Dry Tortugas Christmas Bird Count December 17, 2008
I was finally able to participate in the Dry Tortugas Christmas Bird
Count, it has always been hard to get enough time to join this exciting
count. We had an excellent group of birders (Sonny Bass, Elsa Alvear,
Michelle Davis, Deb Hess and Rafael Galvez) who helped make this count go
very well. We had a very nice count and got to see and hear some great
birds, including some that had not been recorded at the Dry Tortugas.
We left Key West on Tuesday December 16th at about 9:30 a.m. to travel by
the park service boat to the Dry Tortugas. We arrived at Garden Key
around 3:00 p.m. While traveling to Fort Jefferson, we saw several
Pomarine Jaegers, Northern Gannets, Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds,
Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. We had a nice view of a Northern
Gannet cruising right past the walls of Fort Jefferson, you don't see them
this close very often.
We also saw some Bottle-nosed Dolphins, some of which came to ride the bow
wake of the boat. Once we arrived at Fort Jefferson, we had to unload
all of our gear and get set up in our quarters. We then searched the
Fort for any interesting birds. We hoped that if we found some less
common ones, that they would stay for the next day's count. Deb Hess,
the naturalist on the Yankee Freedom II ferry boat, had seen an Eastern
Phoebe and an Eastern Wood-Pewee in the last couple of weeks. We all
hoped that they would still be present for the count. We did find the
Eastern Phoebe but could not locate the Eastern Wood-Pewee.
The Eastern Wood-Pewee was a Winter record that would have been
the first documented in North America if we could have found it! At
least I would have hoped to have documented it with photos if it had still
been present. This was the first Winter record of Eastern Phoebe for
the Dry Tortugas and the first one that I have ever seen there!
There were a large number of Palm Warblers present. We think that
we had about half a dozen "Eastern" Palm Warblers which are a very pretty
yellow. We don't get to see these very often in Florida so it was a
nice treat for everyone!
Palm Warbler (Eastern race or yellow)
Palm Warbler (Western race)
Eagle-eyed Michelle Davis spotted two Pine Warblers, these are
very rare here with these two making perhaps the third and fourth record
ever for the Dry Tortugas! I believe that my photos
document these birds for the first time which is exciting.
Michelle also heard and saw an American Pipit. The count
two seasons ago also had one.
We all birded just about until dark seeing some more warblers.
Rafael Galvez and I stayed out until it got dark to look for owls or
nightjars. We looked for a while without seeing anything, hunger got
the best of us and we decided to head for dinner. Sonny Bass's wife
made 12-pounds of Lasagna for everyone, we were really looking forward to
this. I had two helpings after a long day and I believe many others
did as well, it was wonderful! While we were sitting eating dinner and
having lots of great conversation, sharp-eared Michelle Davis did it again
by hearing Sooty Terns!! We all listened from one of the fort windows,
we all heard hundreds of Sooty Terns in the distance with some calling not
too far off. This may have been the earliest date that these have been
heard. We were hoping to hear them for the count day which we did
after 12:00 p.m.
We got an early start for the count day, one party went to
Loggerhead Key and the other birded Garden Key, Bush Key and Long Key.
Sonny and Deb ferried Michelle, Elsa and Rafael over to Loggerhead Key
3-miles west of Garden Key. They found a Piping Plover and a
Dickcissel -- both good birds for the Dry
Tortugas. Rafael Galvez made a beautiful sketch of the Dickcissel
which may be a first winter record for the Dry Tortugas. I stayed on
Garden Key (Fort Jefferson) and birded the shoreline and brick pile by the
north coaling dock. While over by the coaling dock, I flushed the
American Pipit that Michelle had found, this was a new bird for my Dry
Tortugas List. The south coaling docks had Whimbrel as well as a
Common Tern which is not very common at the Dry Tortugas.
On Garden Key I found an Orange-crowned Warbler. We also had a very
cooperative Savannah Sparrow.
Near where the American Pipit and Orange-crowned Warbler was found was this
very cooperative American Kestrel.
We birded here for a while and then traveled by boat to Bush and Long Key.
We got to see lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds as well as Yellow-crowned
Night-Herons. Roseate Terns -- up to 40-pairs -- have nested on Long
Key for the last two year as well as a few pairs of Bridled Terns for the
first time, which is exciting! Bridled Terns were enticed to nest by
building little rock house for them.
Bridled Tern house that works well!
Magnificent Frigatebirds on nests.
On the north end of Long Key where Bush Key joins together, Deb Hess was
able to spot the American Crocodile that has been living there for about 4-5
Sonny and Deb search for birds!
We flushed a few Savannah Sparrows from the brush along Bush Key
but did not see too much else.
Deb with a large Spiny Lobster shell.
After we finished Bush and Long Key, we traveled back to Garden Key to meet
up with the other participants and to have lunch. After lunch was over
we decided to travel over to Hospital Key, Middle Key and East Key by boat
to see what we could find. We checked Hospital Key for the Masked
Boobies but were not able to find them. As we approached Middle Key we
were able to see many Masked Boobies as well as many Brown Boobies.
It is possible that the Masked Boobies may attempt to nest on Middle Key
as Hospital Key continues to grow and shrink because of storms.
Either key is not much more than a small sand bar so it will be
tough for the birds to nest, storm waves often wash over both islands.
Masked Boobies on Middle Key
We then traveled to one of the boundary buoys to look for Brown
Boobies or whatever else might be around. It was very rough so we
could not travel fast. We had some Northern Gannets fly by as well as
other Masked Boobies. Rafael saw a bird heading in our direction which
turned out to be a Cory's Shearwater -- a first record ever for Dry Tortugas
National Park! It came very close to the boat allowing everyone to get
great looks at it. I was able to take some photos but never got one
with the whole head showing.
Fort Jefferson looking from Bush Key.
We ended the count with 41 species, including four that I had not
seen at the Dry Tortugas: Cory's Shearwater, American Pipit, Eastern Phoebe
and Pine Warbler. We also had 8 species of warblers which is quite
good for a couple of sand bars. A list of birds seen are below.
||CORY'S SHEARWATER first for Dry
|Great Blue Heron
||Black-throated Green Warbler
||PINE WARBLER two birds very rare
||Palm Warbler both eastern and western.
||DICKCISSEL first winter record for