Category Archives: Locations

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)

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!

Sparrows at Branan

This morning I decided to head to the western side of Duval County in search of Bachman’s Sparrows. I headed to Branan Field mitigation area, which is my second visit of the year; Dave and I went on a frigid January morning in search of Hairy Woodpeckers (and missed).

This morning it was around 50F when I got there and quickly realized it had been burned (prescribed burn) since my last visit. The place looks great and all the understory is nice and charred. The “eastern” or “yellow” Palm Warblers were in abundance – this is a sub-species that is very loyal to pine forest; most of the Palms we see in our city parks are “western” and much more drab.

The Bachman’s Sparrows were singing throughout the section of the preserve I walked, and since there was no morning fog I finally managed a few decent images.

Bachman’s Sparrow. 4 Mar 2018.

As I neared the side of the property where the landing strip is, I flushed another drab sparrow. A quick sweep of the bins made me think “Grasshopper” and I quickly fired off a few shots.

Grasshopper Sparrow. 4 Mar 2018

This is the 16th Grasshopper Sparrow I’ve ever seen in Duval County, but it’s the second one I’ve found in back-to-back weekends here – in opposite sides of the county. An interesting note about this species – every one I can remember seeing is due to flushing one inadvertently and letting it perch. They seem to think they’re camouflaged, because once they light they tend to just sit there…often in the hunched posture you see. Now, this image isn’t that good but it’s taken with a 500mm lens and I’ve also cropped it. Why? Because I’m not one to encroach on a bird or blast tapes in an attempt to get a better shot.

I’ll make another couple trips to Branan Field this year. I didn’t hear any Bobwhite today, and in April or May it’s a better time for that plus species like Chuck-will’s-widow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak, Great-crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird.

Camp Milton Historic Preserve

Map to Camp Milton Historic Preserve

Parking: Free; no entrance fee. There are about fifty paved parking places including at least one handicap space.

Trails: Short wooded trails wind throughout the small park including into a swampy understory on a elevated wooden boardwalk.

Facilities: There are a couple of benches and the restrooms are a pretty good little walk from the main parking lot (see map below).

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Bring bug spray and lock your vehicle. Use the restroom at a gas station on US1 or somewhere before heading here, as the facilities are a ways from the parking lot here.

Target Species: Eastern Meadowlark

Camp Milton is an important historic civil war site where three miles of earth fortifications were built. An one point over 8,000 Confederate troops inhabited the area as a defense against the Union army. It is now a peaceful and actually quite beautiful park with interpretive exhibits and meandering pathways.

Birding Strategy:
I’ve visited this park on a number of occasions and have found it to be disturbing absent of birds, particularly in the leafy understory along the creek. This area should be teeming with birds but it just isn’t. The best I can say is that it’s a good area to look for Eastern Meadowlark, but otherwise the birding is slow and common species rule the day. You’ll be likely to see or hear Carolina Wren, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied, Downy, and Pileated Woodpeckers.

I would honestly not recommend this park as a birding destination because embodies a bad combination – it is out of the way from any other nearby hotspots and doesn’t have many birds.

Ribault Monument

Map to Ribault Monument

Parking: Free; no entrance fee. There are about 25 paved parking places including at least one handicap space. The park is open from 9:00AM to 4:45PM daily.

Trails: None. There is a short handicap boardwalk ramp that winds from the parking lot to the overlook. It’s less that 50 yards long but does cut through a small patch of great coastal hardwood hammock.

Facilities: None. There are a few places to sit (pictured below).

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Patience is a virtue here. It provides a stunning view overlooking the St. Johns River and Timucuan Preserve. On a clear day you can see north to Big Talbot Island.

Target Species: American White Pelican, American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Roseate Spoonbill, Yellow-throated Warbler.

Overlooking the St. Johns Rover

The Ribault Monument is part of the National Park Service and commemorates the landing of Jean Ribault in the area. It sits atop St. Johns Bluff and is one of the highest natural places in Northeast Florida. It is an extremely small place, consisting literally of the parking lot, a set of concrete steps, and an area roughly the size of someone’s back porch atop the bluff.

Birding Strategy:

Like I mentioned before, patience is a virtue here. Set up your scope like I’ve pictured above and just relax. Patience and a stationary count will certainly reward your soul. The view is gorgeous, there is considerable shade, and you will see a lot of birds. I’ve found that most other visitors that find their way to this hidden gem are quite kind and usually interested in what you’re doing. Take the time to make someone a birder!

On a typical visit in any time of year you can expect to tally at least 30 species, and in early spring or fall you can expect anywhere from 40-65! In fact, on 28 February 2016, Roger Clark and I recorded a whopping 66 species here just doing a stationary count.

Be sure to scan the spoil area to the bottom right of the overlook; this is a great location to get hard-to-find species like Long-billed Dowitcher, American Avocet, and Green-winged Teal. You can also make out a variety of shorebirds, which vary depending on the season and state of the spoil (it’s often being worked and changing shape). Listen for songbirds in season; Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, Painted Bunting, White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos can be quite noticeable and in full song in spring and summer. In winter, listen for Belted Kingfisher and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Otherwise, just scan the sky, St. Johns River, and in the distance the saltmarshes of the Timucuan Preserve. The two lane road you will see across the river is Heckscher Drive/A1A. If you visit during low tide, it will increase your odds of seeing waders and shorebirds in the river and the saltmarsh. In summer, Roseate Spoonbill should be an easy find and will stand out in your scope.

Huguenot Memorial Park Reopens!

We’ve all been anxiously waiting for Huguenot Memorial Park to reopen since the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. I was in Arizona when I saw the news that the park had reopened and it’s hard to believe that I was actually looking forward to leaving the Arizona birds behind to get back to Florida so I could visit Huguenot – but I found myself really jonesing! I got back into town around 3PM today and headed straight for Huguenot only to find the gates closed.

I did find out that they’re only open from 8AM to 4PM , with the gates closing at 3:30PM. I was also told that annual park pass holders will eventually get another pass that will serve as an extension for the missed months – so for example, my pass expires in March 2017, but I’ll get an extension for October – January…four months.

An updated park map is inset above that shows the revised driving and pedestrian areas, and we are very strongly urged to use only 4 wheel drive vehicles in the sand areas.