove cousins, and are actually an invasive species in the United States (hence the name).

  • Palm warbler (winter phase)

Palm warbler in winter plumage showing distinctive yellow undertail coverts and white eye stripe. Keep an ear out for their chipping in the parade ground, and watch for the constant tail "bobbing."

  • American kestrel

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. Hope to see you out at the Tortugas!

Happy birding.

–Chelsea B.

Friday, February 10th, 2012 (The sooties are here!)

Friday, February 10th, 2012

I would like to take a minute with the first entry of the New Year to wish all you birders a very happy 2012. So far, the year is off to a great start at the Dry Tortugas, and since I’m meeting more and more fellow birders on board with each passing week, I’d also like to introduce myself: my name is Chelsea Barattini, and I’m just one of many great crew members aboard the Yankee Freedom II. However, the reason I’m writing you now is because one of my great passions is birding, and we’ve got some great ones out at the Tortugas.

I’ll try to outline the species seen out at the Jefferson Fort as frequently as I can for you, particularly if it will help any of you add new birds to your life lists. My aim is to make this blog as practical and helpful as possible.

The Sooty Terns have Re-terned:

Park rangers started reporting sooties calling at night out over Bush Key in mid-to-late January, although my first sooty sighting wasn’t until January 31st, when I heard and saw two birds calling as they flew over the north side of Garden Key, heading over to Bush Key. Over the next week, the birds started trickling in, and in the last few days hundreds of them have made their way across the ocean to the Dry Tortugas. They’ve only just started landing on the island, since most of them haven’t touched land since they fledged from the same island several years before! The distinctive “wide-a-wake!” call can be heard from the boat before even reaching Garden Key, and persists as cheery background noise throughout the afternoon, a sure sign that baby sooty terns will be here in a couple of months.

The sooties share Bush Key with another big nester, the brown noddy, although they probably won’t make an appearance for quite a few more weeks.

The magnificent frigatebirds are in full force out at the park, gearing up for another breeding season on Long Key. Both males and females can be seen flying over the fort, sometimes carrying nesting material back to the colony, and the occasional male may be seen with his red throat pouch inflated like a balloon in a very unique courtship display.

two juvenile magnificent frigatebirds "fighting" over a piece of nesting material

The Ride Out:
During the two and a half hour ride from Key West to the Park, a vigilant birder may observe from the outside decks several pelagic species. Brown pelicans, laughing gulls, black skimmers, and royal terns are common on the ride out as well as on Garden Key, where they are typically the most visible from the south helipad overlooking the South Coaling Dock Ruins.

Another beautiful bird to look out for is the Northern gannet, a large white diving bird that is known for its spectacular plunge-dives into the water after small fish and squid. I see a handful of gannets every morning this time of year, although they are easy to miss if you are not keeping a sharp eye out. Be careful to know your markings on this bird and not to confuse it with a masked booby, as the two species have similar body shapes and colorations (hint: the gannet’s black wing bars extend across the entire wing, while the masked booby’s wings have black only at the tips). The masked booby is another great bird to check off your lists at the Dry Tortugas, as they have a small nesting colony on Hospital Key, which can been seen from the boat on the way into the park. Have your binocs and scopes at the ready, as these shy birds tend to stay put on the island as the boat passes by.

Their smaller cousin, the brown booby, however, is not as bashful, and while they don’t nest in the park, they can be seen in small numbers at the park throughout most of the year, usually perching on the green channel markers inside the park boundaries.

two brown boobies loafing on a channel marker in the Park boundaries

The Coaling Dock Ruins:
The south coaling dock ruins have been the best place, in my opinion, for viewing birds like gulls and terns. For the last several weeks, the following species have been viewed here on a daily basis and in decent numbers: laughing gulls, royal terns, brown pelicans, and black skimmers. The sandwich terns made an appearance this week, as I counted several dozen of them on February 6th at the docks. A few herring gulls in various growth stages have been hanging around, as well as one or two double-crested cormorants.

flock of black skimmers hanging out on the south helipad

royal terns on the south helipad. the bird in the foreground is banded.

However, two of my favorite birds on the whole island like to hang out on the south beach helipad (concrete slab overlooking the south docks). There has been a single willet and single whimbrel living on Garden Key for several months. They both look healthy, and I never go more than a day or two without seeing either of them. The cool thing is that they are usually together, loafing within several feet of one another or perched on the same piling. Last week some unusually heavy rains brought in a small flock of black-bellied plovers that kept the two birds company for a few days.

The whimbrel (left) and willet (right) sunning themselves on the south helipad

two of the briefly-visiting black-bellied plovers

Upon arrival at Fort Jefferson, it is impossible to miss your welcoming committee of ruddy turnstones, as there are a few dozen that act like they own the island in the winter months; every so often they are joined by a small posse of sanderlings.

three ruddy turnstones who thought the boat was very interesting..

The Parade Ground:
The parade ground is, and has been since fall migration, a fairly quiet place. I can guarantee you will see at least one Eurasian collared dove on your way into the Fort, and once inside, you may see the winter resident American kestrel, who I’ve been keeping tabs on for a few months now. The abundance of anoles that live in the parade ground provides plenty of sustenance for the little raptor.
A small handful of warblers may be seen or heard chipping inside the Fort, mostly palm and prairie, from what I’ve been able to identify of the small songbirds that are neither in breeding plumes or singing this time of year.

I think that about does it for my first entry, and I’ll try to be a bit more succinct as the posts progress. I hope this helps, and I hope to see some of you out at the Tortugas soon!

–Chelsea B.

May Bird Blog

Monday, July 19th, 2010

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

This Brown Noddy built the largest nest I have ever seen with lots of seaweed and sticks Masked Booby birds with eggs on Hospital Key

May Bird Blog

May is a month I normally spend in Alaska, but this summer I elected to stay on the Yankee Freedom II as a naturalist until Mid-July, returning in early September. I am excited to see the Masked Booby chicks grow and to see the Roseate and Bridled terns nest, but probably most excited to watch the Sooty terns prepare their chicks for departure to the waters off Africa where these young birds will live over the open ocean eating fish and drinking seawater for three to five years.

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Spring Migration Peaks in Dry Tortugas

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

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

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Sooty Terns have Arrived

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Burrowing Owls have Babies

After two owls were found at Dry Tortugas National Park, speculation was made about possible nesting. A burrow was located but the second owl seemed to have disappeared. We searched hard during the Christmas bird count but it could not be located. On Jan 13th, we discovered the owl that roosts daily in the powder magazine is “Dad”. “Mom” is in the burrow – which is too deep for us to see any chicks. One chick was found dead, probably attacked by a rat at the mouth of the burrow. I listen regularly for activity and the Park Rangers are watching, but the female and chicks have yet to be seen.

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Burrowing Owls in Parade Ground at Fort Jefferson

Friday, January 1st, 2010

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Fall migration landed a big surprise for Fort Jefferson guests. First, a single Burrowing Owl was observed sleeping every day in the main powder magazine inside Fort Jefferson. A burrow was observed and the search began for a second owl. It’s presence has been verified and now the wait begins to see if the owls will mate and lay eggs, and perhaps raise chicks in the parade ground. It could be a very exciting event for winter and spring visitors this season.

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