Brown Creeper Certhia americana
Brown Creeper is a very rare winter visitor in the Jacksonville area, with reported observations occurring once every five to ten years. They appear on a variety of Christmas Bird Counts over the years, such as three in 1965 spanning two count parties (Cruickshank, 1966). Subsequent CBCs include one on 26 December 1966, six on 27 December 1970, and one each in ’71, ’73, ’77, and ’78.
In 1971, Grimes remarked that Brown Creepers were normally scarce but their “numbers were up” in Jacksonville that winter (Stevenson, 1971). Unfortunately no further details are available in terms of date, numbers, or locations. On 28 December 1985, Clark found one on Black Hammock Island during the CBC, and then on 8 Jan 2007 he recorded one on Fort George Island very near Kingsley Plantation.
The only Brown Creeper I’ve seen in Jacksonville was on 9 January 2011 while birding the dense woods behind Jacksonville University (JU) with Dylan Beyer. We were walking along the long paved driveway leading from University Boulevard to the Alumni House, when we noticed the bird on a thick, girthy live oak. We watched it for a few minutes, made a few phone calls, and a couple others headed over to see it. The university’s campus can be quite tricky to navigate, and both Pat Murphy and my wife Marie made wrongs turns heading in; Pat arrived in time to see the bird, but Marie missed it by literally three minutes before it disappeared to the south. That whole area at JU has since been razed for student housing, which is unfortunate since it hosted breeding Northern Flicker, Hooded Warbler, and many other species.
Late December and into mid-January would be perhaps the best time to search for Brown Creeper in dense old growth oak hammocks. The best locations to seek them would be Fort George Island, Theodore Roosevelt area, and Cedar Point Preserve, which all have suitable habitat for them along the trails.
Those not as experienced with Creepers should keep in mind that they creep up a tree, then fly down to the base before climbing back up…if you see a small bird crawling down a trunk or flitting around underneath a limb, it is more likely a Black-and-white Warbler or Kinglet.