9 May 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key May 12DBY target species: Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite.

Final May 12DBY results: 113 ABA countable species (0 non-countable), 14 eBird checklists, and 4,878 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite.

Targets missed: None.
Most unexpected species: Either a late Bonaparte’s Gull at Spoonbill Pond or the Orchard Oriole Marie C. found singing at 0630 at the Gate station while I was pumping gas.

The plan for the May 12DBY was two-fold: to combine it with Cornell’s inaugural eBird Global Big Day and to target some of the more difficult to find breeding species in the county. About a week prior to the event I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by a tremendous young birder, Marie C., who asked to join us on the #GlobalBigDay. We met at the Gate station on Heckscher Drive at 0630, where Marie C (hereafter ‘MC’; Marie Dailey will be ‘MD’) heard an unusual song coming from towards the highway. As I topped off the tank, the Maries ran down a singing Orchard Oriole – and so our day began!

Our first stop was the Eastport Wastelands, an area I have really come to love and have 98 species already this year in just 13 or so visits. The target was to notch the Yellow-breasted Chat I had found the previous weekend. No sooner did we arrive and get out of the truck, and the Chat was singing from his exposed perch for in-the-scope views. We spent a little more time in the Wastelands, where we picked up a number of day birds such as Solitary Sandpiper and Prairie Warbler, and added another Orchard Oriole, which is a new patch bird. I also added two more new 12DBY species here: Green Heron and Wood Duck.

We headed down Heckscher Drive to Imeson Area to check for Common Gallinule, Pied-billed Grebe, and Eastern Meadowlark (keep in mind we were doing a coordinated, county-wide Global Big Day and not just trying for new 12DBY birds). We dipped on all three species, and managed just a few species at Imeson like Killdeer and Mourning Dove. We headed up I-95 towards our day’s main destination – Seaton Creek Preserve. On the way, we added a new 12DBY species – the elusive House Sparrow.

The 12DBY strategy for May really centers around Seaton Creek, because in addition to breeding species you can still manage a few migrants and hopefully other interesting or unexpected land birds. Using the same route outlined in my write-up on Seaton (see Locations on this site), we picked off singing Summer Tanagers, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers singing on territory, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and a singing male Blue Grosbeak right in the parking lot. Fortunately the grounds were relatively dry and we didn’t have to pass through too much mud to get to the Acadian Flycatcher spot, but the bugs and biting flies were a bit of a nuisance. When we arrived at the Acadian habitat, it was quiet for several minutes and we were beginning to think we were going to miss out. Much to our delight, an Acadian started calling and actually flew in to perch directly over our heads for photo opportunities. As we started heading back to the truck, several Yellow-billed Cuckoos also started calling and cavorting.

From Seaton, we drove to the area of M&M Dairy and Sheffield Regional Park. First stopping at Sheffield, we picked up Eastern Kingbird, Mississippi Kite, and a singing Indigo Bunting. Despite seeing Bobolinks here and at M&M Dairy in the week leading up to our 12DBY, we dipped on the species at both locations. M&M Dairy was relatively slow, and produced the expected yellowlegs species, Cattle Egret, and Loggerhead Shrike. After a quick lunch at Subway, we decided to try for something like American White Pelican or Northern Bobwhite at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve. We struck out there and on the way back visited the Tidewater subdivision off Cedar Point Road, which is usually reliable for American Coot and Eastern Meadowlark. Again, we dipped on our targets here and moved on rather quickly.

It was getting a little later in the day, but we headed for Spoonbill Pond to attempt a few shorebirds and species for the Global Big Day. We added aseasonal Lesser Scaup and Bonaparte’s Gull to the Big Day, and new 12DBY species were Long-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Roseate Spoonbill. On the way back down Heckscher Drive we stopped in at Huguenot Memorial Park, where we padded our day list and got us over 100 species, but it was arduous. Not only was the park packed with people, but they had roped off the lagoon to prohibit driving since the Wilson’s Plover chicks had just hatched in days prior. We dropped MC back off at the Gate at 18:30, ending a solid 12 hour, 113 species effort. I managed 15 new 12DBY species, and MC added 7 new life birds! A footnote: the inaugural Duval County #GlobalBigDay teams tallied 153 ABA countable species on the day; an impressive effort to be sure.

After 5 carefully selected days, I’m now at 190 species for the 12DBY competition. 200 is not only seeming more and more doable, but surpass able in perhaps the next one or two efforts; I’m still missing such species as Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, Common Tern, and Black Tern.

New 12DBY species:
Wood Duck, Green Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, House Sparrow.

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