September 29, 2011
Arriving at the Tortugas is a pretty awesome experience. The azure waters that surround the small islands, the majesty of the imposing and beautiful Fort Jefferson, still the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere, the huge frigate birds circling overhead and the beautiful lighthouse on Loggerhead Key all make for a wonderful experience, especially under a beautiful sunny day like the day that I heeded out to meet Kathy.
She had already broken down her campsite when I arrived and so we had the entire four and a half hour stay to take full advantage of all that the Fort has to offer. Kathy had spent the previous two days and nights camping under the amazing starry skies just off the beautiful soft white sand beach. She had spent her days snorkeling the amazing reefs that are just off shore as well as kayaking to some of the smaller out islands which are only reachable by water such as Loggerhead Key.
It is a pretty magical experience being at the Fort when hardly anyone else is around. The beauty and sense of isolation can be intoxicating and Kathy took full advantage of her time, including watching both sunrise and sunset from the ramparts of the fort overlooking the beautiful islands. It is one of our most favorite spots in all of the Keys and one of the more beautiful and photogenic areas as well.
Upon arrival, I took a quick walk around the Fort itself, I have been many times before but it is such an impressive structure, that you almost always notice something new. The views from the upper ramparts and the lighthouse are spectacular and the place just has a historic feel about it. From my lofty vantage point, I could see the boat we arrived on , the fort tour with about a third of the passengers and the birding tour with another third.
The rest of the passengers just went off on their own like I did. Eventually I joined Kathy in the water snorkeling in the amazing near shore reefs from the white sandy beach. There are a number of huge fish and other sea creatures because the area has been under protection for so long and is still very healthy and filled with amazingly vibrant large corals. There were a large number of very large moon jellyfish present as well and you had to be on constant alert not to swim in to their tentacles. They are beautiful and only mildly stingy, but I choose to dodge them regardless.
Our friend Carla and her son George Robert joined us in snorkeling as well while big George was participating in the birding tour. There were apparently a good number of sightings while we were there including a somewhat rare bird called a whimbrel. But young George Robert stole the show and upstaged all of the more professional birders when borrowing his father’s camera, snapped a shot that turned out to be a really rare Townsend’s Warbler.
Not only did he spot it and photograph it, but he was the only one who saw it. On the boat ride back to Key West, the birders were all a twitter about the photo- arguing over what it might be. Once home the photo was sent off to a bird expert and the identity of the rare creature was confirmed. Young George’s sighting got a listing on the International database of birding and garnered him recognition in the form of a front page story in the local paper, The Key West Citizen.
All in all, it was another great day and a great visit to one of the true gems of the Florida Keys, such days make us appreciate the wonderful place that we live and the good friends who also help make this such a special community.
Key West Citizen story