We are at Renee’s mom’s house and have some time to update the site before we resume our Big Year.
The bad weather that plagued us at the Everglades National Park brought perfect fallout conditions to the Dry Tortugas on Saturday and Sunday, April 21st and 22nd. Our trip was scheduled for the 23rd but the winds were still high and the seas were rough and the boat captain didn’t make the final decision to go until just a few minutes before our scheduled departure. It was a very rough trip and most of the passengers were seasick along the way. We had taken some dramamine and were ok. In fact, we were at the bow and spotted four Bridled Terns skimming low over the water on the way out!
Once at the island we quickly set up camp and started to look for birds. It wasn’t hard to find them. All you needed to do was look down at your feet and it was likely that a thrush, Palm Warbler, or redstart would be there! The few trees on the island were crawling with birds. Warblers, tanagers, orioles, cuckoos, buntings, and more were there and it was an ever-changing list. The winds continued from the NW and N throughout the time we spent on the island and each day brought different species. Monday was dominated by Prairie Warblers and Cape Mays, Tuesday brought more Magnolias and Yellows, and Wednesday was the day of the Blackpolls.
The land birds were the highlight of the fallout but the local and migrant seabirds and shorebirds were not to be outdone. We counted 15 different shorebirds, including White-rumped Sandpiper, new to our year list, and the boobies, noddies, terns, and frigatebirds that make up the main breeding attraction were everywhere.
Soon after we arrived a private tour boat moored in the harbor and some birders we had met at Bill Baggs State Park were among the guests. Also on-board were two birders from New Jersey who were friends of Michael’s brother. Birding sure is a small world!
The tour was being led by Larry Manfredi of Miami. Larry was extremely helpful to us and let us tag along with his group at times as we all shared information on our latest birding finds. It was Larry who found the White-rumped Sandpipers for us, after we had shown his guests a Baird’s Sandpiper on the beach. Late in the day, Larry found a Black Noddy among the thousands of Brown Noddies in the breeding colony and sent one of his party to find us to make sure we saw the bird for our list! Thank you Larry for helping to make our stay at Fort Jefferson even better.
As day one drew to a close we watched nighthawks feeding over the fort but they would not talk to us and we had to go to bed without an id. We were exhausted from the boat trip and the hectic day of birding.
Early on day two we watched a Purple Gallinule, who appeared as exhausted as we had been the night before, swim ashore. The winds were still fairly strong from the NE and the poor gal just was not up to flying against them. Some of the previous day’s denizens had left however. We noted a marked drop in the total bird numbers as the days progressed.
But birding and bird photography were still great. New species like Bobolink and Veery dropped in and the number of Merlins on the island climbed. We had seen four on day one and counted at least seven on day two. The increase in their number also contributed to the decrease in the numbers of the smaller birds. Larry refound the Black Noddy and Michael even got a fuzzy picture of it.
One of the highlights of day two was meeting an 11 year old birder from New Hampshire named Aiden. Aiden is a young birding phenom and he was great at getting photos of the birds too. On the return trip on the ferry Aiden even managed to see and photograph an Audubon’s Shearwater that we missed! (We had been on the bow with him but decided to get out of the wind and went to the top deck at the stern. The shearwater flew by as we were moving around the boat…bad luck for us but great luck for Aiden, and he deserved it.)
By day three the fallout was petering out. New birds were arriving, but the winds had fallen and it was clear that many birds had managed to fly off the island and continue their migrations north. Some of the birds were not so lucky. We found a couple that had died on the island and the Merlins had surely taken a quite hefty toll. But it did not appear that this fallout had dunked large numbers of birds into the sea as sometimes happens. It had been a spectacle for the birders without being a disaster for the birds.
Once back on the keys, we continued our searches and managed to add Mangrove Cuckoo and Antillean Nighthawk to our keys birding total. Maybe we’ll have more to say about those events later on.