Our first trip to the Tortugas was in 2008 and we’ve always wanted to return.
In February when Sue suggested we make a return trip in April, I was all for it. First thing I did was check eBird to find the best week in April for migrants. All things pointed to the 3rd week, unfortunately this year, the birds had other ideas.
We parked the car at 300 Grinnell St, and walked the short distance to the ferry terminal where we’d board the Yankee Freedom for our trip to the Dry Tortugas.
After a long speech about what we could and couldn’t do on board and at Fort Jefferson, Sue and I boarded at 8:30am. We were underway within minutes, all 175 people.
After leaving the harbor, there were a few birds on the water but within a few miles we didn’t see another bird until we were within 2 miles of the fort. After breakfast (supplied), we went out on the deck and saw few dolphins and a sea turtle, not much else was moving.
We began seeing boobies on the channel markers when we were within sight of the fort.
Sooty Terns, Brown Noddy’s and Frigatebirds could be seen flying in every direction.
It was 10:30am by the time we docked at Fort Jefferson, we felt the heat almost immediately and after standing on the bow with the wind in our faces, the temperature was getting up near 34.C (94F).
Sue and I realized how hot it was going to get, lots of water breaks, were going to be the order of the day.
The fort grounds are perfect for photography and there’s a photo opportunity at every turn.
The local birds are easily approachable, most really have nowhere to go and they let people approach within feet, with the migrants things are a little different. They are here to rest and get a drink before they fly on to the mainland and should be viewed from a distance. The day we visited it was close to 37.5C (100F), any movement the birds have to make, expends much needed energy they need for migration.
Amazing close up’s are possible but remember I use a 600mm lens, it allows me to get extreme close ups without having to get close to the birds.
Have you ever seen a Barn Swallow at eye level?
Fly-by Sooty Tern
The Brown Noddy’s can be seen from shore, they are perched on branches, and old dock supports a few feet off shore.
Back in 2008, I was lucky enough to find a Black Noddy on these supports.
Walking along the beach you can see just about anything during migration, over 300 species of birds have been seen in the area.
A climb to the top of the fort allows for an eye to eye with a Frigatebird or its a great spot to scope for birds on the old dock supports.
Moving back down to ground level you can walk over to an area where access past the sign, is not allowed but from the sign you can easily see birds flying to and from their nesting areas.
The shear numbers of birds flying, makes it tough to find rarities without a scope, but carrying a scope, camera equipment, water in this heat is brutal and ferry rules do not allow leaving things onboard.
Sue and I had a wonderful 4 hours on the island but I won’t lie, I was super happy to get back to the air conditioning on the boat.
As the Yankee Freedom leave’s Fort Jefferson, the Captain always goes by Hospital Key so birders on board can get binocular views of Masked Booby Colony. This is the only nesting site in North America for this species.
From a moving ferry my Tamron 150-600, coupled with my D800E, did its job.
I can’t wait until the next time Sue and I set foot in the Dry Tortugas
Ciao for now