7 February 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY)

Key February 12DBY target species: American Woodcock, American Bittern, Common Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Pine Siskin, Western Kingbird.

Final February 12DBY results: 106 ABA countable species (1 non-countable), 10 eBird checklists, and 3,746 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: American Woodcock, Common Eider, White-crowned Sparrow

Targets missed: Virginia Rail, American Bittern, Western Kingbird, Pine Siskin, Purple Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe

Most unexpected species: Gary Davis at Spoonbill Pond.

My plan for a February 12 Day Big Year in Duval County was really about continuing to get all the ducks and sparrows I could load up on, plus the “winter” species I missed in January like the American Woodcock and Wilson’s Snipe. Faced with the question as to what day of the month to declare, I decided the lingering Common Eider in Nassau Sound was too tempting to resist and would make a nice centerpiece for the day’s birding. So once again, Marie and I declared our individual Duval County days for Saturday the 7th and spent a wonderful day birding together.

We missed the American Woodcock in January and still needed it for the County year list, so we started at the most reliable location in Duval County for it – Betz Tiger Point Preserve (no entrance fee). In December for the CBC each year, the Woodcock shows around 6:52AM but we weren’t certain what time that’d be in February due to changing first light. It was in the low 30’s as we arrived at 6:30AM and walked up the road from the gate about .5 miles, stopping about 50-75 yards short of the restrooms. This is the key vantage point, and all you need to do is turn around and be patient. We watched up the road under a near-full moon and clear skies, and minutes later the Woodcock came twittering up the dirt road about 15 feet overhead until it disappeared. This routine works about 3 out of 5 times in winter, and I’m always grateful to Roger Clark for showing me the drill about 10 years ago. On the walk back out, we notched Brown Thrasher for our 12DBY as well.

The next stop was back up Cedar Point Road at Sheffield Park (no entrance fee) to try for American Bittern and Wilson’s Snipe. It was a cold morning and frost was all over the ground when we arrived around 7:00AM. We dipped on both targets, but picked up White-eyed Vireo for the competition. Sheffield Park is an absolutely wonderful city park full of great birds year-round, but we didn’t feel we could waste much time there this morning. Sheffield is a great spot for breeding species like Orchard Oriole, Painted Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, and Eastern Kingbird, and will feature prominently in our May 12DBY.

From Sheffield, we continued heading on up the road to Perdue Road pond (again, no fee) hoping for American Wigeon, but none were present. We had all of the other expected ducks from January’s 12DBY, so we didn’t loiter at Perdue.

The next stop was Seaton Creek Preserve off Arnold Road (no fee, see “Locations” page for a full write-up), targeting the extremely rare-in-county Pine Siskins that have been recorded there twice so far this year. We got there before 8AM and I swear it was ten degrees colder than it was at Sheffield and Perdue! Seaton Creek is a huge preserve, and many of the trails have been flooded this year. We birded within a few hundred yards of the parking lot, and added several 12DBY birds like Hermit Thrush, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Pine Warbler (can you tell we didn’t do any woodland birding on our January 12DBY?), but missed the Siskins. Seaton Creek is a new and yet-to-be-appreciated birding hotspot in Duval County. It’s remote, but definitely worth a lengthy visit.

We left Seaton Creek Preserve and headed back down I-95 to Dunn Avenue so we could make a quick stop at Imeson Center (no fee, refer to “Locations” page for details on this hotspot) to check a back-up Wilson’s Snipe spot, but we missed again. I’ve never had such a problem finding Snipe here in winter. We headed east from Imeson up Heckscher Drive and made our way to M&M Dairy (no fee, refer to “Locations” section for a write-up) where we spent just over an hour looking for Rusty Blackbirds and other goodies. We added Northern Flicker and Lesser Yellowlegs among the 41 species seen there, plus I managed a flushed Snipe behind Marie’s back! Finally, I was one up on her for the competition.

This month’s drive-through lunch treat was Wendy’s on Heckscher and New Berlin, and we eventually arrived at Huguenot Memorial Park ($3 per car fee) around 11:20AM, specifically targeting the Western Kingbird and sparrows. We were obviously also hopeful for a “white” gull, Common Loon, or Purple Sandpiper. We got 45 species in two hours, but no Kingbird or new gulls (addendum: wouldn’t you know it – I found the Kingbird again the next morning on the 8th). We did get a White-crowned Sparrow in a favorite new spot, I managed another behind-Marie’s-back species (Common Ground-Dove), and we both got House Wren and Sedge Wren. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also doing an eBird hotspot 12DBY version of this competition at Huguenot, and I credit that cause for “discovering” an area at Huguenot I’ve never birded in the last 12 years. It’s easy to get focused on the ocean and excellent shorebirding and neglect the other areas of the park rich in sparrows and wrens, but I promise you – no longer!

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Marie with the Common Eider

By this time the tide was ebbing, so we headed up A1A to Nassau Sound to try for the day’s showcase – the staked out Common Eider that’s been hanging out since December. It’s been possible to scope the duck from the Duval County side of the Sound while the bird is in Duval waters, and that’s exactly what we were able to do. A tremendous 12DBY tick! We were conveniently also at the Spoonbill Pond ($2 per car, see Locations section for details) area there at Big Talbot Island State Park, where we had 11 species of ducks on our January 12DBY. We managed one new duck species there – a pair of American Wigeon, and also added Spotted Sandpiper way out on the downed cabbage palm in the water. At Spoonbill Pond, we also ran into local birders Craig Williams and Gary Davis and drove over to Amelia Island State Park (Nassau County) to try to get a better look at the Eider. At the park, Marie and I finally met Andy Wraithmell in person, but no Eider was visible. For those ever trying for Eiders in Nassau Sound (not that they’re regular, but when they show up), it can be quite frustrating due to the mess of bridge pilings – it’s about the only bridge I’ve ever seen whose pilings aren’t at all symmetrical. Forget trying to get under the bridge and just look down neat rows; this bridge is a complex warren of concrete providing many hiding places to obscure your view.

For me, the day ended here. Once home, Marie headed out at 6PM to get the nesting Great Horned Owls she missed in January and found success.

You may have noticed along the way the day’s birding cost a total of just $5 in entrance fees plus gasoline, and that’s assuming you don’t have an annual State Parks pass or City of Jacksonville pass for Huguenot. So far, in two Duval County 12DBY days, we’ve not gone south of the mighty St. Johns River or to the western part of the county and yet have managed 138 species.

I’m looking forward to our March 12DBY – I won’t give much away, but will say we’ll be targeting a rare and very localized breeding species – and finally venture south of the St. Johns River for the first time this competition.

The List:
Number of Species 106
Number of Individuals 3,746
Number of Checklists 10
Species Name Species Count Sample Size
Swan Goose (Domestic type) 3 1
Canada Goose 193 4
Muscovy Duck 1 1
American Wigeon 2 1
Mallard (Domestic type) 62 5
Mottled Duck 7 2
Mallard x Mottled Duck (hybrid) 8 1
Blue-winged Teal 6 2
Northern Shoveler 25 1
Redhead 12 1
Ring-necked Duck 36 2
Lesser Scaup 76 2
Common Eider 1 1
Hooded Merganser 16 4
Red-breasted Merganser 22 3
Ruddy Duck 30 1
duck sp. 1 1
Pied-billed Grebe 2 2
Horned Grebe 5 1
Wood Stork 2 2
Double-crested Cormorant 84 4
Anhinga 2 1
Brown Pelican 16 2
Great Blue Heron 9 3
Great Egret 5 4
Snowy Egret 2 2
Little Blue Heron 1 1
Tricolored Heron 1 1
Reddish Egret 1 1
White Ibis 3 1
Black Vulture 1 1
Turkey Vulture 10 4
Osprey 3 3
Bald Eagle 2 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 4 2
Clapper Rail 1 1
Common Gallinule 4 2
American Coot 14 5
American Oystercatcher 2 1
Black-bellied Plover 30 1
Wilson’s Plover 15 1
Semipalmated Plover 350 1
Killdeer 3 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1 1
Greater Yellowlegs 6 1
Willet 2 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 1 1
Ruddy Turnstone 21 2
Red Knot 25 1
Sanderling 46 2
Dunlin 125 1
Western Sandpiper 100 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 25 1
Wilson’s Snipe 1 1
American Woodcock 1 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 24 2
Laughing Gull 151 2
Ring-billed Gull 111 5
Herring Gull 30 1
Great Black-backed Gull 2 1
Forster’s Tern 200 1
Royal Tern 5 1
Black Skimmer 56 1
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1 1
Common Ground-Dove 5 1
Mourning Dove 10 6
Belted Kingfisher 3 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 8 5
Downy Woodpecker 3 2
Northern Flicker 1 1
Pileated Woodpecker 5 3
American Kestrel 1 1
Eastern Phoebe 4 3
Loggerhead Shrike 11 3
White-eyed Vireo 5 4
Blue-headed Vireo 1 1
Blue Jay 12 5
American Crow 1 1
Fish Crow 22 3
crow sp. 1 1
Tree Swallow 1,226 4
Carolina Chickadee 4 2
Tufted Titmouse 6 3
Brown-headed Nuthatch 3 1
House Wren 2 1
Sedge Wren 1 1
Carolina Wren 3 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5 2
Eastern Bluebird 6 3
Hermit Thrush 3 1
American Robin 54 6
Gray Catbird 6 3
Brown Thrasher 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 7 4
European Starling 37 2
Cedar Waxwing 17 3
Common Yellowthroat 3 2
Palm Warbler 4 2
Pine Warbler 12 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 89 5
Eastern Towhee 6 4
Chipping Sparrow 18 1
Savannah Sparrow 27 3
Swamp Sparrow 1 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1 1
Northern Cardinal 9 6
Red-winged Blackbird 62 3
Eastern Meadowlark 24 2
Boat-tailed Grackle 8 2
American Goldfinch 1 1