12 Sept 2015 – September Duval County Twelve Day Big Year (12DBY):

Key September 12DBY target species: Migrant warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, thrushes, and “grass pipers”

Final September 12DBY results: 10 eBird checklists, 3 new 12DBY species

Best targets achieved: Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Most unexpected species: Baird’s Sandpiper!

As I said at the conclusion of last month’s 12DBY update, my strategy for September would hinge on whether to seek “staked out” grass pipers or wait until the end of the month to target migrant land birds.

An Upland Sandpiper was recorded at M&M Dairy on 7 Sept, and when Marie and I went to search for it we also found two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Since both birds were continuing on the 11th, I decided to head there the next morning and try for them for the 12DBY challenge.

I got there around mid-morning and in one of the muddy pools on the western end of the pasture I noticed a squat peep in my scope. I studied it carefully and determined it had all the characteristics of a Baird’s Sandpiper! This species was fresh in my mind since I had just seen one in Glendale, Arizona, a couple weeks prior at the Recharge Ponds where I was chasing an adult Sabine’s Gull prior to catching my flight home.

Baird's Sandpiper - 13 Sep 2015

The bird I found was clearly larger than the Least Sandpipers near it and was smaller than a nearby Pectoral. It had the “attenuated” look of a long-winged peep and when it faced me head on that cinched it; this bird had the crossed primaries in the back and had the classic flat-backed posture typical of a Baird’s.  I took a few photographs of the bird and shared the scope view with JC Knoll (who moments before I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person) just before the bird took off; it was not relocated until the following day. This was the first photo documented record of the species in the county, and just the third known occurrence in Duval County history.

As I observed the bird, I called Dave Foster who arrived shortly afterwards and who got us permission to walk into the pastures to look for more shorebirds. In addition to a small group of rather early Wilson’s Snipe, we found the Upland Sandpiper way out in the middle of the field, got to see it fly around, and make it’s Loon-like call. On the way back to the truck I caught a brief glimpse of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, thus securing the 12DBY hat trick of rare shorebirds!

Other stops throughout the day produced a nice variety of birds but nothing else new for the competition. October’s 12DBY will certainly focus on woodland birds and migrant land birds, as I’m missing many of the warblers and others. After September, I’m at 206 Duval County species in the 9 days.

New 12DBY species: Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper.

Fall eBird Workshop and Field Trip Series

Are you a bird watcher that has thought about using eBird but need a little help or motivation? Or maybe you’re already using eBird and would like to learn more about how it works, what it’s used for, or how you can take your eBirding to the next level? Either way, regular use of eBird will not only elevate your enjoyment of birding but is a free way of giving back to your hobby, community, and worldwide conservation efforts.

I’m the eBird reviewer for Duval, Nassau, and Volusia Counties in Florida. Come join me for one or all of the sessions in this free three-part series to hear more about eBird and how it will advance your interest in bird watching and citizen science.

Each of these three evening workshops will take place at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens educational facility, and will be followed up with practical, hands-on use in the field during a guided bird walk. See details for each of these sessions and field trips below.

eBird Workshop for Beginners
Wednesday, September 16, 2015, at Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. No fee.

About the workshop:
I’ll introduce eBird’s background, scope, and impact on conservation by sharing a couple of real-world examples of how the data has been used for various efforts, including local success stories right here in our community. I’ll then walk you through how to manage your account, create checklists, select and create locations, how to record and document species, and submit your observations. The presentation will focus on the web version of the eBird software, as understanding the web version is foundational to using the mobile app in the field. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers after the presentation.

About the field trip:
All are welcome to join the guided field trip at University of North Florida’s Robert W. Loftin nature trails on Saturday, September 19th beginning at 8AM, and those with the Android or iOS “BirdLog” or eBird apps can practice their entry skills in the field and get hands-on help when needed. These trails around Lake Onieda at UNF are named after Dr. Loftin (1938-1993), esteemed local professor, ornithologist, and conservationist, and provide easy walking access to a variety of habitats including pine flatwoods, cypress swamp, and sandhill. We will be visiting at a perfect time of year to observe migrant warblers, tanagers, and grosbeaks, in addition to the more common resident species like Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Pied-billed Grebe, and Anhinga.

eBird Workshop – Intermediate & Advanced Users
Wednesday, October 7, 2015, at Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. No fee.

About the workshop:
This second workshop in the series is designed to build on the first, but is also an appropriate place for experienced eBirders to jump into the program. I will go into more detail around reporting sub-specific forms, rare birds, how to run reports and use the various alerting and other features to improve your own birding. I’ll also cover the data quality and review process, the importance of writing descriptive comments and tips on how to do so, and also give you a look “behind the curtain” at the filters and review queue process. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers after the presentation, and if you have specific questions or suggested areas you’d like covered, please send them in advance to me at kedailey@yahoo.com so they can be included in the presentation.

About the field trip:
Join me in Clay County at the Bayard Conservation Area for a guided field trip on Saturday, October 10th, beginning at 8AM, and practice your eBird entry skills in real time via your mobile app. Bayard’s mixed habitat and proximity to the St. Johns River will allow us to observe and record a great variety of bird species including migrant songbirds, waders, raptors, woodpeckers, and owls. This trip coincides with peak thrush migration, so species like Veery, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrush are possible. Other target species include Eastern Wood-Pewee and Bachman’s Sparrow.

eBird Workshop – Hands-on Historical Loading
Wednesday, November 11, 2015, at Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens. No fee.

About the workshop:
This third and final workshop in the series is designed to assist eBird users with uploading and submitting their historical records. Many birdwatchers have years’ worth of data in various notes – in notebooks, sticky pads, checklists, emails, scribbled in the back of a field guide, etc., and the thought of getting all that information into eBird can be intimidating and overwhelming. It isn’t easy, but it’s also not as difficult or time consuming as most people think, and the importance of getting historical data into eBird cannot be overstated. Join me for an interactive, hands-on workshop to get your records entered. If possible, please email ahead of time to express your interest and discuss with me how you can be best prepared for the workshop – a little homework ahead of time is preferred, but is not required. Contact me at kedailey@yahoo.com.

About the field trip:
Cary State Forest is a tragically under-birded area that splits Nassau and Duval County. Join me at 730AM at Cary State Forest’s main entrance off US301 in Nassau County on Saturday, November 14, 2015. We will spend the majority of the morning in the Nassau County side looking for woodpeckers, Northern Bobwhite, owls, sparrows, and other land birds. This forest is also one of the premier places in Northeast Florida to observe Fox Squirrel.

Thrushes

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.