All posts by kedailey

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)

Upland Sandpiper(!) M&M Dairy.

This morning I found my fourth Upland Sandpiper in Duval County at M&M Dairy, which is the same location I’ve found 2 of the previous 3 (26 Mar 2013 and 8 Sep 2015). The species is rarely reported in NE FL and we are losing accessible habitat to even search for them. This is the first county report or record since 2015.

Upland Sandpiper. Jacksonville, FL (Duval County) 31 Mar 2019.

Before I get to the rest of the story, I wanted to share what NOT to do at M&M Dairy…parking in the street. I‘ve written before about how to bird this location and it doesn’t include parking on the curb of a busy road and blocking the bike lane completely. This kind of lazy, inconsiderate behavior causes problems for the rest of us and is so unnecessary, as there is an abundance of free parking available here.

How NOT to bird M&M Dairy. “Look, over there is a Great Egret. What, I just walked past an Upland Sandpiper?”

The funny part of this encounter is that not only did these two birders walk within 30 yards of the Upland and not see it, they pulled a U-turn as I was shooting the Upland from this same vantage point rather than ask me what I was looking at. To paraphrase Lennon, “Instant Kharma’s gonna get ya”.

As I mentioned, this is the third Upland I’ve found at this property over the years, and the first I’ve seen in Florida since 2015. The good news is that the field has been mowed recently, allowing me to see the bird. The bad news is they recently mowed it, likely to sell space for warehouses.

Recently mowed M&M Dairy.

Below is a picture of what the Upland might look like from a distance, using your binoculars. The field is very uneven and a foraging bird can disappear quite quickly. It takes patience and diligence to see and then to keep up with it.

Upland Sandpiper. M&M Dairy. Jacksonville, Florida.

I immediately called my buddy Dave Foster and he was able to make it to the location within ten minutes. What’s pretty cool is this is the same circumstance I first met Dave on March 27, 2013…looking at an Upland Sandpiper at M&M Dairy!

Here’s a couple more shots of the bird; in the one immediately below, the subject is checking out a kettle of vultures circling overhead.

Upland Sandpiper. M&M Dairy. Jacksonville, FL

And one more…look at that beautiful, scalloped back!

Upland Sandpiper. M&M Dairy. Jacksonville, FL.

In addition to the sandpiper, I saw two Bald Eagles, including one adult and this immature.

I also saw a number of Swamp Sparrows,

many Killdeer,

and a few chittering House Wrens.

So there you have it.

Arizona Trip – March 2019

I rarely post anything here that’s not about the local area (specifically Duval County), but I just got back from another wonderful trip to Arizona and wanted to share. This work trip was somewhere around my 35th visit to Arizona over the last twelve years and when I go, I really look forward to padding an extra day or two on so I can hit the outdoors and get some birding in.

When I go, I usually try to target a rarity or new life bird to seek out. These “lifer” targets are pretty scarce for me at this point, so I decided to try (again, for probably the 5th time) for the Rose-throated Becards in Tubac. Tubac is about an hour and fifteen minutes south of Tucson, and just south of the infamous Green Valley area by about 20 minutes. Although Tubac is still some 60 km or so north of the Nogales/Mexico border, there is a border patrol checkpoint heading north back along I-19 after visiting that area; don’t be alarmed, they are quick and efficient, and I’ve never even been asked to show ID.

The Becards have been reported sporadically over the years and I’ve dipped on them a number of times, but was hopeful since they’ve nested along the De Anza trail the last few springs. Birding the De Anza trail is wonderful, but can be frustrating since it’s a) so long, and b) a little confusing in terms of geography….the sections of the trail where the Becards and the Sinaloa Wren have nested are in distinctly different parts, and I’ve come to find that there actually isn’t just “one” trail. You get onto the trail, and it quickly becomes a spiderweb of unmarked trails on both sides of the river, extending for miles.

De Anza Trail. Tubac, Arizona. March 2019. Trail to Rose-throated Becard nesting spot.
De Anza Trail. Bridge Road. Tubac, AZ

The picture above is the mesquite “tunnel” at this particular trail head near bridge road, and it quickly dips down into the wooded ravine. After getting disoriented and crossing a flooded stream back and forth four times, I fortunately ran into a very nice lady along the way and she pointed me in the direction of the nest where two Becards had been reported in the weeks leading to my visit. (She also tipped me off to Canoa Ranch which was hosting Lawrence’s Goldfinches, more on that later). I arrived at the nest spot, which is in a wonderfully thick riparian area, dense with mesquite, willow, cottonwoods, and I believe some sort of sycamores.

I found the nest, along with several other birders, but alas I never saw the Becards despite hanging out for a couple of hours. I’m now calling them Rose-throated Bastards until I finally see one. It wasn’t a waste of time though, as I always enjoy seeing species we don’t see here on the east coast of Florida; birds I observed at this location include Hepatic Tanager, Bullock’s Oriole, Black Phoebe, Phainopepla, Inca Dove, Red-naped Sapsucker,Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Bridled Titmouse, and more.

Rose-throated Becard nest. De Anza trail, Tubac, Arizona. 2 Mar 2019.

It was dark by the time I got to my room back in Tucson, and I started out before sunrise again the next morning (Sunday). My destination was Florida Canyon’s parking area, followed by stops back along Box Canyon Road and then Madera Canyon.

Florida wash leading to Florida Canyon. Arizona. March 2019.
Box Canyon Road leading to Florida Wash. Green Valley, AZ.

Box Canyon Road leading to Florida Canyon (pronounced “Flor-EEE-da”, pictured above) is not only gorgeous just after dawn, but is usually rife with western sparrows, meadowlarks, and other small passerines like Verdin. I stopped for a few minutes and photographed Black-chinned and Black-throated Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, and a smattering of other birds (my checklist).

Black-throated Sparrow. Box Canyon Road. Arizona. 3 Mar 2019.

Black-throated Sparrows (above) are common and conspicuous in this area and are often the easiest species to find. I’ve found them to be cooperative, perching in the open for extended views.

Black-chinned Sparrow. Box Canyon Road. AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

Black-chinned Sparrows, however, I’ve found to be much more difficult to see. Based on eBird data, they’re fairly common and widespread, but I will tell you it took me a very long time to find one. I feel like I must have been overlooking them or something for years.

Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed). 3 Mar 2019.

Dark-eyed Junco is fairly abundant, and I have found several of the various sub-species over the years around the area. The only Yellow-eyed Junco I’ve seen out this way was up the mountain in Madera several years ago.

Florida Canyon. Trail head, uncrossable without getting wet!  Arizona. March 2019.
Florida Canyon parking area and Trailhead.

I made it to the parking lot of Florida Canyon (home to the infamous Rufous-capped Warblers and Black-capped Gnatcatchers), and found the stream (above) to be full and as wide as I’ve ever seen it. I couldn’t cross it without getting wet or taking off my shoes, and I didn’t need the warblers anymore (got ’em in 2014 here), so I turned around and headed to Madera.

The drive into Madera Canyon is a little longer than you’d expect, and you subtlety gain elevation driving to Proctor Road (my first stop).

Road leading to Madera Canyon. Arizona. March 2019.
Heading into Madera Canyon. This is about 1 mile short of Proctor Road.

Proctor Road is a good place to use the bathroom, pay for your day’s pass to the canyon ($5, self pay, cash only, no change given). I missed the White-throated Thrush here by a couple weeks, but was able to enjoy several other species like Say’s Phoebe and Lincoln’s Sparrow

Say’s Phoebe. Proctor Road parking lot. Madera Canyon, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

I neglected to take any scenic shots this time, so will include the image of me below, from a visit in December 2009. The vast overlook of the valley behind me is from the parking area; it is in this area where you would find the Buff-collared Nightjars, Montezuma Quail, etc. a little later in the spring or early summer.

Me. Proctor Road area. December 2009.

The area had gotten quite a bit of rain and snow in the two weeks leading up to my visit, and the snow melt running off the mountain made the creeks run as full as I’ve ever seen them.

Madera Canyon. Proctor Road Area. Arizona. March 2019.
Proctor Road area. Snow melt / run off. Madera Canyon, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

I headed on up the canyon, making brief stops at Whitehouse Picnic Area and the world famous Santa Rita Lodge. I watched the feeders for about a half hour, where there wasn’t much variety and zero hummingbirds. I picked up some nice trip birds though, like Acorn Woodpecker, Pine Siskin, Wild Turkey, Mexican Jay, and Lesser Goldfinch. (Checklist)

Mexican Jay. Santa Rita Lodge. Madera Canyon, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

I spent another couple hours in the Canyon and decided to head just a little bit south to Canoa Ranch Conservation Park in Pima County; this is where the lady the previous day tipped me to for the “other” goldfinch. I’ve never birded this place, and it’s basically an artificial pond in the middle of nothing. I snapped a few images of ducks and birded the area just along the entrance to the park. I quickly found several Lark Sparrows and – bingo – the Lawrence’s Goldfinches! (Checklist)

Lawrence’s Goldfinch. Canoa Ranch. Green Valley, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

It was mid-afternoon and I needed to start heading towards Phoenix as I had work the next day. I stopped at Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Tucson, which turned out to be one day before a prescribed burn. Nothing terribly exciting here this visit, but always a pleasant place to bird. (checklist)

Sweetwater wetlands park. Tucson, Arizona. March 2019. 2 days before prescribed burn.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Tucson, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

Two Verdin were building a nest in the parking lot.

Verdin on the nest. Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Tucson, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

The highlight was watching this Greater Roadrunner hunt and eat lunch in the parking lot.

Greater Roadrunner. Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Tucson, AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

I took the wide, long way back to Phoenix by visiting Baseline Road area. I couldn’t figure out how to look for the Ruddy Ground Doves without trespassing, so ended up at the “Thrasher Spot” for a few minutes. No Le Conte’s today, but I did see several Bendire’s Thrashers.

Bendire’s Thrasher. Salome Highway and Baseline Road. AZ. 3 Mar 2019.

The area is still mostly undeveloped, but there is a huge poultry farm nearby that is new since my last visit. It’s probably only a matter of time before this special spot is gone.

The infamous "Thrasher spot". Salome Highway and Baseline Road. Maricopa County, Arizona. West of Phoenix.  March 2019.
The “Thrasher Spot”. Salome Highway and Baseline Road. Az. 3 Mar 2019.

On my way back to the airport later in the week, I stopped at El Rio Open Space Preserve, which is in Marana just outside of Tucson. I’ve never birded here, but thanks to Andrew Core’s extensive eBirding of this area it caught my attention. I only had a little bit of time, but wow – what a great place. I’ll definitely be back. (Checklist)

El Rio Preserve. Town of Marana, outside of Tucson, Arizona. March 2019.
El Rio Open Space Preserve. Marana, AZ. 7 Mar 2019
El Rio Preserve. Town of Marana, outside of Tucson, Arizona. March 2019.
View from the backside of El Rio Open Space Preserve.

I managed a few decent shots here, one of the Lesser Goldfinch below –

Lesser Goldfinch. El Rio Open Space Preserve. Marana, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.
  • and of Northern Rough-winged Swallow.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow. El Rio Open Space Preserve. Marana, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.

Anna’s Hummingbirds were fairly cooperative…

Anna’s Hummingbird. El Rio Open Space Preserve. Marana, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.

…although this Lincoln’s Sparrow really wasn’t. He posed long enough for me to get this overexposed shot before I could adjust my settings.

Lincoln’s Sparrow. El Rio Open Space Preserve. Marana, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.

This Cooper’s Hawk was the most obliging raptor I’ve ever observed. It didn’t give a damn about me and actually seemed to follow me down the trail insisting I take more photos. I shot about 100 images.

Cooper’s Hawk. El Rio Open Space Preserve. Marana, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.

I had one more chance at Sweetwater Wetlands on the way to my flight, and wanted to see it after the burn.

Sweetwater Wetlands apark.  Tucson, Arizona. March 2019. 3 days after prescribed burn.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Tucson, AZ. After the prescribed burn. 7 Mar 2019.

The burn allowed for excellent viewing of some ducks and three Sora.

Sora. Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Tucson, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal. Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Tucson, AZ. 7 Mar 2019.

So that’s it – a whirlwind trip to Arizona. I’ve been fortunate to bird this area quite heavily, and have never needed to invest in a guide (although one could be very handy). I’m no expert, but if you would like any advice or perspective on planning a visit to this area of the country, I’m always happy to lend whatever knowledge I have.

Western Kingbird at Imeson.

This morning I decided to head to Imeson Center and try to poke around some of the dirt bike trails closer to Heckscher Drive, with the main purpose of trying to get access to Turner Pond. Turner Pond is a huge freshwater pond that historically has held breeding Purple Gallinules and Least Bitterns, but it’s almost unapproachable due to the overgrowth.

I arrived around 8AM and as I walked back into the woods, I encountered hundreds upon hundreds of American Robins all over the ground and roosting in the smaller trees.

American Robin, Imeson Center. Jacksonville, Florida, 10 Feb 2019.

Mixed in with the Robins were a few small flocks of Cedar Waxwings and a group of around 300 Red-winged Blackbirds. I finally made it to the edge of Turner Pond, climbed a tree, and was afforded a pretty decent view.

Turner Pond. Jacksonville,  FL.
Turner Pond at Imeson Center.

I headed back to the truck and starting driving towards the small fenced pond at the warehouse when I came across a Western Kingbird. They’re an annual but fairly uncommon winter visitor in Duval County, and this is the third one I’ve found in Jacksonville this winter season (the other two at M&M Dairy in December).

Western Kingbird. Imeson Center. 10 Feb 2019.

I decided to bird the area on the other side of Heckscher Drive directly across from Imeson – this is an small wedge of old industrial space between Heckscher and the salt marsh, with a rail road track running down the middle. I found a lot of small landbirds there, including Swamp, Song, Savannah, and Vesper Sparrow. I also notched a Marsh Wren and some other “year birds”. There is a lot of access to cord grass and the marshes over there, so I’ll definitely be back early one morning to poke around for marsh sparrows.

All in all, a good morning – over 10,000 fitbit steps in the visit, over 55 species, and I didn’t encounter a single other human. My kind of relaxinig morning!

Rusty Blackbirds. M&M Dairy.

M&M Dairy has been an interesting place to bird again this winter, so I’ve spent a bit of time out there every weekend or so. I wrote about it recently, but some interesting birds I’ve found there since December include Western Kingbird(s) and a pair of Grasshopper Sparrows. On January 20th I headed back out there on a very windy and chilly morning and tallied a nice list of around 36 species.

The highlight for this visit was a check of the swampy area at Port Jacksonville Parkway and New Berlin Road. The swamp seems to be dying, and I haven’t seen Wood Duck in there for a long time now, but I did tally at least three Rusty Blackbirds. Roger and I first “discovered” this spot for Rusties about twelve years ago and it’s been fairly reliable each winter since then.

Red-bellied Woodpecker. M&M Dairy
Red-bellied Woodpecker. 20 Jan 2019. M&M Dairy.

What is concerning is the huge swath of forest that has been cleared behind this swamp, where a developer is putting in a neighborhood of hundreds upon hundreds of homes…the development will span New Berlin and Alta Roads and the deforestation there will certainly impact the habitat these blackbirds and many other species have relied upon.

As always, I’m compelled to ask birders to consider not using playback to call the Rusty Blackbirds in…with patience, it is really not necessary as the birds will come into easy view.

Fox Sparrow! Seaton Creek Historic Preserve

I was struggling Saturday night (the 12th of January) in deciding where I wanted to go birding the next morning. It’s so hard to not bird Huguenot in the winter months but I felt really in the mood for going on a prolonged walk in the woods. I decided on Seaton Creek Historic Preserve off Pecan Park Road, thinking I could turn up a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, or something somewhat interesting. (see my 2014 article on this location).

Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. Jacksonville,  FL.
Marsh overlook, Houston Creek Trail intersection. Seaton Creek Historic Preserve

I got to Seaton just before 8AM on Sunday, January 13th, and headed down the Main Trail, staying “right” as the trail meandered past several other intersections. I walked all the way to the back corner, where I was treated to the picturesque scene in the photo above. From that point, you can pick the Houston Creek Trail back up, and so that’s what I did – knowing it’d take me into a hardwood hammock and out of the pines.

I passed the “Acadian spot” and finally saw a flurry of activity ahead of me in the palmettos. It’d been a slow day to that point and I was eager to find my first feeding flock of the morning. I got my bins on the commotion, and couldn’t believe what I was looking at! A Fox Sparrow!!

Fox Sparrow. Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. Jacksonville, FL 13 Jan 2019.

The bird above is the first one I saw in the bins, and it sat on that branch long enough for me to take a couple shots, then realize my settings were still for bright sun on the open trails. I quickly fiddled with the ISO and shutter and managed at least the shot above. Notice the deep, bold reddish streaking on the breast of this bird, as it differentiates it from the second bird below.

Fox Sparrow. Seaton Creek. Jacksonville, FL. 13 Jan 2019

As that bird moved further away, a second Fox Sparrow popped up and sat on that branch for five minutes or more. They’re not depicted here, but the bird turned around twice, allowing me to get nice shots of the back / dorsal view and all the relevant field marks. 🙂 As this bird sat there, the first bird sat a little further back and did the “smack” calls that can be found on the Sibley app.

Fox Sparrow habitat. Houston Creek Trail, Seaton Creek Historic Preserve

The picture above is the habitat these two birds were in, which is not exactly what I would’ve expected for them.

I’ve been waiting a long time to see this species in Duval County, and have purposefully searched for them each winter in the cypress domes of Pumpkin Hill, Cedar Creek, and other brushy habitat on the westside. Based on all the research I’ve done for Duval, there are a handful of scattered reports dating back decades, but most are from Christmas Bird Counts…which I find of highly questionable authenticity. For example, one year there were 25(!) Fox Sparrows on one CBC. There are two or three that I actually have faith in based on the observers (Clark, Rowan, and Hintermister), the most recent of which comes from 2002.

My hot streak continues!

Thus far in January…

The Snow Goose that Marie and I found the last week of December attracted quite a bit of attention the first week of January, and I hate to think how much gas was consumed by everyone driving to the northside of Jacksonville for no other reason than to tick a year bird. Regardless, that bird lingered through at least the first week of the month, as did other notable rarities like the Smooth-billed Ani at Little Talbot Island State Park (present since December 3rd), the Red-necked Grebe (present since January 1st), and the Purple Sandpipers at Huguenot (present since early December).

The Western Kingbirds I found around Christmas stayed at M&M Dairy, but other than that no terribly unusual birds have been recorded yet in January. Roseate Spoonbills are pretty uncommon in winter and can be hard to find, but there have been a small group hanging out on the pond in my neighborhood.

This morning I birded Huguenot Memorial Park for several hours and saw pretty much everything you’d expect there this time of year except a Piping Plover or the Oystercatchers. They’re around, but I just missed them. The Purple Sandpiper(s) were not present at 8AM (the tide was out), but when I checked the area around the jetties around 11AM, I found one among the Turnstones.

Purple Sandpiper. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019.

While I was looking at the Red-necked Grebe, I met Tom R. and had a pleasant conversation. We’ve known of each other through email and such over the years, but had never met in person. Nice to make the connection.

Red-necked Grebe. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019

I drove up the beach and around the north end of the park, and would definitely recommend four wheel drive out there – the sand is soft and powdery. Groups of shorebirds were roosting on the mudflat, including a handful of Wilson’s Plovers. I snapped this Black-bellied Plover as it cruised by the truck.

Black-bellied Plover. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019.

On the way back in, I parked at the nature center and walked up family beach, where I met another pair of familiar names – Janet and Gary L. from Orlando. Again, nice to make the personal connection and put faces to names. The grebe was showing pretty well at that point.

Ring-billed Gull. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019.

The new road construction is progressing pretty well through the park, and they’ve cut the path right through the dunes where it’ll run “behind” the playground. I checked the small patch of remaining scrub there and had a number of birds including two White-crowned Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Swamp and Song Sparrows, and Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers. This new path for the road may actually open up a couple new birding options at Huguenot, as it will give us a chance to get closer to the interior coastal scrub.