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. A 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.
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.