Category Archives: 12 Day Big Year

15 Nov 2015 – November Duval County Twelve Day Big Year (12DBY):

Final November 12DBY results: 6 eBird checklists, 4 new 12DBY species
Best targets achieved: Piping Plover, Red-headed Woodpecker
Most unexpected species: Lark Sparrow at Eastport
New 12DBY species: Piping Plover, Red-headed Woodpecker, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lark Sparrow

Summary:

The year is winding down, and while I have a list of potential target birds left there are no guarantees for adding new species. Unfortunately, I missed loads of migrant warblers and thrushes for the 12DBY and am now forced to target other obvious gaps in the list.

With that in mind, we started the morning at Little Talbot Island SP, where I quickly added Orange-crowned Warbler. A stop at Huguenot was productive overall, and yielded seven Piping Plovers, which was another 12DBY target.

Our next stop was Eastport Wastelands, where we’d seen the first patch record of Red-headed Woodpecker there the previous weekend. After finding both an adult and juvenile, we headed to the sparrow spot when to our amazement, the 11th known county record of Lark Sparrow popped up and allowed for world class scope views for over an hour. In fact, we had to just walk away from the bird like it was nothing special! That’s the second Lark Sparrow in that hotspot just this year; there’s no telling what has been inhabiting that acreage over the years!

After eleven days of the challenge I’m now at 215 species for Duval County, which is a county 12DBY mark that I’m confident will never be broken and I intend to add a little more to it next month. Reasonable birds I can still target include Canvasback, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Northern Bobwhite, American Avocet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Field Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird. If I choose to do my 12DBY on the CBC I’ll miss the duck opportunity simply based on my territory, but may rack up some rarities.

11 Oct 2015 – October Duval County Twelve Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key October 12DBY target species: Migrant warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, thrushes, and Franklin’s Gull
Final October 12DBY results: 5 eBird checklists, 5 new 12DBY species
Best targets achieved: Franklin’s Gull, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush
Most unexpected species: Roseate Spoonbill at Westside Industrial Park
New 12DBY species: Franklin’s Gull, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Scarlet Tanager

Summary:
October’s 12 DBY was targeted around balancing the drive for the possibility of Franklin’s Gull at Huguenot Memorial Park and the desire to scour places like Reddie Point for any needed migrant landbirds.

Marie and I started the day at Huguenot at dawn to look for Franklin’s Gull, which is annual in recent years during the month of October and early November, but is certainly not a “gimme”, and wasn’t a species recorded here yet this year. In my experience, dawn or late afternoon is best to look for them, and always around the south side of the jetties. We got out of the truck and set up our scopes, and within five minutes we located one Franklin’s in the crowd of several hundred gulls and terns. Since the tide was roaring in, I couldn’t make the ocean side drive to the north end of the park to look for a needed 12DBY Piping Plover, so we left and headed to Reddie Point.

We spent almost three hours at Reddie Point where we ran into Jan, Martha, Wade, and Dave and covered the park pretty darn well. Migration has been very slow this fall so I missed several of the more common warblers this year, but we did manage around 40 species. At the beginning of the paved trail, I heard a Veery and the group was able to get on the bird and observe it shortly thereafter. About 100 yards further down the road, Marie picked out a Swainson’s Thrush in a tree above her and I was able to see it briefly before it took off. Scarlet Tanager is a species I don’t see every year in Duval County (they can be quite uncommon), but on this day we saw three different birds; one along the back trail and two hanging out in the main parking lot area. We also had one Empidonax flycatcher that I felt was most likely a Least Flycatcher but could not confirm it 100%. Alas, a species I can’t count on the 12DBY.

The group decided to drive over to Westside Industrial Park to get several pairs of eyes looking for the recently recorded Purple Gallinule. We didn’t find it, but did record 42 species there including a nice mix of migrants like Tennessee Warbler (new 12DBY bird), Yellow Warbler, and many American Redstarts. The most surprising bird there was a lone Roseate Spoonbill, which was unusually far inland for a Duval County observation.

After leaving Westside, I decided to try one more time at Huguenot for the Piping Plover but missed them again. The plover will become a target for next month’s iteration of the competition.

After ten days of the challenge I’m now at 211 species for Duval County, which is more species than I had in several full years here when I didn’t know as much about how to bird the county. It’s been fun so far, but I’m beginning to think my goal of 220 is slipping out of reach with just 2 more days to go.

12 Sept 2015 – September Duval County Twelve Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key September 12DBY target species: Migrant warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, thrushes, and “grass pipers”

Final September 12DBY results: 10 eBird checklists, 3 new 12DBY species

Best targets achieved: Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Most unexpected species: Baird’s Sandpiper!

As I said at the conclusion of last month’s 12DBY update, my strategy for September would hinge on whether to seek “staked out” grass pipers or wait until the end of the month to target migrant land birds.

An Upland Sandpiper was recorded at M&M Dairy on 7 Sept, and when Marie and I went to search for it we also found two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Since both birds were continuing on the 11th, I decided to head there the next morning and try for them for the 12DBY challenge.

I got there around mid-morning and in one of the muddy pools on the western end of the pasture I noticed a squat peep in my scope. I studied it carefully and determined it had all the characteristics of a Baird’s Sandpiper! This species was fresh in my mind since I had just seen one in Glendale, Arizona, a couple weeks prior at the Recharge Ponds where I was chasing an adult Sabine’s Gull prior to catching my flight home.

Baird's Sandpiper - 13 Sep 2015

The bird I found was clearly larger than the Least Sandpipers near it and was smaller than a nearby Pectoral. It had the “attenuated” look of a long-winged peep and when it faced me head on that cinched it; this bird had the crossed primaries in the back and had the classic flat-backed posture typical of a Baird’s.  I took a few photographs of the bird and shared the scope view with JC Knoll (who moments before I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person) just before the bird took off; it was not relocated until the following day. This was the first photo documented record of the species in the county, and just the third known occurrence in Duval County history.

As I observed the bird, I called Dave Foster who arrived shortly afterwards and who got us permission to walk into the pastures to look for more shorebirds. In addition to a small group of rather early Wilson’s Snipe, we found the Upland Sandpiper way out in the middle of the field, got to see it fly around, and make it’s Loon-like call. On the way back to the truck I caught a brief glimpse of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, thus securing the 12DBY hat trick of rare shorebirds!

Other stops throughout the day produced a nice variety of birds but nothing else new for the competition. October’s 12DBY will certainly focus on woodland birds and migrant land birds, as I’m missing many of the warblers and others. After September, I’m at 206 Duval County species in the 9 days.

New 12DBY species: Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper.

30 Aug 2015 – August Duval County Twelve Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key August 12DBY target species: Yellow Warbler, Piping Plover, Cliff Swallow, Bank Swallow

Final August 12DBY results: 62 ABA countable species, 8 eBird checklists, 2,950 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Yellow Warbler

This month’s 12DBY sort of got away from me a little bit. My plan was to scour for the swallows and then declare the 12DBY the following day, which I did – but the payoff wasn’t quite there. I spent the last week in Arizona for work, and managed a couple days birding SE AZ again by extending a weekend. I tallied some excellent western species there, including White-eared Hummingbird, Lucifer Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Sinaloa Wren, and Black-capped Gnatcatcher. When I got back in town I realized I hadn’t done this month’s competition so I headed out on the 29th and did manage three new county year birds: Least Flycatcher, Cliff Swallow, and Bank Swallow.

This morning I began at Huguenot Memorial Park, where the tide was extremely high (perhaps a result of former Tropical Storm Erika) and the beach was largely inaccessible. I was really hoping for the swallows and a Piping Plover to add to my total, but didn’t manage it. I then headed to the southern tip of Little Talbot Island State Park to scan the ocean for pelagics and the beach for plovers. I saw some Black Terns but the beach was under water all the way to the dunes, which is really unusual for this area.

I picked up Marie and headed to Westside Industrial Park, where we found a Yellow Warbler along the edge of the pond near Jesse B Smith Court. We added a few more nice day birds there, including 2 juvenile Limpkin and 4 adults. We drove around Jones and Cisco Roads, checking the fields for “grass pipers” or swallows over any ponds, but things were very still.

After lunch I tried Eastport Wastelands for the Least Flycatcher again, but all three entrances were flooded due to recent heavy rains and I wasn’t going to risk it even in my 4×4. I decided to finish the afternoon back at Huguenot at low tide, but it wasn’t very active and I couldn’t find a Piping Plover or single swallow.

So, I finished August with 1 new species for the 12DBY – a Yellow Warbler. That brings me to 203 this year in 8 days, which isn’t too shabby. Next month I’ll plan on either declaring on any staked out grass pipers or waiting until the third week of September to target migrant warblers and thrushes.

New 12DBY species: Yellow Warbler.

26 Jul 2015 – July Duval County Twelve Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key July 12DBY target species: Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Tern, Black Tern, Stilt Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper

Final July 12DBY results: 82 ABA countable species, 8 eBird checklists, 4,467 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Common Tern, Black Tern, Stilt Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper

My strategy for July was to wait until late in the month to try to land some of the early migrant shorebirds and Black Tern. On the 25th, Roger Clark (who spent a couple weeks in town) and I found 2 Louisiana Waterthrushes on Fort George Island and a few shorebirds at Spoonbill Pond that I could use for the 12DBY, so I declared the following day to try for those species.

My 12DBY for July started at Shell Bay where I met Roger to begin our morning. I didn’t add anything new for the challenge, but we picked up things like Roseate Spoonbill and Little Blue Heron. Our first official stop was Fort George Island, where a quick drive through of the 4.4 mile loop did not produce any Louisianas.

We headed across the street to Huguenot Memorial Park, where we had a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on the edge of the lagoon – an uncommon species for Huguenot and a new 12DBY species. I managed two other new species here – Lesser Black-backed Gull (a pristine adult) and a single Common Tern. We had a nice variety of other species including several Reddish Egrets, but did not see one of Roger’s targets, the Gull-billed Tern.

After leaving Huguenot, we headed north on A1A to Big Talbot Island’s Spoonbill Pond, where we had 17 species of shorebirds but encountered no other birders – on a weekend day! Overall, Spoonbill Pond produced 46 species including Glossy Ibis, summering Lesser Scaup, 5 juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, a single Marbled Godwit, 4 Stilt Sandpipers, and 8 Pectoral Sandpipers (the latter two species also new for the 12DBY).

I had a brunch date with my Mother in 5 Points (Riverside area of Jacksonville), so our last stop was along Houston Avenue on Big Talbot Island. Houston Ave is a heavily canopied coastal hammock with large oak trees, and we’ve always thought the birding should be great, yet rarely is ; we managed a few woodland birds, the best of which was Summer Tanager and Yellow-throated Warbler.

After lunch in 5 Points at the Mossfire Grill, I swung by Eastport Wastelands to add the Black Terns Roger and I found there a day or two previously. The terns were foraging just above the surface of the “recharge ponds”, and I counted about 40 of them! Two Mississippi Kites were also nice to watch in Eastport on my way out.

Figuring I couldn’t do much more damage in July, I called it quits and headed home. It was a successful 12DBY – 6 new species, bringing my 12DBY total for Duval County to 202 species.

August is upon us, and my strategy is to either pull the trigger around the 16th if I am able to find Bank and Cliff Swallows there, or wait until the last few days of the month to try for more shorebirds like Upland or Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

New 12DBY species: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Stilt Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black Tern, Common Tern

13 June 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key June 12DBY target species: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Sandhill Crane, Common Nighthawk

Final June 12DBY results: 61 ABA countable species, 8 eBird checklists, 580 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Sandhill Crane

June is probably obviously my least favorite time of year to go birding in Jacksonville for obvious reasons – it’s incredibly hot and birds aren’t that active. I participated in the June Challenge once or twice, but even that isn’t enough to motivate me to go nuts in the most miserable month of the year. I mean, I killed myself one June for 120 species and on a day like today I casually drove around for 4 hours and managed 61 species – good enough for me!

So, knowing it’s a miserable month to bird, I had planned this month’s 12DBY species to include such “drive-by” targets as Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Limpkin and Sandhill Crane – all species that I knew would be around in their breeding areas this time of year. Having recently found the Least Bitterns at Imeson, I added them to the target list too.

Marie and I got up around 6:30AM, which is really too late to try for the Common Nighthawk, but we drove through Eastport Wastelands anyway just in case. It was a quick run-through and we didn’t manage any new 12DBY species. It wasn’t really a waste of time since it was on the way to Imeson anyway, and we arrived there by 7:15AM. It’s a short walk from the median where we parked the truck to the pond holding the Least Bittern, and we got it within 5 minutes of arriving. Other interesting finds there included a Red-winged Blackbird feeding a fledgling, a breeding plumaged Pied-billed Grebe, and a pair of Green Herons.

From Imeson, we headed up Main Street to Dunn Ave, then to I-95 North, eventually winding our way towards the Lem Turner spray fields. We arrived at Lem Turner and Lannie Road around 7:45AM and waited a whopping 2 minutes before four Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flew in and landed on the large sprinkler system. I dallied for about 4 more minutes trying to make some Boat-tailed Grackles into Brewer’s, but quickly abandoned that idea. Our next stop was Westside Industrial Park, where Dave Foster had already observed Limpkins that morning. When we arrived at 8:11AM, we turned down the street and a Limpkin was literally walking across the road in front of us – couldn’t ask for much more than that! Roughly one hour of birding and we already had 3 target species in the bag.

We continued the westside loop and headed out to the “Waterworks Pool” off New World Avenue, where we promptly found the resident pair of Sandhill Cranes (this is the only / most reliable place in the county to find them year-round) at 8:46AM. A fledgling Loggerhead Shrike and Eastern Kingbird were other notable species present there. I made a half-assed attempt for Red-headed Woodpecker and Northern Bobwhite at the old Cecil Field area, but didn’t try very hard and decided to swing by the wading bird rookery off San Jose Boulevard instead.

Recently, Debi Hill had encouraged me to visit this rookery and today was the first real opportunity to do so. The rookery is in a pond off Cornell and San Jose, and it is certainly worth a visit (bring a scope). We were treated to nesting Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, and Anhinga. The rookery had young from recently hatched, downy young to “branching” fledglings of all the aforementioned species.

20150613_111406
White-rumped Sandpiper

Our last stop was to check Spoonbill Pond for remaining shorebirds, and I was hoping that the White-rumped Sandpipers were still around. We arrived there at 11:05AM and scoped from the “Birdwatching Platform”, where we were treated to dozens of Black-necked Stilts, 3 stunning alternate-plumaged White-Rumped Sandpipers, lingering Lesser Scaup and Blue-winged Teal, and several other species of shorebirds.

After dinner, we headed back to Eastport Wastelands around 9PM and scored the Nighthawk, 4 Chuck-will’s-widows and a single Great Horned Owl.

Overall, June was a very successful 12DBY – 6 new species, bringing my 12DBY total for Duval County to 196 species (which would be good for 7th on the eBird Top 100 for this year).

New 12DBY species: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Sandhill Crane, White-rumped Sandpiper, Common Nighthawk

9 May 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key May 12DBY target species: Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite.

Final May 12DBY results: 113 ABA countable species (0 non-countable), 14 eBird checklists, and 4,878 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite.

Targets missed: None.
Most unexpected species: Either a late Bonaparte’s Gull at Spoonbill Pond or the Orchard Oriole Marie C. found singing at 0630 at the Gate station while I was pumping gas.

The plan for the May 12DBY was two-fold: to combine it with Cornell’s inaugural eBird Global Big Day and to target some of the more difficult to find breeding species in the county. About a week prior to the event I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by a tremendous young birder, Marie C., who asked to join us on the #GlobalBigDay. We met at the Gate station on Heckscher Drive at 0630, where Marie C (hereafter ‘MC’; Marie Dailey will be ‘MD’) heard an unusual song coming from towards the highway. As I topped off the tank, the Maries ran down a singing Orchard Oriole – and so our day began!

Our first stop was the Eastport Wastelands, an area I have really come to love and have 98 species already this year in just 13 or so visits. The target was to notch the Yellow-breasted Chat I had found the previous weekend. No sooner did we arrive and get out of the truck, and the Chat was singing from his exposed perch for in-the-scope views. We spent a little more time in the Wastelands, where we picked up a number of day birds such as Solitary Sandpiper and Prairie Warbler, and added another Orchard Oriole, which is a new patch bird. I also added two more new 12DBY species here: Green Heron and Wood Duck.

We headed down Heckscher Drive to Imeson Area to check for Common Gallinule, Pied-billed Grebe, and Eastern Meadowlark (keep in mind we were doing a coordinated, county-wide Global Big Day and not just trying for new 12DBY birds). We dipped on all three species, and managed just a few species at Imeson like Killdeer and Mourning Dove. We headed up I-95 towards our day’s main destination – Seaton Creek Preserve. On the way, we added a new 12DBY species – the elusive House Sparrow.

The 12DBY strategy for May really centers around Seaton Creek, because in addition to breeding species you can still manage a few migrants and hopefully other interesting or unexpected land birds. Using the same route outlined in my write-up on Seaton (see Locations on this site), we picked off singing Summer Tanagers, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers singing on territory, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and a singing male Blue Grosbeak right in the parking lot. Fortunately the grounds were relatively dry and we didn’t have to pass through too much mud to get to the Acadian Flycatcher spot, but the bugs and biting flies were a bit of a nuisance. When we arrived at the Acadian habitat, it was quiet for several minutes and we were beginning to think we were going to miss out. Much to our delight, an Acadian started calling and actually flew in to perch directly over our heads for photo opportunities. As we started heading back to the truck, several Yellow-billed Cuckoos also started calling and cavorting.

From Seaton, we drove to the area of M&M Dairy and Sheffield Regional Park. First stopping at Sheffield, we picked up Eastern Kingbird, Mississippi Kite, and a singing Indigo Bunting. Despite seeing Bobolinks here and at M&M Dairy in the week leading up to our 12DBY, we dipped on the species at both locations. M&M Dairy was relatively slow, and produced the expected yellowlegs species, Cattle Egret, and Loggerhead Shrike. After a quick lunch at Subway, we decided to try for something like American White Pelican or Northern Bobwhite at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve. We struck out there and on the way back visited the Tidewater subdivision off Cedar Point Road, which is usually reliable for American Coot and Eastern Meadowlark. Again, we dipped on our targets here and moved on rather quickly.

It was getting a little later in the day, but we headed for Spoonbill Pond to attempt a few shorebirds and species for the Global Big Day. We added aseasonal Lesser Scaup and Bonaparte’s Gull to the Big Day, and new 12DBY species were Long-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Roseate Spoonbill. On the way back down Heckscher Drive we stopped in at Huguenot Memorial Park, where we padded our day list and got us over 100 species, but it was arduous. Not only was the park packed with people, but they had roped off the lagoon to prohibit driving since the Wilson’s Plover chicks had just hatched in days prior. We dropped MC back off at the Gate at 18:30, ending a solid 12 hour, 113 species effort. I managed 15 new 12DBY species, and MC added 7 new life birds! A footnote: the inaugural Duval County #GlobalBigDay teams tallied 153 ABA countable species on the day; an impressive effort to be sure.

After 5 carefully selected days, I’m now at 190 species for the 12DBY competition. 200 is not only seeming more and more doable, but surpass able in perhaps the next one or two efforts; I’m still missing such species as Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, Common Tern, and Black Tern.

New 12DBY species:
Wood Duck, Green Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, House Sparrow.

19 Apr 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY)

Key April 12DBY target species: Migrants, migrants, and more migrants.

Final April 12DBY results: 105 ABA countable species, 8 eBird checklists, and 3,489 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Glossy Ibis, Solitary Sandpiper, and Orchard Oriole
Targets missed: Cape May Warbler
Most unexpected species: Common Loon

April’s 12DBY selection coincided with a Duval Audubon field trip I was leading at Kingsley Plantation and Fort George Island. Mid-April at this location can be excellent for migrants, and being in close proximity to Huguenot Memorial Park played nicely into my strategy to pick up some of the arrivals there as well.

My day started at 6AM at the Ribault Club on Fort George Island for owling, where I was joined by two early trip participants. We managed a single Eastern Screech-Owl, a handful of Lightning Bugs, and several Chuck-will’s-widows, adding the day’s first new 12DBY species. The field trip proper started at Ribault Club’s parking lot around 7AM, where we checked the Fort George Inlet and sandbars from behind the Club. I managed a single Gull-billed Tern over the salt marsh, but nothing else new for the competition. Birding proved slow most of the morning, so as a consequence I slowly padded the 12DBY list with species like Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, a single Ovenbird, a calling Summer Tanager, Black-throated Blue, Prairie, and Yellow-throated Warblers, and both Indigo and a glorious male Painted Bunting.

We moved on to Kingsley Plantation at 9AM and Gary Davis found not one but two new birds for the list – Orchard Oriole and Merlin. Both species were perched for in-the-scope views along the tall treeline next to the giftshop/ranger building. This spot used to be “magical” in previous years with skeins of migrants moving along the tops of the trees in the morning light, but in recent years it’s difficult to manage a single warbler species there. Sad commentary on the abundance of migrants here in spring migration. On the way back to the parking lot, I noticed a Common Loon flying over the garden heading northeast. This “flying bowling pin” was another new 12DBY bird.

The trip disbanded after Kingsley, so Marie and I headed over to Huguenot Memorial Park on an incoming tide and did one circuit around the park. The stake-out birds were Marbled Godwit and Whimbrel (we got both), and I also added Least, Caspian, and Sandwich Tern making a four tern addition to the competition.

The next target was Solitary Sandpiper and I had two locations staked out from seeing them the previous day. The first spot was Sheffield Regional Park, where the pair of sandpipers seen not 24 hours prior had departed. The visit wasn’t a total bust, however, since I added Eastern Kingbird near the playground. Leaving Sheffield, we swung by nearby M&M Dairy and scoped an impressive flock of 35-50 foraging Glossy Ibis – one of the largest groups of the species you’re likely to find in Duval County. A quick check of the power line cut on Port Jacksonville Parkway produced a male Blue Grosbeak (they nest in the area), and Cattle Egret (a species I conspicuously dipped on thus far this year).

Eastport Wastelands was my final stop and the target was the lone Solitary Sandpiper Marie and I found there the previous day. Eastport Wastelands is what we’ve affectionately named this desolate acreage that borders Heckscher Drive to the south and Eastport Road to the west; it is a mostly barren hellhole where the land has obviously been pillaged and poisoned over the last century by the neighboring gas and oil refinery and cardboard recycling plant. Now, I have no science to back that statement up, but it doesn’t take a genius to make the connection. The land is sparsely covered by vegetation that is somehow still alive, but 90% of it is blanketed with fried plants and trees. It seriously looks like a nuclear bomb has been dropped on the entire parcel. There are some swampy cypress bottomlands that contain a few waders and ducks, but no species in numbers. I’m confident this is the area where Sam Grimes recorded nesting King Rails and Purple Gallinules in the 1930’s, but there is no evidence or indication that they’re still extant there – and believe me, I have tried.

Having said all that, in the last 6 or 7 visits I’ve recorded 75 species on the property, so there is life there – and on Sunday we found 5 (yes, five!) Solitary Sandpipers. The sandpipers were in a large “black water” mud bog that we parked on the edge of and set up our scopes to view them. In the distance, a camouflaged Jeep Cherokee with an exhaust snorkel jutting up in the air next to the driver’s window slowly rumbled into view. Marie said something like “Oh no, he’s going to head right over here and flush these birds”. Well, she was absolutely correct – the Jeep proceeded to rumble through 2 feet of deep mud/sludge in that black water bog and came to a stop right next to us. The window slowly rolled down and we were treated to two locals with their child in the backseat. The driver proceeded to tell me how to navigate the bog as he was eyeballing my near-pristinely washed ten year old 4×4 (a vehicle I obviously 4 wheel in, but not mud bog in), and followed it with “Go git you some of that. I’ll be back around in 10 minutes to check on you.” A friendly chap, but we had no intention of waiting for that ten minutes to pass. A word of advice – the Eastport Wastelands is some of the most challenging birding you will encounter in NE FL (think a cross between deep Pumpkin Hill and Imeson), and is not somewhere to even attempt without a 4×4 vehicle – and preferably a truck that sits up high. An AWD car or SUV will likely not make it, and this is not an area where you want to get stuck, believe me. AAA will not come to your rescue there.

Overall, I added 26 species to the Duval County 12DBY in April, bringing the total after the 4-day mark to 175 species. I still feel like I’m on track for the 220 I set as a 12DBY goal.

The List:

Species Name Species Count Sample Size
Canada Goose – Branta canadensis 46 2
Mallard (Domestic type) – Anas platyrhynchos (Domestic type) 8 2
Mottled Duck – Anas fulvigula 3 1
Mallard/Mottled Duck – Anas platyrhynchos/fulvigula 2 1
Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator 1 1
Indian Peafowl (Domestic type) – Pavo cristatus (Domestic type) 1 1
Common Loon – Gavia immer 1 1
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps 1 1
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana 2 1
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus 14 3
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga 3 2
Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis 12 1
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias 6 3
Great Egret – Ardea alba 35 6
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula 10 4
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea 5 3
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis 16 2
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus 12 2
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus 35 1
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus 4 2
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 14 3
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus 1 1
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus 1 1
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus 2 2
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis 1 1
Clapper Rail – Rallus crepitans 1 1
American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus 2 1
Black-bellied Plover – Pluvialis squatarola 5 1
Wilson’s Plover – Charadrius wilsonia 3 1
Semipalmated Plover – Charadrius semipalmatus 1 1
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus 2 1
Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius 2 1
Solitary Sandpiper – Tringa solitaria 5 1
Willet – Tringa semipalmata 26 4
Whimbrel – Numenius phaeopus 4 1
Marbled Godwit – Limosa fedoa 2 1
Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres 20 1
Sanderling – Calidris alba 33 2
Dunlin – Calidris alpina 18 2
Least Sandpiper – Calidris minutilla 2 1
Short-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus griseus 70 2
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus griseus/scolopaceus 4 1
Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus atricilla 2,642 5
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis 6 1
Herring Gull – Larus argentatus 4 1
Great Black-backed Gull – Larus marinus 1 1
Least Tern – Sternula antillarum 12 1
Gull-billed Tern – Gelochelidon nilotica 1 1
Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia 4 1
Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus 16 1
Sandwich Tern – Thalasseus sandvicensis 1 1
Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger 45 2
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura 10 4
Eastern Screech-Owl – Megascops asio 1 1
Chuck-will’s-widow – Antrostomus carolinensis 4 1
Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica 9 3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colubris 1 1
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon 3 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus 6 3
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens 2 2
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus 4 2
Merlin – Falco columbarius 1 1
Great Crested Flycatcher – Myiarchus crinitus 13 4
Eastern Kingbird – Tyrannus tyrannus 2 2
Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus 1 1
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus 12 5
Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius 1 1
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus 10 2
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata 4 4
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos 4 2
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus 14 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis 2 1
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis 11 4
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor 12 3
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon 2 2
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus 10 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea 15 4
Eastern Bluebird – Sialia sialis 2 1
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis 4 4
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum 1 1
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos 11 5
European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris 4 1
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum 6 2
Ovenbird – Seiurus aurocapilla 1 1
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia 3 1
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas 1 1
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana 32 3
Black-throated Blue Warbler – Setophaga caerulescens 2 1
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum 1 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata 1 1
Yellow-throated Warbler – Setophaga dominica 24 3
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor 1 1
Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus 5 3
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis 5 3
Summer Tanager – Piranga rubra 1 1
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis 24 8
Blue Grosbeak – Passerina caerulea 1 1
Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea 2 2
Painted Bunting – Passerina ciris 2 2
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus 7 3
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula 1 1
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major 16 2
Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater 2 1
Orchard Oriole – Icterus spurius 1 1
House Finch – Haemorhous mexicanus 6 2

28 March 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY)

Key March 12DBY target species: Yellow-throated Vireo, Purple Martin, Northern Parula, Bachman’s Sparrow.

Final March 12DBY results: 102 ABA countable species (1 non-countable), 10 eBird checklists, and 2,117 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Bachman’s Sparrow
Targets missed: Cattle Egret
Most unexpected species: Vesper Sparrow

The plan for the March 12DBY was to start with Bachman’s Sparrow, which is a rare-in-county and well-documented declining species in Florida. There is only one known reliable location in Duval County for the species – Julington Durbin Creek Preserve. Marie and I met Chris and Ellen there at dawn among a throng of teenage cross country runners, and were immediately greeted by calling Brown-headed Nuthatches and Pine Warblers in the parking lot. We took the short hike in to the Bachman’s spot (go left at the trail kiosk), and recorded at least 4 singing Bachman’s. They are often very easy to see singing from an exposed perch there, but were not very cooperative for us in that regard. From there we headed on down the trail towards the deciduous forest leading to Durbin Creek; along the way we got fantastic looks at Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. An inquisitive Ruby-crowned Kinglet displayed its signature crimson crown at eye level. At the edge of the creek, we happened upon a flock feeding rather high in the canopy, making visual ID difficult, but we did manage Black-and-white Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, and Yellow-throated Vireo. Wild Turkeys added to the commotion by calling in the distance. Our haul from Julington-Durbin Preserve: 31 species in 1.5 hours.

After a brief stop at Starbucks, we headed to Westside Industrial Park by way of Commonwealth Avenue and Imeson Road, where we made a brief roadside stop for Northern Flicker and both Yellowlegs. There’s a muddy pond on Imeson directly across from the Baldwin Rails Trail parking lot that can be good for waders and shorebirds.

At Westside Industrial Park we dipped on the resident Limpkins, but we admittedly didn’t try to hard for them this time…their time will come in June. We tallied 43 species at this eBird hotspot, including a first-ever Yellow-throated Vireo, calling Barred Owl (another new 12DBY bird), and roaming group of Wild Turkey including two displaying Toms. The highlight was undoubtedly seeing a swarm of swallows (Barn, Tree, and Northern Rough-winged) all flying low over a small pond in bright sunlight. Since we were positioned higher on the edge of the pond, we were able to really study and appreciate the fields marks – and sheer magnificence – of this group of swallows from above. Quite a treat.

A brief stop at Liberty Park produced distant Eastern Meadowlarks and some Killdeer, and when we decided to “just check” the cattle gate area off Moncrief Road, we were treated with point-blank, in-the-scope views of two Vesper Sparrows. Lunch at Subway in the Pritchard Road truck stop was followed by a journey to the Lem Turner Spray Fields where Chris got us on a single Purple Martin (year bird!), and Ellen pointed out a group of birds foraging around the garage. That group ended up consisting of several “eastern/yellow” Palm Warblers and a few Chipping Sparrows.

It was now around 1:30PM and we headed up Lannie Road to the model airplane fields where we managed a few species, but the highlight was a large Cottonmouth sunning in the middle of the dirt driveway. Chris and Ellen departed from there, and it was a great 6 hours or so of comradery and birding with them!

A quick check indicated we were around 70 species on the day, and Marie and I thought a “Century Run” was certainly doable without much more effort – especially since we hadn’t yet hit the coast. We made our way to Spoonbill Pond where we recorded 36 species, including many “late” duck species like American Wigeon. New to our 12DBY? Black-necked Stilt. We also took a minute to enjoy the ocean views provided by the park bench some locals constructed. SDC17230

Our last stop was a quick run through at Huguenot Memorial Park, hoping for the Marbled Godwit I recorded there the previous evening. We didn’t find the Godwit, but did add enough new birds to put us over 100 species for the day before 5PM – not too shabby considering we did virtually no woodland birding.

Overall I added 11 new species to the 12DBY effort, bringing the total for 3 carefully selected days to 149 species. Considering I still don’t have species like Cattle Egret or House Sparrow on the list, I still think 200 species in 12 days is very possible.

The List: 

Species Name Species Count Sample Size
Canada Goose – Branta canadensis 36 5
Swan Goose (Domestic type) x Canada Goose (hybrid) – Anser cygnoides (Domestic type) x Branta canadensis 1 1
American Wigeon – Anas americana 6 1
Mallard (Domestic type) – Anas platyrhynchos (Domestic type) 6 3
Mottled Duck – Anas fulvigula 2 1
Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors 35 1
Northern Shoveler – Anas clypeata 40 1
Green-winged Teal – Anas crecca 12 1
Lesser Scaup – Aythya affinis 125 1
Hooded Merganser – Lophodytes cucullatus 1 1
Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator 18 1
Ruddy Duck – Oxyura jamaicensis 1 1
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo 7 2
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps 2 2
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana 1 1
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus 21 4
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga 5 2
Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis 1 1
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias 2 2
Great Egret – Ardea alba 8 3
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula 5 1
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea 1 1
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor 1 1
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis 6 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax 1 1
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus 20 1
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus 23 5
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 54 8
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus 5 3
Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus 1 1
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus 5 2
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus 3 2
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis 3 3
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata 2 1
American Coot – Fulica americana 1 1
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus 2 1
American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus 4 1
Black-bellied Plover – Pluvialis squatarola 6 1
Semipalmated Plover – Charadrius semipalmatus 1 1
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus 17 5
Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius 1 1
Greater Yellowlegs – Tringa melanoleuca 4 1
Willet – Tringa semipalmata 2 1
Lesser Yellowlegs – Tringa flavipes 4 1
Sanderling – Calidris alba 43 2
Dunlin – Calidris alpina 7 2
Western Sandpiper – Calidris mauri 25 1
Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus atricilla 820 2
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis 31 4
Herring Gull – Larus argentatus 2 1
Great Black-backed Gull – Larus marinus 1 1
Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri 40 2
Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus 100 1
Black Skimmer – Rynchops niger 50 1
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia 6 2
Eurasian Collared-Dove – Streptopelia decaocto 1 1
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura 10 3
Barred Owl – Strix varia 1 1
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon 1 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus 5 3
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens 4 2
Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus 2 2
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus 2 1
American Kestrel – Falco sparverius 7 4
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe 1 1
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus 7 4
Yellow-throated Vireo – Vireo flavifrons 4 2
Red-eyed Vireo – Vireo olivaceus 2 2
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata 7 4
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos 5 2
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus 10 3
Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis 6 1
Purple Martin – Progne subis 2 2
Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor 100 2
Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica 56 2
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis 3 1
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor 3 2
Brown-headed Nuthatch – Sitta pusilla 5 1
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon 1 1
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus 3 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea 8 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula 3 1
Eastern Bluebird – Sialia sialis 6 3
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis 2 1
Brown Thrasher – Toxostoma rufum 1 1
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos 7 5
European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris 6 2
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum 101 2
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia 1 1
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana 2 2
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum 6 1
Pine Warbler – Setophaga pinus 4 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata 20 2
Eastern Towhee – Pipilo erythrophthalmus 4 3
Bachman’s Sparrow – Peucaea aestivalis 4 1
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina 4 1
Vesper Sparrow – Pooecetes gramineus 2 1
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis 18 1
White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys 1 1
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis 7 3
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus 16 4
Eastern Meadowlark – Sturnella magna 8 1
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major 11 4

Nassau County 12DBY

Today was my March Nassau County Twelve Day Big Year day. We started at Amelia Island SP, totaling 32 quick species including several pairs of Wilson’s Plovers. Wilson's PloversAfter AISP, we spent most of the morning birding the south end of Egan’s Greenway (park behind the Residence Inn hotel) where the birds were quiet active on a beautiful morning. I added several new species to the competition, but the best find out there was a perfect overgrown area on the bike trail where the sun rises from your back and lights up vegetation reaching as high as 40 feet. This is going to reap rewards in migration. We tallied 39 species at Egan’s including new year birds such as Yellow-throated Warbler, Barred Owl, and Brown-headed Cowbird.

The other real treat of the day was a pair of Great Horned Owl chicks on an Osprey platform in Fernandina Beach – thanks to Gail for the tip and location! Overall, I added 11 new species to the competition, bringing my total to 99 in Nassau in those three days. I also added five new County “lifers” in the process.SDC17226