American Robins (in June!) at Evergreen Cemetery. Plus Dayson Basin recap

We’re off work this week and spent the morning at two locations: Dayson Basin and Evergreen Cemetery. I’ll recap the Dayson Basin visit a little further down because the more important story is the presence of numbers of American Robins in Evergreen Cemetery.

American Robin. Evergreen Cemetery, north central Jacksonville. 23 June 2020.

I’ve been updating the Species Accounts again this month, as it’s been a few years since the last major revision. In doing so, I was recently looking at the distribution of various doves in Duval County and noticed there is an expected but significant “hole” in eBird data for all bird species in north central Duval County. I made a decision to try to find a few places to start filling in some gaps, and Evergreen Cemetery off Main Street is about the largest and most obvious green space.

It’s been a few years since Marie and I have been to Evergreen, and our prior experience there was in running the annual “Pumpkin Run” held on the property. They used to host a 10K and 10-miler (at the same time), which made for a good tune-up race for the fall season’s many half marathons we’d run.

We arrived around 09:30 this morning and I immediately regretted not birding this place the last many years. It is a huge property with hundreds of well-spaced, mature oaks and other deciduous trees. This is not only perfect for migrating warblers, but I could see this as perhaps the best location in Jacksonville in winter to look for Brown Creeper.

We heard and saw an American Robin after a few minutes, which was surprising, but not terribly so given that the species is a known (very localized) breeding species in the county. About thirty minutes later, we saw one and perhaps two more, which prompted us to debate whether we were counting one bird twice – a count of 2 versus 3 was actually a bit of a noteworthy distinction.

That all went out the window about 15 or 20 minutes later when we happened upon an entire flock! If we didn’t know better, we would’ve thought it was January. There was at least 18 robins in the bunch and likely many more, as a number of them flushed up into the oak canopy leaving about a dozen hopping on headstones, bathing in urns, and generally frolicking around the grounds.

This is a very significant observation worthy of future study (perhaps next breeding season), as to my knowledge it’s the highest count of American Robin in summer anywhere in Florida, in any year. A quick check of the distribution and abundance in eBird for June-July “all time” supports my thinking.

All told, we concluded the Evergreen visit with 21 species over two hours, including one Mississippi Kite, an always-notable-in-summer Northern Flicker, and dozens of Great Crested Flycatchers.

Now back to Dayson Basin – we started our day at MCSF BI Dayson Basin (a restricted access military facility) at 06:30 to check on any shorebird or waterfowl action.

Sunrise over Dayson Basin on Little Marsh Island. Jacksonville, FL. 23 June 2020.

The basin was holding a good amount of water due to many recent storms, and there were many dozens of mallard/mottled ducks spread throughout the basin. We noted only two shorebird species in the area, both breeding species: Killdeer and Black-necked Stilts. There were about 10 Killdeer with no juvenile birds noted, but we did observe a pair on a scrape. Black-necked Stilts were better represented, with about two or three dozen birds scattered over the acreage, including many young/hatch year birds.

Dayson Basin at sunrise. 23 June 2020.

We saw at least four Gull-billed Terns and an equal number of Least Terns, but no young birds and no evidence of nesting in the area. The “best” species in the dredge disposal area was a pair of regionally-uncommon adult Glossy Ibis. Glossy Ibis is still relatively difficult to see in Duval County and is not a species you can really go out looking for specifically, so it’s always a bit of a treat to see one or more.

Water in the basin.

Over the last year there has been a dredging project in the basin and in the picture below you can see one area that has been built up with new sediment. It’s difficult to tell in the image, but this is really clean, white sand and broken shell, similar to what you’d find on the beaches of Little Talbot Island. Compared to the “elephant skin” of much of the rest of the basin, this material provides an excellent substrate for the nesting Killdeer and other species.

Sandy substrate at Dayson Basin.

There were a couple dozen Roseate Spoonbills loafing in the shallow water, and some were so darn pink they were red…and even a burnt orange. Sibley’s guide shows the bright orange rump in one of the flight profiles, but that’s not a field mark that usually gets much attention from observers. Seeing that orange rump in the morning sunrise on these preening birds was spectacular.

Roseate Spoonbills (poorly digiscoped).

I referred to the “elephant skin” above; for the uninitiated, below is a picture of what I’m talking about. When the mud dries, it cracks to form an actually beautiful landscape that looks like elephant skin. Our two hour visit ended with 37 species, and we headed to the cemetery from there. I’ll leave you with a few more pictures from this morning.

“Elephant skin”
Roseate Spoonbill in flight. Dayson Basin. 23 June 2020.
Elephant Skin

One Comment Add yours

  1. Marie C says:

    Super cool!!

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