Monday, April 29, 2013

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Saturday, April 27

On Friday night before going to my bed and breakfast room in Key West at Eden House, I tried for Antillean Nighthawk behind the Key West Airport.  This is accessed from Government Road off of Flaggler Avenue.  One can view the west end of the airport runway from outside the fence.  I have seen Antillean Nighthawk from this location in past visits to key West.  A couple from California also joined me, but we did not find any nighthawks, neither Common Nighthawk nor Antillean Nighthawk.  They will also be on the Yankee Freedom ferry to Fort Jefferson on Saturday. 

The trip out to Fort Jefferson on the Yankee Freedom was uneventful except for a long distance view of a possible Brown Booby sitting on a platform type buoy.  Several other birders thought it might be a Brown Booby, but all agreed that it was too far away to identify.  We saw three Magnificent Frigatebirds on the way to the fort.  There were quite a few birders on the trip, the couple from California, a group from New Brunswick, Canada and a birding tour group led by Don Wilkinson from Boston, MA.  I recognized Don's name from the Massachusetts bird list serve.  I asked one of the mates how close we would get to Hospital Key and put in a request to get close as I was doing a Big Year and there were other birders on-board.  Later they announced that we would make a stop within a few hundred yards of Hospital Key to see the Masked Boobies.  The fort has a somewhat ethereal quality as it seems to rise out of the water as one approaches.  See photo.  
The photo shows Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, Bush Key on the left, where the Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies nest, and Loggerhead Key with the tall light house on the right.  Bush Key was separated from Garden Key in the past but now is connected by filled in sand from storms and changing currents.  When I first visited Fort Jefferson back in the early '90's, the two were separated by water. 

As we approached the fort,  I saw in the distance two apparent Masked Boobies flying toward Hospital Key.  As we got close to Hospital Key to view the Masked Booby colony (See photo.), a closer Masked Booby (See photo on left below.) flew across the bow and was soon

attacked by a Magnificent Frigatebird.  Two Brown Boobies flew across the bow fairly close.  (See photo to right of one.)  Before we made the turn to go around the fort and dock at the beach, both Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy flew by.  Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy are four of the target species for my visit to Fort Jefferson.  None of these are particularly good photos.  The light was not optimum and on a boat with movement, it is tough to get good photos.  However, the Masked Booby and Brown Booby photos in flight show the field marks of these birds.  We docked and everyone got off.  I went to the near coal dock to look at terns and found one adult Roseate Tern, showing the very long tail feathers, much longer than the Aftwings when folded.  There were also a few Common Terns showing the carpal bar on the folded wings.  Both of these are new birds for the year.  A passenger on the ferry, perhaps a non-birder, showed me a photo on her camera of a red and black bird.  I could not see it well due to the bright sun and angle of viewing but another birder told her that it was a Scarlet Tanager.   That's a new bird for the year so I went to look for it and eventually found it. 
Stunning in the bright sunlight.  See photo to the left.  Another bird reported by a young man who was on the island camping with his family was a Blue-winged Warbler.  That's a new bird for the year.  I searched for it but never found it.  There were a good number of warblers in the trees and bushes around the fort and inside the fort.  I saw Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler, none of these new for the year.  After lunch on the boat (breakfast was also provided at the dock on the boat), I saw a Baltimore Oriole, another new bird for the year, right near the boat in a sea grape and palm tree near the boat.  I went inside the fort to see what other migrants I could see.  The couple from California, Bill Boyle and his wife, reported a Swainson's Thrush, which I needed for the year.  I stayed inside for a while searching and eventually found the Swainson's Thrush, at about 1:15 pm, only about 30 minutes until we had to board the Yankee Freedom to return to Key West.  I also saw a Cave Swallow and a few Barn Swallows inside the fort.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was reported, but I looked for it but never saw it.  A Merlin, which I saw briefly, was keeping the migrant birds stirred up.  There was also a Peregrine Falcon on a tower on top of the fort.  Earlier I had gone to the top of the fort to scan Bush Key in the hopes of finding a Black Noddy, a tropical species, usually an immature bird, which occasionally shows up with the Brown Noddies at Fort Jefferson.  However, I did not find a Black Noddy, and found out later that other people had also looked and scanned but did not find a Black Noddy.  I heard that one of the tour leaders on the island, Adrian Binns, was going to scan later after all the day visitors had left the island.  Hope he finds it.  That might be a reason to return.  Later on the boat returning to Key West I heard a fourth hand rumor that someone saw a Black Noddy fly into the coal dock away from the docking area.  Interesting.

Just before I had to leave for the boat, a man walked up to me and introduced himself.  It was Sandy Komito, the current holder of the record for a Big Year in the ABA Area.  He had heard that I was doing a Big Year and offered his help, other than financial.  I met Sandy on Attu in 1988 and 1989 when I visited there and had met him after that on pelagic trips on the west coast.  I di not recognize him at first when he was walking toward me, because I had not seen him in years.  Thanks Sandy for your offer of help.  I may take you up on that.

Earlier, I had walked out the No Entry sign on Bush Key to try for some photos of Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy.  I got a photo of a male Magnificent Frigatebird as it was diving on terns and below
is a photo of Sooty Tern.  The Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies were flying into the colony with food and back out.  I also checked out the coal docks away from the docking area and obtained a photo of a sitting Brown Noddy, the last photo below.

At the end of the trip to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas, Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, and Swainson's Thrush make the total 374.  Tonight I will try for Antillean Nighthawk again but at the Marathon Airport.


1 comment:

  1. Jay, I'm still hanging with you, I picked up a Dickcissel today for my 374th.

    Did you hear about the fallout on the Texas coast last week. Patty and I rushed down to the coast and we were able to get in on it. For me it was an experience of a lifetime.

    We are off to SEAZ this weekend ... will spend a day in Florida Canyon with Melody Kehl plus another 3 days in the area (met Melody in Big Bend 2 weeks ago and she invited us to join her). Hope to reach 400 with this SEAZ trip.