Longspurs and Snow Buntings

Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus
Lapland Longspurs have occurred periodically over the decades at Huguenot Memorial Park, which is the only location in Duval County I have been able to find reported observations. On 25 November 1973, one was reported from the north dunes area (Hintermister) along with two Snow Buntings. The next record is from 24 February 1979 (Stevenson, 1979) and again later that year from 25 November – 18 February 1980, also in the company of Snow Bunting (Atherton & Atherton, 1980). On 15 February 1981, one was found in the company of three wintering Snow Buntings (Stevenson, 1981). Several years passed before the next report of two birds wintering from 30 November through 4 March 1986 (Ogden, 1986).

Other observations include 2 Jan 1995 (Clark), three at Huguenot 15 November 1995 (Rowan, 1995), five individuals from 27-29 Dec 2000, as many as eight throughout January 2001 (Anderson, 2001), three from 8 December – 4 January 2002 (Anderson, 2002), 1 January 2003, and 1 December 2007 (Richter).

With the exception of one report locating the birds on the base of the jetties, all other observations have been in the dunes at the north end of the park. This is now an area restricted to pedestrian or vehicular traffic, so your best bet is to walk the perimeter of that roped off area from mid-December throughout January and scour the base of the dunes among the vegetation. I have been using this technique for the last decade with no success, but one day I’m confident it will pay dividends.

Chestnut-collared Longspur  Calcarius ornatus
On 28 December 1998, Clark observed two Chestnut-collared Longspurs in a dredge area off Blount Island in north Jacksonville. It is the only report of the species for Duval County.

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
Snow Buntings occur infrequently in Duval County, where nearly all records are from Huguenot Memorial Park. The earliest report happens to also be the first verifiable state record, from “north of the mouth of the St. Johns River” on 28 November 1969. In this area of what I presume is today called Huguenot Memorial Park, Stevenson and Stevenson “collected” two of the nine birds there (Robertson, 1970). At least one of the remaining seven survivors was reported the next month on the 1969 CBC.

As previously mentioned, one was reported on 25 November 1973 along with Lapland Longspurs. A year later, another was reported on 5 March 1974, and at least one wintered at Huguenot (née Ward’s Bank) from 19 November 1977 to 29 January 1978. One was seen on 31 December 1978 by Joe Wilson, and another report of a wintering bird occurred from 25 November 1979 through 18 February 1980. Three more were observed from 25 December – 23 February 1981 (Stevenson, 1981). The next recorded observation is from 14 December 1988, when Clark noted a first winter female in the area of the old parking lot on the river side (this parking lot is long since destroyed by erosion).

On 22 Jan 2011, my wife Marie and I found one sitting on the jetty rocks at first light; the bird remained through the 30th of that month. That same month, individuals of this species were also recorded in Palm Coast and St. Augustine at Vilano Beach.

In 2013, four were reported on 13 December (Leary) and within a few days that number dwindled to three. The three birds remained through 1 March 2014 and were part of the wonderful ‘triple crown’ that January along with the Snowy Owl and Harlequin Duck at Fort Clinch SP.

Although they sometimes venture to the north end of the park, this species seems to prefer the area along the base of the jetties and back along the beach and dunes leading back to the campgrounds on the river side of the park. In winter, park at either the last picnic pavilion and walk east along the river, or park at the jetties and walk back west towards that same pavilion. Scan the edges of the dunes and along the wrack lines for buntings, but do not walk up into the dunes – you will be ejected from the park if caught doing so.

Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Cedar Waxwings are a fairly common winter species but can be missed as often as they’re seen. Waxwings usually arrive in late November in small numbers and can be found with some effort throughout December and January, when their numbers are highly variable.

Their abundance seems to swell in early March, and the largest flocks are normally observed in late March and early April. They are virtually gone by mid-May and do not occur in summer through early fall.

Suggested areas for observing Cedar Waxwings are in the main parking lot at Reddie Point Preserve, at Sheffield Regional Park, and on Fort George Island. One of the best times of day to see them is later in the afternoon before dusk, when they are quite active before congregating in the treetops of medium-sized deciduous trees to roost for the evening.

Cedar Waxwings

Falcons

Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
There are two reports of Crested Caracara in Duval County. The first was documented by Sam Grimes (1944), who stated that on 18 April 1925: “I saw a lone caracara at a point near Cassat Avenue, the present western boundary of the city of Jacksonville. The bird flew leisurely overhead at a low elevation in a westerly direction. A hundred years earlier Audubon had seen and obtained specimens in St. Augustine, but at present time its occurrence up this way is strictly accidental”. The next observation was submitted on 21 February 2000 by a motorist on the extreme western edge of the county, who reported seeing two individuals in the company of Turkey Vultures feeding on road kill along Interstate 10. It is not a species you should ever expect to see here.

American Kestrel Falco sparverius
American Kestrels are a fairly common winter resident and are very scarce in summer. They start increasing in abundance around the last week of September and all but disappear by the last week of April. Having said that, they have been known to breed in the county as far back as 1983, when seven young were recorded in nest boxes along the “kestrel trail” supported by the local Audubon Society (Paul, 1983). Today, good places to check for them include Sheffield Park, M&M Dairy, the Lem Turner spray fields, and Imeson Center, where they are all but guaranteed on or around the power lines running along the railroad tracks.

Merlin Falco columbarius
Merlin are very uncommon in all seasons, and you really can’t expect to see one anytime you go birding. They tend to arrive around the same time as the kestrels (if not a week or two earlier), and can be found into May. They’re most abundant in April. The best places to look for them are Huguenot, Little Talbot Island, and along the river behind Kingsley Plantation. Reddie Point is also as good a location as any, especially during months of migration. Another great location for falcons (Merlin and Peregrine primarily) in the fall and winter is around Spoonbill Pond or from the overlook at Big Talbot Island SP.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Peregrine Falcons can be found roughly the same times as Merlin, but they really peak in October (there is a long-standing hawk watch focused on Peregrine Falcon movement just south of us in Guana each October). The very best place to see them in Duval County is Huguenot Memorial Park. In late September through early November, look for them around the jetties or on the mudflats along the north end of the lagoon area where they are often either loafing or dining on one of the shorebirds. It is not unusual to arrive at Huguenot at dawn in October and while scanning the gulls for a Franklin’s, see the crowd scatter as a Peregrine takes an unfortunate larid. You then get the pleasure of watching it shred its prey through your scope in the magnificent soft light of the rising sun.

Shorebirds

In terms of shorebirds, we are fortunate to have some of the best prime birding locations on the east coast (and perhaps all) of Florida. Duval County has miles of coastal beaches, but it is almost not worth looking for most shorebirds on our beaches south of the St. Johns River. It is true that you’ll find Sanderlings, Willet, and Ruddy Turnstones on the over developed beaches south of Mayport, but north of the river at Huguenot Memorial Park, Fort George Inlet, and Talbot Islands State Parks is really where it’s at. These locations provide miles of virtually undeveloped, easily accessible shoreline access along with tidal mudflats that attract thousands of shorebirds of all varieties. In addition to coastal locations, Duval County has other prime spots like M&M Dairy and the Lem Turner spray fields that also attract migrant shorebirds, as noted below. All these locations (and more) have produced over 40 species of shorebirds in county history.

Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Black-bellied Plover are fairly regular, if not abundant, in most seasons, but almost disappear from places like Huguenot Memorial Park in July. The come into their magnificent breeding plumage in late March and retain it through most of the summer. A visit to Huguenot on almost any day of the year will certainly yield them; check along the family beach area, interior mudflats, and the northwest end of the park, where you can observe them doing their unique pause-and-run foraging method hunting the fiddler crabs.

They are pretty scarce on the shores of Little Talbot Island SP, but can be found in small numbers on the beaches of the extreme north and south ends. They can be found along the sandbars of the Fort George River, so scanning from the parking lot overlooking the inlet (south end of Little Talbot Island) or from behind either the Ribault Club or Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island can be effective as well.

Another excellent location for them can be the Lem Turner spray farms at the intersection of Lem Turner and Lannie Road, but their presence there coincides with migration (March/April and August/September) and is also largely dependent on the state of the pastures (they prefer freshly mowed or tilled fields).

The earliest report comes from Francis Harper, who noted 18 individuals on 22 January 1917 around the mouth of the St. Johns River (Howell, 1932, p. 223).

American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica
American Golden-Plover is a very rare migrant in Duval County and almost all reports are from the fall. The earliest record is one from the north shore of the St. Johns River near Fort George Island on 20 November 1936 (Grimes, 1944). On 23 May 1978, Bob Loftin noted a particularly late individual (Kale, 1978). The next report is from Huguenot Memorial Park in the fall of 1980 (Atherton & Atherton , 1981), followed by another rare spring report on 2 May 1981 (Kale, 1981). Nineteen were reported from Huguenot on 4 December 1982 (Hoffman, 1983). A decade passed before the next known report on 7 May 1992 (Langridge, 1992). Clark reported another rare spring occurrence from the Little Marsh Island spoil area on 24 March 1996 (Rowan, 1996).

Most of the other reports are from late August and early September: up to five at Lem Turner 31 August- 22 September 1995 (Rowan, 1995), early September – 18 November 1996 (Rowan, 1996), fall 1997 (Rowan, pers comm, 2016), 9-11 September 2000, four at Lem Turner spray fields (R. Clark); 8 September 2002, two at Lem Turner (R. Clark); 21-22 August 2008, one each day at the Fort George Inlet during Tropical Storm Fay (R. Clark), and 15 March 2010, eight individuals at M&M Dairy during an exceptional shorebird year there. The latest records are from 2 December 2014 from the Blount Island area in north Jacksonville and 24 March 2017 at Dayson Basin on  Little Marsh Island.

The best time and locations to search for this species is during the fall shorebird migration and at places like Mecklenburg or M&M Dairy, Lem Turner spray fields, or any other pastures or fields that attract shorebirds or hold a bit of water. I wouldn’t rule out coastal areas like Spoonbill Pond or Huguenot, but it seems less like to encounter them at those locations.

Greater Sand-Plover Charadrius leschenaultii
There is one famous record of Greater Sand-Plover for Duval County, which marked only the second record for the Western Hemisphere. On 14 May 2009, C. Adams, D. Leary, and L. Royce first observed the bird on the mudflats on the lagoon side of Huguenot Memorial Park around 09:30 (Adams, Leary, & Royce, 2011). The Greater Sand-Plover attracted hundreds of birders from around the United States while it was observed daily from 14-26 May 2009.

Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus
Snowy Plover is another rare but annual visitor to our beaches, and is most often found on the beaches of Little Talbot Island SP or in the Nassau Sound area of Big or Little Bird Island. On 22 Oct 2000, it was noted that one returned to the north end of Little Talbot Island SP for many years, a trend that has continued fairly reliably through 2014 (P. Leary, personal communication, 2000).  Some specific reports from those years include 7 November 2001 (Pranty, 2002), 20 October 2002, 28 December 2002 (Anderson, 2003), 8 November 2003 (Pranty, 2004), 26 December 2004 (Anderson, 2005), and 23-26 December 2005 (Anderson, 2006).

Unless traveling by boat or kayak, it is a 6 mile round trip hike or bicycle ride to that location from the northernmost parking lot at Little Talbot, thus the area is tragically under-surveyed. It is likely this species (and others) occur there with more frequency but go undetected in most seasons. Other arrival dates for this general area of north Little Talbot/Big Bird Island include 30 November 2006, 17 November 2007, 9 November 2008, 22 August 2010, and 12 November 2009.

It is also worth checking the southern most beach access at Little Talbot, specifically around the tidal pool where Snowy Plover has been recorded on 16 October 2004 and 21 August 2014. Huguenot Memorial Park has also hosted Snowy Plovers, with reports occurring there on 26 December 2004 (Anderson, 2005), 17 December 2006 (K. Dailey), 11 December 2008, and 2 January 2009.

As you can see, almost all reports are from the fall season and the best times to search would be late October through November, focusing your efforts along the shores of Little Talbot Island SP. It can be a rather pleasant bicycle ride and be sure to bring a container or bag with you since it’s also the best time of year to collect sand dollars along the shore.

Wilson’s Plover Charadrius wilsonia
Wilson’s Plover are certainly one of our treasured species in Duval County, as they are declining in numbers, present a target species for visiting birders, and have difficulties in finding suitable breeding habitat. A few breed at Huguenot Memorial Park each spring/summer, but the larger numbers breed at the extreme north end of the beach at Little Talbot Island SP. In 2014 they had an exceptionally successful breeding season and you could see up to 100 individuals in a single scope view!

Grimes (1944) noted an exceptional breeding record in 1943, when a pair successfully nested 23 miles up river from the ocean at the Clyde Line piers. Francis Harper noted about a dozen around what I believe today is Huguenot Memorial Park on 22 January 1917 (Howell, 1932, p. 219).

Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
Noted as “an abundant winter resident” by Grimes in 1944, this species is still found in large numbers at Huguenot Memorial Park throughout the fall and winter. As with Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone, the Semipalmated Plover can be difficult to find in July, but quickly reappear in August and continue gathering in number through the winter. This is a bird that can be found in small groups all along Jacksonville’s beaches, but the best places to find them are Hanna Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, Little Talbot Island, and Fort George Inlet.

Piping Plover Charadrius melodus
Grimes (1944) noted Piping Plover as a “fairly common winter resident” along our ocean shores, but did not indicate in what kind of abundance they occurred. I would say this species is still “fairly common” in winter – certainly at Huguenot Memorial Park and Little Talbot Island SP, but their numbers are very low; it is rare that you’ll see more than five at a time and more often than not you’ll only see one to three individuals at a time. The earliest report of the species is from Mayport on 22 January 1917 (Howell, 1932, p. 216). High counts of the plover include twenty reported by Pat Leary on 20 November 2000 (Pranty, 2001) and thirty-eight observed by Leary in Nassau Sound on 14 March 2004 (Pranty, 2004).

Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
In 1944, Grimes wrote that he was unable to find this species breeding in the county until 1935; he then went one to speculate that they would likely become a fairly common breeding species here (Grimes, 1944). As of 2014, that is certainly true and they can be found breeding throughout the county.

American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus
The first documented occurrence of the species in Duval County is from Francis Harper, who noted a pair on Talbot Island 21 January 1917 (Howell, 1932, p. 215). In 1944, Grimes noted the American Oystercatcher as “a very rare resident”, and described a nest between Fort George Inlet and the mouth of the St. Johns River found on 19 May 1931; this is undoubtedly in the dunes of what we now know as Huguenot Memorial Park. A year later, he found a nest on the southern end of Little Talbot Island SP (Grimes, 1944). A report of thirty-seven at Fort George Inlet on 27 November 1983 (Atherton & Atherton, 1984) is a high count of the species.

As recently as 2013, this species has again successfully fledged young in the dunes of Huguenot Memorial Park, but there have been no successful nests noted on Little Talbot in recent years.

Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
Grimes (1944, p.13) noted Black-necked Stilt as a sporadic species that he recorded in 1935, 37, 38, and 41. He provided an account of searching the newly dredged areas between the Dames Point and Mayport in the early 1930’s and his suspicion of potential future breeding locations for the species but was seemingly never able to locate evidence of breeding north of Anastasia SP in St. Johns County. Unfortunately it’s unknown whether Black-necked Stilts indeed bred in Duval County in Grimes’ day, but they certainly do in recent history; the earliest confirmed breeding dates to 1967 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Black-necked Stilts typically arrive each spring in early March and remain through the breeding season, departing in mid-September. They can be found with some effort at places like M&M Dairy, the Lem Turner spray fields, Mecklenburg Farm, Spoonbill Pond, or even in the marshes at White Shell Bay off Heckscher Drive. They are very occasional at Huguenot Memorial Park, Hanna Park, and Spanish Pond but should not be expected at most visits to those locations.

On 6 August 1983, a then-record high count of fifty-six were reported on Blount Island (Paul, 1983). While that number has since been eclipsed, it is still a notable number even by today’s standards. There are a few winter records of the species including Mark Dolan’s observation of one 9-22 December 1995 at Mecklenburg Dairy Farm (Rowan, 1996). Dolan recorded another on 28 December 1996 (West, 1997) and in 2015 Bob Richter recorded one at Lem Turner 10 January 2016,  but they should not be expected in the winter season.

American Avocet Recurvirostra americana
American Avocet is a species undocumented by Grimes in the early 1940’s, suggesting there were no records prior. One early county record comes from 9-13 May 1967 when the species was still uncommon to rare throughout the state (Stevenson, 1967). Atherton and Atherton (1984) still considered the species rare when one was reported from Blount Island on 6 August 1983. The following year, a group of twenty-seven at Blount Island on 18 August 1984 was noted as the highest total in county history, a number eclipsed tenfold on 26 December 2004, when Bob Richter observed two hundred seventy on Quarantine Island (Anderson, 2005).

It is still certainly a very difficult bird to observe each year, but they are present in low numbers in late summer and throughout the winter. They seem to favor remote and undisturbed locations such as the islands underneath the Dames Point Bridge and Blount Island. They are reported at least once annually from Huguenot Memorial Park, with most of those observations occurring at the north end of the park in the evening, but they should not be expected there. In 2013, we observed a small group of them in Pumpkin Hill Creek at the dock at Betz Tiger Point, but the most reliable location I can suggest is White Shell Bay off Heckscher Drive. In winter (especially January), pull off of Heckscher on the south side of the road just west of the old White Shell Bay fishcamp and scan the river at low tide. You will often find a group feeding along this protected cove that time of year.

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius
Spotted Sandpipers are a fairly common spring and fall migrant, but can be a difficult species to just go out and find. This is also another species whose seasonal occurrence doesn’t seem to have changed much; Grimes (1944, p. 10) noted them as most abundant in late July to early October and early April to May. Since the early 2000’s, they are most numerous in the county in mid-April through May, all but disappear in June, and return in August. There are a few winter reports but should not be expected in that season.

The best way to target this species is to check along the edge of inland retention ponds, boat ramps, and the edges of the marshes at low tide. Alimicani, Arlington Lions Club (near Reddie Point Preserve), and Cedar Point Preserve’s boat ramps are fairly reliable spots, as is the along the retaining wall running along the Fort George River behind Kingsley Plantation. If you’re at Reddie Point Preserve, check along the shoreline at the kayak launch area where they can frequently be found. The backside of Spoonbill Pond can be fruitful, and if you are birding the westside of town try the ponds around the Westside Industrial Park at the “Limpkin spot”.

Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Solitary Sandpiper is a species noted as “a fairly common transient” in the 1920’s through the ’40’s but has been getting more difficult to find in recent years (Grimes, 1944, p.10). They have become so scarce in fact, that avid county birders may often miss seeing them in any given year.

The most “reliable” specific location I still know of is M&M Dairy during shorebird migration (early April through May), but even that is hit-or-miss in recent years. Westside Industrial Park and Spoonbill Pond are certainly worth checking, but otherwise just diligently check around the edges of small retention ponds, muddy banks, and any open-area puddles you may find. Locally this species is often confused with Lesser Yellowlegs, so simply relying on eBird for observations can be tricky and any reports from Huguenot Memorial Park are especially worthy of scrutiny (I have never seen one there in many hundreds of visits).

There is a notable winter report of one bird on 11 January 1974 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
As previously noted, this text isn’t intended to provide tips on bird identification but occasionally I’m compelled to caution when difficult or common identification challenges present themselves. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs overlap in Duval County in all seasons, numbers, and in locations and habitat, and thus they are two of the most frequently mis-identified species by beginning and experienced bird watchers alike. Please exercise caution when observing them, and if you’re not certain of the ID remember there is an eBird designation for Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs.

Grimes (1944, p. 12) noted that Greater Yellowlegs was “common winter resident” that could be found in numbers on Black Hammock Island and remarked that he had no reports between 15 May and 1 August. That has certainly changed, as Greater Yellowlegs can now be found year-round – but can still be very difficult in the heart of the summer. Most observations come along the marsh overlooks along Heckscher Drive and throughout the Timucuan Preserve (Sister’s Creek marina, Alimicani Boat Ramp, Fort George Inlet, Huguenot Memorial Park).

Willet Tringa semipalmata
Willet is an intriguing species to me in that both the “Eastern” and “Western” sub-species occur here, but there is little known beyond that in terms of their seasonal abundance at the sub-species level, other than Easterns are “undocumented in the United States in winter” (O’Brien, 2006). One can certainly go birding any time of year – especially along our coastal locations – and likely find a Willet, and the best place bar-none is Huguenot Memorial Park.

However, most birders stop there at the identification and so we don’t have much data to differentiate the two, despite the notion that the sub-species are “morphologically and ecologically” distinct enough to perhaps warrant separate species designation (O’Brien, 2006). For those looking for an extra challenge to their birding adventure, next time you’re observing Willets take the time to assess which sub-species you’re looking at – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with how much fun that can actually be and it may help us all one day better understand their seasonal abundance.

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Grimes (1944) noted that Lesser Yellowlegs was a common migrant and rare winter species in the county. In recent decades they are fairly regular throughout the winter and scarce from the last week of May through the middle of summer. Most reports come from the marshes and coastal areas like Huguenot Memorial Park or Hanna Park, but they can also be found inland at pastures that attract shorebirds from season to season (Lem Turner spray fields or M&M Dairy). Refer to comments above under Greater Yellowlegs regarding confusion of the two species, which is a common problem in birding and also in county level observations.

Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda
The first documented records of Upland Sandpiper are 5 April 1925 and 12 April 1935 (Grimes, 1944, p.9). Grimes reported another on 31 March 1968 (Stevenson, 1968). It is still a very uncommon to rare spring migrant with just a few known fall reports in Duval County. Recent spring records come from 26-27 March 2013 at M&M Dairy (Dailey), 10 April 2010 from the Arlington Area Ponds (Dailey, see Locations), and 12 April 2009 at the Lem Turner spray fields (Clark). A late spring record is dated 2 May 1981.

Fall observations include observations by Noel Wamer on 15 July 1973 (Ogden, 1973), nine on 29 July 1976 (Ogden, 1976), and a group of seven Roger Clark found on 31 August 1994 at the Lem Turner fields (Wamer and Pranty, 1995). Clark reported another group of four there on 11 September 2000. On 7 September 2015, Bob Richter recorded one at M&M Dairy just prior to the construction of new warehouses on the existing pasture; the bird was observed through 12 September.

If you’re up for the challenge, search for them at M&M Dairy or Mecklenburg Dairy Farm in late March through the second week of April, and try again late August through September at those same locations, as well as the Lem Turner fields.

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Grimes (1944, p.9) noted the “Hudsonian Curlew” as a “rather uncommon transient”, with just a single spring record and many fall observations. In recent history, Whimbrels are seen throughout April in May each year, and again starting in mid-July through October. There are also scattered (rare) observations during the winter season. There are a few reports from Helen Floyd Cooper Park and Theodore Roosevelt Area, but those are rare observations and the species should not be expected there. The most reliable place is Huguenot Memorial Park or adjacent Fort George Inlet along the sandbars. If you can’t find them there, it is worth trying the north end of Little Talbot Island SP / Big Bird Island, or Spoonbill Pond on Big Talbot Island SP. The high count of the species is fifty-seven reported from Huguenot by Roger Clark on 15 August 2003 (Pranty, 2004).

Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus
Howell (1932) provides the first reported observation of Long-billed Curlew in Duval County; he noted that Alexander Gerhardt reported them around “the mouth of the St. Johns River in February, 1854”. Grimes (1944, p.9) documented an injured individual taken from around the mouth of the Trout River on 17 August 1931, where is was taken to the Jacksonville Zoo and “existed for two or three months”.

Atherton and Atherton (1980) noted one throughout the fall season in 1979 at Huguenot Memorial Park, and one reported the following year in 1980 from that location was noted as the third year in a row one lingered there (Atherton & Atherton, 1981). Peggy Powell reported two throughout the fall of 1982 and early winter of 1983 (Hoffman, 1983). Rex Rowan recorded one at Huguenot from 1 February through 7 March 1986, and other reports include March 1990 and February 1992 (Rowan, pers. communication, 2016). One spent the winter season at Little Talbot Island SP in 1995-96 (West, 1996). Wamer (1998) noted one at Huguenot on 14 September 1997, and another was reported from 2-30 August 1999 (Pranty, 2000).

This species was an annual visitor through the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, making fall stops at Huguenot Memorial Park or the Big Bird Island area on 6-16 October 1999, 10-12 Oct 2000 (Wamer), 22 Oct 2000, 29 March 2003 (Richter), 20 Oct 2003, 24 September 2004, 6-25 September 2005 (Pranty, 2006), and 12 September 2009 (Dailey). There are a handful of other reports from late February or early March, and several more from the third week of June to mid-July, all from that same decade span. There has not been a reported observation of this species since the one Marie and I saw in September 2009 at Huguenot.

Although it isn’t a species you can target or should expect to see here, it is certainly worth keeping in the back of your mind when scoping shorebirds at Huguenot or Little Talbot Island SP – especially in fall.

Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica
There are two records of Hudsonian Godwit in Duval County. The first is from “Mayport” 16 May 1998 (Pranty, 1988), a bird I presume was actually observed at neighboring Huguenot Memorial Park. The second record does come from Huguenot Memorial Park on 26 August 2011. Following Hurricane Irene’s passing off the coast of Jacksonville, Bob Richter ventured out that morning to Huguenot and reported flocks of Sooty Terns, and as the storm surge was ebbing he photographed a small flock of eight Hudsonian Godwits huddled up by the volleyball net at the base of the jetties. I recall heading out there at first light the next morning to search for them and ran into Gary Davis and Michael Brothers. Despite walking in knee deep water around the base of the interior dunes and throughout the entire park we were unable to relocate these “one day wonders”.

In terms of seasonal abundance, it’s worth noting the pattern of observations throughout the NE Florida and SE Georgia region for this very rare species: 16 Sept 2000 (Alachua County) 18 Sept 2000 (Brunswick, GA), and 19 Sept 2010 (St. Johns County). While not to be expected in any year or any season, based on these observations they seem to move through between late August and mid-September; it may be worth making the effort to check Big Bird Island and scour Huguenot Memorial Park during that timeframe.

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
There is one rather famous record of Bar-tailed Godwit in Duval County. On 2 October 1999, Roger Clark was leading a field trip at Huguenot Memorial Park when he noticed an unusual looking Godwit; upon further inspection he quickly identified it as a Bar-tailed Godwit, providing just the third state record for Florida (R. Clark, personal communication, 2007). The bird was reliably seen from 2-24 October that year by many observers.

Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa
The earliest record of Marbled Godwit in the county is from 15 February 1869 (Howell, 1932, p. 247). It is an uncommon to rare species in the area, but up until around 2011 you could find at least one in almost any month at Huguenot Memorial Park. From 2012 through the spring of 2014 I did not record one there, a period spanning over 150 unique visits. There are no known observations of the species in Duval County south of the St. Johns River, which is perhaps no surprise based on availability of suitable habitat. I believe the best place to currently look for them is the Big Bird Island area at the north end of Little Talbot Island SP, which involves a 6 mile round trip hike or bike ride from the nearest parking lot at the park.

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Ruddy Turnstone is a common shorebird almost year round, being most difficult to find in July. They can be found throughout the park at Huguenot on almost any visit, as well as along the shoreline at almost all of our coastal beach access locations. A visit to Helen Floyd Cooper Park, many of the public boat ramps, or the Jacksonville Pier will also yield them. Personally I don’t understand the poor opinion and lack of attention this species receives among birders; it is one of our most colorful shorebirds, especially in glorious spring plumage, and is one of the most intriguing of the shorebirds to observe in terms of behavior.

Red Knot Calidris canutus
The Red Knot is a well-documented species in decline and that drastic decline in numbers has certainly been reflected in the county over the last ten years. Once a “common transient” in the early 1900’s, their numbers have plummeted over the last many years (Grimes, 1944, p. 12). I can recall us all lamenting the small flocks of 600-1,200 birds at Huguenot Memorial Park as recently as 8 or 10 years ago; in recent visits to Huguenot during the fall of 2014 I’ve encountered single birds around the park with a high count of perhaps 35. I would encourage any and all to seek this bird soon, as I’m afraid it will be an extremely rare species in the very near future. Huguenot Memorial Park and the south end of Little Talbot Island (especially along the Fort George Inlet sandbars) are the two best locations in NE FL to observe the species.

Sanderling Calidris alba
Sanderling is very possibly our most common shorebird in northeast Florida and can be found along any beach in Duval County regardless of how developed or crowded the beach. They are present virtually year round, but can become difficult to find the latter part of June and the early part of July. Otherwise you’re sure to encounter them at Hanna Park, Little Talbot Island SP, Huguenot Memorial Park, or even around the Jacksonville Pier.

Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Semipalmated Sandpiper is a rather common peep in spring and fall migration, departing by 1 November with no recent winter records. Grimes (1944, p.13) noted the species as an “abundant winter resident” but it is unknown if that was accurate or due to possible confusion with the very similar Western Sandpiper. I’ve found that Semipalmated Sandpiper is very often misidentified in Duval County, especially at Huguenot Memorial Park where the species is uncommon and unlikely to be found in large numbers.

Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Western Sandpiper is a very abundant peep that can be found nearly year-round. Outside of June, one can find the species on almost any visit to Huguenot Memorial Park. Any of the other coastal areas with exposed mudflats such as Helen Floyd Cooper Park, Little Talbot Island SP, or Cedar Point Preserve are also good locations to find them.

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Least Sandpiper is a rather common migrant and winter resident, arriving in early July and departing in late May. It is very unlikely that you’ll find one in June, but otherwise should be able to see one in virtually any other month. This species tends to favor “bare sand and mudflats along the coastal estuaries”, and thus is concentrated in the northeast section of the county (Grimes, 1944, p. 12). Favorable viewing locations include Huguenot Memorial Park, Little Talbot Island SP and Big Bird Island, and any of the exposed flats or oysterbeds such as those found around the observation tower at Theodore Roosevelt Area. As with other shorebird species, they can also be found at M&M Dairy or the Lem Turner fields when conditions are favorable.

White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis
Over 70 years ago, Grimes (1944, p.12) remarked that White-rumped Sandpipers were a “rare, but probably regular transient” species in Duval County and listed his only record as 15 October 1931. Then in 1973, Stevenson (1973, p. 47) remarked they were “inexplicably rare in fall” in the State of Florida. In present day I would say that the species is regular here each year but can be difficult to find due to changing suitable habitat. That is then compounded by the identification challenges the species can present to most observers, ultimately resulting in a small handful of records over the years.

White-rumped Sandpipers typically move through the region in April and May, and then again from the first week of August through mid-September. Early county reports include two noted on 27 June 1976 (Ogden, 1976), one on 3 September 1986 (Atherton & Atherton, 1987), twenty-nine in June 1997 (Paul & Schnapf, 1997), fifty-two on 9 September 2000 (Pranty, 2001), and ten in Mayport on 25 July 2003 (Powell, 2003).

M&M Dairy and the Lem Turner spray fields have hosted them when the fields are holding water, unfortunately that varies from year to year. Spoonbill Pond is another good location, but that site too has undergone conditional changes over the years. I’ve seen them at Huguenot Memorial Park and the sandbars of Ft. George Inlet, as well.

Again, the main purpose of this text isn’t to provide tips on bird identification – there are too many great references out there to provide that – but I’m compelled to say a few things about this species. In recent years I’ve had great success in observing White-rumped Sandpipers at easily accessible locations in Duval County, but when others go to view the bird they are unable to find it, only to then be seen each weekend as I return to the same site. When I’m scanning for this species, I move through the foraging shorebirds looking for an individual that is slightly larger than the other peeps or is tilted forward at a more extreme angle; my estimation is that when probing, their body is at roughly a 45-60 degree angle. Those two structural differences usually catch my before the more prominently noted field mark of “long primaries extending past the tail”, which is usually then one of the traits I use to cinch the ID.

Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii
There are four reports (one “record” with photos) of Baird’s Sandpiper in Duval County. The first was provided by Virge Markgraf on 28 August 1973 (Stevenson, 1973) and the second comes from Huguenot Park on 11 September 1993 (Wamer, 1994). The third is by Roger Clark on 30 August 2000 from the Lem Turner spray fields. On 12 September 2015, I recorded one on a recently tilled pasture at M&M Dairy while I was scanning for Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers that had been present for several days. It was the first verifiable county record and fortunately remained through the next day, allowing many local birders to observe it.

Baird’s Sandpiper is certainly a rare species in Florida, but I suspect that they pass through Northeast Florida more frequently than we know and simply go undetected. The vast majority of reports along Southeast Georgia and the upper Atlantic Coast of Florida are from the fall (late August through mid-September), and the timing of the Duval County reports certainly suggest the last days of August into mid-September is the time to look for them. Unfortunately due to habitat loss at prime locations like Lem Turner and M&M Dairy, they will become even more difficult to find – Spoonbill Pond is probably the best place to watch for them.

Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos
Pectoral Sandpipers are an annual uncommon migrant that can be fairly difficult to find from year to year. Although Grimes (1944, p.12) noted no spring records until 25 March 1962 (Stevenson, 1962), they now arrive in early March (sometimes as early as late February) and are usually gone by the second week of May, returning in mid-July through early October. Certainly the best time to look for them is the last 3 weeks of August; most reports are from that timeframe each year.

The best places to seek them are the pastures at M&M Dairy or Lem Turner, but they can also be reliable (especially in fall migration) at Big Bird Island, Spoonbill Pond, and even in low numbers at Huguenot Memorial Park. The largest flocks of them are almost always found at the inland farms, with groups sometimes numbering in the 80’s. Perhaps the highest count, however, is from 25 August 1995 following Tropical Storm Jerry, when Roger Clark observed three hundred eighty-five (Wamer & Pranty, 1996)!

Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima
Purple Sandpiper is a species that Grimes did not address and thus there are no very old historical records beyond the CBC tallies, in which a count of one was noted as “now regular” by 1965 (Cruickshank, 1966). Until fairly recently they were still considered rare in the state and many birders came to Huguenot Memorial Park or Ft. Clinch SP (Nassau) specifically to seek them out. They have since become much more common and are seen at various places around the peninsula.

In Duval County, they are occasionally observed on the south end of Little Talbot Island SP, but the only logical place to really target them in the county is around the jetties at the mouth of the St. Johns River, which is accessible at Huguenot Memorial Park or by boat. I’ve always had the best luck at Huguenot first thing in the morning, and preferably when the tide is in; under those conditions you can often find them in winter along the river side of the jetties roosting in the wrack with Ruddy Turnstones. Shortly after daybreak they often head back to the jetty rocks (which extend out to the Atlantic Ocean for over a mile) and can quickly become extremely challenging to find. While it is certainly worth checking the north side of the jetties at Huguenot (it’s not even worth trying to scan the jetties on the south side of the river from Huguenot), I have rarely seen them on that side of the rocks; they are almost always found on the side facing the river. During inclement weather or storm surges, they’ve been recorded as far “west” as where the paved road inside Huguenot turns to head towards the lagoon near Picnic Shelter #1 (the birds were recorded along the bank of the river there, not at the picnic tables).

In terms of seasonal abundance, Purple Sandpipers usually arrive the first week or two of November and remain through February; there are also a few spring records into May. Atherton and Atherton (1982) noted two arrivals the first week of November 1981 as particularly early.

A remarkable count of twenty-two birds along the Mayport jetties on 26 December 1967 was noted as “surely a new high for Florida” at the time (Stevenson, 1968), and another total of nineteen in the winter of 1972-73 from that area is also remarkable (Woolfenden, 1973). On 18 February 1979, Joe Wilson reported eighteen (Stevenson, 1979), a total probably not matched since. In recent decades, most observations are of one to three individuals but I’ve seen six to eight on a few occasions over the years. One of those occasions involved trolling both sides of the jetties on both sides of the river in a boat and tallying six – that should give you an idea of just how few individual birds you’ll be trying to find spread out over potentially several miles of rocks!

Dunlin Calidris alpina
Dunlin (or in Grimes’s time Red-backed Sandpiper) is a very common migrant and winter resident, most often found in Duval County at Huguenot Memorial Park. Dunlin arrive a little later than many of our other shorebirds, making their first fall appearance around mid-September and then remaining through the end of May. A summer observation of the species would be rather exceptional and should be well-documented; Grimes (1944, p. 13) notes a single mid-summer observation from 10 July 1938, which is the only readily available summer observation recorded for the county.

In addition to Huguenot, other suitable locations to see Dunlin include the pier at Tiger Point Preserve, the boat ramp at Cedar Point Preserve, and the south end of Little Talbot Island SP.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
There are two Duval County records of Curlew Sandpiper, both found and photographed by Patrick Leary in the Nassau Sound area of Bird Islands / Little Talbot Island SP. The earliest record is from 17 July 2004 at Big Bird Island, and followed a “unseasonable cold front crossing the continent from Alaska” (P. Leary, personal communication, 2014). The second record is from 20 May 2007 on Little Bird Island, which is in Nassau Sound and accessible only by vessel. Both are fantastic observations for anywhere in Florida.

Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus
The first (and only) early to mid-1900’s report of Stilt Sandpiper is from 8 May 1930, on the north shore of the river (Grimes, 1944, p.13). Today, this can be a very challenging species to find each year in Duval County due to inconsistent conditions at places like M&M Dairy or Lem Turner, and loss of accessible habitat elsewhere. They arrive in very early March and can be found through May; then again from late July through early October.

As far as locations, check M&M Dairy, Spoonbill Pond, the Lem Turner area, and perhaps Big Bird Island. There are several reports from Helen Floyd Cooper Park over the years, but no records from that location, and there are no substantiated reports from Huguenot Memorial Park. I personally can’t recall seeing one here in salt or brackish water; all my observations have been at flooded fields or shallow freshwater ponds.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper Calidris subruficollis
Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a rare but annual migrant in Duval County, with observations reported at least once every 2-3 years since the first documented observation of six individuals on 12 September 1980 (Atherton & Atherton, 1981). Clark noted one from 27-31 August 1994 (Wamer & Pranty, 1995), and five were reported at Lem Turner spray fields 20 August through 22 September 1995 (Wamer & Pranty, 1996). Three were recorded at Huguenot following Tropical Storm Jerry on 25 August (Rowan, 1995). A record of eighteen recorded by Clark on 9 September 2000 certainly still stands today (Pranty, 2001).

Most observations occur in fall and are scattered across the county. Through the mid-1990’s and into the early 2000’s most reports came from the Lem Turner spray fields in late August and early September. Since 2010, most of the observations come from the eastern part of the county including a small flock of 8 at Huguenot Memorial Park on 28 August 2011. On 7 September 2015, I found two at M&M Dairy while searching for a reported Upland Sandpiper; they remained through September 13th to the delight of many observers.

Ruff Calidris pugnax
There is one unverified report and five verified records of Ruff in Duval County. On 8 Sept 2007, C. Wyatt was leading a group of birders on a visit to Huguenot Memorial Park where they identified an adult Ruff in “winter plumage” (R. Clark, personal communication, 2007). No photographs were obtained, and the bird was not relocated despite efforts made throughout that afternoon, evening, and next morning.

On 10 February 2015, an adult female was photographed in a dredge disposal site just north of the St. Johns River, about 4 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast. The bird was found during a coordinated survey within a restricted military area, so unfortunately no one was able to go view this magnificent addition to the Duval County list. On 6 October 2015, the same survey team led by John Martin beautifully recorded another Ruff in the same spoil area, marking just the second county record.

On 5 May 2016, Dave Foster, Graham Williams, and I recorded one at Spoonbill Pond associating with a large group of Dowitchers. I had photographed the bird on the 3rd but did not identify it at the time of the observation.

More recently, Martin’s team recorded another one in the dredge site on 8 August 2017, and on 25 August 2017 Dave Foster and I recorded a different individual in that same location!

Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus
Grimes noted the Short-billed Dowitcher as a common winter resident, arriving in mid-August and remaining through mid-May, with no June or July records (1944, p. 13). Today, the species can be found year round, although they are still much less abundant in June and July. Their range is still rather limited to the coastal mudflats along the eastern part of the county, and like many other shorebirds, the most reliable place to see them is Huguenot Memorial Park and the Fort George Inlet area.

Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
Long-billed Dowitcher is perhaps one of our most curious shorebirds due to the complexity in identifying them and the very limited accessible habitat. They are certainly a winter resident and are found in restricted areas on the annual Christmas Bird Count, but are very scarcely seen in accessible areas like M&M Dairy. They are occasionally reported from Huguenot Memorial Park, but never with photographic support and are most certainly mistaken with Short-billed Dowitchers.

The best place I can suggest looking for the species during spring and fall migration (and winter to a lesser degree) is the Lem Turner spray fields. Specifically, take Lem Turner north to Lannie Road, then take a right. A little ways down you’ll encounter a church on the right; either park in the church lot or on the shoulder of the road opposite the church and scan the fields for shorebirds. Long-billed Dowitchers are commonly found there among Killdeer, blackbirds, European Starling, Cattle Egret, and a variety of other shorebirds.

Wilson’s Snipe Gallinago delicata
Wilson’s Snipe typically arrive around early October, with a few reports from late August or into September. They remain through the winter and are usually departed by the second week of April. They can be a difficult species to find and prefer very moist or wet pastures and fields. There are several areas around the Cedar Point Road area worth checking, including the Tidewater subdivision, Pumpkin Hill Preserve SP, Sheffield Regional Park, and M&M Dairy. Hanna Park and Spanish Pond are two other areas worth checking.

American Woodcock Scolopax minor
Grimes (1944, p. 8) noted the American Woodcock as a “permanent resident, rare at all seasons”, and the earliest documented breeding record in the county comes from 9 March 1877 (Howell, 1932, p.225). On 4 March 1933, Grimes (1944, p.8) flushed an individual from a brood of four young near Whitehouse, on the extreme western part of Duval County. In the winter of 1971-1972, Rita McLain and Fred Wetzel reported “remarkably high counts” of Woodcocks, ranging from 30-60 birds at a time (Stevenson, 1972).

The Woodcock is still a very difficult species to find in the county, and most current records come from Tiger Point Preserve in the winter. Cedar Point Preserve used to be a reliable spot, as well as what is now the Tidewater subdivision off Cedar Point Road (R. Clark, personal communication, 2007). I encountered one on Fort George Island in March 2014, and I know of at least one other observation from Fort George some years previous. Grimes noted at least two nests in the southwestern part of the county, and there is still a considerable amount of suitable habitat there worth trying in very early spring at dawn or dusk.

The Tiger Point spot is very reliable and we observe fleeting glimpses of them almost every year on the Christmas Bird Count. Arrive before dawn or right before dusk, park outside the locked gates, and walk the dirt road into the park. The woodcocks will silently fly up or across the road in the fading light, providing the briefest of glimpses. Many observers have made the effort over the years, only to lose focus and check their watch or start star gazing, talking, or becoming otherwise distracted – it’s usually at that precise moment one goes whizzing by.

Wilson’s Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor
Wilson’s Phalarope is the more common of the phalaropes and the only one you should really anticipate seeing onshore. They are annual migrants through Northeast Florida, with most observations occurring in late August through October. A single bird observed by Roy Edwards at Mayport on 21 May 1966 set a late date record for the peninsula (Cunningham, 1966). Three more were noted at Blount Island on 29 August 1980 by Peggy Powell (Atherton & Atherton, 1981), and Rex Rowan observed two of them in a spoil area on Black Hammock Island on 30 August 1987  (R. Rowan, pers comm, 2016; Atherton & Atherton, 1988). Pranty (2000) included two from Black Hammock Island on 13 May 2000 on the seasonal report, and Powell (2001) recorded two at Spoonbill Pond on 24 July 2001.

There is no reliable spot to observe them, but Spoonbill Pond presents perhaps the best opportunity today with records coming from there on 6 Aug 2001 (Wamer) and periodically throughout the early part of that decade. The other aforementioned records are presumed to be from spoil areas that are restricted and off limits to today’s birders.

It’s perhaps worth noting that the earliest fall report of the species is from 15 Jul 2001 at Spoonbill Pond, and the most recent record is 31 Aug 2014 by Clark and Dailey.

Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Red-necked Phalarope is a mostly pelagic species that is very occasionally found on shore, most often during tropical storm conditions. The earliest known record is from 21 October 1967 in the spoil area on Black Hammock Island (Robertson and Ogden, 1967). Six were reported from Little Talbot Island SP following a storm on 28 May 1972 (Ogden, 1972), and on 15 September 2001 following Hurricane Gabrielle, Clark reported a notable flock of one hundred forty-two of them from Fort George Inlet (Pranty, 2002). During Tropical Storm Fay on 22 August 2008, Clark, Marie, and I saw flocks totaling one hundred eighty-five birds coming in to roost in the inlet just north of the bridge across from Alamacani Boat Ramp.The most recent record is a single bird photographed by Bob Richter on 22 May 2009 at Huguenot Memorial Park.

This species should not be expected in the county unless you get offshore in May or August/September.

Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius
Red Phalarope is an almost exclusively pelagic species that I have yet to encounter in Duval County, even while “storm birding”. There are a handful of offshore reports and most observations are from January and February. The earliest report of the species is of twenty-two birds seen off the shore of Jacksonville Beach on 16 February 1967, an observation Stevenson (1967) noted as the first Duval County record. On 22 January 1972, up to one hundred were noted offshore by Virge Markgraf (Stevenson, 1972). The next observation came a few years later on 21 January 1973 in which nineteen birds were reported (Woolfenden, 1973). On 2 January 2000, Roger Clark tallied fourteen offshore of Mayport (West & Anderson, 2000). If you’re after this species, I would suggest taking the Victory Casino boat out of Mayport in February to look for them; the boat travels three miles offshore and anchors for several hours.

Petrels & Shearwaters

There are no known county records of Albatross, Northern Fulmar, or Black-capped Petrel, but there have been five species of shearwater observed in Duval County over the years. While most of the observations have been offshore on pelagic outings, there are occasions where shearwaters can be viewed from land…particularly Great Shearwaters. To quickly summarize seasonality: summer is good for Cory’s, Great, and Sooty Shearwater; winter is better for Audubon’s and Manx. Read on.

Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans
There is one report of Wandering Albatross described by Elliott Coues in the late 1800’s (1885). According to Coues, one B.H. Barrett received a written report from a tug captain named Alfred Ames Howlett, who was based in Mayport and stated he had “positively identified” a Wandering Albatross at the mouth of the St. Johns River in May of 1885. Howlett said he “discovered a large bird hovering near the surface of the water in the channel near ‘Ward’s Bank'”, and circled back to fire on it with his gun but was unable to get a shot (Coues, 1885). (Ward’s Bank is what we now call Huguenot Memorial Park).

Howell described this article in Florida Bird Life, as did Grimes in his later articles. Greenlaw et al. (2014, p. 247) include this same story and suggest that the observation could potentially have been of an Osprey, which by today’s standards would certainly be much more plausible. I’m certainly in no position to render an opinion on the validity of this observation, but am compelled to include it here as a treasured part of the history of birding in Duval County.

Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii
Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted one Bulwer’s Petrel observation; a bird reported some 101 miles east of Jacksonville on 1 May 1984. There are no accepted records of the species in Florida, but Greenlaw et al. (2014) include it in the reported-yet not verified-but could possibly naturally occur as a vagrant-list.

Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea
Cory’s Shearwater should be fairly “common” offshore during the late spring and summer months, but there are just not enough birders going out to sea to observe them. They can occasionally be viewed from shore if the timing is right and weather conditions favor us with onshore winds, as was the case in early June 2014 where a seawatch from the shore at Huguenot Memorial Park produced one and possibly more birds. There are also a few reports in early September from offshore pelagic trips. I’ve only seen one Cory’s from shore and thus can attest to how rare an observation that is locally.

The earliest known record is from 16 June 1969, followed by another observation the next year on 22 August 1970, where two were seen about eight miles offshore of Mayport (Ogden, 1970). A specimen was collected on 28 May 1973, and twenty-two birds were reported off Mayport on 10 August 1974 (Edscorn, 1975). It is worth noting that Edscorn (1974) reported the species as “regular off Mayport in August and September”, suggesting the window for searching for them could be June through September if you combine my analysis with his.

Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis
Great Shearwater is also an expected species each summer, but like Cory’s would most likely be found just offshore during those summer months. The first report of Great Shearwater may well be one documented by Howell (1932, p. 79), where he noted a “stuffed specimen…taken off the coast near Jacksonville” that was on display at Greenleaf and Crosby’s store in Jacksonville sometime prior to 1903. The next oldest report is from 18 April 1967 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). There are also a few winter reports of the species, including one off Jacksonville Beach 22 January 1972 (Stevenson, 1972).

Over at least the last decade (dating back to 2005), this species has been most affected by those climatic events that push the sargassum and Storm-Petrels near shore and into the mouth of the St. Johns River. Indeed, I saw my first Great Shearwater here on 3 Jul 2007, when Roger Clark, Marie Dailey and I found an injured one on the lagoon’s edge at Huguenot Memorial Park.

The Great Great Shearwater Rescue. 3 Jul 2007, Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida

The happy part of that story is that we picked it up and released it on the ocean side, watching it fly back out to sea (the sad part, it probably didn’t make it).

June 2012 was the most recent such event, and Great Shearwater could be found rather easily from the Huguenot shoreline (back then, it was still called “Greater Shearwater”). I saw several from our Skiff around the eastern edge of the jetties on 22 June 2012.

On 11 June 2017, I found a single one struggling in the breakers just off Huguenot and watched as it washed up on land. I stayed with the bird for an hour and it eventually flew just back outside the breakers, and finally disappeared from view.

Great Shearwater. Huguenot Memorial Park. 11 Jun 2017

To underscore this, I bird at Huguenot on average one hundred times per year and have seen this species from shore on just three occasions, all in mid-June to early July, and in five year increments (2007, 2012, 2017). If I channel my inner Nostradamus, I’d say get thee to Huguenot in June of 2022 and 2027!

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus
Sooty Shearwater is a much more rarely reported species, but the timing of the reported observations we do have are closely align with Cory’s and Great Shearwater. The earliest observations of the species come from 15 July 1957, 28 May 1967, and 20 May 1973 (Kale, 1973). I’m only aware of one report from shore in recent years and that was rather recently (June 2014). I’ve never seen this species in Duval County.

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
There are only a handful of Manx Shearwater reports, and almost all of them occurred in the month of February. Based on those observations, I would suggest getting well offshore on a chartered vessel in the first two weeks of February.

The outliers are a specimen photographed on 30 September 2007 on Little Talbot Island State Park’s south end at the Fort George Inlet (Kratter, 2010) and another recovered offshore on 21 November 1982 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Most recently, one was collected just over the county line at Amelia Island State Park in Nassau County on 17 November 2015 – just a few days (in month) apart from the 1982 observation.

Audubon’s Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri
Audubon’s Shearwater are also more of a “winter species” offshore of Duval County, with almost all records coming in January and February. The earliest report I’ve found is from 21 January 1973 of a bird off Mayport (Woolfenden, 1973). Atherton and Atherton (1980) noted another bird two miles offshore on 8 August 1979, and there is one record from May in 2006.

Updated 30 Jan 2019.

Loons and Grebes

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata
Red-throated Loons occur annually and arrive as early as mid-November, but can best be seen from shore in mid-to-late December and throughout January; some linger into early February. Indeed, the earliest record comes from Harold Axtell, who reported five individuals off Atlantic Beach on 2 February 1940 (Grimes, 1943). Other early records include six from Huguenot on 21 January 1951 (Brookfield, 1951). Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted a report from Jacksonville Beach on 8 November 1973 as the earliest credible report in that season for the state.

Unless you have access to a boat, the best way to find them is to do a seawatch from a stationary position along the coast. Years ago Roger Clark showed me the “spot”, which is from the end of the northernmost boardwalk in the northernmost parking lot of Little Talbot Island State Park (map and link to directions, entry fee required). Set up your scope from the end and it’ll give you about 10 feet of height off the shoreline, and you can scan 180 degrees of the shoreline. This is an excellent spot for both Red-throated and Common Loon, so make sure to study the field marks carefully! It is also a great spot to see migrating waterfowl and Horned Grebe. Scan the shorelines in both directions for Piping Plover while you’re there, and the dunes behind you regularly have Bald Eagle and Northern Harrier cruising the area. On 19 January 2001, Clark had an amazing 282 birds of this species from this overlook (Anderson, 2001).

Huguenot Memorial Park is just south of Little Talbot Island and can also yield Red-throated Loons, but it is often a little more difficult to spot them since there is not an elevated platform from which to scan.

Arctic Loon Gavia arctica
Hoffman (1984) reported that an Arctic Loon was “observed carefully” at Ward’s Bank (now called Huguenot Memorial Park) 26-27 December 1983. There are no further details, but the AOU split Arctic/Pacific Loon around 1984-85; it’s possible the species is what we’d consider Pacific today – either way exceptional.

Pacific  Loon Gavia pacifica
There is just one remarkable report of Pacific Loon, a bird observed by Peggy Powell and Virge Markgraf at Jacksonville Beach on 26 December 1983 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Common Loon Gavia immer
Common Loons are the predominant Loon species in Duval County, and can be found beginning around the first week of November through the first week of May. In November, look for them during seawatches as loons and ducks migrate just offshore; Huguenot Memorial Park, Little Talbot Island State Park, and 16th Ave S in Jacksonville Beach are prime viewing locations. Throughout the winter, they are perhaps best observed at Huguenot; check the river, the ocean north of the jetties, and in the lagoon for them. They are extremely uncommon in summer, but one in full breeding plumage was recorded on 11-12 June 1980 at an apartment complex’s retention pond (Edscorn, 1980).

 

 

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Pied-billed Grebes can be found year round in Duval County, but are difficult to find in May through August. During those months, check the ponds at places like Reddie Point Preserve, Blue Cypress, or the ponds in the Imeson or Westside Industrial parks. Grimes (1943) studied this species fairly extensively for two decades in the early 1900’s and his assessment was they occurred in low numbers during the breeding season, and almost exclusively in freshwater ponds such as the ones just suggested. They are indeed a local breeding species, with the earliest known nesting occurring 25 May, 1930 (Howell, 1932, p. 77).

In September through April, they can be quite abundant and found in many retention ponds throughout the county.

Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus
Horned Grebes can be found throughout the winter (November – early March), and I’d say the most reliable spot is Huguenot Memorial Park. They are often in the “lagoon” and can be found from the family beach area rather easily. A check of the ocean along the north side of the jetties will often produce a few individuals as well. If you’re birding in the Arlington area, try the fishing dock at Reddie Point Preserve where you’ll sometimes be able to find them rafting up in the St. Johns River.

It is perhaps encouraging that the arrival and departures of this species hasn’t changed much in the last 75 years or so; Grimes (1943) noted his early record of 3 November 1924 and latest date in the spring of 15 March 1925, very much in line with what we experience today in 2014. Early seasonal observations include one off Mayport 11 August 1974, which Edscorn (1975) noted a record early date for the State, and a specimen collected on 26 October 1974 noted as the earliest fall specimen by Stevenson and Anderson (1994).

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
There is one unverified report of Red-necked Grebe from the Christmas Bird Count on 26 December 1983. This is obviously an exceptional report that is unfortunately not well documented, and the species should not be expected here in any season or year.

Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
There are four known reports of Eared Grebe in Duval County. Bryan Obst’s observation on 27 November 1976 marked the county’s first record (Edscorn, 1977).  The next report is from 3 December 1994 (no details), and on 8 December 2002 Clark noted one in north Jacksonville. The following year, Bob Richter reported one from Quarantine Island on 28 December 2003 (Anderson, 2004).

It’s difficult to make a recommendation based on just four observations, but early December may be the right time to look for these strays.

Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis
There are two reports of Western Grebe for Duval County. The first was photographed by Sam Grimes on 30 March 1965 in the St. Johns River, and remained until 14 April providing the first spring record for the state (Stevenson, 1965). The other report from 27 December 1970 was noted as “unverifiable” but included in The Birdlife of Florida; the bird was reported by the “Marvin party” on that year’s CBC with “all field marks” noted in the comments (Cruickshank, 1971).

 

Grouse, Quail, & Allies

Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus
Although this species is present year-round, Grimes (1944, p.57) noted that it was usually “mid-March before the loud, clear whistle” is heard here and that still holds true today. He also noted that they were evenly distributed throughout the county, which I do not find to be the case today – certainly not along the coast and Jacksonville beaches area. In 1969, Grimes not only noted breeding records from coastal areas like Mayport and Jacksonville Beach, he noted them in those locations remarkably late for breeding – October (Robertson, 1970).

Northern Bobwhite are very localized in the area and can be very difficult to find, as their habitat is quickly being wiped out in favor of tract home developments and industrial warehouses. In 2005-2007, they were fairly reliable on the hospital campus off San Pablo Road, but after twelve years of cutting down pine forest in favor of paved parking lots (literally), they have been extirpated from the property.

There are a few decent locations for them on the westside, including Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area, the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, Ringhaver Park, and in suitable habitat along the side of Old Plank, Otis, and Pritchard Roads. Some more reliable locations are Sheffield Park (behind the athletic fields) and Pumpkin Hill Preserve State Park. They can also be found at Betz Tiger Point Preserve and Cedar Point Preserve, giving you four locations along the Cedar Point Road “corridor” to try for them.

Northern Bobwhite. Betz Tiger Point Preserve. Jacksonville, Florida. December 2012.

In May 2012, Linda Greene found at least one along the “Alta end” of Port Jacksonville Parkway (M&M Dairy), and we were able to find them a few times over that month, but not since. The point is, they’re hit or miss, and you can’t rely on them in any particular location anymore. If I were to recommend two spots, it’d be Pumpkin Hill and Branan Field, with the latter be the very best place left to search for them. Be wary of frequent “heard only” reports from Pumpkin Hill…those are likely of Eastern Towhees, being reported by inexperienced observers.

Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
Indian Peafowl (commonly called Peacocks) are considered “domestic” and are introduced exotics. While they aren’t “ABA countable”, they are still gorgeous creatures and fun to observe. Few local birds excite non-birders and casual passerby like the Peafowl do. There are several established populations in the Jacksonville area, but perhaps the oldest and easiest to find are the ones roaming Fort George Island.

Indian Peafowl. Kingsley Plantation. Fort George Island, Jacksonville, Florida. 15 April 2017.

You can usually find them between the old church and halfway to the Ribault Club along the paved road, and since 2014 they’ve established a reliable presence at Kingsley Plantation on the island.

Another smaller family is located at White Shell Bay fish camp off Heckscher Drive; you’ll pass that little blue building on your way to Fort George Island (unless you’re heading there from the north down A1A).

Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
Much like the Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey are localized and can often be seen in distant pastures on the westside of the county. Early in the morning or around dusk, you can find them on a back road near the Jacksonville airport. There is also a group that travels back and forth along the powerline “cut” at M&M Dairy, but they are much less reliable and can be tough to see. They can be found in similar small numbers at Westside Industrial Park and Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area. In the southern part of the county, try Julington-Durbin Preserve.

If you have time to check for them at only one location, I’d suggest the back part of Branan Field. Walk to the back half of the property, and head all the way back to the “far right” corner of the property.

Updated 26 Jan 2019. All photos by Kevin Dailey

Summary of the Winter Season – 2013-2014

Summary of the Winter Season
1 Dec 2013– 28 Feb 2014
Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam & St. Johns Counties

Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.” A county designation (in italics) accompanies the first-time listing of each site in this report.

The winter season started with mild weather but turned into one with periods of prolonged cold and many fronts, perhaps a result of the “polar vortex” phenomenon across North America. The season provided many memorable and historic moments for northeast Florida birding, including the most significant record in many years – a Snowy Owl. For a period of about a week, birders were able to make one visit to our extreme northern Atlantic coast of Florida and see a male Harlequin Duck, a Snowy Owl, and three Snow Buntings, all within an hour’s drive of one another. This “trifecta” of rare species drew birders from all over the southeastern United States and served to showcase many of our local premium birding locations to the out-of-town visitors.

While it didn’t create quite the same buzz, another exciting “trifecta” occurred later in the season in St. Johns county when all three species of Scoter (including numerous adult males) could very easily be seen along Salt Run. About the same time, another significant rarity – a Black-headed Gull (which is still a review species for Florida) – was recorded in Putnam County and lingered for about two weeks. Not to be overlooked, a Cassin’s Kingbird (also still a review species) was reliable throughout the season in Flagler county, and is likely the same bird that wintered in that location in 2012-2013.

The region’s only report of Black-bellied Whistling-Duck came from the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) (St. Johns) 2 December.

A Snow Goose was reported 18 December at Purdue Road pond (Duval), presumably the same individual blue/dark morph that was recorded on Thanksgiving day. Five Snow Goose were reported from the Riverview Club (St. Johns) on 16 February.

Northern Pintail were scarce in the region and localized to three locations: Grand Reserve golf course (Flagler) on 6 January, Purdue Road pond from 8 December through 1 February, and in Amelia Island (Nassau) on 15 February. Green-winged Teal were equally hard to find, with reports coming from GTMNERR throughout January, Purdue Road, and the Jacksonville Zoo. The high count of just 23 individuals came from the Duval County Christmas Bird Count’s boat team.

Rare in any winter season, the region’s only Canvasback was a lone female at Purdue Road from 11-23 February. Redhead were much more common with consistent reports coming from numerous locations in all counties except Baker and Putnam.

One of the season’s highlights was a male Harlequin Duck recorded off the pier at Ft. Clinch SP (Nassau). It often required persistence and patience to observe, but once it made an appearance it provided spectacular close-up views around the pier pilings and even on the jetty rocks.

Scoters continued in high numbers this winter, with all three species seen regularly along the coast. Most Black Scoter observations were concentrated in St. Augustine (St. Johns) around the inlet and in Salt Run, which runs along the western side of Anastasia SP (St. Johns) . Beginning on 9 February, all three scoters could be easily observed in Salt Run from Island Drive, with as many as 20 White-winged and 25 Surf Scoters in the group, about half of which were adult males. Huguenot Memorial Park (Duval) and Ft. Clinch SP were the most reliable locations to observe White-winged Scoters north of St. Augustine, but there were a few reports several miles inland along the St. Johns River from Reddie Point Preserve (Duval).

Single Long-tailed Duck observations were reported from Ft. Clinch on 29 December and again on 9 February. One was also present in Salt Run with the Scoters in February, but was much more difficult to observe due to its constant diving and smaller size.

Northern Bobwhite were reported from Gold Head Branch SP (Clay) on 1 February, Pumpkin Hill SP (Duval) on 28 December, and Bartram farms (St. Johns) on 4 February. A single Bobwhite was also recorded at the Welaka National Fish Hatchery (Putnam) on 16 February.

It was a slow season for Red-throated Loon, but they were reported from Nassau (15 February), Duval, and St. Johns counties. The northernmost boardwalk at Little Talbot Island SP (Duval) is historically one of the best locations to observe this species, and it produced one on 19 January. Two were observed in St. Augustine in the inlet and Salt Run area on 14-15 February.

American Bittern are normally reported in very low numbers in NE FL, but we enjoyed many reports this winter. The high count for the region was 5 from Wall Lake (Putnam) on 18 February, with the remainder of the observations centered around Jacksonville. Three historically reliable locations in Duval county produced a single American Bittern at Sheffield Regional Park, Spanish Pond, and Hanna Park. One was also reported from Blue Cypress Park on 1 January, in the small pond along the paved loop walking trail.

Reddish Egret are uncommon in winter, but consistent reports came from around the Vilano area (St. Johns) and Huguenot Memorial Park throughout the season. Most of these reports were of single birds, but two were recorded fairly consistently around the north end of Huguenot and the south end of adjacent Little Talbot Island SP.

Glossy Ibis were reported at Fort Clinch SP (12 January), Palm Harbor (Flagler) on 28 December, and then along St. Johns county from the GTMNERR to Watson’s Pond. Most of these observations were of less than 4 individuals, and the high count was just 8. They are uncommon in Duval county in any season, and were unsurprisingly not reported there during this season.

Roseate Spoonbills are becoming more common in NE FL during winter, and are now reliable on both the St. Johns and Duval county Christmas Bird Counts. Scattered reports of 3 individuals or less came from Nassau and Duval counties during the season, while frequent and consistent reports came along the coast of St. Johns county. There were no reports from Flagler, and the closest inland winter report was from Blue Springs SP (Volusia). The distribution and winter abundance of this species will be interesting to watch over the next several years, and may be reflective of the known expansion of their northern breeding range into St. Augustine in recent years.

King Rail were reported in the GTMNERR from 2-20 February, and at the foot of the Vilano Bridge (St. Johns) as early as 6 December. The only other report also came from St. Johns county at Deep Creek on 20 February. Virginia Rail were also reported from these locations, as well as Moultrie Creek on 15 February. The only other report for Virginia Rail came from Katharine Ordway Preserve (Putnam) on 19 December; that date and location also furnished the region’s only report of Purple Gallinule.

The only Limpkin report came from the Westside Industrial Park (Duval) on 22 December. This has become a reliable location in recent years for this species, and even produced the county’s first breeding record this past year.

Sandhill Cranes are abundant in most of the region, and are really only notable when they occur in Nassau or Duval counties. Two were reported from New World Avenue (Duval) throughout the season, and single reports came from two locations in Nassau county. The Duval county spot has become consistent over the last few years and is now a confirmed breeding location over the last year.

American Avocets are always a treat in NE FL and 3 were reported from GTMNERR’s Six Mile Landing on 15 February. Six were recorded on the Duval CBC (28 December) from the fishing dock at Betz Tiger Point Preserve (Duval) around low tide, and 3 more were reported by the river team that day. Another good location in winter is along Heckscher Drive in Jacksonville, just west of the old White Shell Bay fish camp at Heritage River Road. You can scan the river at low tide from the south side of the road to check for them, a technique that paid off with 5 individuals recorded on 25 January.

Piping Plovers are found in winter with some effort, and are usually localized to Little Talbot Island SP, Huguenot Memorial Park, Anastasia SP, and Porpoise Point (St. Johns). They were recorded throughout the season at these locations in groups of 1-3, and the high count for the region was just 4 individuals at Little Talbot on 5 January. Two were also reported from Ft. Clinch SP on 29 December.

Solitary Sandpiper is rare in winter, but a single bird was recorded at Welaka National Fish Hatchery from the observation tower on 8-13 February.

The region’s only Whimbrel records came from the Palmetto Road docks area, where up to 13 individuals roosted from 15 January – 14 February. This area also produced 1-2 Marbled Godwit, which were also reported from Huguenot Memorial Park on 15 February and from the George Crady Fishing Pier (Nassau) on 22 February.

Very small numbers of Red Knot occurred along the St. Johns and Nassau county beaches, but a larger flock of up to 150 birds frequented Little Talbot Island SP and Huguenot Memorial Park throughout the latter part of January and continuing through the end of the season.

Purple Sandpipers were recorded at Ft. Clinch SP and at Huguenot Memorial Park , both beginning 8 December with 3 individuals at both locations. The jetties at both of these locations are historically very reliable for the species, and they could be found here throughout the season. The pier at Ft. Clinch SP runs parallel to the jetties for quite a distance, which makes finding Purple Sandpipers there much easier than Huguenot, where observations tend to coincide with high tides; it is also best to find them early in the morning while they are roosting on the sandbar south of the jetties, adjacent to the St. Johns River.

American Woodcock was reported from GTMNERR on 18 February; 2 were reported earlier in the season from Betz Tiger Point Preserve on 28 December and again on 1 January. They are most reliable at dawn and dusk, and usually only provide very fleeting looks as they fly across open spaces.

Single reports of Pomarine Jaeger observed from shore were scattered throughout the season from Ft. Clinch SP, Huguenot Memorial Park, and overlooks in St. Johns county. Parasitic Jaegers are usually more frequently reported from land, and this season was no exception with reports coming from all coastal counties in the area.

On 13 December, a Razorbill was recorded at Flagler Beach (Flagler) and taken to the Marine Science Center in Volusia county for rehabilitation. This record led to speculation as to whether Florida would experience an invasion similar to the previous winter, but this bird proved to be the only record this winter.

It was a good winter for rare gulls, the “rarest” of which – a Black-headed Gull – was first recorded on 7 February at Welaka National Fish Hatchery and remained for 10 days. Anyone who observed this bird is encouraged to submit a rare bird form to the Florida Ornithological Society (FOS), as this species is still considered a review species for the state of Florida (which typically means there are less than 15 previously accepted state records).

Other uncommon gulls included records of first cycle Iceland Gulls at Huguenot Memorial Park on 2 January and at Ft. Clinch SP on 15 February, and records of single Glaucous Gulls at Huguenot on 15 December, at Ft. Clinch SP on 1 January, and at Little Talbot Island SP on 11 February. The latter report was not from the south side of Talbot adjacent to Huguenot, but rather from the extreme north end of the park, which is in close proximity to Nassau Sound and Bird Island.

A very early Gull-billed Tern was recorded in Alligator Creek (Nassau) on 2 February, and 2 were reported at Salt Run on 12 February.

White-winged Doves are typically very localized in northeast Florida, and that trend continues. Aside from single reports in Clay and Flagler counties (presumably incidentals), the populations of doves remain fairly restricted to an area of Atlantic Beach (Duval) and near the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine (St. Johns).

The highlight of the season was undoubtedly a Snowy Owl discovered at Little Talbot Island SP on 27 December, providing either only the third or fourth state record, and only the second legitimately “chaseable” one. The owl remained through 19 January, and was easily observed through much of that period, only moving further north and into the dunes for the last few days.

Nanday Parakeets continue to be very localized along the coast, ranging about 25 km from Porpoise Point (St. Johns) to just south of Marineland (Flagler).

Two Rufous Hummingbirds were recorded in Jacksonville; one on 11 January in San Mateo (Duval), and another from 13-18 February that was trapped and banded.

The Cassin’s Kingbird recorded in the fall season along Route 305 near Bunnell (Flagler) continued through the winter season, and is likely the same bird that wintered there in 2012-2013. As reliable as this bird has been, it is still considered a review species for the state and should be prioritized accordingly for any state “lister”.

Up to 5 Western Kingbirds frequented the Mayport area around Helen Floyd Cooper Park (Duval) from 13 December to 10 February, and another was reported under the north end of the Dames Point bridge on the Duval county CBC (28 December). Mayport Naval Air Station has historically hosted Western Kingbirds in winter, but due to restricted access they are not reported every year in the area. There was one report of six Western Kingbirds at Davis Shores (St. Johns) on 20 February.

Purple Martins arrived as early as 25 January in St. Johns county and 14 February in Duval. The other counties followed with initial arrivals of 15 and 16 February.

Rare in any winter, a Brown Creeper was reported from Amelia Island (Nassau) on 1 February.

A pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets reported on 17 February from Gold Head Branch SP (Clay) were the only observations this season.

American Pipits were recorded on 1 December at Sheffield Park (Duval) and a single bird at Huguenot Memorial Park later that afternoon. They became fairly regular and reliable through the region by mid-January, with reports throughout Duval and Nassau counties and in smaller numbers in Flagler, Putnam, and Clay. They were conspicuously absent from St. Johns county, which is likely just indicative of the western part of the county being under-birded.

Four Snow Buntings were first reported at Huguenot Memorial Park on 13 December, and quickly became a group of 3 that persisted through the end of the season. They were most consistently observed along the river side of the park between the jetties and the campground parking lot, which is the same area previous reports of this species have come from over the last couple of decades.

There were three reports of Ovenbird in Putnam county and one spent a month at a residence in Jacksonville Beach (Duval) from 27 January through 27 February. Two others were reported late in the season; one each at Reddie Point Preserve and on Ft. George Island (Duval).

There were few reports of wintering Northern Parula, including one record from the Fountain of Youth (St. Johns) on 30 December. The first migrant Northern Parulas started arriving throughout the region beginning 20 February. A Prairie Warbler was recorded at Cedar Point Preserve (Duval) on 28 December during the CBC, and a rare (for anytime of year in northeast Florida) Wilson’s Warbler was recorded in Fernandina (Nassau) on 8 February.

Field Sparrow reports were scattered, but the species was very reliable throughout the winter at both Reddie Point Preserve and the south end of Little Talbot Island SP. Vesper Sparrows were also observed with some effort, and were perhaps most easily located at Imeson Center (Duval) and the south picnic table area at Little Talbot.

Grasshopper Sparrows are uncommon and usually difficult to locate, which made a very cooperative one at the south parking lot at Little Talbot Island SP (29 December) a pleasure. It remained for at least two weeks and was either overlooked or just not reported by the hoards of birders coming to see the Snowy Owl.

Reports of Nelson’s Sparrow were low, but came from historically reliable locations such as Faver-Dykes SP (St. Johns), GTMNERR, and the marshes around Ft. George Island. Although Saltmarsh Sparrows are typically thought to be more abundant locally, there were actually less reports than Nelson’s and they came from the same locations. These can be very challenging species to separate, and there are some excellent comparison photographs in two of the eBird reports to consider; one report from 8 January and another from 3 February .

White-crowned Sparrows have been more difficult to find over the last few years, and this trend continued this season. There were two reports from St. Augustine and one from Putnam; in Jacksonville there were many reports but from the same location – the south end of Little Talbot Island SP.

The region’s only report of Dark-eyed Junco came from the Trout River area in Jacksonville (Duval) during the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) from 9-12 February.

There are typically a handful of winter reports of Summer Tanager, but this year there was just a single report from a residence in Jacksonville Beach (22-25 January). A Western Tanager was recorded in the maritime hammock of Cedar Point Preserve on 28 December during the CBC; there are only a handful of previous modern county records of this species.

Painted Buntings have often been regarded as rare in winter in northeast Florida, but this season there were too many to summarize other than to mention they were mostly coastal reports with the exception of Duval county, where many were on the west side of town. Much like the distribution and abundance of Roseate Spoonbill, it will be interesting to see if the trend for wintering Painted Buntings continues to increase in the future.

Rusty Blackbirds were reported once from the University of North Florida (Duval) on 17 January, which has been a reliable location in previous years. When present, they are typically found in the low swamp area on the back side of the trail circling Lake Oneida. The region’s only other reports for Rusty Blackbird came consistently from M&M Dairy (Duval); observations occurred from 28 December through the end of the season.

Arlington Ponds

Map / GPS

Parking: There is no real parking lot as of the time of this writing since the best ponds are in a future development area that is surrounded by a chain link fence. Ambitious birders can park on the east side of SR 113 in the shopping center and take the sidewalks to Tredinick Parkway, walk under the overpass and then back south along the sidewalk heading south along the frontage road. It is not recommended to walk across the highway and dodge vehicles doing 55-75 MPH!

The pond across from Wal-Mart is more accessible; park in the lot there and take a short walk to the water’s edge.

Trails: There are no trails; only sidewalks.

Facilities: Retail stores and restaurants abound; just choose your preference.

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: This is a heavily trafficked area so be vigilant at all times while on foot, even on sidewalks and crosswalks. Birding here is not for the faint of heart and requires significant effort to have the possibility at waterfowl.

Target Species: American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, Sora, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Killdeer, Upland Sandpiper, Loggerhead Shrike

About: The ponds in this area of Jacksonville have been very productive for many years despite development all around them. The best ponds are still on the west side of SR 113 / Southside Connector where Tredinick Parkway. As of 2014, this area is still undeveloped and mostly consists of sand dunes and not much vegetation.

Birding Strategy:
Park as described and walk along the paved sidewalks to the rectangular shaped pond in the south end of that parcel of land. Scan from the sidewalk in winter for high numbers of American Coot, Hooded Merganser, and Ring-necked Duck. Each winter, Redhead can be found in low numbers (2-12 individuals) as well as Ruddy Duck and Bufflehead. Canvasback is occasional but should not be expected. Scan the edges of the pond for Common Gallinule and Sora in season, and scan the skies for Bald Eagle or other raptors. In April 2010, I recorded a migrant Upland Sandpiper next to this pond.

The pond in the Wal-Mart village can be accessed from Hutchison Park Drive and has a paved sidewalk around much of it. This pond is particularly good in winter for Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, and Double-crested Cormorants. The grassy edges of the pond are also good in winter for Savannah, Swamp, and Song Sparrow.

The small ponds within the circular on and off ramps at N Regency Square Boulevard are worth checking for these same species and other rarities; Common Goldeneye was recorded in one around 2009, and in some springs Black-necked Stilt make an appearance.