Friday, September 25, 2015

Summerland Key Birding Trip Report

I've uploaded a trip report from my recent field work in Florida Keys (8-15 September) which was based around Summerland and Cudjoe Keys, with a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Highlights included Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Black Noddy, Brown Noddy, a host of migrant warblers, and oh, an Acadian Flycatcher

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dry Tortugas

Earlier this month my job took me back took to Florida Keys. On our last day of field work we decided to have a break and head out to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Traditionally, this US birding hotspot is visited in spring but if your non-birding colleague is up for going, you will go anytime! This site is up there with must-see locations such as Cape May, Attu, SE Arizona, Hawk Mountain, Point Pelee and The Everglades. US-1, the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys, ends at Key West. But the Keys don’t end at Key West because 70 miles further out in the Gulf of Mexico lies the Dry Tortugas. Are these keys any different from the rest? You bet! Long Key and Bush Key have breeding Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern (all departed by mid-September). Hospital Key has breeding Masked Booby! And there are always a few Brown Booby around too. Where else in the ABA region can you see all these species at one site? But the birding was better than this as I saw a Black Noddy as well. 

We landed on Garden Key and explored Fort Jefferson but eventually we were distracted again by our particular interests. My colleague went off to snorkel in the beautiful tropical waters and I looked for the bird bath. Yes, September is the fall migration and the Dry Tortugas are a refuge for birds migrating from North to Central and South America. In an ocean of salty water the fresh water fountain is a magnet for small birds (and Glossy Ibis, White Ibis and Cattle Egret too on this visit) and as I sat and watched the procession of wood-warbler, tanagers and orioles coming to drink I was almost in a dream-like state. Sure, I’d seen many of these species in Florida, Arizona, Maine and New York but it was the ease of observing them here in the open. No patiently waiting for views of them in their breeding habitat – they were flying out into the open and revealing themselves as perfectly as they appear in the classic North American field guides. At least 17 species of wood-warbler were seen. When I was young I used to have vivid dreams about birds like Hoopoes and Northern Cardinals… and wake up so disappointed. 

This was a dream come true. Over 55 species were seen exceptionally well on a tiny island in less than four hours. Other highlights included a Black Skimmer, Least Bittern, around 120 Magnificent Frigatebirds, Dickcissel, Bobolink and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (get it in my scope, a birder once said!).

Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park
South Coaling Docks ruins - location of Black Noddy
Interior of Fort Jefferson
Water fountain attracting many migrant birds