Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis
The first county record of Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was a single bird reported by Carole Adams on 3 May 2003 that remained through 14 May that year (Pranty, 2003). They remained very scarce in the area until 2010 when their abundance skyrocketed. To provide some context of their rarity, there were local birders that had been birding over 30 years here and saw their first in May 2007. Indeed, the same flock of 17 on 10 May 2007 at Hanna Park provided my first county record. Back then, they were recorded every couple of years during migration at (of all places) Nassau Sound / Big Bird Island area. Beginning around 2010, I started seeing very small groups passing through M&M Dairy in early May, and from 2012 on they have been regular throughout the summer at the Lem Turner spray fields where they are now actually breeding. There is one verifiable winter record of four ducks on the Intracoastal Waterway under the Atlantic Boulevard bridge on 20 December 2015.
They also make periodic appearances at the pond off Perdue Road, but the best place to find them in Duval County is the Lem Turner spot. Heading north on Lem Turner from I-295, pull off on the shoulder just as you pass Lannie Road (there’s a stop light there). Scope the fields to the west; there are distant ponds and the ducks move back and forth. You’ll most likely only get flight shots or silhouettes, and the evening is usually best. It’s worth a quick scan of the fields behind you as well (east side), as I’ve seen them out walking around there in the company of Ibis and Cattle Egret.
Fulvous Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna bicolor
There are just a handful of Fulvous Whistling-Duck records in Duval County, with a 26 year gap between observations at one point. The first record is of seven observed offshore of Mayport on 30 August 1965 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Other early records are from 1971 (R. Clark), 15 flying north on 6 September 1975 (Edscorn, 1976), and “numbers” of them 24 January 1976 – 20 miles offshore of Mayport. On 22 February 1988, Peggy Powell observed 3 at Mayport (Ogden, 1988) and it was more than a quarter century before they were reported again in the county.
Twenty-six years passed after Peggy’s report, when on 21 May 2014 a group of 12 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were reported at M&M Dairy, stayed for 3 days, and disappeared. They (of course) showed up when I was in Minnesota on business and I was afraid I’d miss them. I can recall heading to the dairy straight from the airport and I managed to see them in fading afternoon light with my binoculars; fortunately they remained through the next morning where I could observe them at length through the scope.
About one month later on 21 June 2014, 6 were recorded from nearby Autumn Point subdivision along the retention pond. This group also was also only seen for 3 days before moving on. Same birds? Who knows, but it’s likely. It will be interesting to see if they become more regular in the coming years like the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Greater White-fronted Goose has been recorded at least 4 times since 2004, and I’m not aware of any records prior to that in Duval County. On 21 Mar 2004, a single bird was reported off US-90 near the Mecklenburg Dairy farm (Clark). Six years later, two were recorded at M&M Dairy on 6 Mar 2010 (Dailey & Beyer) keeping company with the Canada Geese on the west side of the pastures. These two birds remained until 20 March. Another recent record came from the Mayo Clinic campus on 8 May 2013; this bird was only seen by one observer, posed for a photograph, and moved on.
On 22 November 2014, David Foster found a Snow Goose at M&M Dairy and while observing it, also found a group of 5 Greater White-fronted Goose in the same pasture as the birds recorded in 2010. This observation provides the only known fall record for the species in the county.
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides
Swan Goose are essentially ornamental, domestic waterfowl in the county. There is a reliable group of 4-6 individuals at the Perdue Road pond year-round, and another small group in front of Tinseltown movie theater near Hooters.
Graylag Goose Anser anser
Graylag Goose are also strictly domestic and can be found in localized areas like Perdue Road pond. I’ve also seen them move through Sheffield Park on occasion.
Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
Snow Goose are very uncommon in Jacksonville, with reports coming in about every two years. The first record I’ve been able to find came from 23 November 1930, and one of the most recent was 22-23 November 2014 at Sheffield Regional Park where David Foster encountered 4 (3 blue phase, 1 white). On 14 November 2015, Chris Bleau found a blue morph at Hanna Park, providing perhaps the earliest seasonal record in county history. Bleau’s observation was the first of many that winter, which turned out to be a record setting season in terms of numbers of observations for Snow Goose.
Other observations include (but are certainly not limited to) 28 November 1970 (Grimes) and Thanksgiving Day 2013 (Foster) at Perdue Road pond. Sightings are generally very scattered in both location and date, making them very unpredictable. I would suggest they’re best sought in winter months and probably at places like M&M Dairy, Hanna Park, and around Mecklenburg – but they’re also known to be found in brackish and even saltwater habitat like Helen Floyd Cooper or Huguenot. In fact, the earliest record of Snow Goose comes from Sam Grimes who documented two of them on 23 November 1930 along the north shore of the St. Johns river, where one of them was promptly shot (Grimes, 1943). Based on recent observations, the week before or of Thanksgiving certainly seems like a favorable time to seek them. The latest known spring date in county history is from 16 April 1967, a bird observed by Roy Edwards in Jacksonville (Stevenson, 1967).
Ross’s Goose Chen rossii
There are only a few records of Ross’s Goose; one on 23 December 1996 at Mecklenburg Farm (Clark), and 1 off Lone Star Road in January 2010. The report from 1997 is believed to be the first County record and consisted of a single Ross’s keeping company with 3 three Snow Geese; the bird remained until 12 January 1997 (West, 1997). Most recently, Chuck Hubbuch and Cathy Murphy recorded one on the lawns at University of North Florida following the spreading of thousands of pounds of grass seed on 15 December 2015. The goose remained through 10 January 2016.
Brant Branta bernicla
I have come across one early report of Brant in Duval County; Sam Grimes noted Howell’s report of a specimen taken at “Pilot Town” about 1890 and identified by “a member of the Canaveral Club” (Grimes, 1943). Pilot Town was on what is now called Batten Island; perhaps best known as the island where the Sandollar [sic] Restaurant is. On 7 November 1973, Mary Davidson photographed a single Brant in the St. Johns River, providing the first record since that report from 1890 (Edscorn, 1974). The bird was reported through the 16th of that month, and is the last Brant reported in the County – a record now spanning over 40 years.
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Canada Goose were introduced to Duval County between 1968-1978 as part of a program by FGFWFC, where they quickly took a stronghold in breeding and population although they didn’t appear on the Christmas Bird Count until 1973. As in most Florida counties, the provenance of any Canadas today is questionable and it is difficult or nearly impossible to separate true migrants from descendants of those introduced birds (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994, p.103). They remain extremely abundant throughout the county, and if you really “need” one, drive through the University of North Florida or by M&M Dairy. There is one (sort of) interesting hybrid Canada x Swan Goose reported by David Foster in April 2014 from Westside Industrial Park, which persisted there until at least March 2016. Perdue Road pond maintains one of the highest concentrations of this species anywhere in the State of Florida, with as many as 350 individuals spending the afternoon there.
Coscoroba Swan Coscoroba coscoroba
On 17 May 1993, Peggy Powell recorded a single Coscoroba Swan at Mayport Naval Air Station; according to the report the bird was “not banded or pinioned”, but remains of unknown origin (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
In 2013, a Mute Swan was recorded at New Berlin Elementary school. This is thought to be the same individual that is usually resident at Tidewater subdivision off Cedar Point road. Any reports of Mute Swan in the county are most certainly introduced exotics or ornamental.
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus
There is one report of Tundra Swan located in Jacksonville Beach on 14 December 1924 (Grimes, 1943). Prior to that, Howell (1932, p. 124) noted a specimen from Jacksonville collected in 1894-95. I saw one a few times in the spring of 2010 at M&M Dairy and presumed it was domestic or otherwise “introduced”.
Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata
Muscovy Ducks are localized throughout the county and can be found year round at those locations. Some good locations are the pond behind Krystal’s on St. Johns Bluff Road, the corner of Merrill Road and University Boulevard, or the Autumn Point subdivision off New Berlin Road.
Wood Duck Aix sponsa
Wood Duck are a declining species in Duval County, presumably due to loss of habitat. They can sometimes be found at Jacksonville Arboretum, the Jacksonville Zoo (they breed under the Wood Stork colony), and around the Imeson Center ponds. The most reliable spot I know of is still the wet, swampy areas at M&M Dairy. I’m sure there are several locations in western Duval County, as well, but I don’t necessarily look for them when birding there. I do see them at Westside Industrial Park (the Limpkin spot).
Gadwall Anas strepera
Gadwall can be found from November through February, but they are rather scarce. Sheffield Park, Spoonbill Pond, and Perdue Road pond are good locations to look for them. Grimes (1943, p.16) noted two records as early as December 1939 and 1940, but admittedly did not have a personal observation of the species – “I have never seen one here well enough to recognize it”. I suspect that’s due to a combination of scarcity, the overall plain appearance of the species, the quality of optics available at the time, and the fact that he preferred a camera to field glasses.
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
There is one vague report of a Eurasian Wigeon in Duval County, but I was unable to find any details as to location. According to Anderson (2005), one was observed and reported in the winter of 2004 by B. Richter; the Christmas Bird Count included one on 26 December 2004, suggesting this is the same report, and if I had to speculate the bird was found on Quarantine Island under the Dames Point Bridge.
American Wigeon Anas americana
American Wigeon can be a very difficult species to find in Jacksonville. It took me many, many years to add one to my county list; in other words, you shouldn’t really expect to find one each winter without a lot of work (or luck). Having said that, with the advent of eBird alerts and more eBird users it may be easier to track them down in the future. A good place to look for Wigeon is…Sheffield Park, Spoonbill Pond, and Perdue Road pond. The first documented report of the species is sometime in the early 1930’s along a series of freshwater ponds in Jacksonville Beach (Grimes, 1943).
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
American Black Duck is a very rare species in Jacksonville, and is often mis-identified with Mottled Ducks by the casual observer. I did record them at M&M Dairy three winters in a row from 2008-2010, and did not see them again until 2015 when Dave Foster located a few at Perdue Road pond, where they wintered in 2015 and again 2016-17 and 2017-18. The first county record was noted by Sam Grimes in 1935 (precise date was not noted), where he mentioned shooting six of them on Black Hammock Island (1943). Grimes (1943) also referred to them as “A rather common winter resident in the more secluded fresh-water ponds and marshes, especially in the northeastern portion of the county”. A single bird noted by Grimes on Ricker’s Lake on 24 April 1966 was described as one of the latest in the Northern Peninsula (Cunningham, 1966). They were a regular species on the Christmas Bird Count from 1959-1980, then became sporadic at best, with 21 reported on 30 December 1989 and not again until 26 December 2009 when 8 were included on the count.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Mallards are ubiquitous throughout the county in all seasons, but probably 99% of the Mallards observed in the area are non-migratory local populations, and discerning the difference – even in winter – can be very tough. Simply basing the judgment on whether the birds are skittish or not is not a good field mark and should not be relied upon. No summer records would be considered for a “migratory” Mallard in Jacksonville. This is not a recent development; in 1943 Grimes noted that Mallards were noted in winter in “inaccessible fresh-water ponds and marshes”, and that only a “few” were taken each winter.
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula
Oddly enough, this is perhaps the only regularly occurring duck species in Jacksonville that Grimes did not mention in his Birds of Duval County (1943). It’s difficult to surmise if they didn’t occur at all back then or if it was an oversight, but in 1967 it was noted that a pair raised a brood of 10 young at Jacksonville Beach – noteworthy in that it was north of the usual breeding range (Stevenson, 1967). In 2001, Noel Wamer remarked that the species is increasing as a nester since the mid-1990’s. I’m not quite sure about their distribution throughout the county, but they are fairly reliable year round at Hanna Park, M&M Diary, Spoonbill Pond, and Fort George Inlet park at the south end of Little Talbot Island. Use caution when looking at them in the field and try to ascertain whether what you’re seeing is one of the many Mallard x Mottled hybrids.
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Blue-winged Teal are fairly common in winter and can be found with a small degree of effort. They are also around in spring and a few linger throughout the summer, but they can be very difficult to find in June-August. They are fairly easy in winter and early spring at Perdue Road pond, Spoonbill Pond, Westside Industrial Park, M&M Dairy, and even the Jacksonville Zoo where they congregate under the Wood Stork colony.
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera
I’ve come across just one report of Cinnamon Teal in Duval County: in 1953, Thomas W. Hicks described seeing a single male in the winter several years prior on the St. Johns River (Mockford & Rice, 1953).
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Shovelers arrive in mid-September and can be found through April. In late April to early May, if you see them it will likely involve one to several hundred birds, as they tend to “raft up” prior to heading back north. Grimes (1943) noted that they were more common along the eastern / coastal part of the county, and that still holds true. There are very few “inland” records in the county.
They are fairly hit-or-miss at most locations, and you’ll more likely miss them even when looking for them at places like Hanna Park, Perdue Road pond, or Huguenot Memorial park. The most reliable place I know of is in a pond in the Shell Bay subdivision off Heckscher Drive, where they can be found most days each January and February. There is no direct lake access here, so you’d be relegated to glassing them from your car in between the homes.
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Northern Pintail can be very difficult to find in Jacksonville, but in recent years a small group has seemed to favor the Perdue Road pond. That is the best place to check for them. I’ve seen them at locations like Huguenot and Hanna Park, but that can’t be relied upon.
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca
Again, what Grimes (1943) noted over seventy years ago still holds (mainly) true: Green-winged Teal are “fairly common” but relegated to mainly “shallow open-water holes in the brackish marshes”. He noted “up Pablo Creek” as a good location; I’ve never tried for them there but can attest that this species is very localized to specific habitat and most are in very remote locations. If you must have one for your year or county list, I’ve known people that will pay to get in the Zoo where one (or a handful) can be found each winter with the Blue-winged Teal. Another good strategy is to look for them offshore during sea watches in early November; indeed, Roger Clark noted “hundreds” flying south over the ocean on 18 November 2000. Spoonbill Pond has been fairly reliable in recent years.
Canvasback Aythya valisineria
Canvasback are very rare in Duval County and cannot be expected to occur even once per year. Since 2010, reports included one (or a handful) of birds at Trednick Road ponds (restricted access), Perdue Road pond, and University of North Florida. The best advice for this species is to monitor the local birding reports and eBird to see if/when one turns up. The earliest county reports are from 20 January 1917 in a marsh near the Mayport jetties and then on 16 December 1929 on the St. Johns River (Grimes, 1943). There was also one reported on the Christmas Bird Count, 24 December 1950.
Redhead Aythya americana
Grimes (1943) noted the species as a rare winter resident, with just reported observations: Earl Greene’s pair at Pablo Beach on 22 November 1925, and another 10 December 1932. They now can be found each winter in the county; some of the better locations to check are Perdue Road, Trednick Road (restricted access), and the retention ponds throughout the Tinseltown area – particularly one at 10161 Centurion Parkway N. They are fairly scarce and usually occur in low numbers here, but can be found with some degree of effort.
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Ring-necked Ducks can be found starting around mid-October and are fairly abundant throughout the county. Their numbers decline sharply in April, but small groups and individuals can usually be found through May and even into June most years. Westside Industrial Park and Taye Brown Regional Park are excellent places to find them, as are places like M&M Dairy, University of North Florida, and Perdue Road ponds.
Greater Scaup Aythya marila
Greater Scaup are typically one of the latest ducks to arrive in the area, showing up around mid-November. They are difficult to find and can be even more difficult to identify properly. Huguenot Memorial Park is probably the best and most reliable place to seek them.
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Lesser Scaup seem to arrive shortly before the Greaters, around the first or second week of November. They are fairly reliable at Perdue Road pond and Huguenot, and can also be found in various retention ponds around the city.
Common Eider Somateria mollissima
The earliest record of Common Eider is 25 November 1970, a bird that stayed through February 1971 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). The species was recorded annually from 2010-2015, with periodic reports every few years prior to that (virtually all records in winter). The best location to find them is Huguenot Memorial Park, and I’d suggest looking for them on the south side (river side) of the jetties. They are often found in the river or even on the beach where the flocks of gulls roost. It is important to note that it is best to leave your vehicle, even if it’s bitterly cold. Many seeking an Eider that has already been reported will scan from their car and miss a loafing bird along the edge of the river’s shoreline due to the steep drop off and the bank – you cannot see a resting Eider from your car or truck if it’s on that beveled edge! Other records come from the Nassau Sound area, with one recorded there 3 February 1993 (West & Warmer, 1993), and another that stayed throughout the winter 2014-2015. Most recently a young male was recorded from 6 May through the end of July at Huguenot and up to two miles up river at various locations.
Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus
I’m only aware of one record of Harlequin Duck in Duval County from 3-26 December 1988, and was included on the Christmas Bird Count that year (Ogden, 1989). It was found at Huguenot Memorial Park, which is where I expect the next one to also be recorded. If two birds in the region can form a pattern, then consider the other “local” record in nearby Nassau County came on 26 December 2013 at Fort Clinch SP. So, if you have nothing to do the day after Christmas – go look for a Harlequin!
Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata
Surf Scoter is a species that likely passes by offshore in great numbers, but there are surprisingly few reports in recent years. Noel Wamer used to have very good results doing sea watches from 16th Ave S in Jacksonville Beach; I would recommend scoping from that location between the second week of November and early February, from dawn to about 10:00AM. The earliest known record is of a specimen taken on 12 May 1923 at Talbot Island (Howell, 1932, p. 155). There is also one inland record from a pond in the Mandarin area on 10 November 1970 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). If I may inject a little personal note, this species is one that has either eluded me or I haven’t tried hard enough to see in Duval County, but I plan to amend that every winter.
White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca
White-winged Scoter used to be rare throughout the state of Florida, and offshore of Duval County – specifically Huguenot Memorial Park – was one of the more reliable places to try to observe them. One of the earliest county records I’ve found is 21 January 1984 (Hoffman, 1984). They are still very uncommon to rare here, and I would expect you to miss them more than you would see them from year to year. The two best locations are Huguenot Memorial Park and the vantage point at 16th Ave S in Jacksonville Beach. They also turn up in odd locations like Spoonbill Pond, where Bob Richter recorded three of them from 21-23 February 2015.
Black Scoter Melanitta americana
Earl Greene’s observation of a single bird in Atlantic Beach on 17 May 1925, is the earliest documented County record (Howell, 1932, p. 156). Traditionally, Black Scoters have been much easier to see in winter starting around the first week of November. They move just offshore at low altitude in great numbers in the mornings and can be seen through a scope rather easily. For a span of several years (2012-16) a small group of 6-24 birds have remained through spring and into early summer along the lagoon at Huguenot Memorial Park. At Huguenot, scan for them offshore but also along the south side of the jetties. Scanning from the first boardwalk at the north Little Talbot Island SP parking lot or from 16th Ave S is a good bet as well.
Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis
Long-tailed Duck is another species I expect to be seen more often in Duval County, especially since they show up every couple years in St. Augustine just to our south. Regardless, I’m only aware of a handful of county records: 20 December 1980 (Stevenson, 1981), 21 February 1982 (Stevenson, 1982), 27 January through 24 February 1985 (Hoffman, 1985), 12 December 1993 by James Wheat (West, Wamer, & Pranty, 1994), 27 December 1997 (West, 1998), 20 Nov 2002 at 16th Ave S in Jacksonville Beach (Wamer), and most recently at an Arlington Pond 27 Jan – 3 Feb 2018.
The bird on 27 December 1997 was recorded on the CBC that year in the northernmost ponds of what today is Sheffield Regional Park (R. Rowan, pers comm, 2016). All other reports (except the two most recent) presumably came from Huguenot Memorial Park.
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Bufflehead are fairly common each winter from early November through early March, with some records extending into early April. The best places to look for them are Huguenot and the south end of Little Talbot Island SP, and the back pond at Sheffield Regional Park. At Sheffield, park by the athletic fields in the back and walk east along the footpath through the brambles; this will lead you to a very large pond where Bufflehead are found every winter.
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Common Goldeneye are very rare in the county with only a couple of records in the last fifteen years. There is one record from Huguenot Memorial Park on 26 December 2011 and the others are from more interior fresh water ponds around the M&M Dairy area (26 December – 30 January 2000, 27 December 2002 (Clark), 26 December 2011 – 7 January 2012). The most recent record is from a pond off Heckscher Drive beginning 23 December 2016; the bird remained until 4 February 2017 when it was unfortunately found dead along the edge of the pond, apparently a victim of being run over by an observer too eager to drive along the perimeter of the small pond.
Historically, the species was recorded regularly through the 1990’s on the Christmas Bird Count, and before that on CBCs in 1910, 1949, 1952, and 1957. Rowan “spooked” a drake on the CBC in the late ’80’s or early 90’s at Sheffield Park (Rowan, pers comm, 2016).
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
Hooded Mergansers are abundant in winter, and can be found around the second week of November through early April, with a few records in very early June. They are ubiquitous in retention ponds throughout the county.
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
In 1931, Sam Grimes (1943) noted a female in a pond in Jacksonville Beach; he noted a previous record in Mayport dating back to 1926. Two were reported on the 1962 CBC, presumably from Huguenot or perhaps Little Talbot Island. It’s worth mentioning that CBC also had Least Tern and American Golden-Plover with no details and not even marked as unusual (Audubon Field Notes, 1963). In 1966, two more showed up on the CBC tally in a year which six were reported throughout the state (Robertson, 1967).
On 24 November 1976, Noel Wamer reported one from Fort George Inlet (Edscorn, 1977), and Stevenson (1979) included two in the 1978-79 winter report: a female at Huguenot on 31 December 1978 and another on 28 January 1979. The next winter two were reported from the period of 29 December – 18 February 1980 (Stevenson, 1980), and another was reported there on 18 January 1981 (Stevenson, 1981).
Clark reported one at Little Talbot Island SP on 20 November 1995 (Wamer & Pranty, 1996), and Nancy Penny observed one at the mouth of the St. Johns on 27 December 2003 (Anderson, 2004). Since then, there are only two known records: one from behind Kingsley Plantation in April 2007 (Clark), and another from Huguenot Memorial Park in January 2010 (Royce).
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Red-breasted Mergansers are found throughout the winter, from early November through June. They are almost always found in salt or brackish water, so look for them at places like Little Talbot Island SP, Nassau Sound, Huguenot Memorial Park, and from the docks at Cedar Point, Betz Tiger Point, Blue Cypress and Reddie Point Preserve. In winter, you should almost always find them at any of those locations.
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Ruddy Ducks are uncommon in winter but can be found with some effort. They arrive around the middle of October and stay through early March, with some lingering into April. They are very reliable at Hanna Park, Sheffield Park, Perdue Road pond, and around the Trednick Road ponds in Arlington, particularly the one adjacent Wal-Mart. Interestingly enough, there are actually reports of breeding Ruddy Ducks in Duval County – on 2 June 1964, a female with 6 young were observed at Mayport (Stevenson, 1964). I know of no other breeding records since.