3 January 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY):

Note: Results are at the bottom if you want to skip ahead, but like algebra you won’t learn anything by looking just for the answers!

Key January 12DBY target species: American Woodcock, American Bittern, American Pipit, Ducks, ducks, and more ducks , Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Purple Sandpiper, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Wilson’s Snipe, Vesper Sparrow, Western Kingbird.

My strategy for January was centered around finding the winter species – in particular getting as many ducks and sparrows as I could find, figuring I’d have maybe two more chances in February and then December to mop up those areas. My first decision was whether to go early in the month and possibly benefit from the previous week’s Christmas Bird Count observations, or wait until later when some other rarity showed up. I decided that going after the known versus the unknown quantity was a more solid plan (plus I was itching to get started), so I declared for 3 January as my Duval County “Day One”. My wife Marie decided to give me some friendly competition this year in the individual competitor category, so she also declared that day and we spent the whole day birding together.

The morning started at 6:30AM at the end of Cedar Point Road where we picked up Eastern Screech-Owl, and then we headed to the Pumpkin Hill area to try for three target species we had the previous Saturday on the CBC: American Woodcock, Virginia Rail, and Eastern Whip-poor-will. We dipped on the Woodcock and Rail but did get the Whip, which will be nice since it’ll give us more flexibility now in March when you’d normally target that species.

By 8AM we were at Sheffield Park to try for American Bittern; the key there is to arrive before any kids or fishermen disturb the dock area, which we did, but still didn’t find the Bittern. We also missed here on Wilson’s Snipe (which is regular), but did add many day birds such as Bald Eagle, American Pipit, Redhead, and a tough to find species – Grasshopper Sparrow. From Sheffield, we raced up the road to Perdue Road pond to load up on ducks before they dispersed for the morning and found success with loads of Northern Pintail, Mallards, and Ring-necked Ducks.

Our next destination was Black Hammock Island, but we detoured through M&M Dairy to try for Rusty Blackbird (dipped). Once on Black Hammock Island, we made a beeline for the staked out Snow Goose from the prior week’s CBC and immediately got it. Targets on the island were mainly blackbirds, pipits, and sparrows, and we ended up getting Brown-headed Cowbirds and the Pipits on Franderson Lane, but no grackles. The end of Shark Road had extremely high tides and some lingering fog, but we were able to manage Nelson’s, Saltmarsh, and Seaside Sparrows along with Marsh Wren.

Imeson Center was next up to try for the Wilson’s Snipe and collect Vesper Sparrow; we also knew we could pick up other species on the day like Common Gallinule and American Kestrel there. The Vespers are abundant there this time of year and we found them immediately, but again dipped on the Snipe. By now it was around 10:30AM so we headed to the Gander Mountain pond for Scaup (dipped) and some tasty Arby’s drive-through, which we devoured on the way back to Huguenot Memorial Park. Along the way, we stopped off on Pulaski Road where Wild Turkey is frequent and were rewarded with about 8 on the side of the road where we expected them . It turns out the “drive-through” Turkeys are even quicker than roast beef sandwiches! I should mention at this point that not once was I able to see a species behind Marie’s back – we were still tied for species on the day.

We arrived at Huguenot Memorial Park around 11:45AM and went directly to the lagoon to look for a Red-throated Loon that had been reliable since Christmas Day. I already had this bird from January 1st, but this was the main target for the 12DBY; it is a difficult species to find here and the best time is January, there are very few records even into February in Duval County. We got incredible scope views of this bird, and while watching it were also treated to a couple of hillbillys trying to drive their 4×4 vertically up the highest sand dune in the park. When the dune rejected their attempts, the driver refused to let Mother Nature get the last laugh – apparently he felt like he could still “conquer” her by walking up the dune and taking a leak at the top…in full view of the entire park and family beach area. SDC17219

The rest of the visit at Huguenot wasn’t extremely productive (just 32 species), but Horned Grebe and Bonaparte’s Gull were other nice “winter” birds to get on the list, along with an unexpected Cooper’s Hawk.

We arrived at Spoonbill Pond at 3PM looking for ducks, and were not disappointed. Here we managed both Lesser and Greater Scaup, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, and both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal. In all, we had 11 species of duck at this location, along with the other accipiter – Sharp-shinned Hawk. This stop marked the end of a long day out, but there was one final target bird and destination: the pair of Great Horned Owls nesting in our neighborhood. They were calling each evening from 5:40 to 6:10PM, with brief forays of flight views possible. I made it out to get them (they called and perched in view as if on queue), but Marie stayed back (perhaps saving them for another 12DBY).

Final January 12DBY results: 118 ABA countable species (3 non-countable), 10 eBird checklists, and 3,386 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Snow Goose, Greater Scaup, Red-throated Loon, Eastern Whip-poor-will, American Pipit

Targets missed: American Woodcock, Virginia Rail, American Bittern

Best unexpected species: Grasshopper Sparrow

The List:
Number of Species 122
Number of Individuals 3,386

Number of Checklists 10

Total Number of ABA Countable Species 118

Species Name Species Count Number of checklists
Snow Goose 1 1
Canada Goose 252 5
Muscovy Duck 5 1
Gadwall 3 1
Mallard 4 1
Mottled Duck 4 2
Blue-winged Teal 8 1
Northern Shoveler 15 1
Northern Pintail 30 1
Green-winged Teal 12 1
Redhead 6 1
Ring-necked Duck 29 3
Greater Scaup 4 1
Lesser Scaup 25 1
Black Scoter 2 1
Bufflehead 10 3
Hooded Merganser 23 3
Red-breasted Merganser 36 2
Ruddy Duck 23 1
Wild Turkey 6 1
Red-throated Loon 1 1
Pied-billed Grebe 10 3
Horned Grebe 3 1
Wood Stork 2 2
Northern Gannet 6 1
Double-crested Cormorant 262 6
Anhinga 3 3
American White Pelican 12 2
Brown Pelican 167 3
Great Blue Heron 10 3
Great Egret 38 6
Snowy Egret 19 4
Little Blue Heron 5 3
Tricolored Heron 2 2
Reddish Egret 1 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 1
White Ibis 4 1
Black Vulture 8 1
Turkey Vulture 27 3
Osprey 15 5
Northern Harrier 3 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1 1
Bald Eagle 2 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 5 4
Red-tailed Hawk 3 3
Clapper Rail 11 3
Common Gallinule 2 1
American Coot 35 3
American Oystercatcher 2 1
Black-bellied Plover 6 1
Wilson’s Plover 25 1
Semipalmated Plover 350 1
Killdeer 10 2
Greater Yellowlegs 1 1
Willet 19 3
Ruddy Turnstone 34 2
Red Knot 3 1
Sanderling 45 2
Dunlin 400 1
Least Sandpiper 6 1
Western Sandpiper 111 2
Short-billed Dowitcher 40 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 4 1
Laughing Gull 162 3
Ring-billed Gull 97 4
Herring Gull 8 1
Great Black-backed Gull 6 2
Forster’s Tern 85 2
Royal Tern 35 1
Black Skimmer 220 1
Rock Pigeon 4 1
Mourning Dove 82 4
Eastern Screech-Owl 2 1
Great Horned Owl 2 1
Eastern Whip-poor-will 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 9 5
Red-bellied Woodpecker 6 2
Downy Woodpecker 4 4
Pileated Woodpecker 2 1
American Kestrel 2 2
Eastern Phoebe 6 4
Loggerhead Shrike 5 4
Blue Jay 3 2
American Crow 13 5
Fish Crow 1 1
Tree Swallow 23 1
Carolina Chickadee 1 1
Tufted Titmouse 1 1
Marsh Wren 1 1
Carolina Wren 3 3
Eastern Bluebird 21 3
American Robin 97 4
Gray Catbird 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 7 4
European Starling 21 2
American Pipit 24 2
Cedar Waxwing 28 2
Common Yellowthroat 2 1
Palm Warbler 6 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 36 6
Eastern Towhee 1 1
Vesper Sparrow 12 1
Savannah Sparrow 4 3
Grasshopper Sparrow 1 1
Nelson’s Sparrow 5 1
Saltmarsh Sparrow 3 1
Seaside Sparrow 7 1
Song Sparrow 1 1
Swamp Sparrow 3 1
White-throated Sparrow 2 1
Northern Cardinal 15 4
Red-winged Blackbird 2 2
Eastern Meadowlark 28 3
Boat-tailed Grackle 26 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 26 2
House Finch 2 1
American Goldfinch 2 2
Mallard (Domestic type) 32 4
Swan Goose (Domestic type) 4 1
Graylag Goose (Domestic type) 1 1
Mallard x Mottled Duck (hybrid) 6 1
Greater/Lesser Scaup 20 1
crow sp. 1 1