9 May 2015 – Duval County 12 Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key May 12DBY target species: Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite.

Final May 12DBY results: 113 ABA countable species (0 non-countable), 14 eBird checklists, and 4,878 individual birds observed.

Best targets achieved: Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite.

Targets missed: None.
Most unexpected species: Either a late Bonaparte’s Gull at Spoonbill Pond or the Orchard Oriole Marie C. found singing at 0630 at the Gate station while I was pumping gas.

The plan for the May 12DBY was two-fold: to combine it with Cornell’s inaugural eBird Global Big Day and to target some of the more difficult to find breeding species in the county. About a week prior to the event I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by a tremendous young birder, Marie C., who asked to join us on the #GlobalBigDay. We met at the Gate station on Heckscher Drive at 0630, where Marie C (hereafter ‘MC’; Marie Dailey will be ‘MD’) heard an unusual song coming from towards the highway. As I topped off the tank, the Maries ran down a singing Orchard Oriole – and so our day began!

Our first stop was the Eastport Wastelands, an area I have really come to love and have 98 species already this year in just 13 or so visits. The target was to notch the Yellow-breasted Chat I had found the previous weekend. No sooner did we arrive and get out of the truck, and the Chat was singing from his exposed perch for in-the-scope views. We spent a little more time in the Wastelands, where we picked up a number of day birds such as Solitary Sandpiper and Prairie Warbler, and added another Orchard Oriole, which is a new patch bird. I also added two more new 12DBY species here: Green Heron and Wood Duck.

We headed down Heckscher Drive to Imeson Area to check for Common Gallinule, Pied-billed Grebe, and Eastern Meadowlark (keep in mind we were doing a coordinated, county-wide Global Big Day and not just trying for new 12DBY birds). We dipped on all three species, and managed just a few species at Imeson like Killdeer and Mourning Dove. We headed up I-95 towards our day’s main destination – Seaton Creek Preserve. On the way, we added a new 12DBY species – the elusive House Sparrow.

The 12DBY strategy for May really centers around Seaton Creek, because in addition to breeding species you can still manage a few migrants and hopefully other interesting or unexpected land birds. Using the same route outlined in my write-up on Seaton (see Locations on this site), we picked off singing Summer Tanagers, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers singing on territory, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and a singing male Blue Grosbeak right in the parking lot. Fortunately the grounds were relatively dry and we didn’t have to pass through too much mud to get to the Acadian Flycatcher spot, but the bugs and biting flies were a bit of a nuisance. When we arrived at the Acadian habitat, it was quiet for several minutes and we were beginning to think we were going to miss out. Much to our delight, an Acadian started calling and actually flew in to perch directly over our heads for photo opportunities. As we started heading back to the truck, several Yellow-billed Cuckoos also started calling and cavorting.

From Seaton, we drove to the area of M&M Dairy and Sheffield Regional Park. First stopping at Sheffield, we picked up Eastern Kingbird, Mississippi Kite, and a singing Indigo Bunting. Despite seeing Bobolinks here and at M&M Dairy in the week leading up to our 12DBY, we dipped on the species at both locations. M&M Dairy was relatively slow, and produced the expected yellowlegs species, Cattle Egret, and Loggerhead Shrike. After a quick lunch at Subway, we decided to try for something like American White Pelican or Northern Bobwhite at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve. We struck out there and on the way back visited the Tidewater subdivision off Cedar Point Road, which is usually reliable for American Coot and Eastern Meadowlark. Again, we dipped on our targets here and moved on rather quickly.

It was getting a little later in the day, but we headed for Spoonbill Pond to attempt a few shorebirds and species for the Global Big Day. We added aseasonal Lesser Scaup and Bonaparte’s Gull to the Big Day, and new 12DBY species were Long-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Roseate Spoonbill. On the way back down Heckscher Drive we stopped in at Huguenot Memorial Park, where we padded our day list and got us over 100 species, but it was arduous. Not only was the park packed with people, but they had roped off the lagoon to prohibit driving since the Wilson’s Plover chicks had just hatched in days prior. We dropped MC back off at the Gate at 18:30, ending a solid 12 hour, 113 species effort. I managed 15 new 12DBY species, and MC added 7 new life birds! A footnote: the inaugural Duval County #GlobalBigDay teams tallied 153 ABA countable species on the day; an impressive effort to be sure.

After 5 carefully selected days, I’m now at 190 species for the 12DBY competition. 200 is not only seeming more and more doable, but surpass able in perhaps the next one or two efforts; I’m still missing such species as Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, Common Tern, and Black Tern.

New 12DBY species:
Wood Duck, Green Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, House Sparrow.

Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches

Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis
Carolina Chickadee can be found year-round throughout the county, and although they breed in many locations they can often be missed in regular locations at certain times of year. The peak time to observe them is between mid September and mid October, suggesting either post-breeding dispersal or some fall migration or movement, as there is not an appreciable difference in the number of reported observations that time of year (in fact there are less field reports / eBird checklists than in spring). The earliest recorded nesting date is from 27 April 1930 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

They are fairly reliable coastally along Big Talbot and Little Talbot Island State Park, Fort George Island, and Hanna Park. They are also regular at places like Taye Brown Regional Park, Sheffield Regional Park, and Reddie Point Preserve.

Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Tufted Titmouse is a year round breeding resident species, and is extremely abundant in virtually every corner of the county. As with the Carolina Chickadee, Titmouse abundance and frequency inexplicably peaks from mid September through October. There are high concentrations of them at places like Fort George Island, Cedar Point Preserve, and Reddie Point Preserve. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted a nest raided of its eggs as early as 13 May 1934.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Red-breasted Nuthatch is a species only likely to be found during irruption years, as they were throughout the county in the winter of 2012-2013. Otherwise, there are just four or five known prior documented reports, two of which come from Fort George Island. The earliest report is from 24 April 1966 at Goodbys Lake, another comes from the 1967 CBC, and the 1968 CBC reported an unprecedented 19 birds. The next report followed on 28 December 1985 on Black Hammock Island by Roger Clark, who also observed single individuals on 3 Nov 2005 at Kingsley Plantation and on 11 Nov 2008 at his residential feeders.

Ogden (1991) noted that one reported from south Jacksonville on 10 January 1991 was the only in the entire state that winter, as was the case with one reported 2 November 1997 (Wamer, 1998). A single bird was then reported 7 April 1998 (Pranty, 1998); that bird apparently wintered at Noel Wamer’s home beginning 10 January that year (Rowan, 1998).

During the last irruption year, reliable places to find them were about 1/2 mile from the gate at Kingsley Plantation, Little Talbot Island State Park, and the Pumpkin Hill State Park parking lot. The most recent report is from 19 November 2016, where two were observed in the Cary State Forest on Jacksonville’s westside.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
White-breasted Nuthatch is one of several species that used to breed in Duval County and has since been extirpated. As early as 17 April 1930 two adults were noted as feeding young; subsequent breeding records include 2-27 March 1931 where a nest with five eggs was observed. Grimes and Shannon collected the eggs as specimens  (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Five individuals were reported by Grimes on the 1943 CBC (26 December), where they also made appearances in 1944, 1949, 1961, 1969, 1974, and 1979. Since 1979, there have been several unconfirmed reports in the county, but no verifiable records. The reported observations have come from Kingsley Plantation (heard only), Hanna Park, and Little Talbot Island State Park’s campground. The most recent reports are from 19-21 February at Little Talbot; other observations are all from 27 April through 25 May, scattered across various years.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla
Brown-headed Nuthatch are a localized breeding species that is fairly evenly spaced throughout the county, although they are scarce in coastal locations with no reliable habitat east of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). They do occur just west of the ICW off San Pablo Road around the William Davis Parkway area. More reliable and accessible locations include Pumpkin Hill State Park, Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve, Taye Brown Regional Park, and Seaton Creek Preserve (usually right in the parking area). The species is obviously dependent on pine forest, and all those locations afford plenty of suitable habitat.

Historically, Brown-headed Nuthatch was first noted as a breeding species on 5 March 1930, when a nest with five eggs was observed. The following year, breeding behavior and nest excavation was noted as early as 20 February 1931 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Martins and Swallows

Purple Martin Progne subis
Purple Martin is a species in serious decline in recent years and can be difficult to find in Duval County, even when searching for them. There are some early observations from February, but most arrivals are reported beginning the first week of March. They can be found throughout the spring and summer in small numbers, and are generally departed by the end of August. The best places to look for them are Taye Brown Regional Park and New World Avenue on the westside of town, M&M Dairy, and the Lem Turner Road spray fields at the intersection of Lannie Road. In mid to late June, they have been known to mass off New World Avenue near Waterworks Street, where one can see anywhere from 60-140 individuals in one group. They can be found in similar numbers along the remote areas of Pritchard Road, often massing on the power lines there.

There is a remarkable account of over 10,000 that would amass at Hemming Plaza downtown in the late 1940’s. On 12 October 1950 the trees were razed and the phenomenon ceased with the removal (Brookfield, 1951). On 5 July 1964, Grimes noted recently hatched young and the following year he noted nesting as early as 20 March 1965 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). In 1974, Ogden noted a roost in downtown Jacksonville of over 1,000 birds from 15 June through 30 July; perhaps this was a remnant of the roost forsaken in 1950.

Tree Swallow Tachycneta bicolor
Tree Swallow is chiefly a winter resident species that can be found from the first of September through early May. In most fall and winter months, it is by far our most abundant swallow species. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted one on 16 July 1960 as the earliest fall migrant in the state. Tree Swallows can be found throughout the county, but some of the better locations include Huguenot Memorial Park and Spoonbill Pond where they can number into the thousands on some winter days.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Northern Rough-winged Swallow is our most abundant breeding swallow species; known to have bred in the County since at least Howell’s time in 1932 (p. 331). They arrive in early to mid-March and can be found through the middle of October; there are a handful of records into early November. They really favor nesting under tractor trailers, and find an abundance of nesting sites in this port city. They can be readily be found at Imeson Center, Westside Industrial Park, and the warehouses around the M&M Dairy.

Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
Bank Swallow is extremely rare in spring in Northeast Florida, with just a few county observations in April and early May. They are more easily found in fall migration, where they move through the area in mid to late August in their highest numbers. Having said that, you are unlikely to see more than a handful at any time during that window. The best bet for this species is to work the northwest part of the inlet at Huguenot Memorial Park along the dunes from 14-23 August.

Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Cliff Swallow is an extremely rare spring migrant here, and a fairly rare fall migrant that is missed more often than seen in most years by local birders. The “wheelhouse” for the species is 10-17 August and the best place I’ve found to seek them out is Huguenot Memorial Park and the Lem Turner spray fields. A good plan is to target Huguenot since you can look for the almost equally rare Bank Swallow; look for both species along the dunes separating the ocean from the lagoon. I’ve seen Cliffs around the jetties all the way up to the north end of the park and around the dunes. On 16 August 2013, I recorded the highest known occurrence of the species in county history there with as many as 45 individuals. There is a single winter report of 31 December 1951 from Little Talbot Island SP (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
There are no reports or records of Cave Swallow in Duval County, but there are two reports from St. Johns County just to the south. The first was 19 December 2009 and the other 20 January 2011. I expect they will be reported one day in Duval County, thus their inclusion in this section.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Barn Swallow is our second most abundant swallow species behind Tree Swallow, but is absent in the winter months of December through February. They typically arrive the second week of March and can be seen through the end of November; their numbers peak in mid-August. There is one notable winter report of 23 November 1981, when a group of 15 was reported at Little Talbot Island SP (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Barn Swallows are tied very closely with bodies of water, and are thus seen mainly along the coast and St. Johns River; inland they can be found at places with many ponds like Westside Industrial Park or Lem Turner spray fields. They are a limited or localized breeder in the area. The earliest noted Barn Swallow in Duval is 29 June 1924, which was then noted as a “late” date (Howell, 1932, p. 332). They were first confirmed as a breeding species on 26 June 1977, with sporadic affirmations of breeding throughout the early 1980’s (1981, 22 June 1983, and 1984).