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.
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:
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.
I cropped this picture below rather heavily to show the rarely-seen-in-the-field “whiskers” at the base of the bill.
It was also a good day for sparrows, with dozens of Vespers about, along with Swamp, Song, Savannah, and Field.
The Vespers were a little sketchy and didn’t allow me too close, but this Savannah was a little more obliging.
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.
I finished up with a couple Orange-crowned Warblers.
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.
The unmitigated overdevelopment in Jacksonville continues.
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.
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.
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.
I had to run home to catch up on chores, but may try for the ‘spur again this evening or tomorrow.
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.
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.
It’s not a bird, but I was very happy with this Buffalo shot and composition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
We also had three American Avocets, including one of the extremely rare “Allaire” sub-species (Allaire’s Avocet).
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And one more…look at that beautiful, scalloped back!
In addition to the sandpiper, I saw two Bald Eagles, including one adult and this immature.
I also saw a number of Swamp Sparrows,
and a few chittering House Wrens.
So there you have it.
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.
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.
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).
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!!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.