Dry Tortugas Apr 25—28, 2018
Posted by Rafael Galvez
As if we weren’t thrilled enough to be going to the Dry Tortugas, our excitement increased when we woke up the first morning to find the seas filled with Audubon’s Shearwaters. This small shearwater of the tropical Atlantic is generally solitary, and during most circumstances we are fortunate when we see two or three. By midmorning, we were all out on the bow’s deck enjoying a couple of thousand Audubon’s Shearwaters, many of them cruising past our boat or feeding on the surface as large groups of fish stirred the water. During several occasions we were fortunate enough to get quite close to them.
The VENT tour to the Dry Tortugas is special in that we get to spend an extended period of time traveling to the archipelago and within the islands. Rather than rushing to and from Fort Jefferson in a single day via the speedy ferry—one of the few remaining ways to explore the Tortugas as a group—we benefit from the flexibility that the MV Playmate offers, particularly in allowing us to pursue pelagic species on our ride out. Our experience with the Audubon’s Shearwaters this year perfectly illustrates this. It also allows us to sail close to the Masked Booby colony, and gives us the option of intimate dinghy rides along the tern and frigatebird colonies, which are always magical. Birding Garden Key for an extended period, in and around Fort Jefferson, is never a disappointment either. During this tour we had several opportunities to pursue a great representation of migrants and Caribbean specialties, feeling the pulse of migration as birds returned from their wintering grounds to the North American continent. Exciting!
Other highlights during our ride out to the islands included Northern Gannets, Roseate Terns, several views of Loggerhead Sea Turtles—some of them in the act of copulation, many flying fish, Bottlenose Dolphins, and an extremely mesmerizing pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that rode the bow for quite some time, playing in the wake and giving us unparalleled views. We soon started seeing the first of many Magnificent Frigatebirds, one of the birds with the widest wingspan in North America. By midday, we could finally see Fort Jefferson in the horizon; as if built directly atop the water’s surface, no land was visible.
Read Rafael’s full report in his Field Report.