Florida Day Seven. A Seaplane Ride To Dry Tortugas National Park
I was able to cross another item off of my “bucket list” on my recent trip to South Florida. I had wanted to fly in a seaplane since I first saw one land on the ocean in a Flipper or Gentle Ben television episode when I was a child. (Only my old blog followers will remember these shows.) Well I finally was able to realize this longtime wish during my stay in Key West. On Monday afternoon I drove to the laid back Key West Airport for a seaplane flight to the Dry Tortugas. There are only two ways ( other then taking your private boat or plane) to get to the Dry Tortugas, a ferry from Key West or this seaplane, both visit the coral island twice a day.
I was excited as I joined nine fellow passenger for the 40 minute ride over the shallow waters of the Florida Bay.
And it was more exciting to board the plane,
especially since I was allowed to sit in the co-pilot seat next to Brian our pilot. I love airplanes. In my 20’s a friend had a small plane and I often flew to the New Jersey shore from my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Flying in this plane brought back lot of memories.
I enjoyed the roar of the engine and the vibrating of the plane on takeoff. We were soon flying over Key West. We flew right over the pier where I watched the sunrise that morning,
We only flew at a height of 500 feet to allow us to look for wildlife as we flew over the clear waters to the Dry Tortugas, It was mid day and it was hard for me to see anything with the bright sun reflecting off of the water. I thought I may have seen a sea turtle or dolphin but wasn’t sure.
Our pilot provided us a lot of information about the waters, their wildlife and the history of the Dry Tortugas National Park during the 70 mile flight.
The 100 square acre Dry Tortugas National Park is mostly water with seven small coral islands. On one of them was built the massive Fort Jefferson, the largest brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Over 16 million bricks were transported here and used to build this then strategic fort between 1846 and 1875. Construction was never completely finished when it’s use as a fort was discontinued. The fort looked impressive,
as we made our descent and landed smoothly on the waters of the Florida Bay.
We were soon on the white sands of scenic beach and I was immediately reminded of the main purpose for my visit. I heard the loud and incessant cries of the thousands of sooty terns nesting on Bush Key.
and common laughing terns were also flying overhead and diving into the ocean. It was a spectacular scene.
Over 80’000 sooty terns nest on Bush Key from March until September. These amazing birds only return to shore to nest. They can spend 3 to 5 years aloft over the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Young sooty terns fly to the West Coast of Africa always remaining aloft. I find this amazing and was one of the reasons for my visit. Although most of the nesting area was closed some of the birds built there nest near the edge of the island allowing me to see the parent bird on the nest with their eggs. I had also heard that hundreds of species of migratory birds have been reported on Bush Island on their flights to and return from South and Central America. Unfortunately I learned Bush Island was closed from March to September because of the nesting sooty terns It was still an amazing experience and worth the trip.
After watching the nesting sooty terns and
other birds I walked along the beach toward Fort Jefferson,
walking pastthe ferry that visits the island twice a day. It was leaving and only the 10 passengers on my seaplane, a second seaplane’s 10 passengers, a few campers and folks who arrived by private boat would remain on the small island. Unfortunately, as I noted, access to Bush Key was closed and this is were I had planned to spend most of my time on the island.
Well I had to change plans. And exploring historic Fort Jefferson wasn’t a bad way to spend the afternoon especially since it was hot, temperatures were in the mid 80’s and the mid afternoon sun was intense. I was glad to find cool dark brick passages when I entered the gates of the massive fort and began exploring the three levels of the fort.
I walked through the deteriorating brick halls and arches,
encountering only two other people, and reflected on the soldiers and workers who roamed them in this remote part of the world. The fort was build to defend the southern coast of the United States and also served as a prison .
There was so much history , I walked past the casemates or gunrooms,
massive powder magazines and so much more. There is a lot of history here, too much to be related here.
I walked to the top level where I saw this large 15 inch Rodman cannons used to protect the fort.
I took in the views of the fort and it’s lighthouse and
On my walk back to the entrance I saw and learned so much more about the fort and it’s history. I learned that Dr. Samuel Mudd , the physician who was charged with treason for treating the leg of John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln was imprisoned here.
I decided to walk along the moat that surrounded the fort..
Many of the passengers on the seaplane were snorkeling along the walls of the moat and I saw many colorful fish as I peered into the clear waters of the bay. Some of the best snorkeling in the United States is here in the Dry Tortugas National Park.
And overhead I was treated to the sight of dozens of magnificent frigate birds soring in the skies above the fort, This is a female,
My time on the island was almost up , and I decided to visit the bathrooms. Near the bathrooms I found some old live oak trees and finally saw some migratory birds,
a prairie warbler. I think I would have seen many more if I could have visited Bush Key.
While waiting for the seaplane to arrive I was at the right place, at the right time to see this great egret,
And there was still more wildlife before I would leave the island. I watched a brown pelican fly along the shore and
saw these ruddy turnstones on the beach. Here is a link to a gallery where these and some more photos of the birds I saw are displayed. Florida Day Seven Dry Tortugas birds. April 3 2023.
I waited for our seaplane to arrive at the dock . There were a few private boats docked there as well and some of the boats of the park rangers. The seaplane arrived and I enjoyed my first takeoff form an ocean. It was a great visit to the Dry Tortugas National Park and I hope to return, by seaplane, again. Here is a link to another gallery with some more photos from my visit to Dry Tortugas National Park. Florida Day Seven Dry Tortugas April 3 2023
It was now late afternoon and the sun much lower on the horizon. This, I learned made it much easier to see the sea turtles swimming in the Florida Bay, and I saw dozens of them, with their flippers slowly propelling them through the waters. It was a wonderful sight.
I also got a great view of a sunken Spanish warship that carried a vast treasure.
We were soon flying over Key West and landing at the airport. My first flight in a seaplane was a great experience I know it won’t be my last, hopefully the first of many. And here is a link to a gallery with more photos from my first ride on a seaplane. Florida Day Seven Dry Tortugas seaplane Aprile 3 2023
It was early evening by the time I got back to my hotel. Rather than shower, change and drive to town I decided to eat at the hotel and had the same meal as the evening before, a mahi mahi Caesar salad and salsa and chips. It was, again. delicious, I retired early again, reflecting on my great adventure to the Dry Tortugas National Park, and looking forward to another day of exploring Key West.
But he’s in love with the lady of the waters
And she lives somewhere up around Cheauxvan
He’s gonna circle high her runway of love
Until She gives him her permission to land
Strange bird from a different nest
Flying low not like all of the rest
If you can’t catch him you can’t name him
If you can’t see him you can’t claim him
Stay on the ground or he will shoot you down
Wings on his heart, he’s a strange bird
Watch out girl, he’s a strange bird
– Jimmy Buffet from the song Strange Bird