Reddie Point Preserve

4499 Yachtsman Way
Jacksonville, FL 32277

Parking: Free; there is no admission fee for this park. The parking lot is an ample grass and dirt lot with over 20 designated spaces and a small concrete pad for wheelchair access. There is also plenty of room to park along the side of the road leading to the parking lot.

Trails: The trails are well maintained and vary from mowed “fairways” to sections of old paved road to slightly more “rugged” dirt trails, but there is nothing overly challenging and no changes in elevation. The trails are marked at major intersections, but there are no additional maps once you leave the two kiosks in the parking lot. Wear comfortable walking/hiking shoes, preferably water resistant especially if you’re visiting in the morning when the grasses are still moist from dew. Please respect the sections of the trail that are marked as Gopher Tortoise habitat.

Facilities: There is a single oversized Port-o-let in the parking lot along the short paved sidewalk. The sidewalk leads to a few picnic tables overlooking the river and the fishing pier is nearby. There is no water fountain or running water, but you must pass a convenience store or two to get to the park.

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Take a scope out onto the fishing pier, but otherwise you don’t need to carry one. Allot a couple hours per visit because you can cover the trails a couple of times to really canvass the area and you won’t want to leave anyway. Combine your visit with a stop at nearby Blue Cypress Park and Jacksonville University.

Target Species: Greater and Lesser Scaup, Horned Grebe, Anhinga, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bald Eagle, Black Tern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Screech, Great Horned, and Barred Owl, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will’s-widow, Tyrant Flycatchers, White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Thrushes, any of the reasonably expected Wood-Warblers to include Tennessee, Orange-crowned , Nashville, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Blackburnian, Prothonotary, and Hooded Warbler, Sparrows to include Eastern Towhee, Chipping, Clay-colored, Field, Grasshopper, Savannah, Song, Swamp, and White-throated, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo and Painted Bunting, Orchard and Baltimore Oriole.

About: Reddie Point Preserve is a City of Jacksonville park purchased in 2002, consisting of just over 100 acres. The park is positioned on the interior “elbow” of the St. Johns River and is what I would consider the closest thing to a migrant trap in Duval County. I do not say that lightly having birded Fort George Island for years, but whereas Fort George Island is extremely dense and spread out, Reddie Point is more concentrated and easily accessible. Furthermore, Fort George Island is part of the National Park Service and thus not mosquito controlled; when birding conditions are miserable at places like Fort George and Cedar Point Preserve, head to Reddie Point and the insects are infinitely more tolerable.

Reddie Point Preserve is situated with direct access to the St. Johns River and also includes freshwater ponds, maritime hammock, and a small pine forest. The diversity of species in any season is as good as it gets in Jacksonville, and thus is in my top three birding hotspots along with Huguenot Memorial Park and M & M Dairy.

Birding Strategy:
There are three equally good places to begin your birding adventure at Reddie Point. The first is right after you pass the threshhold of the park (“the Ponds”), the second is about 65 yards further down the road (the “Tee box”), and the third is at the main parking lot (uh, the “Lot”. I’ll describe a few various strategies, but in spring or fall migration I strongly suggest heading straight for the Lot first. It may be tempting to linger around the Ponds ogling the resident Anhingas and Black-crowned Night-Herons, but restrain yourself and head to where the action is – the pond birds will be there at all times.

The Ponds – As soon as you enter the park, you’ll notice a good sized pond on the right and the park kiosk to the left. Park along the edges of the driveway here and just bird this area or use it as a home base depending on much walking you wish to do. There is a small pond directly across the driveway from the large pond that is well concealed by vegetation. The larger pond is excellent for Black-crowned Night-Heron, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Pied-billed Grebe, and a few ducks in winter. The smaller pond is under a little copse of deciduous trees and is good for songbirds to include Vireos, Hooded Warbler (in spring), and other warblers like American Redstart and Black-and-white. This is also a good location for Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

The Tee Box and Fairway – Continue up the driveway about a tenth of a mile and there will be two trailheads fairly close together. The second one has a little more room for parking, and I call it the Tee Box because the trail there starts at the end of what reminds me of a small fairway (and thus we’ll refer to it as the “Fairway”). As soon as you step onto the Tee Box, look left and right as those short passages are worth checking for empids, Brown Thrashers, Northern Cardinals, and other songbirds. Straight ahead is the broad Fairway that runs about 50 yards and is also great for flycatchers, woodpeckers, warblers, and sparrows in winter. Heading straight will connect you to the Main trail (yes, it’s called the Main trail and not something more catchy) where you can head left to the Lot, or right, which will take you down the Main and Marsh trails. This small stretch of land is really worth spending some time for species like Yellow-throated Vireo, Kentucky Warbler, Acadian and Least Flycatcher (on September 20th each year!), and Field, Grasshopper, or Clay-colored Sparrow. In evening, check the Fairway for Common Nighthawk, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will’s-widow, or American Woodcock in appropriate seasons.

The Lot – The parking lot is excellent first thing in the morning during migration and is worth just standing in one spot for awhile. Trees ring the Lot, which is bordered by the St. Johns River on two sides, creating a bit of a migrant trap. Birds drop in at first light and you can see decent numbers of Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Buntings, and Baltimore Orioles here. There is a large mulberry tree to the left of the port-o-let that attracts many species year round, but spring can be especially good for finding grosbeaks, buntings, and warblers. In fall, look for Eastern Wood-Pewee, empids, and Nashville Warbler in this area. There is a very short trail that circles the mulberry tree and connects the Lot to the picnic pavilion on both sides; spend some time there as it can be very productive and is the best sparrow spot in winter.

The Main trail and Crosshairs – The Main trail really begins from the Lot behind the port-o-let and provides excellent birding in most seasons. Head very slowly down the trail; the first two hundred yards can be one of the most productive areas of the park. About 75 yards in, you may notice a little clearing of sorts that has water on the left; before becoming overgrown this actually used to be a small four way intersection that I’ll call the “Crosshairs”. This is a spot worthy of having a name for reference purposes; it attracts everything from Clay-colored and White-throated Sparrows to Scarlet and Summer Tanagers to Baltimore Orioles and warblers. A little further down you’ll see the Fairway on your right and if you head straight down the Main trail it’ll end at a Gopher Tortoise habitat sign and you can turn right or left. This is the Roundabout.

The Roundabout – This is another spot worthy of a reference point so why not pay homage to one of my favorite bands, Yes, whose song Roundabout states “In and around the lake, Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there”? This spot is behind the main lake and warblers actually come out of the sky and stand there. These four corners of the Roundabout attract migrant songbirds and is as reliable a spot in the county for Cape May, Prairie, and Blue-winged Warbler as there is. In mid to late September, listen for calling flycatchers including Least. If you take the right from here, it’ll lead you to the paved road section of the park. The paved road ends at a chain link fence but it’s worth the journey as that end of the park is best for Magnolia Warbler in fall migration and is reliable in spring and summer for breeding species like Brown Thrasher, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireo.

Heading down the paved road there is an extension of the Main trail to the right that is essentially a loop dirt trail (the “Loop”), and it is good for Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, thrushes, and other passerines. At the same intersection of the Main trail and paved road, the Main heads north and will take you towards the river and the short Marsh trail. This section of trail is the best in the park for Barred and Great Horned Owl, Thrashers, Gray Catbird, Tanagers, and Vireos.

Marsh Trail – The Marsh trail is fairly short but can be a very good place to see roosting Chuck-will’s-widow in the summer months. There are also two open areas from which you can scan the St. Johns River; at low tide check the exposed mudflats and oyster beds for shorebirds and waders, including Roseate Spoonbill. This is also a good area of the park to find perched Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Merlin.

Optics

Optics is always a topic of conversation any time I’m in the field or discussing birding. It takes many forms – from other birders trying to “size up” the competition, to genuine interest, and most often from non-birders asking what you’re taking a picture of with that big camera…that isn’t a camera but a scope. Many people try to gauge another birder’s experience, skill, or in some cases social standing based on the optics they carry. I can tell you this is not only off-putting, but really has no value and little relevance. I’ve encountered dozens of birders over the years that have “inferior” optics that are much much better than me, and likewise I’ve encountered hundreds of birders that had “better” or more expensive optics than me and couldn’t properly ID a Carolina Wren. The point is, a choice in optics is often simply based on preference and budget.

In most cases, your choice won’t be legitimately scrutinized by anyone in the birding community, save for one situation I can think of – submitting rare bird reports. Should the occasion arise where you are submitting a report documenting a species on the state review list or for the Christmas Bird Count, you will be asked what kind of optics you’re using. If the answer is binoculars you purchased at the flea market and you’re trying to describe a Black-headed Gull you saw in poor light from 200 yards away, your observation and capability of seeing the relevant field marks in those conditions using poor quality optics will be questioned and scrutinized.

There are countless sites available to read expert opinions and reviews on optics that will include all kinds of fancy language and describe lens coatings and spectrums and all that; you won’t find that level of detail here (mainly because I’m incapable of providing it!). What I do hope to impart is simply my experience, suggestions, and opinion on what works best here for me in the Jacksonville area.

My first piece of advice is to consider your passion for birding, and if you think it’s a hobby you’ll engage in frequently and long-term, buy the best optics you can afford at the beginning. Given the proper – and even minimal – care, optics are something that will last you for many years. I’ll describe many of the binoculars I’ve purchased over the years below; each were a step higher in quality and cost, and I still own all of them today – reinforcing again that with some care, each binocular is a long-term investment that will last you indefinitely. Added together, I could’ve bought the “best” pair on the market several times over, but sometimes you just have to buy what you can afford along the way.

The second piece of advice is to go with a magnification that you prefer, not what the books or other birders tell you they like. Having said that, I will now tell you what I prefer and why! For birding in Northeast Florida, I strongly believe 8×42 is the optimal binocular to use in the field. I see many birders with 10 power (and some 12!) binocular, but I really believe they’re putting a limit on their range of close focus, their depth and breadth of field, and their ability to quickly get on the birds in our area. I think 10 power would be more suited for use in broad open areas, like the deserts and prairies of the western United States; in northeast Florida our habitat is less open, much more dense in most areas, and if you need that high of magnification, you are probably just as capable (and better off) using your scope.

If you’re into woodland birding and warblers, most of the locations you’ll find them in the area are very heavily foliaged, with dense canopies and low light. This is similarly true of looking at sparrows in winter. I just simply don’t believe you’ll benefit from 10x over 8x in those situations. Additional drawbacks of the higher power are size and weight, and consequently the ability to keep them steady for prolonged periods. And, just like buying diamonds, you can “go bigger” but the price vs. quality isn’t equivalent. Meaning you can likely get a very fine pair of 8×42’s for say $500-800, but the equivalent glass for a 10×42 will run you hundreds of dollars more and you’ll be forced to sacrifice quality for “power” if you’re on a budget.

My third piece of advice is also simple – never pay the asking price! Shop around, and my recommendation would then be to go to Eagle Optics on the web. Find what you want, and then call them and ask for a festival discount. They are a fantastic company in general, and will give you 5-10% off (or more) just for asking.

My last tip (for now) – be aware that binoculars are adjusted to the individual. They have the diopter setting (usually on the right side) that is customized/set to the owner’s vision. Keep that in mind as you’re trying out various binoculars or looking through another birder’s “glass”. Don’t rush to judgment if the pair you’re looking through is a bit fuzzy – it’s probably because of this diopter correction interacting with your own eyes.

Now, on to the progression of some of the optics I have in my collection (from “worst” to “best”):

1. Nikon Action 7 x 35
These are the only “porro prism” binocular in my possession; all the others are “roof prism”, which I prefer for ergonomic grip and overall quality. These Nikons are very entry level, and types like it are commonly found in your local superstore or sporting goods shop. They’re honestly barely good enough to take to a football game, and I almost never use them in the field. At this point, they serve two purposes only – a backup pair for a field trip participant or small children, and I don’t mind leaving them in the trunk through the summer heat. It assures me I’ll never get caught out without some optics, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they were damaged in the heat.

2. Swift Ultra Lite (929G) 8 x 42
We bought these for my wife to use as her first pair in the local birds unlimited type store. They had a decent price point (around $275 I think) and are of acceptable quality. Ergonomically, they’re extremely light and have a comfortable, rubberized grip. The telescoping eyecups are a nice feature, and overall the construction is very rugged. We have often tossed these around in the car or truck with no case and no lens covers, and they have held up very well. The focus wheel allows for quick focusing with minimal revolutions. I would say these are a great option if you’re spending $200-300 and are a casual to moderate bird watcher. Honestly the only reason she’s not still using these regularly is she upgraded to my old Vortex when I stepped up from there (keep reading!).

3. Pentax DCF HRII 8×42
These were one of my first “real” pair of quality binoculars, and I think I paid around $350-400 for them. They are “big” 8×42’s; I suspect they appear that way due to the thick rubberized outer coating. Again, the telescoping eye relief cups are nice and work very well (I’m an eyeglass wearer). The eyepiece cover is not “fitted”; it just kind of sits on top of the lenses and does a mediocre job of helping keep them dry in the rain. The objective lens covers are a little more snug, but they’re not attached. I would recommend (for any binocular) purchasing the after-market tethered objective lens covers from Eagle Optics and slapping them on any pair that doesn’t come out of the box with this feature. The Pentax has been good to me and I still use them as one of my back-ups – primarily when I’m out on the water, since they clean up well from ocean spray and it helps keep my Swarovskis clean and out of harm’s way.

4. Stokes DLS Vortex 8×42
I believe the Stokes series by Vortex has been discontinued, but these are excellent binoculars, especially for the price. If I recall correctly, they were priced just under $1,000 and I got them for 40-50% off during an Eagle Optics sale. I’ve used Leica, Swarovski, and some of the other high-end optics over the years, and this pair of Vortex stands up well to them – especially considering the difference in price. This model is extremely rugged and compact; they’re at least 1/3 smaller than the Pentax noted above despite the fact that they’re the same magnification. The lens cover fits snugly, as do the tethered objective lens covers. The eye cups turn up and down very easily, and the focus wheel is the best of any binocular I’ve used. The ‘trueness’ of colors in the field is accurate, and the images are bright even in lower light. I would recommend the higher end of the Vortex line to anyone, especially those that are looking for a fine optic at half the price of the elite brands.

5. Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42
These are my relatively new companions. They didn’t have an “8”, so I ended up with the 8.5. They are top of the line, with sturdy construction, perfect ergonomics, and I can even use them easily one-handed. The eyecups are a little tricky to adjust; the worst of any of the aforementioned models, but it’s about the only complaint I have. The focus wheel is also pretty deliberate, in that it takes at least a full extra resolution to spin through the focus range, but that also allows for ‘finer tuning’ once you’re on a relatively stationary object. They are worth every penny and I will be using these for many years to come.