19 Apr 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY)

Key April 12DBY target species: Migrants, migrants, and more migrants.

Final April 12DBY results: 105 ABA countable species, 8 eBird checklists, and 3,489 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Glossy Ibis, Solitary Sandpiper, and Orchard Oriole
Targets missed: Cape May Warbler
Most unexpected species: Common Loon

April’s 12DBY selection coincided with a Duval Audubon field trip I was leading at Kingsley Plantation and Fort George Island. Mid-April at this location can be excellent for migrants, and being in close proximity to Huguenot Memorial Park played nicely into my strategy to pick up some of the arrivals there as well.

My day started at 6AM at the Ribault Club on Fort George Island for owling, where I was joined by two early trip participants. We managed a single Eastern Screech-Owl, a handful of Lightning Bugs, and several Chuck-will’s-widows, adding the day’s first new 12DBY species. The field trip proper started at Ribault Club’s parking lot around 7AM, where we checked the Fort George Inlet and sandbars from behind the Club. I managed a single Gull-billed Tern over the salt marsh, but nothing else new for the competition. Birding proved slow most of the morning, so as a consequence I slowly padded the 12DBY list with species like Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, a single Ovenbird, a calling Summer Tanager, Black-throated Blue, Prairie, and Yellow-throated Warblers, and both Indigo and a glorious male Painted Bunting.

We moved on to Kingsley Plantation at 9AM and Gary Davis found not one but two new birds for the list – Orchard Oriole and Merlin. Both species were perched for in-the-scope views along the tall treeline next to the giftshop/ranger building. This spot used to be “magical” in previous years with skeins of migrants moving along the tops of the trees in the morning light, but in recent years it’s difficult to manage a single warbler species there. Sad commentary on the abundance of migrants here in spring migration. On the way back to the parking lot, I noticed a Common Loon flying over the garden heading northeast. This “flying bowling pin” was another new 12DBY bird.

The trip disbanded after Kingsley, so Marie and I headed over to Huguenot Memorial Park on an incoming tide and did one circuit around the park. The stake-out birds were Marbled Godwit and Whimbrel (we got both), and I also added Least, Caspian, and Sandwich Tern making a four tern addition to the competition.

The next target was Solitary Sandpiper and I had two locations staked out from seeing them the previous day. The first spot was Sheffield Regional Park, where the pair of sandpipers seen not 24 hours prior had departed. The visit wasn’t a total bust, however, since I added Eastern Kingbird near the playground. Leaving Sheffield, we swung by nearby M&M Dairy and scoped an impressive flock of 35-50 foraging Glossy Ibis – one of the largest groups of the species you’re likely to find in Duval County. A quick check of the power line cut on Port Jacksonville Parkway produced a male Blue Grosbeak (they nest in the area), and Cattle Egret (a species I conspicuously dipped on thus far this year).

Eastport Wastelands was my final stop and the target was the lone Solitary Sandpiper Marie and I found there the previous day. Eastport Wastelands is what we’ve affectionately named this desolate acreage that borders Heckscher Drive to the south and Eastport Road to the west; it is a mostly barren hellhole where the land has obviously been pillaged and poisoned over the last century by the neighboring gas and oil refinery and cardboard recycling plant. Now, I have no science to back that statement up, but it doesn’t take a genius to make the connection. The land is sparsely covered by vegetation that is somehow still alive, but 90% of it is blanketed with fried plants and trees. It seriously looks like a nuclear bomb has been dropped on the entire parcel. There are some swampy cypress bottomlands that contain a few waders and ducks, but no species in numbers. I’m confident this is the area where Sam Grimes recorded nesting King Rails and Purple Gallinules in the 1930’s, but there is no evidence or indication that they’re still extant there – and believe me, I have tried.

Having said all that, in the last 6 or 7 visits I’ve recorded 75 species on the property, so there is life there – and on Sunday we found 5 (yes, five!) Solitary Sandpipers. The sandpipers were in a large “black water” mud bog that we parked on the edge of and set up our scopes to view them. In the distance, a camouflaged Jeep Cherokee with an exhaust snorkel jutting up in the air next to the driver’s window slowly rumbled into view. Marie said something like “Oh no, he’s going to head right over here and flush these birds”. Well, she was absolutely correct – the Jeep proceeded to rumble through 2 feet of deep mud/sludge in that black water bog and came to a stop right next to us. The window slowly rolled down and we were treated to two locals with their child in the backseat. The driver proceeded to tell me how to navigate the bog as he was eyeballing my near-pristinely washed ten year old 4×4 (a vehicle I obviously 4 wheel in, but not mud bog in), and followed it with “Go git you some of that. I’ll be back around in 10 minutes to check on you.” A friendly chap, but we had no intention of waiting for that ten minutes to pass. A word of advice – the Eastport Wastelands is some of the most challenging birding you will encounter in NE FL (think a cross between deep Pumpkin Hill and Imeson), and is not somewhere to even attempt without a 4×4 vehicle – and preferably a truck that sits up high. An AWD car or SUV will likely not make it, and this is not an area where you want to get stuck, believe me. AAA will not come to your rescue there.

Overall, I added 26 species to the Duval County 12DBY in April, bringing the total after the 4-day mark to 175 species. I still feel like I’m on track for the 220 I set as a 12DBY goal.

The List:

Species Name Species Count Sample Size
Canada Goose – Branta canadensis 46 2
Mallard (Domestic type) – Anas platyrhynchos (Domestic type) 8 2
Mottled Duck – Anas fulvigula 3 1
Mallard/Mottled Duck – Anas platyrhynchos/fulvigula 2 1
Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator 1 1
Indian Peafowl (Domestic type) – Pavo cristatus (Domestic type) 1 1
Common Loon – Gavia immer 1 1
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps 1 1
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana 2 1
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus 14 3
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga 3 2
Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis 12 1
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias 6 3
Great Egret – Ardea alba 35 6
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula 10 4
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea 5 3
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis 16 2
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus 12 2
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus 35 1
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus 4 2
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 14 3
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus 1 1
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus 1 1
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus 2 2
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis 1 1
Clapper Rail – Rallus crepitans 1 1
American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus 2 1
Black-bellied Plover – Pluvialis squatarola 5 1
Wilson’s Plover – Charadrius wilsonia 3 1
Semipalmated Plover – Charadrius semipalmatus 1 1
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus 2 1
Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius 2 1
Solitary Sandpiper – Tringa solitaria 5 1
Willet – Tringa semipalmata 26 4
Whimbrel – Numenius phaeopus 4 1
Marbled Godwit – Limosa fedoa 2 1
Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres 20 1
Sanderling – Calidris alba 33 2
Dunlin – Calidris alpina 18 2
Least Sandpiper – Calidris minutilla 2 1
Short-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus griseus 70 2
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus griseus/scolopaceus 4 1
Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus atricilla 2,642 5
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis 6 1
Herring Gull – Larus argentatus 4 1
Great Black-backed Gull – Larus marinus 1 1
Least Tern – Sternula antillarum 12 1
Gull-billed Tern – Gelochelidon nilotica 1 1
Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia 4 1
Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus 16 1
Sandwich Tern – Thalasseus sandvicensis 1 1
Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger 45 2
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura 10 4
Eastern Screech-Owl – Megascops asio 1 1
Chuck-will’s-widow – Antrostomus carolinensis 4 1
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica 9 3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris 1 1
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon 3 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus 6 3
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens 2 2
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus 4 2
Merlin – Falco columbarius 1 1
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus 13 4
Eastern Kingbird – Tyrannus tyrannus 2 2
Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus 1 1
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus 12 5
Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus 10 2
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata 4 4
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos 4 2
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus 14 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis 2 1
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis 11 4
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor 12 3
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon 2 2
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus 10 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea 15 4
Eastern Bluebird – Sialia sialis 2 1
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis 4 4
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum 1 1
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos 11 5
European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris 4 1
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum 6 2
Ovenbird – Seiurus aurocapilla 1 1
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia 3 1
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas 1 1
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana 32 3
Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens 2 1
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum 1 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata 1 1
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica 24 3
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor 1 1
Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus 5 3
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis 5 3
Summer Tanager – Piranga rubra 1 1
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis 24 8
Blue Grosbeak – Passerina caerulea 1 1
Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea 2 2
Painted Bunting – Passerina ciris 2 2
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus 7 3
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula 1 1
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major 16 2
Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater 2 1
Orchard Oriole – Icterus spurius 1 1
House Finch – Haemorhous mexicanus 6 2

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