Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Dry Tortugas NP, Day 3: Wildlife Extremes

We've been eating very well on this trip. Janie, one of the NPS crew, has been whipping up decadent meals. Barbeque ribs one night, coconut french toast another morning, and gourmet sandwiches for lunch, not to mention desserts like pecan pie with ice cream. None of us students really know what to make of it - we eat better in this week than any of us do normally. 

This is a week of extremes.  I am closer to wild birds than I have ever been before. Brown pelicans bob just offshore, their bodies ponderous and zeppelin-like as they defy gravity to take flight. Even the frigatebirds nest nearby, and their wickedly tapered silhouettes regard us from overhead. Part of our days are spent standing along the outskirts of the colony, looking for birds with data loggers on their legs. Sooty terns in flight sometimes paddle their legs like ducks swimming in the air, or casually scratch their head with a foot, or perhaps settle their feathers in one big rustle, all without losing altitude. Some birds that are recaptured in banding efforts were banded 30 years ago - from this, we know that terns can live up to 33 years or more.  

It's not just the birds that break my imagination's boundaries. As we walk along the shore we find perfectly formed conch shells, hermit crabs the size of our palms, cowries as big as my fist. We watch a herring gull try to swallow a starfish, and start at the black tips of a nurse shark perusing the shallows. Purple sea fans wash ashore, as do branches of staghorn and elkhorn coral. On some islands in the Tortugas, loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The name came from them - "Dry" for the lack of fresh water and "Tortuga" for the turtles whose eggs the sailors would harvest for holiday feasts.

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