Imeson Center

Google Map to Imeson

Parking: There are no parking lots in this industrial complex designated for visitors or recreation. Traffic tends to be very light, so much of the birding can be done from your vehicle. The warehouses do have parking lots and you can try parking in one of them or along the side of the road. My preferred technique is to park on the grassy median by the railroad tracks in front of the old Sears Logistics warehouse on Imeson Park Boulevard; I have never been questioned or stopped by security or police for doing so.

Trails: There are no trails and no sidewalks. This is an industrial area and you will either be walking in the street or on flat, often overgrown, grassy surfaces next to the road.

Facilities: There are no facilities of any kind, other than at convenience stores on nearby Heckscher Drive / Zoo Parkway and Main Street North.

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Park at the railroad tracks and although it doesn’t look like a place you’d typically take a scope, bring one. To illustrate my point I’ll site an example in 2013 of a case of mistaken identification. In November of that year, David Foster and I found a Tropical Kingbird on the wires next to the rail road tracks where Western Kingbirds are fairly regular each winter. DSCN1859A day or two later, I received a report from another local birder that said they were photographing the bird across the small pond. I headed back there hoping to get a recording of the bird vocalizing and when I got the subject bird in the scope, it was obvious it was a Western Kingbird (the Tropical Kingbird was never relocated after that first afternoon). I suspect there were a few things contributing to the mis-identification, including the fact that the birder/photographer was using binoculars and a camera and not a scope. I also suspect there was a degree of laziness in not studying the similar, but obviously different species, since the more rare Tropical had been seen the previous day. But that is a lesson for another day.

Target Species:Western Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Eastern Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Killdeer, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike. Historically this location has hosted Hairy Woodpecker, Upland Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, Burrowing Owl (extirpated, see Species Accounts).

About: Imeson Center is the site of an old municipal airport and you can still see evidence of that in the form of old tarmacs and runways. For the last many decades, it has served as an industrial warehouse complex. There are a series of ponds throughout the area, including Turner Pond where Sam Grimes noted the occurrence of breeding Purple Gallinule in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Today the birding is scarce and takes some effort, but can certainly be worth your time; it is the most reliably accessible area for Western Kingbird in Duval County, and has hosted rarities like Tropical Kingbird and Ash-throated Flycatcher. It is as likely a place as any in the county for the first record of Vermilion Flycatcher or Horned Lark.

Birding Strategy:
From Heckscher Drive, drive slowly down Busch Drive North and scan the tops of the short oak trees planted along the side of the road; these trees often have Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, and in winter it is a good technique for finding the Western Kingbirds. Turn left on Imeson Park Boulevard and park on the median near the railroad crossing, This small area is excellent for American Kestrel, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Doves, and in winter is likely to have at least one Western Kingbird. In winter the scrubby fields to the southeast of the railroad tracks have Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and occasionally a Grasshopper Sparrow. Bird the edges of the road in the morning or walk into the field for Eastern Meadowlark, Killdeer, or the Vespers.

On the north side of the median is a short hedgerow that hosts breeding Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Cardinal. Behind the hedge is a short berm with a 3 foot chain link fence at the top. Walk up that berm slowly and quietly; once at the top you’ll be afforded a good view of the pond that has a variety of ducks in winter (mostly Ring-necked and Hooded Merganser with the occasional Lesser Scaup), a few waders like Little Blue Heron, and is a very reliable spot for Common Gallinule. The pond is fairly large and encircled by this fence, and the Western Kingbirds favor sitting along the fence throughout the afternoons. If you dip on the Kingbirds along the power lines, check this area next – preferably with a scope.

The field just to the west in front of the large Sears warehouse (now the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office) is good for Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and Killdeer, but may also have more uncommon birds in season and is therefore a good place to check for species like Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, or even Long-billed Curlew. The field has a couple shallow troughs that are almost undetectable when viewing from the main road, so drive down towards Main Street and take the first right, which is a longish driveway leading to a series of parking lots. This will allow you to view the field from the end and you can easily seen down into the troughs where birds may be skulking.

From your original parking spot on the median by the railroad tracks, it is also very much worth walking back to Busch Drive and then along the edges of the deciduous woods. The tree line there will produce a variety of migrant songbirds, and sparrows in winter. It is also the prime spot for finding something like an Ash-throated Flycatcher or Hairy Woodpecker (each species was found at this location many years ago). I would caution against entering the woods, as that will draw the attention of the security agency and you will be asked to leave (at best) and possibly arrested (at worst). They are very serious about trespassing in that area due to problems throughout the 1980’s and 90’s.

The last bit of advice is to take the short road (Yeager Rd.) next to the Merita Bread factory. This road leads to a large parking lot that as of this writing (September 2014) is still accessible. The far end of the lot overlooks a pond that is deeply inset into the surrounding, and so you can actually look down into the pond and along its edges from above. This is another great location for breeding Common Gallinule and Red-winged Blackbirds; you can also find Pied-billed Grebe and a few ducks here. Least or American Bittern may also be present.

Cuckoos

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
Yellow-billed Cuckoos typically arrive the first week of April and are more abundant the last two weeks of the month when they really start arriving in higher numbers; they also tend to be a little more vocal then and thus easier to find. That time of year, they can be found along the fairway trails on Fort George Island and around Kingsley Plantation, as well as Reddie Point Preserve, Sheffield Regional Park, Cedar Point Preserve, Theodore Roosevelt, and Seaton Creek Historic Preserve.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos breed in the deciduous areas of all those locations and can be found or heard throughout the summer. Sam Grimes (1945) studied their nesting habits extensively and noted that they nest primarily in “blackjack oak, water oak, black gum, wax myrtle, and buttonwood”, laying no more than three eggs in a clutch. In late July, they are almost obnoxiously vocal about two miles back on the service road at Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. They are a species that departs late in the fall, and they can often be found into the second week of November. The latest record I’m aware of is from 25 November 1973 in south Jacksonville (Cocke).

Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
There are six known Duval County reports of Black-billed Cuckoo. The first is from the “Sunbeam” area on 10 August 1888 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994), and the second is from 29 April 1933 where Sam Grimes (1945) wrote: “I was afforded an exceptionally good view of the bird as I sat hidden in a clump of bushes waiting for a white-eyed vireo to return to its nest, on which I had my camera focused. The black-bill [sic] came down into a wax myrtle only a few feet above my head. The red eye-ring and dark lower mandible were clearly noted.”

The third report comes from the Dinsmore area of Duval County on 2 November 1968 and the fourth was noted on 14 November 1968. Atherton & Atherton (1988) noted a site report of one on 6 August 1987. The most recent report is from 19 April 1998 when Clark observed one along the loop trail at end of Cedar Point Road.

Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani
There are three observations of Smooth-billed Ani in county history, the first two coming from 1966. Sam Grimes reported three birds “studied at close range at Jacksonville Beach” on 29 October 1966, and two (presumably the same birds) were noted again on 5 November 1966 (Stevenson, 1967, p. 24).

On 3 December 2018, Sue Oosterveen found one in the north parking lot area at Little Talbot Island State Park. The bird attracted quite a lot of attention, which unfortunately led to quite poor behavior on the part of the birdwatchers…people were persistently using audio playback to call the bird up and were noted trampling through the dunes to locate it. Nonetheless, the Ani was seen fairly reliably through at least 11 February 2019. It’s worth noting that another Ani was recorded in St. Johns County in mid-December 2018 at Guana, suggesting there was some kind of dispersal / movement of the species during the fall season.

Updated 12 Feb 2019.

Vultures, Hawks, and Allies

Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Black Vulture can be found year round throughout the county and they are fairly uniformly distributed. They are not the predominant vulture species along the coast and you’re more likely to see Turkey Vultures at places like Huguenot Memorial Park or Hanna Park, but you can scope them over Big Talbot Island or Fort George Island from those coastal locations. If you’re birding along Cedar Point Road at places like Cedar Point Preserve, Sheffield Park, Pumpkin Hill State Park, or anywhere on Black Hammock Island, they’re more abundant and probably represent 40-50% of the vultures you’ll see there. There is a sizable roost of the species around the athletic fields at University of North Florida, which can be an impressive sight early in the mornings there.

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Turkey Vulture is the predominant vulture in Duval County and can be seen virtually any time you’re out birding. This species is abundant and widespread in any season and almost any time of day. Turkey Vulture has also been documented as a breeding species in the county but their nests are extremely difficult to locate. Indeed, Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted that the only “published” report of a nest in Florida since 1932 came from Grimes’ account in Duval County.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Osprey is a common species throughout the county and an abundant breeding species. Due to overlap in breeding and migration ranges, it is difficult to ascertain migrants from resident birds but they do become significantly more abundant in October during fall migration. During that time, it is common to see 15-25 individuals at coastal locations like Huguenot Memorial Park.

Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus
In 1982, Paul noted Swallow-tailed Kites were still considered rare here; a sentiment that was reiterated in Langridge’s spring report in 1986. Flash forward many decades and in recent years they are uncommon but regularly seen, arriving in early March and remaining through the end of August. There have been reports of nesting within the county, but there are no known or disclosed locations. Sightings increase in June and peak throughout July; the Lem Turner spray fields and M&M Dairy are probably the most reliable places to see them. The Lem Turner spot can host up to 50-120 individuals in July, creating quite the spectacle as they forage over the fields. There is at least one winter report of the species from 17 January 1993 (West & Wamer, 1993).

White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus
Kale (1978) noted an account provided by Barry Vorse, who observed a “rare adult White-tailed Kite” flying “several feet” above the grassy median of Interstate 10 about two miles east of Baldwin on 4 March 1978. There are no other reported observations of the species and it is certainly not one to be expected in any season.

Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis
Grimes (1943) alluded to the presence of Snail Kite along the coastal edges of the county in the late 1880’s and into the early 1900’s, and lamented the loss of their habitat due to development prior to World War II. He further included a quote from George A. Boardman, “The Everglade Kite has been making us a visit near Jacksonville this winter” (Grimes, 1944). That quote was dated 10 April 1884.

I have been able to find three reports of the species, the first indicating three specimens that were collected sometime in the winter of 1883-1884 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). From 26 April – 1 May 1985, Peggy Powell reported a “brown-plumaged bird” as the first county record since 1884 (Kale, 1985). A single bird was reported on the 1986 CBC but no details are available.

Mississippi Kite Ictinia mississippiensis
Mississippi Kite is another species that was once considerably rare in the county, and the first observation I’ve come across is from 13 August 1977 by Bryan Obst (Edscorn, 1978). Other early notable sightings include 30 July 1980 by Julie Cocke (Edscorn, 1980) and 24 June 1981. An immature was noted in south Jacksonville on 29 September 1989 (West, 1990).

Today they are uncommon but annual and generally arrive in mid to late April; they are virtually gone by the first week of September. In 2004, Powell noted a pair incubating on the nest in Jacksonville’s south side, but confirmation of fledged young never occurred. This species is much less abundant than the Swallow-tailed Kite, and is most reliable at M&M Dairy and the Lem Turner spray fields. They can also occasionally be seen soaring over Sheffield Regional Park in spring. I wouldn’t say they’re reliable anywhere else in the county, so if this species is on your target list head to one of those locations.

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bald Eagle is a breeding species that is more abundant in the winter months, but can occasionally be found in the summer. They are most often seen along the St. Johns River and coastal areas, so places like Reddie Point Preserve, the Jacksonville Zoo area, Pumpkin Hill SP, or Talbot Islands are good places to see them. The observation platform at Theodore Roosevelt area is excellent in fall and winter, as is Huguenot Memorial Park and Nassau Sound (along the northern edge of Little Talbot Island SP or the southern edge of Big Talbot).

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Northern Harrier arrive in mid-September and remain through about the first week of May. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) note a summer record from 13 July 1981, but they are not to be expected in summer. They seem to be most abundant in the core winter months (December-January), where they can be found with a little bit of effort by scanning any of the marsh locations or coastal dunes. Little Talbot Island State Park, behind Kingsley Plantation, from the Cedar Point State Park boat ramp, or Sister’s Creek Marina are all excellent locations to search for this species. Adult males (“Gray Ghosts”) are very scarce, however, and are best sought on the south end of Little Talbot Island.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Sharp-shinned Hawk is a relatively common species from mid-September through the end of April, but there are no “reliable” locations to seek them out. The best suggestion is simply to be alert for accipiters while you’re out birding areas like Fort George Island, Little Talbot Island SP, M&M Dairy, Hanna Park, or anywhere along the Cedar Point Road corridor. It is worth keeping in mind that there are no accepted, documented summer records for this species in Florida, so if you encounter an accipiter during those months it is almost certainly a Cooper’s Hawk.

Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Much like Sharp-shinned Hawk, there are no “go to” locations for this species in Duval County, although they occur year round and breed in the Jacksonville area. Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, Seaton Creek Preserve, Hanna Park, Fort George Island, M&M Dairy, and the Mecklenburg Dairy Farm area are as good a location as any to observe this species (and they are known to breed in several of those locations).

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
There are three reports of Northern Goshawk, the first coming from 4 November 1973, where Virge Markgraf’s observation of an immature was “satisfactory” enough to warrant inclusion in American Birds. Stevenson noted that this and another observation just to the south of our county were the first such reports in Florida in 45 years (Stevenson, 1973, p. 46). In 1979, two more birds were reported; one on 2 December by Markgraf (Stevenson, 1980) and another by Bryan Obst east of Baldwin on 7 December (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
Perhaps second only to Osprey in terms of abundance, the Red-shouldered Hawk is the predominant raptor in Duval County. They are very consistently found throughout the year and throughout the county; you will most likely see at least one after just a few hours of birding in an afternoon.

Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus
Broad-winged Hawk is a very rare, yet annual, migrant through Duval County each spring. Most reports have come from the coastal areas of the Timucuan Preserve along the Fort George River and Talbot Island State Parks (R. Clark, personal communication, 2012). It is not a species to be expected – even when targeting them – but the observations mostly occur during the first two weeks of April. In 2009, R. Clark noted his sixth of the season on 19 April; this marks the most documented sightings in any year in the county. The first documented observation was reported by Grimes (1944), but the details and date was unfortunately vague; all we know is the year was 1931. Other notable reports are from the CBCs in 1953, 1954, ’66, ’70, ’72, and 2002. Leary observed one 4 April 2004 (Pranty, 2004).

Short-tailed Hawk Buteo brachyurus
There have been a handful of reports for Short-tailed Hawk in Duval County, and just two documented records. Most observations have been submitted by one observer and occurred in November 2005, February 2011, and May 2013. On 15 March 2015, Bob Richter provided the first known photographic record of the species from Westside Industrial Park. On 1 October 2015, Kavan Eldredge photographed just the second known county record in Mandarin. Due to the proximity of other sightings in adjacent counties, I’d suggest keeping an eye out for this species at places like Durbin Creek Preserve or Mecklenburg Dairy Farm – in addition to keeping your eyes to the sky at Westside Industrial.

Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni
There are three reports of Swainson’s Hawk in the county; the first coming from the 30 December 1972 CBC. The second observation was reported on 22 December 1974 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). The most recent report is from 30 December 1984 on that year’s CBC.

Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Red-tailed Hawk is another species that occurs year-round with a fairly consistent abundance. It is difficult to “target” this species, but in winter they can commonly be found sitting on telephone poles along Heckscher Drive on the way to Huguenot Memorial Park. Based on my experience, the most reliable place to find one is at Imeson Center (see the Locations section) where they can often be seen perched along the power lines running along the rail road tracks. Otherwise, look for them soaring mid-day while birding at locations like Reddie Point Preserve, Sheffield Park, Hanna Park, M&M Dairy, or Fort George Island.

Rough-legged Hawk Buteo lagopus
There is one unverifiable report of Rough-legged Hawk, a bird observed “directly overhead” on the 1969 CBC (Cruickshank, 1970).

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
I’m aware of three reports of Golden Eagle in Duval County, the first of which occurred 19 March 1970, submitted by Donald J. Peterson (Stevenson, 1970). Another was reported on the CBC on 30 January 1978, and again on a CBC around 2008 or 2009, a bird observed at the Dames Point bridge. Unfortunately no photographs were obtained. This is not a species you should expect to see in the county.

ABB

No, it isn’t a typo and this isn’t about the American Birding Association (ABA). It’s about the mindset of “Always Be Birding”. Anyone that has seen James Foley and David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” probably recalls the pivotal scene in the movie where one of the lead characters delivers one of the most memorable diatribes in recent cinematic history about “Always be closing!”. Well, sometime after seeing that movie for the umpteenth time years ago, Marie and I started jokingly saying “ABB” to remind each other to be ever vigilant and looking for birds.

Just in the last month, the ABB mindset has paid off in spades. A few weeks ago in June, we were taking a back way to lunch in Arlington and passed behind the Home Depot. We casually both checked the powerlines as we passed by and noticed the silhouette of the single bird there wasn’t quite right for the usual Mourning Doves and Northern Mockingbirds. Our first inclination was Loggerhead Shrike, but that didn’t quite fit either. We pulled over near the loading dock and got the bins on it – Gray Kingbird! Not a mega-rarity or anything, but it was a nice year bird and a rather out of place one at that.

A few weeks later on July 5th, we were taking the circuitous route home after running some errands – a route intended to take us through M&M Dairy, when a bird flew across the road and over our car at the usually “dead” end of the road (Dead as in not active, not as in a true dead end street!). Due to our honed ABB skills, we both hunched forward in our seats and looked up through the windshield as the bird passed by from left to right across our radio dials (anyone who’s listened to a football game on the radio will get that). This was one of those moments where you see something out of place and start going through the reasonability check to make sense of what you’re seeing; some call this birding by Gizz, or taking a Gestalt approach to birding.

I first had the impression that this bird had a nice buoyant flight, that it was lightish in color, that there was a hint of “rust” along the flanks, and that is was trailing its legs or feet behind it (Marie likened the same projecting length to carrying of nesting material). I first eliminated Cattle Egret and then briefly considered Black-necked Stilt as I started to see some black in conjunction with that weird set of legs and feet; both of these species are expected at this location at this time of year. As the bird approached the treeline and came to a graceful landing in the set of pines, it was evident neither “wader” would light in such a location so they were both eliminated. This all took place in about 3-5 seconds when it occurred to me that we had just seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!

Marie (safely) slammed on the brakes (we were doing about 40mph) and pulled over. We stayed around for 2 hours through a lightning storm and heavy rains but could not relocate the bird. The next morning when we returned, the bird was showing itself well to the delight of several local birders. This was the first record of the species in about 18 years in the county, so it was quite a treat – not to mention it was a gorgeous adult male with a magnificently plumaged tail.

To me, ABB is really two-fold; first, you must literally “always be birding”, taking stock of your surroundings and looking at every bird. Second, take a purposeful back road when you can to pass by that retention pond behind the movie theater or behind that Home Depot; you’ll increase your chances of seeing something good there versus flying down an interstate at 70 miles per hour! It’ll also help you slow down and enjoy life perhaps a little bit more.

Note – After writing this, I did an internet search for Always Be Birding and found another blog from several years ago where someone out west has a very similar mantra. I know most birders already behave like this (that’s why you smiled to yourself when you read about hunching forward over the steering wheel to look at a bird while driving, admit it!), and maybe one day this ABB will continue to spread organically throughout the nation.

June Challenge

The June Challenge originated in Alachua County, and is a pretty well-known birding “competition” throughout the state of Florida. I think it’s ten or eleven years old now, and perhaps it’s time to consider a few changes to the “rules”.

First, let me say I think the friendly competition is a great thing because it motivates people to bird during the deadest part of the year in Florida, which can also be the most miserable in terms of heat, humidity, summer showers, and biting insects. In the Northeast Florida area, the Challenge has led to the discovery of some great records, particularly in St. Johns County where Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Purple Gallinule, and the legendary Variegated Flycatcher were all recorded as a direct result of birders being in the field for the competition.

My main beef is the rule about having to “see” each species. I continue to see some rather reprehensible behavior in a birder’s effort to either see the bird or the compulsion to photograph the bird to have “proof of sight”. For example, again this year there are eBird checklists being submitted of fledgling Eastern Screech-Owls with full flash photography at close range. The birder is not documenting a rare sighting, nor is the birder participating in the Breeding Bird Atlas, so I can only presume such a photo exists just to prove the observation for the Challenge. I don’t want to think about the efforts made to call the owl chick in close enough for the picture.

June is a month for breeding birds and in accordance with the ABA’s birding ethics, we should all be good stewards of our passion and not start harassing birds for the sake of the competition. Unfortunately, many birders lose their minds and go out into the field playing their “tapes” to get one of these treasured species to become alarmed and show their feathered faces. I hear about it every year, and every year it angers, disturbs, and disappoints me. Why would we want to go out and repeatedly display this behavior? I’ve heard stories about playing tapes for species like Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orchard Oriole, Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, and even the more rare-in-region Hairy Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow.

I say it’s time to give the birds a break and change the rule to allow for “heard only” species. It astonishes me that the one time a year we seem to lose our minds is during one of the more critical times of year for the birds that we all love and enjoy.

Owls

Barn Owl Tyto alba
Stevenson (1972) noted a particularly odd observation of a Barn Owl in mid-January 1972 that landed on a boat about 20 miles offshore of Mayport and was “shot at by the captain”. There is no indication of the bird’s final disposition however.

For many years, Barn Owls were known to breed in the county; Grimes recorded them nesting in Mayport, Dinsmore, and even on Fort George Island. They first appeared on the CBC on 27 December 1964, and occurred on the majority of those counts throughout the 1970’s. They disappeared for about a decade until the 1990 CBC and two more were reported on the 26 December 1992 count – and again the following year. The next report is from the 1999 CBC, and I believe that’s the last report in the County.

The species undoubtedly still occurs in Duval County, likely on the westside where there is plenty of suitable habitat. Unfortunately, no one in the local birding community is aware of any (yet). Having said that, I am very skeptical of any casually reported observations of this species in recent years, as they have always turned out to be Barred Owls.

Eastern Screech-Owl Megascops asio
Eastern Screech-Owls are year-round residents in Duval County and can usually be heard calling at dusk or before dawn on Fort George Island, Hanna Park, or Theodore Roosevelt. They certainly occur in other areas like Seaton Creek and Durbin Creek Preserves, and are fairly reliable at the end of Cedar Point Road. Birders should use good judgment and limit the use of playback when trying to find this species.

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
Great Horned Owls are also year-round residents and are best heard or seen at dusk in suitable habitat. Areas like Cedar Point Preserve, Dutton Island, Fort George Island, and Theodore Roosevelt are ideal. If you hike to the observation platform at Theodore Roosevelt at dusk, you will stand a good chance of seeing one among the dead cabbage palms that border the marshes. In winter, they can often be found just before sunrise along Heckscher Drive between White Shell Bay and the ICW sitting on the power poles.

Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus
There is one famous record of a Snowy Owl that was discovered on Little Talbot Island State Park on 27 December 2013 and remained until 19 January 2014. The bird was photographed and reported via eBird very late in the evening the night before the Duval County Christmas Bird Count. My CBC team was scattered all over our territory, which consists of Cedar Point Preserve, Pumpkin Hill, and Black Hammock Island, when I saw an email about the flagged eBird sighting. Using today’s technology (Android phone) I logged into the eBird Admin tool at 0600 – from the field – to review the report from deep in the woods at Betz-Tiger Point and decided it sounded very legitimate. Roger Clark was in town for the count and while waiting for the American Woodcock to show we quickly debated the merits of running over to Little Talbot Island at sunrise to look for the Snowy Owl. Very soon our entire count team was on the way, and as Roger and I rounded the gradual bend of A1A leading to south Little Talbot Island, we could actually see the owl sitting right on the beach. The bird remained for many days and was seen by visitors from all over the state and southeastern United States. It was the third state record, and just the second “chaseable” one.

Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia
For many years, there was a Burrowing Owl colony at Imeson Center across from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The earliest report of the species included six individuals noted on 25 May 1975 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). It’s a bit unclear if this report was the same one Kale (1975) described, whereby Virge Markgraf submitted six as the first known breeding record in Northeast Florida.

Kale (1977) included a poignant message relayed by Bryan Obst, in which he aptly lamented the outcomes of having two threatened species nesting at the old Imeson airport site. Obst remarked that excitement around nesting Least Terns and Burrowing Owls quickly turned sour when the owls were proven to raid the tern colony for food – USFWS bands put on the terns were recovered from the owl burrows along with bones and feathers. Kale’s account included a little more detail suggesting the owl colony started with a single pair in 1973 or 1974, so not long before Virg’s aforementioned report in 1975.

By 1978, Ogden (1978) reported the group at 10 individuals, and the following year on 10 June 1979 Sam Grimes totaled 18 (six adults and 12 juveniles) in three burrows (Ogden, 1979). The next known update on the colony was included in Paul’s 1983 report, in which Grimes reported as many as 27 owls.

Through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there were disturbing reports of locals running their dogs through the fields, encouraging the slaughter of the population. Rex Rowan noted the last known observations there on 14 April 1995 and 31 July 1995, and he noted the absence of them on 19 September 1995 (Rowan, pers comm., 2016). So presumably through a combination of human disturbance and development of the area, the Burrowing Owls have been extirpated from the county since 1995.

Barred Owl Strix varia
Along with Eastern Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is our third common year-round resident owl species. They can be found all over Fort George Island, Cedar Point Preserve, Fort Caroline, and just about any other park or preserve with suitable habitat.

Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus 
In addition to the earliest known report coming from the 1969 CBC, there are a few reports of Short-eared Owl from Huguenot Park dating back to 25 November 1973 and continuing into the 1980’s. On 11 January 1981, Joseph Wilson reported two individuals “near Jacksonville” (Stevenson, 1981).

CBC dates for the species include 1969, 70, 76, 77, 78, 79, 84, 85, 89, and 96. The 1979 report was of four individuals. I believe most of these observations were from birders walking the dunes in the evening; those areas are restricted now and thus there are no records over the last couple of decades from that location. Rowan (1995) noted two visiting birders from California reported one at Huguenot around 10 November 1995.

There is one recent record: on 3 November 2014, one was photographed sitting on an airfield at Mayport Naval Air Station, unfortunately again in an area of restricted access.

Northern Saw-whet Owl  Aegolius acadicus
I don’t often stray from Duval County reports or records for purposes of this material, but when a significant record is located within close proximity to the county line it is certainly worth noting; such was the case with White-tailed Tropicbird, and such is the case with Northern Saw-whet Owl. On 31 October 1965, Lesser and Stickley (1967) documented what they believed to be the first Florida record for this species in Ponte Vedra (St. Johns), just south of the Duval County line (it is thus reasonable to assume the bird passed through Duval “airspace”).

They didn’t describe how they collected the specimen, which was previously in “good physical condition”, but they noted that the “skull had been shattered and the gonads destroyed in collecting” it (Lesser & Stickley, 1967). Apparently this was the southernmost record of the species during a massive invasion that winter along the eastern seaboard. A few years later, Peggy Powell reported a “distinctly” heard-only bird on the Duval County Christmas Bird Count on 30 December 1972 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).