What has 16 million bricks, the dark red ones from Maine and the remaining lighter pinky-red bricks from Pensacola, Fla., and is 90 miles from Cuba and equal distance from mainland Florida? Fort Jefferson.

My husband, Flip, was having a big birthday, so we decided to travel on M/V Dovekie, our catamaran, to the Dry Tortugas for the occasion. Fort Jefferson is located on Garden Key, one of the seven Keys (islands) that make up the Dry Tortugas. We wended our way down the Florida Keys to find ourselves anchored in a calm mangrove estuary in Saddlebunch Keys by April 22. We found the flats hosted a variety of herons and even a few roseate spoonbills and great white herons. Early the next morning we had a northeast wind, which was nice as it was behind us, so the trip to the Dry Tortugas was mellow. We were able to spot bridled terns, one resting on a piece of driftwood, and a masked booby sitting on the water. The yellow buoy “O” which designates the outer limits of the Dry Tortugas National Park was peppered with brown boobies, brown noddies and double-crested cormorants.

We arrived at an anchorage next to Garden Key just as the wind shifted and started to blow from the southeast. Although there are seven islands that make up the Tortugas, people can only visit Garden and Loggerhead Keys. We went ashore to explore Fort Jefferson and see what birds had been seen. Garden and Loggerhead Keys are famous amongst birders as they host about 300 species of birds as they migrate through from the Caribbean and Cuba. A perpetual water fountain is a magnet for the song birds and unfortunately also the birds of prey. We found that there had been 15 species of warblers seen in the last two days including a hooded warbler. We spent an hour or so birding but decided with the wind picking up we should set a second anchor. Good thing we did, as it blew like stink all night.

The following day we decided to move to the north side of Fort Jefferson to provide us with some lee from the southerly winds. This proved to be a good move, although getting into the Fort by dingy was quite a soggy challenge. We ended up wearing foul weather gear each trip and double bagging our binoculars and camera. Not an easy ride. We were never able to get to Loggerhead Key due to the wind. Nor were we able to dingy around Bush or Long Keys, which are located spitting distance from Garden Key, to see the nesting sooty terns, brown noddies and magnificent frigatebirds. These keys are the only places in North America where there are significant nesting colonies for these species. Nearby Hospital Key is the only nesting area of significance for masked boobies in North America. We didn’t miss seeing any of these species although not as closely as we might have if we had had less wind.

We did have a decent birding time ending up with spotting about 50 species including 15 species of warblers. The best birds were the terns, boobies and frigatebirds!

Our trip back to Key West was the pits. We had headwinds and the seas were confused and by my way of thinking huge. We beat against wind and current until we were sick of it and pulled into Mooney Harbor in the Marquesas. These keys are about 20 miles from Key West and provide, for shallow draft vessels, a smooth safe anchorage. As we were setting the anchor a blackbird flew onboard and after sitting on the rail for a few second winged into the cabin, made the rounds and flew out. I didn’t think fast enough so the photo I took was fuzzy, but good enough to use to verify that the bird that visited us was a shiny cowbird. There were also roseate spoonbills on the flats. The final good bird of the trip was a white-crowned pigeon that peeked out of the top of a stand of red mangroves in a thin cut that we navigated through after taking on fuel at Plantation Key.

Bird Sightings:

New arrivals this week include orchard orioles. Allan Keith had two at Squibnocket on April 29. The next day he had a purple martin, least tern and a lesser black-backed gull at Cape Pogue. Allan had two prothonotary warblers at the Oak Bluff Pumping Station on April 29. He added we should watch the area as the willows over the water are perfect for this warbler’s nest sight.

An unusually late record is the snowy owl that Luanne Johnson spotted at Edgartown Great Pond on April 30. Hope it stays around for the Bird-a-thon on May 15 and 16.

Dale Carter had her first snowy egret of the season at the Dyke Bridge marsh on April 29. She also has purple finch at her Chappaquiddick feeder by the bridge.

Lynne and Granville White heard their first whip-poor-will on April 29.

Tom Rivers had an American kestrel over his Tea Lane house on April 30 and had his first whip-poor-will May 3.

Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens had a yellow warbler at the Tisbury Water Works on April 28.

Phyllis and Bob Conway had an eastern bobwhite wander through their yard on May 5. John Liller heard a Virginia rail calling by Eel Pond on the same day.

Whit Manter’s yard hosted white-crowned sparrows on May 4 and on April 29 he spotted scarlet tanager and ovenbirds, as well as northern parula, black and white and prairie warblers at Waskosims Rock. In his West Tisbury yard a brown thrasher arrived. The same day Sally Anderson also spotted Baltimore orioles at Waskosims and the following day saw all the same warblers that Whit did as well as great-crested flycatchers.

Robin Gray spotted a male scarlet tanager in her Edgartown yard pigging out on her oranges on May 2.

A pair of blue-winged teal was seen by Sally Anderson on May 1 at Sepiessa.

Joan Ames heard her first wood thrush of the season at Seven Gates on May 2 and watched a pair of wood ducks feeding on a hatch of insects over her nearby pond. A pair of hummingbirds appeared at the window that she hung her hummingbird feeder in last year. They buzzed around that window until Joan put up her hummingbird feeder! Guess they had been there before.

Joan Jenkinson from the North Road in Chilmark wins the prize for the most number of Baltimore orioles (eight pair) and indigo buntings (four pair). She also had a brown thrasher in her yard May 5.

Dorie Godfrey and Ira Certner had a male rose-breasted grosbeak arrive to join the female on May 1.

May 3 Sally Anderson heard her first American redstart at Waskosims Rock as well as prairie, black and white and northern parula warblers.

Indigo buntings, ruby-throated hummingbirds, grey catbirds, Baltimore orioles, eastern towhees, and many Vineyard nesting warblers have arrived during the last week.

I have received reports from many people from Edgartown to Aquinnah. I don’t have enough room to mention everyone, but thank you for calling and e-mailing me.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to birds@mvgazette.com.