Catching up on the Spring Season

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything and quite honestly didn’t really expect to have many more items for the “Birding Jacksonville” site. Marie and I were planning on moving to Arizona in April, and then the pandemic hit…I won’t go into details or attempt any sort of “COVID coverage”, but in short our move is off for 2020 so we’ll be around Jacksonville for a good bit longer.

There have been a number of good birds around since March, and I’ll attempt to summarize them briefly here for posterity.

Gull-billed Terns: Gull-billed Terns have been in serious decline locally the last 15 years but seem to be experiencing a mini-resurgence. They have been well documented regularly at three locations the last two or three years now – at Heritage River Road Wetlands, Spoonbill Pond, and in Dayson Basin on Little Marsh Island. They’ve also been seen pretty regularly at Huguenot Memorial Park. In fact, they’re “routine” enough now to no longer have flagged as rare on eBird.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck: I can still remember the first county report of this species in 2003, and they are now a very localized breeder (mainly in the ‘Thomas Creek tract’). It’s still a treat to see them here, and this spring Marie and I found a pair loafing at our neighborhood pond in Shell Bay on 20 April. That was the first time I’ve ever seen the species on Little Marsh Island in 18+ years living on the island.

Glaucous Gull: I found this bird at Huguenot on 25 April, and if you’ve read the blog before you’ll know how much I enjoy seeing this species almost every year there. This particular bird is still present into what is now the “summer season”, which is a first summer Duval county record (the summer season being June and July). Below is a picture taken in April, and based on the condition of the feathers it’s no surprise the bird is still here.

Glaucous Gull. Huguenot Memorial Park. April 2020.
Glaucous Gull (worn feathers). Huguenot Memorial Park. April 2020.

Magnificent Frigatebird: Marie and I have been doing a weekly grocery shopping trip to Amelia Island since the pandemic started, since the Harris Teeter there is not only nicer than the local Publix but is also less crowded (and they have one of the very best craft beer selections in Northeast Florida!). On the evening of 7 May, we were just about to get on the Nassau Sound bridge there at Spoonbill Pond when we saw not one, but two Magnificent Frigatebirds at roughly bridge height and cruising east. I’ve been waiting on adding this to the Duval County list for decades, and finally notched it.

Heermann’s Gull: I saw this rather remarkable bird on 8 May at Hanna Park. Obviously Heermann’s Gulls are quite rare and exceptional anywhere in Florida, and this is presumably the same bird recently documented just north in Nassau County…and possibly the same bird seen as far south as Palm Beach County, although I think it’s just as likely that it’s a different bird. Regardless, it’s a new species for the all-time Duval County recordbooks.

White-rumped Sandpiper: The second week of May is one I normally keep circled on the calendar, as it’s very predictable that the White-rumped Sandpipers will be here. I found them on 10 May at Spoonbill Pond, which happens to be the best place in northeast Florida to look for them. I’m happy to report many others have been able to get up to Spoonbill since the 10th and observe this difficult-to-find, and often difficult-to-identify species.

Baird’s Sandpiper: I found this bird on 16 May while I was out at Spoonbill Pond looking for more White-rumped Sandpipers. It’s the first report I can recall here in spring, and is an exceptional report at any time and in any year in northeast Florida. A few other birders managed to see it over the next couple of days, and several others continued to try to look for it up to 10 and 11 days later. In my opinion, a bird like this won’t likely be around that long so I am not surprised no one reported it recently.

Orchard Oriole and Least Bittern: Both species were observed at Eastport Wastelands on 17 May. The orioles are still breeding in the swamp there and it’s hands down the best place I’ve found in Jacksonville to listen to their beautiful singing. The Bittern is trickier – I presume they’re breeding in the reeds and rushes surrounding the recharge ponds, but you can’t access that area to get close enough…this bird was a flyover heading from the ponds to the swamp area.

Red-headed Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow: I’ve written a few times about how wonderful Branan Field Mitigation Area can be in spring; in summary, there is often no one else out there hiking, no dogs, and you can listen to and observe a number of breeding species “on territory”. Bachman’s Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Northern Bobwhite, Summer Tanager, Pine Warbler, Red-bellied, Downy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, and now (presumably) Red-headed Woodpeckers all breed there, along with more “common” species like Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse. On a recent visit (21 May 2020), I hiked over 5 miles around the property and managed a decent distant shot of one of my favorite species – Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker. Branan Field Mitigation Area. 21 May 2020

Acadian Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, and Prothonotary Warbler: The weekend of Memorial Day, Marie and I made a visit to the National Cemetery to visit my father’s gravesite. He served as a staff sergeant in the US Air Force during the Korean War era, and was stationed in Nova Scotia. During the trip out there, we stopped at Thomas Creek Preserve and Fish Camp (no, there’s no longer a fish camp there) and were treated to all three aforementioned species singing on territory. The Prothonotary also provided crippling looks.

Northern Bobwhite: Often difficult to find in the county, I’ve observed them several times this year now at Pumpkin Hill and more recently at Ford Family Regional Park at 9A and Baymeadows. This was a very unexpected treat, as that park is a just a tiny natural oasis amidst an ocean of asphalt.

Yellow-breasted Chat: On 31 May, during a 4.3 mile hike at Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, I found a singing Yellow-breasted Chat about 1.3 miles straight back from the parking lot.

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