Day 4 – Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas is the only place in USA where a number of rare breeding sea-birds occur – this is Sooty Tern

Florida Keys is made up of a series of islands connected by causeways – the longest being 7 miles – which run in a crescent south west of Miami. In all it’s a hundred miles from start to finish. Lying 70 miles further out into the Gulf of Mexico are the Dry Tortugas – a cluster of seven small islands, on which is situated Fort Jefferson – the largest brick made structure in the Western Hemisphere. Juan Ponce de Leon was the first recorded visitor to Dry Tortugas in June, 1513 Construction of the fort started in 1847, although it was never actually finished. It’s a fascinating place which is made all the more interesting by the bird life. The resident / breeding sea-birds are the real target species but the fort, with its enclosed areas of scrubby ‘gardens’ and a water drip, also attract a whole host of interesting migrants. Yesterday we were up early for the hour drive from our motel in Marathon to the ferry terminal – for a prompt departure at 8.00am. The journey takes around 21/2 hours on generally flat seas. We birded all the way there but you could count the birds we saw on one hand! However, as the boat pulled in to Garden Key and Fort Jefferson, it passed reasonably close to Middle Key – nesting site of Masked Booby and a smaller colony of Brown Booby. Bush Key, which is joined to the main island by a causeway (closed during the breeding season) is home to hundreds of Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy Dry Tortugas is the only place in the contiguous States where these birds breed. There is also the largest breeding population of Magnificent Frigatebird in the US here. With only five hours on shore we worked flat out to see as much of the birdlife and this special place as possible. The scrubby areas contained a host of exhausted migrants busy feeding up – including: Hooded, Yellow-rumped and Prairie Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Sora Rail, Grey Kingbird and Common Nighthawk. Jane spent longer in this location – whilst I was watching the sea-bird colonies – and saw Indigo & Painted Bunting and White-winged Dove. With all that prey about there were a few raptors about including: American Kestrel, Peregrine & Merlin. By the end of our stay we’d seen over forty species including a handful of America ticks.

Entrance to Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas NP
On Middle Key there is a small breeding colony of Masked Booby – and an even smaller population of Brown Booby
The area enclosed by the fort held many interesting migrants – including this bright Summer Tanager
and this roosting Common Nighthawk
The skies above us were filled with marauding Magnificent Frigatebirds for the entire time we were on the islands
This entry was posted in Birding.

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