Filling Gaps

It seems like every year many of us set new birding goals and some fun ones the last couple years for me included the 12 Day Big Year, “discovering” Eastport Wastelands, and getting 70+ species checklists. eBird has a great article this month about setting new personal challenges for 2017, and one thing they suggested is using the eBird bar charts to set goals or fill gaps. I took a quick peek at Duval County’s all-time bar charts and think there are several “easy” gaps to fill along with some stretch goal challenges.For example, how do we not have Sora recorded at all for two weeks spanning January and February? 

I’ll note the target species and weeks below, and encourage you to use the Comments feature on this entry to  brag about filling in these important holes in our County’s coverage. I’ll try to do a post here to include the targets for each of the four seasons in 2017.

The following species do not exist in eBird for Duval County in the weeks noted; those marked with ^ should be slam dunks, those marked with * are stretch goals:

Week two: Sandhill Crane

Week three: American Black Duck^, Common Goldeneye^

Week four: Common Goldeneye^, Sora^, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Prairie Warbler, Bachman’s Sparrow

Week one: Common Goldeneye, Northern Bobwhite, American Bittern, Glossy Ibis*, Sora^, American Avocet^, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Parula*, Prairie Warbler, Bachman’s Sparrow

Week two: Snow Goose*, Common Goldeneye, American Bittern, Parasitic Jaeger*, Sandwich Tern, Hairy Woodpecker*, Prairie Warbler, Bachman’s Sparrow

Week three: Common Goldeneye, Northern Bobwhite, Red-throated Loon, American Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Swallow-tailed Kite*, Long-billed Dowitcher

Week four: Common Goldeneye,* American Bittern, Stilt Sandpiper*, Pectoral Sandpiper*, Eastern Whip-poor-will*, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Barn Swallow*, Golden-crowned Kinglet*, Nelson’s Sparrow, Field Sparrow

Western Duval Specialties

This morning I met Dave Foster at Perdue Pond Wildlife Area for a quick check for the Canvasback (wasn’t there), and we decided to spend the first wintery day this season birding the western part of the county to pick up the specialty species found there. We made it to Westside Industrial Park by 8:40AM and  quickly found 3 Limpkins in various areas, this one (below) in an odd location near a cattle grate.

Limpkin. Westside Industrial Park.

It was really pretty frigid out there with wind chills in the low 40’s or high 30’s, and the birding was pretty tough. As we observed the Limpkin (above), a Merlin came swooping in and stirred up a couple hundred European Starlings and Rock Pigeons. Dave then took me over on Forshee to look for the Rusty Blackbirds that have been reported there a couple times the last few weeks. We found them in the flooded hardwood swamp with a large mixed flock of American Robin, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackles.

After leaving Westside Industrial, we headed to New World Avenue where we were devastated and completely shocked to see the “Waterworks Pool” turned seemingly overnight into a future FedEx warehouse.  I can not believe we continue to allow urban sprawl to literally fill in natural freshwater wetlands like this. This large corner parcel was the first and only documented breeding location – ever – for Sandhill Crane in Duval County, and in just the last couple years was host to 85 species of birds, including 12 species of migrant shorebirds. As I sit here writing this, I’m still a bit in shock over the continued destruction of important habitat like this in favor of more and more warehouses.

Discouraged but not defeated, Dave and I went about .5 mile down the road to the “Sora Spot” and quickly recorded three Sora calling from the vegetation. In case you’re wondering what prime Sora habitat looks like, it’s this: 

We also observed a handful of Wilson’s Snipe, a Northern Flicker, and a few other species before finding a pair of Sandhill Cranes along the powerline cut in the back of the field. The photo in the eBird checklist linked above looks a little like the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film, but that’s because Dave and I both left our cameras in the car and only had our cellphones with us. As I mentioned on the site before, this is the premier spot in Duval County to find the cranes (along New World Avenue), and it’s also the very best spot to reliably find Sora in winter.

Trying to find beauty amongst the man-made devastation.

On the way home, I stopped off along Heckscher Drive where I recorded the continuing Common Goldeneye; another magnificent species that continues to delight here this winter.

Whipper Wonderland

Happy new year! One of my new year’s traditions is to begin the year with at least 100 species on January 1st, so yesterday I set out before dawn to Fort George Island where a calling Eastern Screech-Owl was my first species for 2017. I usually do a series of short stationary counts around the island when owling, and by my third stop which was outside the Kingsley Plantation entrance I was shocked to have an Eastern Whip-poor-will fly right past me! Two stops later down Palmetto Road, and I was treated to at least two fairly vocal Whips! The species is not unheard of here in winter, but is significantly rare this time of year, and seldom in partial song like that. What an astounding way to begin the year!

At dawn I met up with Dave, Jeff G, and Candice at Perdue Pond Wildlife Area to begin our day in earnest, and we had a great mix of waterfowl there to include Redhead, American Wigeon, Gadwall, and several American Black Ducks. We swung by New Berlin Elementary and Sheffield Regional Park next, and before 8AM we already had 14 species of waterfowl on our list. We headed up to Black Hammock Island to try for the three species of marsh sparrows and actually dipped on all three! A cooperative Sedge Wren there made the effort worthwhile.

We arrived at Eastport Wastelands at 9:15AM where the group was successful in getting the White-crowned and Vesper Sparrows, but it wasn’t easy. I think the day was actually too nice – something like high 60’s and clear; I’ve always had better luck with sparrows in fouler weather conditions. Dave departed the group after Eastport, but we continued on to the Common Goldeneye Stakeout off Heckscher and then Imeson Center, followed by another stop at Sheffield for the American Pipit and Buffleheads.

It was little past lunchtime by then, so we split up and I ramped back up later in the afternoon with 7 American Avocets in the White Shell Bay area and a stop at Spoonbill Pond for various waterbirds. Another observer reported Long-billed Dowitchers mixed in with Short-billeds there earlier in the day, and I’m compelled to mention that making that distinction at that location without the birds vocalizing is a difficult proposition and shouldn’t be done just for the sake of ticking two species on a “big day”. It’s much better to use the eBird “slash combo” of Long/Short-billed Dowitcher and live to fight another day.

Sun setting on the first day of the new year. Cheers!

I finished my day at Fort George Inlet doing a seawatch and scanning Huguenot Memorial Park from the bridge. On the day I finished with a fairly meager 107 species (Marie and I got 124 last year with less effort), but considering I didn’t go west of I-95 or even across the bridge to south or west Jacksonville I’ll say it was a pretty decent total.  It was great to do some birding with Jeff again and finally getting to meet Candice!