Posts Tagged ‘fort jefferson’

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.

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


Migration is commencing Sooty Tern are hatching

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Week of February 14th: Snipe were consistently sited in the Parade Ground. A few Killdeer were arriving as well. Masked Booby birds appeared to be nesting on Hospital Key. The first Prairie Warbler was spotted on February 16th. I saw lots of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, especially in the Parade Ground. (more…)

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.


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.


Summer Terns in the Dry Tortugas

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Terns are certainly one of the amazing wonders of the bird world.  Most stunning is the migration of the Arctic Tern yearly from the Arctic to Antarctic and back.  This summer while catching lots of King Salmon at a remote fish camp on the Nushagak River (this river drains to Bristol Bay – Alaska’s premier sockeye salmon fishery)  I was mesmerized by Arctic Terns.  Both eye- and ear-catching, busy, always busy guarding their young and catching fish to fatten the chicks for the long flight south.  Bills, legs and feet turn blood red during breeding season making them striking in appearance and sharp in call.

Arctic Terns

Arctic Terns

Arctic Terns

Arctic Terns

The Dry Tortugas has four species of oceanic (open ocean home) terns that utilize these remote islands for summer nesting.  (more…)

Northbound – The Birds Are Still Coming

Thursday, June 11th, 2009
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.  (more…)

Fallout Delights Birdwatchers!!

Friday, May 8th, 2009

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Spring bird watching in the Dry Tortugas is always good but once every couple of years a major lightning storm especially during the evening hours will cause literally hundreds of migrants to search out any point of land.  This happened on Tuesday evening April 14, 2009 and the Dry Tortugas was flooded with birds.  Warblers, thrushes, buntings, cuckoos and falcons to name a few.  Good bird watching turns into a birder’s paradise and stayed so for several days. (more…)

Bird Fountain Repaired | Sooty Chicks Hatching | Spring Migration Underway

Friday, March 6th, 2009
Bird bathing at the Dry Torugas National Park.

Bird bathing at the Dry Torugas National Park.

By: Debra Hess
Yankee Freedom II Naturalist

Alert to all birdwatchers: Spring Migration is underway in Dry Tortugas National Park. Three members of the Audobon Society (Elizabeth Ignoffo, Ellen Westbrook, and Dan Saus) have repaired the bird fountain in the paradeground of Fort Jefferson just in time for migratory warblers and more. The birds are rejoicing by bathing and drinking. Although the repairs are probably temporary – the fountain should function through the spring migratory season of 2009, delighting thousands of visitors to the Park especially bird watchers. The fountain provides an easy place to observe multiple species of warblers and other birds as well.



Copyright © 2016 Dry Tortugas, Bird Blog. All rights reserved.