Dry Tortugas National Park: A Lazy Day

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Great Blue Heron

Just before dawn on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, a bit of light rain fell on Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park. It was barely enough to warrant putting the rainflies on our tents, but it caused us to stir a bit. By the time the sun rose just about 7am, most of us were awake and ready for a quiet, relaxing day on the island.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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For breakfast we had hot coffee and oatmeal cooked over charcoal on the grill in our campsite.

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Hermit Crab and coconut

That morning, Ion began his quest to crack open a coconut. Helped by various of us, he eventually got it open, and we all tasted freshly harvested coconut from right there in the campground.

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After breakfast, despite the cloudiness, it was time to get back into the water, and it was where we were when the ferry returned with that day’s load of day trippers and campers ready to explore Dry Tortugas.

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Cushion Star

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Sergeant Major and Butter Hamlets

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Blue Tangs, Butter Hamlets, and Tomtates

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Blue-Striped Grunts and Brain Coral

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Sea Rod and Brain Coral

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Sea Rod

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Nick and I snorkeled over to the pylons of the south coaling dock. The water, while not rough, was a bit choppier than the previous day. I freaked out a little bit because it was hard not to touch the pylons while swimming through them because of the motion of the water.

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Sea Grass and Coconuts

After a short time, I’d had enough of the pylons and swam back to the swimming beach to lazily float above the seagrass beds.

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Sea Rod

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Noon came and went while we were at the beach or in the water.

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By mid-afternoon, we were still lying around on the beach. I had finally given myself over to relaxation.

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Great Blue Heron

I noticed that our Great Blue Heron friend was over on the moat wall to the north of the swimming beach, so I grabbed my camera to get a few shots. While I was there I noticed a strange-colored duck in the moat and some Magnificent Frigatebirds carrying on overhead.

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Ring-Necked Duck (female)

At first glance, the duck looked like a Blue-Winged Teal, which is how I listed it in my notebook there on the island. But the breast wasn’t dappled and the light coloration on the face wasn’t crescent-shaped. Eventually back home and with the help of my friend John, I IDed her as a female Ring-Necked Duck.

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Magnificent Frigatebirds

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Earlier, Juan had hemmed and hawed over whether to buy a little Hermit Crab from the visitor center/bookstore as a souvenir. Ultimately, he’d decided not to. But someone else bought it for him and hid it in his tent.

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Great Blue Heron, Royal Terns, and Laughing Gulls

A little while later, the Great Blue Heron showed up on one of the pylons of the south coaling dock. Obviously, it thought it was a Brown Pelican.

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Brown Pelican and Laughing Gulls

An actual Brown Pelican was like, “What are you doing here, weirdo?”

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Laughing Gull

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Tidal Spray Crab carapace

Ion found the carapace of a Tidal Spray Crab on the helipad.

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In the three-o-clock hour, we prepared a late lunch/early dinner in the campsite. Some of the campers had left and others had arrived, including a group of six young men and women who had kayaks with them. We chatted with them a bit as they set up camp.

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White-Winged Dove

A strange-looking dove visited us while we were eating. It looked a lot like a Mourning Dove save for the white on its wings, its bright legs, and its colorful face. Back home checking IDs in Chicago, I’d discover that it wasn’t a Mourning Dove at all but instead a White-Winged Dove.

Nevertheless, the dove felt that it was entitled to our food and was as brazen as a Steller’s Jay in trying to grab bits and crumbs.

It was already 4pm by the time we Chicagoans finished lunch/dinner. The Detroiters had packed theirs up to have a picnic at the fort. Since the day trippers were already gone from the island, it was an ideal moment for all eight of us to explore Fort Jefferson and have it to ourselves.

 

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