All posts by kedailey

duval top 10 – 2019

Last year I summarized a top 10 list for birds I observed in Duval County in 2018, and since it’s once again New Year’s eve, I thought I’d do the same for 2019. I actually considered doing a top 10 for the decade since a new one is upon us, but I quickly realized that was going to be a little too much work given the time I have.

I once again spent a hell of a lot of time traveling this year (25 weeks/trips / 83 flight segments / 113,986 sky miles); consequently, I tallied less than 200 species in the county for the first time in over 15 years. That really doesn’t bother me since I tallied birds in three countries (USA, Costa Rica, and Spain), and in 10 US States (South Dakota, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, Florida, Michigan, New York, Georgia, and Nevada).

Having said that, I managed to find a few cool birds, chase a few more, and add a few more to my all-time county list, which is now at 316 and counting – but not for too much longer, given our plans to move west in the first half of 2020. Enough with the intro, on to the list – but one last reminder – these are birds I was able to observe. Undoubtedly, a significant species worth mentioning (that I didn’t see) is the first county record of Vermilion Flycatcher that Carly found at Imeson Center!

10. Ash-throated Flycatcher. 1 December 2019. This species came in at number 2 on last year’s Top 10 list, mainly because it was a) a new county tick for me, and b) it was a bird Marie and I found at Little Talbot Island SP and was not seen by any others. This year, Dave found one at M&M Dairy in late November, and as the “winter season” started on December 1st, I headed over to relocate it. The great thing is that not only did I find Dave’s bird, but I found and photographed a second at the same spot! Two Ash-throateds is a new record high count for Duval County and actually all of Northeast Florida.

9. Smooth-billed Ani. 1 January 2019. This bird was a “2019 gimme”, as it was found in late 2018 and was fairly reliable at Little Talbot Island State Park for a couple months. After starting new year’s day at Huguenot, I headed over to Talbot to notch this sucker on the 2019 list. This bird lingered through at least mid-March 2019.

8. Glaucous Gull. 23 November 2019. Glaucous Gulls are nearly annual at Huguenot, and I found another on 23 November at Huguenot. I was able to point the bird out to a few other birders that were wandering the park and was actually able to relocate it the next morning, but it was not reported since.

7. Franklin’s Gull. 12 October 2019. I’ve written pretty extensively on the site about how Franklin’s are best found in October, and almost exclusively at Huguenot, and this year was no exception. I went looking for this bird on the 12th of October and found it within a few minutes of arriving. It was the only observation this year of the species in the county.

6. Upland Sandpiper. 31 March 2019. This one was pretty special, as it was the first record of the species in several years in Duval, and was also found at M&M Dairy, which is in dire straits and about to be completely wiped out by development. The icing on the cake? The fact that the “guide” walked right by me, and it – without seeing it, while escorting a client. Doesn’t get much better than that.

5. Surf Scoter. 21 December 2019. I expected this one might land higher on the list, but I just can’t get too excited about seeing a bird of this caliber. Sure, they’re cool, but relatively expected along the Atlantic coast in winter. Having said that, it was the first one I’ve seen in Duval County and was a top “Nemesis bird” for years.

4. Great Cormorant. 12 October 2019. Check out my previous post about this one, but in short, I received a text message that this bird was in the park as I was looking at the Franklin’s Gull noted above. I strolled over to the family beach area and checked it out. Ho hum, Florida review species and new county tick.

3. Hudsonian Godwit. 22 October 2019. This bird was found by an out-of-towner at Spoonbill Pond a few days earlier, and when I got back in town I was able to chase it one evening after work. Very rare species here and another state review species.

2. Red-necked Grebe. 4 January 2019. This bird lingered at Huguenot for a few months and I was able to see it on multiple occasions. I was my second I’ve seen in Florida and obviously a new county tick since it was the first Duval record.

1. Fox Sparrow. 13 January 2019. Much like last year’s top bird (Lapland Longspur), I have been deliberately looking for this species in Duval County for almost two decades. Once considered common, Fox Sparrow is an extremely rare species in Northeast Florida. On this morning, I headed the Seaton Creek Preserve to look for one, and found the target several miles in.

So once again, I somehow tallied 5 new county birds this year (same total as 2018), bringing me to the 316. I can’t imagine getting more than 1 or 2 new ones at this point in a given year, and I really only expect at the most, 1. Happy new year!

316! Surf scoters, Purple sandpiper, Monk Parakeets.

I just finished a rough stretch of travel that had me in four time zones in four weeks with about 24-36 hours at home in between each trip. Good news is I saw a few good birds in Arizona, including loads of Phainopepla in North Scottsdale, and ended up adding 5 new ticks to my Maricopa County list. I did make it back to Jacksonville and will be able to bird locally for a few weeks, so I started this morning at Huguenot Memorial Park where I renewed my annual pass before heading out to the jetties. The surf was a little rough and the light was poor, but after a few minutes I was able to locate a Purple Sandpiper among the Ruddy Turnstones.
Purple Sandpiper (foreground). Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida. 21 Dec 2019.
Purples are considered rare anywhere in Florida, but they can be found near annually at Huguenot in Duval County, Fort Clinch in northern Nassau County, and fairly reliably in Volusia around Ponce Inlet. In the photo above, you can see how the bird would stand out rather quickly when scanning a group of Turnstones. Be careful you’re not looking at a Dunlin, but otherwise it’d be difficult to mix it up with anything else out there. This morning, the tide was out so it required walking all the way out to the end of the sandbar on the south side of the jetties to see this bird; there’s no way you would see it (even with a scope) from the “parking area” at the jetties several hundred yards away. Shortly after seeing the Purple, Marie pointed out a Scoter flying by – I raised the bins, and sure enough it was a Surf Scoter! I’ve been birding at Huguenot routinely for almost 20 years and have never seen this species in Duval County…this makes number 316 on my county list, and takes a huge nemesis bird off the board. I’ve lost count, but I’m talking about roughly 2,500 visits to the park (yes, I go there several times a week on average since it’s so close to home). My next biggest Public Nemesis Number One in the county is either Broad-winged Hawk, Magnificent Frigatebird, or American Golden-Plover, all three of which I “should’ve seen” by now.
Surf Scoter. Huguenot Memorial Park. 21 Dec 2019. ID shot – no white in the wings.
Above and below are a couple images of the Surf Scoter. I didn’t have time to adjust my settings from shooting the Purple Sandpiper to capture this duck in a better fashion, but I am happy with the ID shots…and it’s much easier to see than a bobbing head in rough seas, backlit from the rising sun!
Surf Scoter. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida, 21 Dec 2019.
We headed up to the north end of Huguenot and didn’t see much more in terms of birds, but I did notice they have some new signs up around the perimeter of the park.
After leaving Huguenot, I decided to drop by nearby Alimacani Boat Ramp to see the Monk Parakeets everyone’s been chasing. They’re obviously not “countable” birds, but I don’t think I’ve seen any in the county since January 2008 when the colony on Black Hammock Island was extirpated.
Monk Parakeet. Jacksonville, Florida. 21 December 2019.
I took a number of shots and don’t see any indication these two birds are banded, although they’re undoubtedly escapees and not part of an established population.
Monk Parakeet. Jacksonville, Florida. 21 December 2019.
Nonetheless, I will add these birds to the corrupt eBird repository, and am considering hitting PetsMart and the Pecan Park Flea Market later today to submit some more pet birds! 🙂

Ash-throated flycatchers (yes, flycatchers. plural). M&M Dairy

Yesterday morning Dave Foster found an Ash-throated Flycatcher at M&M Dairy. Ash-throated is a very rare species in Duval County…so rare that I finally just found my first in the county last winter. Having said that, this winter seems to be a “good one” for Ash-throated in Northeast Florida, with several observations in Duval, Clay, and St. Johns counties already this fall/winter.

I’ve been in a bit of a rut and mainly going to Huguenot to bird when I’m in town, but this morning I decided M&M would be a nice change of pace and maybe I’d see the Ash-throated. (jump to checklist here). I arrived to even more development at the old dairy and continue to lament that in 5 more years there will be nothing left of habitat here.

New warehouses. M&M Dairy. Wild Turkeys near the culvert.

I saw an Ash-throated fly in over head and set up for a picture, when a SECOND one flew in right behind it! There has never been a report of more than one of the species in NE Florida, so this is a new record high count. My pictures are horrible and I had to adjust them to lighten them up, but here they are for the record; the birds were roughly 10 feet apart so no chance of double counting:

Ash-throated Flycatcher #1. M&M Dairy 1 Dec 2019.
Ash-throated Flycatcher #2. M&M Dairy 1 Dec 2019.

Another nice part of this observation is that while Dave got the Ash-throated yesterday for the Fall Season’s Florida Field Naturalist Field Observations Report, today is the beginning of the winter season, so I’ll be able to include the Ash-throateds in the FFN’s Winter Report as well!

After leaving the flycatcher spot, I saw another local birder parked up on the sidewalk area (again), rather than in one of the abundant parking places. Much like I wrote about in the spring this year – at this same location – he left in a hurry and missed these target birds. In the spring he walked right by an Upland Sandpiper and today the flycatchers. It goes to show you that getting out and actually walking around a hotspot can yield a quite productive day versus pulling over and barely getting out of the car. To each their own.

The walk along Port Jacksonville Parkway was pleasant, with overcast skies and a balmy 68F. I managed some decent shots of an Eastern Phoebe, which is a species that normally gives me fits trying to photograph.

Eastern Phoebe. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

I cropped this picture below rather heavily to show the rarely-seen-in-the-field “whiskers” at the base of the bill.

(Heavily cropped) Eastern Phoebe illustrating whiskers.

It was also a good day for sparrows, with dozens of Vespers about, along with Swamp, Song, Savannah, and Field.

Vesper Sparrows plus a Savannah. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

The Vespers were a little sketchy and didn’t allow me too close, but this Savannah was a little more obliging.

Savannah Sparrow. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

I continued walking down the sidewalk towards Alta Drive, and when I got to the power lines, there was a flurry of activity, including a late Indigo Bunting, Song Sparrows, and several Field Sparrows.

Field Sparrow. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

I finished up with a couple Orange-crowned Warblers.

Orange-crowned Warbler. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

On the way back to the parking lot, I passed by the big pond that is now half-filled in; they’ve literally plowed the dirt into half the existing pond and are filling it in so they can….you guessed it….build another warehouse on top of it.

Filled in pond. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

The unmitigated overdevelopment in Jacksonville continues.

Glauczilla – king of the Gulls.

Last Sunday, I walked the entire perimeter of Huguenot Memorial Park in Jacksonville with a local birder, Alta. We were looking for and discussing the possibility of a Lapland Longspur or Snow Bunting, since it was just about a year to the day since I found both there in 2018 over two days. We didn’t see one, but wouldn’t you know it – Mike C found a Lapland (or two?!) the next day. I was in Minnesota all week for work so was unable to try for it in the evenings and I got back to town around midnight last night. I was at the park by 7AM this morning, and walked up the river side to the jetties.

Within about 5 minutes of scanning the flock, I found this Glaucous Gull (or, as Marie and I like to call them, Glauczilla). I pointed it out to Dave and another birder, and we all got nice shots. This is my 12th observation of a Glaucous Gull in Duval County in the last ten years (2009-present). Almost all have come from Huguenot, and almost all of them are one-day wonders.

Glaucous Gull. Huguenot Memorial Park. 23 Nov 2019.

I continued to scan the flock in case there was an Iceland or Franklin’s, but did not see one. Nor did I detect any Purple Sandpipers, and of course no Surf Scoters (public nemesis number one). I did see this pod of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, which may be a treat for out of towners to see, but they’re a pretty common sight in the St. Johns River here.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. St. Johns River. Jacksonville, Florida.

I walked around the dunes to the Lapland spot and then up around the rim of the interior lagoon, but didn’t see much of interest. I did run into some other birders and was able to share the Glaucous sighting and they were able to go over and see the bird. On my way out, I finally met Voicu, a local birder that recently found and photographed a very rare-in-county Ash-throated Flycatcher at Little Talbot Island State Park.

On the way out, i walked right past this Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida.

I had to run home to catch up on chores, but may try for the ‘spur again this evening or tomorrow.

Hudsonian Godwit at Spoonbill Pond.

On October 22, 2019 I observed a Hudsonian Godwit at Spoonbill Pond. The bird was first reported a couple days prior by some (presumably) out of town birders, and many locals chased it the next weekday morning. Woe is me…work often gets in the way of leisurely pursuits, so I found myself unable to seek the bird until a couple days later when I got off early enough to try to make it up to Spoonbill in the evening’s fading light. Marie and I located it about 3 minutes after arriving, and I shot the quick video below.

Hudsonian Godwit. Big Talbot Island State Park. Jacksonville FL
Hudsonian Godwit. Spoonbill Pond.

The no-see-ums were incredibly bad at that time of the evening, so we pulled a classic “tick and go” and got the hell out of dodge. This is just the 3rd county report of the species, and only the 2nd supported by photographs. I was just wondering two weeks ago how many more “county ticks” I’d get before leaving, and this one fits the bill. I’m still hoping for a huge Duval nemesis this winter – Surf Scoter.

I don’t have time to do any structured analysis, but it’s occurred to me that the overwhelming majority of significant county rarities are first observed by out-of-state or out-of-county birders. Sure, I find my share as well, but other than that, true rarities are few and far between from locals.

Otherwise, if I’m not traveling for work, I seem to travel for fun, and Marie and I recently got back from the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. It was a wonderful trip to a new place, and we saw some great birds as well. Not the best picture, but the subject is pretty cool…Red Crossbill just outside of Mount Rushmore.

Red Crossbill. South Dakota, USA
Red Crossbill, Black Hills, South Dakota.

It’s not a bird, but I was very happy with this Buffalo shot and composition.

Badlands National Park - South Dakota, USA
Home on the range. Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

We spent 4 days, with full days in each of the Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, and Spearfish Canyon / Lead / Deadwood areas. The weather was bright and around 65F at Rushmore, around 40F and windy as all hell at the Badlands, and between 12-23F in Spearfish and out to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. We left Rapid City at 8F and arrived home to 85F in Jacksonville. Not sure what’s next, but the adventures continue.

Great Cormorant & Franklin’s Gull at Huguenot

I have been looking forward to October here, because it is “the time” to look for Franklin’s Gulls at Huguenot. I’ve written before here several times about it, but in case you missed it – October is about the only month you can expect to go see a Franklin’s here….you might see one in November, but it’s very unlikely and once you get into December, well, then forget about it.

On Saturday, October 12th, I arrived at sunrise and was treated to a spectacular pink and purple greeting to the day.

Sunrise at Huguenot Memorial Park, Jacksonville, Florida

After photographing the sunrise, I noticed there was a group of 6-8 American Avocets lingering around the edge of the jetties along the bank of the St. Johns River.

American Avocet. Huguenot Memorial Park. October 12, 2019

Avocets are extremely uncommon at Huguenot; I think I’ve only seen them there a couple times previously in over 18 years. I normally see them in Jacksonville out in the creeks at low tide or in the spoil areas, so to see them so close-up was a real treat.

American Avocets at Huguenot Memorial Park. October 12, 2019

There were several hundred gulls and terns out there as well, and it was an incoming high tide so I was able to scan the flocks from pretty close up. It took me about 10 minutes, but I saw the familiar signs of a slightly smaller gull with a smaller, slimmer bill, white forehead, and prominent eye arcs….boom, Franklin’s Gull!

Franklin’s Gull. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida.

There were a couple other birder/photographers out there, so I pointed the bird out to three of them. Two seemed rather interested (one was from Michigan, another a lady with a huge camera lens); the third gentleman seemed to poo-poo it and only casually scan it from a distance…I don’t think he could see it really… To each his own, but I know I’m always excited to see one anywhere in Florida.

Franklin’s Gull, Huguenot Memorial Park. October 12, 2019

As I was looking at the gull, I received a text message asking if the Great Cormorant reported the previous day was legit. I didn’t know anything about it (I don’t follow eBird alerts very well these days), but I figured I’d go take a peek. I headed over the family beach area where a few birders were looking at the cormorants sitting on the poles. Sure enough, one of them was considerably larger than the other two, and had the white throat!

Great Cormorant (right). Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida. October 12, 2019

This is roughly the seventh report of Great Cormorant in the county, and the first I’ve seen here. I was beginning to wonder how many more “county lifers” I might get before moving west, so this will continue to pad the list. I can still only reasonably assume to get one or two more, perhaps a Surf Scoter (finally!) or Frigatebird.

As for the Cormorant, I viewed it for awhile and called Marie up to see it (which she did). After we looked at it together for a few minutes, it flew off and headed south across the parking lot and towards Mayport. To my knowledge, it has not been reliably seen or reported since!

Costa RIca

Marie and I vacationed in Costa Rica a couple weeks ago with two good friends, and I thought I’d share some of the experiences here. I know some of the local birders have stayed at the same Lodge we did, and others have either stayed in other locations or haven’t yet been to the country. Regardless, I’d love to hear any comments or feedback and encourage folks to use the comments section below to share any other great lodges or locations to bird in the country.

We left on a Friday afternoon and got a fantastic round-trip rate on Delta (14,000 Skymiles roundtrip per person), but it meant not arriving until around 9:30PM local time. We decided to stay at the San Jose Marriott the first night, which was a wonderful hotel and property.

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen
View of the Marriott San Jose property from our balcony.

We did some light birding the next morning before heading out to La Fortuna and the Arenal Observatory Lodge. I tallied 18 species at the Marriott, including 10 life birds. My favorite of these was probably the Yellow-headed Caracara.

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen
Marriott San Jose , Costa Rica.

The drive to Arenal is no joke…the roads are two-lane most of the way and pretty “serpentine”. We stopped in La Fortuna for lunch, where we also got our first real view of the Arenal Volcano.

La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal. Costa Rica.
Arenal Volcano from La Fortuna Park.

It was about another 30 minute drive from La Fortuna to the Arenal Lodge, where we would spend the remainder of our 4 nights. I’ll include a few pictures of the Lodge here, but really encourage you to visit my Flickr album if you want to see even more.

View of Arenal Lake from the deck at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Costa Rica.
View of Lake Arenal from the observation deck. Restaurant at left.

To the right of the image above is the fruit feeder station, which has the volcano as a backdrop. You could stand there for hours and be entertained and “wowed” by the stream of birds that regularly visit the feeder: Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Golden-hooded Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Montezuma Oropendola, Bananaquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Brown Jay, Black-cowled Oriole, Melodious Blackbird, and Clay-colored Sparrow (to name a few).

Great Curassow (male). Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Great Curassow (male). Arenal Observatory Lodge, feeder area.

Being at eye-level this close to the birds allows you to really capture some great images, and see details that you might not normally see in terms of plumage and interactions. For example, you may not easily see the brilliant yellow underwings of the honeycreepers otherwise.

Red-legged Honeycreepers (males). Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Red-Legged Honeycreepers. Arenal Observatory Lodge, feeder area.

Another view from the deck is below; notice the fruit feeder to the right….this gives you an idea of how close you can get to these birds. Might I also mention that the bar is right behind you, and they serve wonderful hand-mixed cocktails and have a hearty selection of bottled craft beer. I was very pleasantly surprised with the selection.

View of Arenal Volcano from the deck at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Costa Rica.
Arenal Observatory Lodge. Deck, feeder at right. Arenal Volcano in background.

The birds often bickered over the selection of fruit…

Black-cowled Oriole and Buff-throated Saltator interaction. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Black-cowled Oriole and Buff-throated Saltator. The Saltator “won” this conflict.

I was asked what my top 5 species were from the trip, and it’s almost impossible to say, but I can tell you that the Golden-hooded Tanagers are in the top 5 somewhere.

Golden-hooded Tanager and Red-legged Honeycreeper. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Golden-hooded Tanagers. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

When you finally pull yourself away from the observation deck, you’ll pass right by a nesting Streak-headed Woodcreeper on your way to the gardens.

Streak-headed Woodcreeper. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Streak-headed Woodcreeper. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

The gardens below are at a intersection roughly between the “frog pond” trail and rainforest and a path leading to the waterfall and some farmland.

Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory Lodge)
Arenal Observatory Lodge gardens. Arenal Volcano in background.

The gardens host a large colony of nesting Montezuma Oropendolas, and is otherwise rife with birds. On several visits over the week, the following species were very regular there: Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Long-tailed Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Piratic Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Band-backed Wren, Black-cowled Oriole, Bananaquit, Variable Seedeater, White-tipped Dove, Clay-colored Thrush, Keel-billed Toucan, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and White-necked Jacobin. Other extremely notable birds for me here were a single Gartered Trogon and Common Tody-Flycatcher.

Social Flycatcher. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Social Flycatcher. Arenal Observatory Lodge gardens.
White-necked Jacobin. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
White-necked Jacobin. Arenal Observatory Lodge gardens.

Just past the gardens begins some pasture, where we saw Variable Seedeaters and Morelet’s Seedeaters

Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory Lodge)
Edge of the garden, pasture beyond.

The area between the gardens and the waterfall was good for Yellow-throated Toucan, Clay-colored Thrush, and Buff-rumped Warblers in particular.

Danta Waterfall. Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory  Lodge).
Danta Waterfall. Arenal Observatory Lodge property.

The property also has other wildlife, including Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, and Coatimundi (“Coati”). I photographed the Spider Monkey below from my back patio.

Costa Rica Spider Monkey. Arenal Observatory Lodge,  Taken from my room's back porch (room 31).
Spider Monkey. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

We made a couple afternoon jaunts outside of the Arenal park, one to Mistico Hanging Bridges park, where we saw a Sloth and a Rufous-tailed Jacamar! Another day, Marie and I went ziplining at Arenal Ecoglide, I’d definitely recommend the experience. Photos here if you’re interested.

As for the lodge, I can’t say enough how great it is, and would recommend to anyone interested in a relaxing, natural vacation. The room was clean and very spacious, with great views of the volcano (we stayed in a “junior suite”, which is very reasonably priced). The rooms are not air-conditioned (you don’t need it, they have high powered ceiling fans, which is plenty) and don’t have a TV, but do have good wi-fi. Our room had a mud room, wet bar area with a dorm fridge, and a large sofa. It also had a large covered front porch and large tiled, covered back patio.

View from our back patio of Volcan Arenal. Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory Lodge).
View of Arenal Volcano from our back porch.

I sat on the back porch in the evenings, sipping on a cold one (or two), and had both species of monkeys, frequent Coati visits, and a wonderful parade of birds, including Black-striped Sparrow, Scarlet-rumped Tanagers, Great Curassows, Hepatic Tanager, Bananaquit, House Wren, Montezuma Oropendola, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green-fronted Lancebill, Brown Violetear, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds.

Crowned Woodnymph. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Crowned Woodnymph. Arenal Observatory Lodge, Unit 31. I had to set my cerveza down for a minute to capture this bird’s portrait. It insisted.

There’s really a whole lot more to say, but I’ll cut this a short and leave you with another Top 5 bird… the Great Potoo!

Great Potoo. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Great Potoo. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Eastport is Wasted

On Saturday, April 13th, I visited Eastport Wastelands for the first time in a number of months. They’ve been clearing the north side of the property for some time now (obliterating it is more like it), and now they’ve begun the south end of the property as well.

Eastport Wastelands. Jacksonville,  FL
Eastport Wastelands. 13 April 2019.

The photo above depicts what used to be very dense scrub / Florida sandhill habitat. Off to the left, you can see the low lying swamp that is home to many nesting waders, Wood Ducks, Orchard Orioles, and even Purple Gallinule.

Eastport Wastelands. Jacksonville,  FL.
Eastport Wastelands Swamp. 13 April 2019.

The shot above is a better view of the swamp, which on this visit had a singing Orchard Oriole, many Red-winged Blackbirds defending territory, a nesting Green Heron, and no less than six Anhingas on nests. I’m not sure what they have planned here, but if it’s an extension of the work they’ve done on the other side of the property, they’ll be digging out all this dirt to sell it off in the near future. There is no telling what they did to the gopher tortoises throughout this area but I suspect they just plowed them over and buried them.

On a lighter note, I also visited Huguenot Memorial Park that day, where I enjoyed very active Wilson’s Plovers, a couple Whimbrel, and several Willet.

Wilson's Plover. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, FL
Wilson’s Plover. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

The Willet (an “Eastern”subspecies) was flying around high in the air in wide, sweeping circles, constantly calling and chittering. It is quite a courtship display if you’ve never had occasion to see it.

(Eastern) Willet. Display / Courtship flight. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, FL
(Eastern) Willet. Courtship display. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

If you bird at Huguenot, you know how you can often see aircraft from NAS Mayport. I saw these two helicopters coming and jacked up the shutter speed to capture a couple of images. Now one might wonder why they insist on flying at 200 feet above a known gull and shorebird nesting colony, but I digress.

NAS Mayport - (Black Tail) USN Helicopter
“Black-tailed Helicopter”. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

Notice the black tail on the helicopter above; the one below has a red tail. I couldn’t find the “Red-tailed”, nor the “Black-tailed” form on my eBird checklist, so left them both off.

NAS Mayport - (Red Tail) USN Helicopter
The rare “Red-tailed Helo”. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

Heritage River Road Wetlands.

This morning I visited Heritage River Road “Wetlands”, which is off Heckscher Drive in Jacksonville’s northside. The area used to be an overgrown dredge disposal site, but in the last couple years the government has been turning it back into a coastal salt marsh as part of the mitigation plan for building out the “little jetties” in the St. Johns River.

St. Johns River from Heritage River Road. Jacksonville,  FL.
St. Johns River. View from Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

On the south side of the road, you can access the beaches along the St. Johns River directly, where you are treated to views like the one above. Notice the large Dames Point Bridge in the distance. Depending on the time of year, scan the river here for gulls, terns, pelicans, loons, and ducks. Today didn’t produce much on this side of the road, other than a handful of Red-breasted Mergansers, Laughing Gulls, and a few Brown Pelicans. I did photograph this (yellow-eyed) Boat-tailed Grackle here. If you haven’t seen my species account on Boat-taileds, I’ll quickly reiterate that we get the “yellow-eyed” subspecies here in Duval County as our predominant race. This form becomes much rarer in St. Johns County and further south, where their range quickly ends and all you’ll find are the ‘dark-eyed’ ones.

Boat-tailed Grackle (Yellow-eyed). Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL
Boat-tailed Grackle. 5 Apr 2019.

I birded along the road all the way down to Carlucci Boat Ramp (which is still closed from the storms), and captured this Wood Stork image from a pretty close distance.

Wood Stork. Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL.
Wood Stork. Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

The wetlands host a number of shorebirds and waders, and in spring the place usually has Least Terns and the occasional Gull-billed Tern (I didn’t see either today).

Heritage River Road Wetlands. Jacksonville,  FL.
Heritage River Road Wetlands. 7 Apr 2019.

I did collect some images of courting Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, Common Ground-Dove, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. This pair of Mottled Ducks was pretty cooperative as well.

Mottle Ducks. Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL
Mottled Ducks. Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

Shorebird-wise I tallied 11 species without a scope. There very well could have been Semipalmated Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, and maybe even a Stilt Sandpiper or two, but this morning was mostly about walking with the camera and not scoping the scattered flocks.

Lesser Yellowlegs. Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL.
Lesser Yellowlegs. Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

Heritage River Road is free, and while there is no official access (technically it’s probably trespassing to enter the property), it can be quite a relaxing and rewarding birding outing. This morning I recorded just over 50 species from this little patch.

Stilt Sandpiper and 80+ in Dayson Basin!

I’ve written a few times about “Getting to 70“, and today I tallied over 70 species on a single checklist at a single location in Duval County for the TENTH time. Not only did we (a group of 4 of us) get to 70 – we accomplished something that has only been done in northeast Florida history one other time – break the 80 mark!! (Diane Reed and I did that together on 15 May 2016 at Spoonbill Pond).

It rained (rather heavily) overnight and was spitting rain as we arrived at the Palms Fish Camp at 0715 to begin the bird survey at 0730. The rain quickly subsided as we made our first of many stops along the berm.

Dayson Basin. Little Marsh Island. Jacksonville FL
Dayson Basin. 5 Apr 2019

This site is restricted access and is not open to the public, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but in summary we had 8 species of waterfowl and 15 species of shorebird, including the county’s first verifiable Stilt Sandpiper in 2019.

Stilt Sandpiper. Dayson Basin. Jacksonville, Florida. 5 Apr 2019

We also had three American Avocets, including one of the extremely rare “Allaire” sub-species (Allaire’s Avocet).

American Avocets. Dayson Basin. 5 April 2019. Jacksonville, Florida

We had three “heard only” species that were particularly notable: Sora (4), American Woodcock (!), and two Sedge Wrens just going nuts.

Since I know it’s killing you, here are the ten times I’ve broken 70 on a single visit in Duval County:

25 Mar 2017 – Spoonbill Pond (74)

27 Nov 2016 – Spoonbill Pond (70)

26 Nov 2016 – Eastport Wastelands (76)

15 May 2016 – Spoonbill Pond (84)

28 Feb 2016 – Ribault Monument (70)

12 Dec 2015 – Spoonbill Pond (70)

17 Oct 2015 – Reddie Point (71)

7 Apr 2017 – Dayson Basin (71)

18 Mar 2018 – Spoonbill Pond (71)

5 Apr 2019 – Dayson Basin (80)