Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
We enjoy Eastern Bluebirds year-round in the Jacksonville area, where they are very evenly distributed throughout Duval County. The earliest record of the species comes from Sam Grimes, who documented a nest with four eggs on 6 April 1930 (Howell, 1932, p. 366). Today they are still a common nester that readily takes to boxes, and can be found rather easily at many of the favored local hotspots.
Look for them around the tennis courts and pond at Blue Cypress Park, the athletic fields at Sheffield Regional Park, or in the pine forests of Durbin Creek Preserve, Pumpkin Hill State Park, UNF Nature Trails, and Seaton Creek Preserve. They can be quite vocal at Boone Park in Riverside while looking for Red-headed Woodpeckers, and they’re very abundant around the Jacksonville Equestrian Center (Taye Brown Regional Park), Camp Milton Preserve, and Ringhaver Park on the west side of town. Any visit to M&M Dairy is more than likely to turn up a couple.
Veery Catharus fuscescens
Veery is probably one of our more abundant migrant thrushes, but can still be missed more often than seen. The best time to look for them is mid-April to Mid-May and the first week of September through the third week of October. They are most abundant the last week of September.
Look for Veery along the shaded trails on Fort George Island, Houston Avenue on Big Talbot Island, and in the leafy understory at Ringhaver Park. There is also an area towards the back of Reddie Point Preserve just off the paved trail that can be excellent for migrant thrushes, but the best place in Duval County for them is Theodore Roosevelt Area. Anywhere from the parking lot down the trail to the Willie Browne home site and graveyard is normally productive.
Gray-cheeked Thrush Catharus minimus
Gray-cheeked Thrush are what I’d consider very rare in spring when they’d be “most expected” the last week of April through May 10, but note that most spring observations are undocumented by photos and are usually insufficiently documented to be considered valid. They are more expected from late September through mid October, and there is but one winter report – from the Christmas Bird Count 26 December 1971. In fall, look for them at the same locations mentioned above for the other Catharus species.
*Bicknell’s Thrush Catharus bicknelli
On 10 October 1997, Noel Wamer reported a Bicknell’s Thrush (Rowan, 1997) and on 6 October 2000, Julie Cocke observed a possible Bicknell’s Thrush in her backyard, and studied the bird in direct comparison with another Catharus species (Pranty, 2001). This observation is unfortunately unable to be confirmed, but it’s quite possible she indeed had a Bicknell’s. Julie is an astute birder with decades of experience and would not make a rash judgment on such an ID.
Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus
There are a few records of Swainson’s Thrush from the last week of April but like the Gray-cheeked, almost all of those spring reports are undocumented and their validity remains a question mark. The species is much more common and likely in fall from the second week of September through about third week of October where they peak from October 12-18. A walk of the trails of Theodore Roosevelt Area, Cedar Point Preserve, Fort George Island, or Seaton Creek Preserve is your best bet for finding one during that time.
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
Hermit Thrush is a fairly common winter resident that can be found on most outings from the third week of October through mid-April. They’re quite evenly distributed throughout the county and occur in most of the birding hotspots, but they are virtually guaranteed at places like Fort George Island, Theodore Roosevelt, and Reddie Point Preserve. They are also remarkably easy to find at Blue Cypress Park along the paved road leading to the fishing pier.
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
Wood Thrush is a limited summer breeding species that is probably more abundant in the area than we think. Howell (1932) noted the earliest migrant as 5 April when he loosely sighted a report sometime before 1910. In 1928, Grimes noted two nests in Jacksonville, one holding three small young and an egg on 11 May 1924 (Howell, 1932, p. 363). Another nest was reported 6 May 1933 and the eggs were collected for specimens (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).
In more recent decades, they were noted as “well reported” during the summer of 1980 (Edscorn, 1980), and Cocke noted a late fall observation of the species from 22-24 October 1988 (Atherton & Atherton, 1989). An examination of reports from 2009 to present suggest the last week of April through early May is a good time to look for them, with observations from 3 May 2009, 28 April 2010, 1 April 2012, 27 April 2012, and 24 April 2014. In fall, the “wheelhouse” seems to be 12-16 October, with many of the recent observations coming on the 15th and 16th. A late record for the species of an individual photographed at Spoonbill Pond on 27 November 2016 and remained through the following weekend.
You may hear them first, doing the “bup & pit volleys” found on the Sibley app. I would suggest areas like the Cary State Forest, Seaton Creek Preserve, Theodore Roosevelt, Fort George Island, and Cedar Point Preserve.
American Robin Turdus migratorius
American Robin is a fairly common winter resident and a very localized breeder. Most are gone by the first of May each year, and begin arriving again the first week of November. In winter, you should have no difficulty finding the species throughout the county and at just about any local park or backyard.
Peggy Powell first noted a singing Robin in Duval County 9-13 June 1983 (Paul, 1983), and by 1984 the first breeding record was then documented (Kale, 1984). The following year, a pair fledged four young (Paul, 1985) and in 1986 there were as many as three pairs noted exhibiting breeding behavior (Paul, 1986). They have been reported annually each summer since in limited numbers, and have a consistent breeding foothold in the central part of the county from around Kent Campus off Roosevelt Boulevard through the Ortega area.