The Dry Tortugas, 80 miles off Key West, Florida, have the only nesting colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds in North America. For birders it is one of the attractions of the islands in spring. The colony is actually on Long Key, which is closed to human traffic during nesting, so the only way to see the birds on the nest is in a kayak or small motor boat, cruising out along the no-boats markers in the very shallow water in front of the key. To see them in flight, however, you just have to look up…at any given moment there are a dozen or more circling over Ft. Jefferson, and several hundred circling over Long Key. This shot was taken from the top of the Fort, where the birds are often at eye-level and certainly no more than 20 feet above your head. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications (minimum shutter speed ISO set to 1/2000th in the excellent light). Processed in Polarr.
I still have lots of photos from my three spring trips to post. Portugal, The Dry Tortugas, and the Biggest Week in American Birding in Ohio, all packed into a one month period. 100,000 Sooty Terns nest on the Dry Tortugas. You can not get very close to them during nesting but the mass of them over, on, and around Bush Key as seen from the top of the fort is totally impressive. If you are lucky enough to have a small boat and cruise out along the no-boats markers past Bush Key (on your way to Long Key to view the Magnificent Frigatebirds nesting, for instance) you have a good chance of seeing the Sooty Terns rise and circle over the shallow waters to fish and drink. They can literally surround your boat…often passing within a few feet. On our last day on the islands, the Sooty Terns rose and circled us not once, but three times. It was spectacular. Catching them on the wing, and as they drink, is a challenge…but one that few bird photographers can resist at least trying. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications (1/2000th minimum shutter speed ISO). Processed in Polarr and assembled in Framemagic.
Of course one of the main draws of any visit to the Dry Tortugas, is the only nesting colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds in North America. On our Wildside Nature Tours trip we had the advantage of the ship’s dingy to make two trips out as close as you can get to the rookery in the late afternoon/early evening when the light was just right for photography. This shot is from our last and most productive visit. Nesting season is coming to an end, but at least this one male was in full display. This is a heavy crop of a 600mm equivalent image…so we were not close. The park has the area in front of the rookery marked as no access, and the water there is often no more than ankle deep anyway, so can’t get closer in a boat…and no foot access is allowed at any time. Still, can I say “magnificent”! Sony RX10iv as above. Program mode with my birds in flight and action modifications. Processed in Polarr.
The Black-whiskered Viero breeds in extreme south Florida and the West Indies as far south as the offshore islands of Venezuela. We found this one on the Dry Tortugas, inside Fort Jefferson. For most on our Wildside Nature Tour, it was a life bird. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Though it was not one of those trips to the Dry Tortugas that turned up an amazing number of Neo-tropical Migrants on their way north, we did see a few. This Ovenbird was in the thick brush around the campground. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
I am back in Key West for the night after 3 days on the Dry Tortugas with Wildside Nature Tours. The Dry Tortugas are a small chain of 7 coral islands, 70 miles off Key West, Florida. Just after Florida was purchased from Spain in 1824 and through the Civil War, the United States, and then the Union, attempted to build a fort, Fort Jefferson, there as a base to guard the sea lanes and shipping routes from the Mississippi River and the Gulf to the Atlantic seaboard. The Fort was never finished. Conditions proved too difficult. It went through several incarnations: as a prison during the Civil War, as a coaling station and then a quarantine center after. It’s 243 heavy canons were never fired in combat. It was, and still is, the largest brick masonry structure in the western hemisphere. The surrounding islands have been a bird sanctuary since 1908, and Fort Jefferson is now a National Park…the only one accessible only by boat and seaplane.
Besides being home to the only nesting colonies of several Caribbean sea birds, during spring and fall migration, the islands can, deepening on the winds, serve as a rest stopover on the journey across the Caribbean for warblers, orioles, tanagers, flycatchers, etc. Therefore they are popular destination for birders.
What we have here is a pair of Bridled Terns, a pelagic tern that nests further south in the Caribbean, and in small numbers on the islands, and ranges in summer along the inland edge of the gulf stream sometimes as far north as Connecticut.
Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
We had already pretty well done the Everglades for this trip, so yesterday we took a Sunday drive down the Keys. My first visit there, and I was certainly impressed by the scenery. Birds…not so much. It was a slow day for birds. Mid-December is evidently not high season on the Keys. Still, we looked, without success, for Key Deer, and we spent a pleasant few hours chasing passerines, dragonflies, and butterflies at the Key West Botanical Garden. This is my life Mangrove Skipper…a great bug at any time and on any day, thank you very much!
Sony HX400V at 1150mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 800 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom on my Surface Pro 3 tablet.