Summary of the Winter Season – 2015-2016

Summary of the Winter Season
1 Dec 2015– 29 Feb 2016
Duval County

Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.” 

The Winter season was a particularly good one for waterfowl, with 27 species noted in the county. Snow Goose were more numerous this season than I can recall in the last two decades and they could be found regularly at places like Perdue Pond Wildlife Area and Lem Turner Spray Fields. On 15 December a Ross’s Goose was recorded keeping company with two Snows on the lawn at University of North Florida; it remained through 10 January and provided just the third county record.

Gadwall and American Wigeon showed up on schedule but in greater numbers than normal, with as many as 25 Gadwall at Perdue Pond and up to 45 Wigeon there. The latter species could also be found in number at Spoonbill Pond. Up to four American Black Ducks at Perdue Pond were the first area records in a number of years; they occurred there from 2 December through 15 February.

The area’s only Canvasback observation also came from Perdue Pond from 11 December through 28 February, with anywhere between one and four reported during that time. Two Surf Scoters on an inland pond at Mayport Naval Air Station’s golf course 16 December was unusual.

It was a good winter for Red-throated Loon, where they were reported through January from most of the coastal overlooks from Big Talbot Island to Hanna Park.

Horned Grebe numbers were down significantly and only seen periodically through the winter.

A Magnificent Frigatebird was observed some 20 miles inland at Lakeside Marina on 18 February.

The winter’s only American Bittern was seen at Taye Brown Regional Park from 10-17 January.

Single Reddish Egrets occurred at Hanna Park’s lake from 26 December through 1 January, at Cedar Point Preserve 27 February, and Huguenot Memorial Park from 5 December through 26 February; a high count of three came from Huguenot on 13 December. Scattered reports of low numbers of Roseate Spoonbill throughout the season remained consistent with recent years.

Sora were scarce again this year, with a just five reports including five birds recorded along New World Avenue on 27 February.

Limpkin remain reliable at Westside Industrial Park, where up to six were noted on 13 February and in lower numbers from 5 December through 27 February.

A lone Black-necked Stilt photographed at Lem Turner Spray Fields on 10 January provided a rare winter record. Sixty-eight American Avocets in White Shell Bay mid-February provided a high count for northern Florida.

Three reports of Purple Sandpiper all came from the jetties at Huguenot on 6 January and 19 February. Three reports of American Woodcock came from Eastport Wastelands (26 December) and Lannie Road on 2 January. A single Red Phalarope was recorded off Mayport 28 December.

This winter was remarkable in that it was the first in a number of years where neither Iceland nor Glaucous Gull was recorded in the county.

White-winged Doves continue to be very uncommon in the county. A pair at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Education Center pleased many from 3 December through 26 February.

On 22 February, Dailey and Clark recorded two Hairy Woodpeckers in Branan Field Mitigation Park, leading to a county-record seven woodpecker species the duo tallied in a single day.

The season’s only Western Kingbird was recorded at Huguenot Memorial Park on 29 December.

Golden-crowned Kinglets were reported more often this season than in the previous 20 winter seasons, with reports from Taye Brown Regional Park on 13 January and Sample Swamp off Starratt Road on 30 January and again on 13 February (photos accompanied both records).

Unusual warblers included an Ovenbird at Camp Milton on 14 January and an American Redstart on 26 December at Cedar Point Preserve. A Wilson’s Warbler visited a private residence in Ortega from 6 December through 14 January.

It was a good season for sparrows, with Grasshopper recorded at Eastport Wastelands from 12 December through 1 January. A Henslow’s Sparrow was recorded at Branan Field Mitigation Park on 14 January and again on 23 February. Saltmarsh, Nelson’s, and Seaside numbers were normal and the best place to observe them continued to be at the end of Shark Road on Black Hammock Island.

A Clay-colored Sparrow was recorded at Little Talbot Island’s south parking area on 9 January, and the Lark Sparrow at Eastport continued from mid-November through the end of the winter season.

There were scattered reports of wintering Summer Tanager, and two Western Tanagers provided a record high count for the county from 27-30 January at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ education center.

A Dickcissel was recorded at Spoonbill Pond on 31 January.

Rusty Blackbirds continued to be best found at the Jacksonville Zoo and M&M Dairy, with observations throughout December and January. Three Purple Finches recorded off I-10 in western Duval County were remarkable and provided the first county record in over ten years. Pine Siskins were scarce this year, with just two reports on 13 and 28 February.

Perdue Pond Wildlife Area

Location: Perdue Pond Wildlife Area is a small parcel of land at the corner of Airport Center Drive E and Perdue Road in north Jacksonville.

Parking: There is a small parking area about half a city block down on the left after turning onto Perdue Road from Airport Center Drive E. It is unpaved but hard packed dirt and grass; there is no apron so wheelchairs are not recommended. Parking is free and there is no admission fee. Hours are 24×7, 365 days per year.

Trails: There is a flat grass pathway circling the pond wide enough for one vehicle to drive on, but it is not recommended that you walk it. This location is renowned for its waterfowl and walking the path will certainly flush the birds.

Facilities: None. There are no facilities or infrastructure of any kind, including any kind of bench.

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: When you park, walk just past the yellow gate in front of you and set up your scope or tripod somewhere between the gate and the small grove of bald cypress right in front of you. The cypress act as a natural blind, and you’ll be able to scan 98% of the pond from this vantage point. There is no need to walk around the edge of the pond.

Target Species: Waterfowl. This location boasts one of the highest concentrations of Canada Goose in Florida, and 22 species of waterfowl have been recorded here in just the last five years. Some of the more uncommon species recorded here include Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Snow Goose, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, and Redhead.

About: Perdue Road pond started as a local retention pond and a local resident arranged for a large quantity of grain to be dropped daily to feed the waterfowl (including resident Swan Geese). This soon attracted more and more waterfowl and got the attention of local birders. David Foster decided to draft a management plan and presented it to the City of Jacksonville, and they actually bought into it. In 2015, it officially became Perdue Pond Wildlife Area and is governed by local city ordinances.  As of 2016, the site has hosted 110 bird species.

Birding Strategy: Perdue Pond Wildlife Area is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day. In winter, it is perhaps the best place in northeast Florida to view waterfowl and is certainly one of the premier places to find difficult species like Northern Pintail, Canvasback, and Green-winged Teal. If you can, plan on arriving around daybreak and be content to stand there for an hour as the birds come and go. It’s quite interesting how some species will arrive for the day while others that roosted overnight will leave just after dawn. A similar event occurs each evening.

This is a small location where you should expect to do primarily a “stationary count”. There is really nowhere to walk and you shouldn’t have to – standing near the parking spaces will yield most of the species you’d see or hear during the visit anyway.

Major Milestone

I wasn’t sure this day would ever come, but I just finished the 415th and final species account. I haven’t tallied up what the actual county’s total is yet, since a few of these accounts are unverifiable or hypothetical – but the number is certainly over 400 species.

I think this has taken me about two years to get to this point, but the hard work is pretty much done. I’ll now begin the process of going back through each of the accounts to check for typos, grammar issues, and to bolster some of the write-ups I got a little lazy on.

Along the way I’ll certainly crank out some Locations write-ups as well and post them here as I do.

I think I’ll go celebrate with a cold beer or two!