Lesser Nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis
The only report of Lesser Nighthawk in Duval County came during the Christmas Bird Count on 26 Dec 2009. I was birding with Roger Clark all day in our area of Black Hammock Island and Cedar Point, but we decided to finish the birding day at dusk at M&M Dairy.
Two nighthawks started flying low over the field, and we were able to study them quite well for many minutes. We determined there was one each Lesser and Common Nighthawk, which at that time of year it is actually more remarkable to see a Common than a Lesser! Neither species is expected in winter, and Lesser should not be expected here at any time of year.
Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor
Common Nighthawks usually arrive in the area between the third and fourth week of April and remain throughout the summer. They are entirely gone by the end of the first week in October. Historically, a go-to place to find them was a patch of land off Heckscher Drive near Carlucci Boat Ramp, an area that was turned into a salt marsh mitigation area in 2017…a place I then dubbed “Heritage River Road Wetlands”.
Regardless, they can be found quite easily in any of the open spaces – I’ve even had them regularly over the dirt lot next to Walmart on Monument Road. Try in suitable habitat around 7:50-8:20PM in late April and throughout May and June, and you should be able to find one. Suggested places include the south end of Little Talbot Island over the dunes, Sheffield Regional Park, or Taye Brown park on the west side.
In terms of significant local dates, on 7 March 1979 Julie Cocke observed one that Kale (1979) noted as the earliest spring date for the Northern Peninsula (of Florida). The only winter report is from M&M Dairy on 26 Dec 2009 (see Lesser Nighthawk entry). The species is also known to migrate in significant numbers in September; indeed, on 4-5 September 1974 Markgraf and Cocke counted over 10,000 one evening (Edscorn, 1975). This can still be an interesting spectacle to look out for each fall (though not quite in those numbers!).
Chuck-will’s-widow Antrostomus carolinensis
Chuck-will’s-widow is another nightjar species that breeds in the area, arrives in mid-March, and remains throughout the spring and summer months. “Chucks” are quite vocal all over Fort George Island, particularly around the Ribault Club area. Just park in the (free) dirt parking lot across the street from the Club around dusk and you’ll easily hear them (although you may not see one). Walk the trails on the island in May and June – even during daylight – and you may encounter one roosting. This species is also quite easily found at places like Theodore Roosevelt Area, Cedar Point Preserve, Reddie Point Preserve, or Betz-Tiger Point.
Eastern Whip-poor-will Antrostomus vociferus
Not much is known about the status of Eastern Whip-poor-will in northeast Florida, but I do know that the best time to hear them is around the 14th of March. Like clockwork, you can go out in suitable habitat and hear them start calling promptly around 7:53PM from 14-20 March (you may want to even start trying around the 10th). The earliest known spring record comes from the 10th and another on 11 March, a bird Marie and I heard in 2016 at Cedar Point. Suitable habitat includes just outside the closed gate of Kingsley Plantation, Theodore Roosevelt Area, Cedar Point, or Sheffield Regional Park. I believe Reddie Point Preserve would produce them as well, but I haven’t confirmed that yet.
There have also been intermittent reports in winter over the years, but should not be expected then. I had one many years ago around twilight at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve in January and again there on the 2014 Christmas Bird Count, and personally tallied other late December observations from Fort George Island in 2016 and 2017.