Well, we did pretty well plugging many gaps in January and February, and the Spring Season is almost upon us! The following are species not recorded in eBird in the weeks noted – now let’s go out and get them! Those marked with ^ should be slam dunks, those marked with * are stretch goals. I put in italics the best place to look for certain species.
King Rail, Common Nighthawk, Sedge Wren
We’ve been having a series of one gorgeous weather weekend after another, and it’s difficult for me to go anywhere other than Spoonbill Pond right now as a result (today’s checklist here). This morning I arrived just before 8AM (after doing a series of point counts around Fort George Island for nightjars and owls), and the tide was high…perfect conditions for the sparrows that inhabit the rocks and marsh grass around the boat ramp. It was a little buggy (no-see-ums), but the sparrows showed well – particularly the Seasides and Nelson’s. I counted at least 7 Seasides, some of which were singing. Most folks don’t realize they are breeders here, while the Nelson’s and Saltmarsh will very soon depart for the summer.
After observing the sparrows, I headed to the beach side first where just beyond the pond the coastal woods were bustling with singing and chattering land birds: Carolina Chickadees, White-eyed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, and this male Pileated Woodpecker.
I worked my way back along the beach and onto the boardwalk, noticing that Sanderlings were conspicuously absent today. The pond held 14 species of shorebirds (maybe 15 if a Long-billed Dowitcher was indeed mixed in, which is likely), including the recently arrived Black-necked Stilts. I also recorded a pair of American Oystercatchers that have been hanging around the area now for a few weeks. One is banded – with the exact same band – on both legs just above the knee. I will never understand the necessity of that and find it pretty disgusting. There is something about bird banding I just don’t get and will refrain from saying any more about it (for now) .
In all, another pleasant and energizing outing after a long and stressful workweek.
Trails: Short wooded trails wind throughout the small park including into a swampy understory on a elevated wooden boardwalk.
Facilities: There are a couple of benches and the restrooms are a pretty good little walk from the main parking lot (see map below).
The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Bring bug spray and lock your vehicle. Use the restroom at a gas station on US1 or somewhere before heading here, as the facilities are a ways from the parking lot here.
Target Species: Eastern Meadowlark
Camp Milton is an important historic civil war site where three miles of earth fortifications were built. An one point over 8,000 Confederate troops inhabited the area as a defense against the Union army. It is now a peaceful and actually quite beautiful park with interpretive exhibits and meandering pathways.
I’ve visited this park on a number of occasions and have found it to be disturbing absent of birds, particularly in the leafy understory along the creek. This area should be teeming with birds but it just isn’t. The best I can say is that it’s a good area to look for Eastern Meadowlark, but otherwise the birding is slow and common species rule the day. You’ll be likely to see or hear Carolina Wren, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied, Downy, and Pileated Woodpeckers.
I would honestly not recommend this park as a birding destination because embodies a bad combination – it is out of the way from any other nearby hotspots and doesn’t have many birds.
Map to Ribault Monument Parking: Free; no entrance fee. There are about 25 paved parking places including at least one handicap space. The park is open from 9:00AM to 4:45PM daily.
Trails: None. There is a short handicap boardwalk ramp that winds from the parking lot to the overlook. It’s less that 50 yards long but does cut through a small patch of great coastal hardwood hammock.
Facilities: None. There are a few places to sit (pictured below).
The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Patience is a virtue here. It provides a stunning view overlooking the St. Johns River and Timucuan Preserve. On a clear day you can see north to Big Talbot Island.
Target Species: American White Pelican, American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Roseate Spoonbill, Yellow-throated Warbler.
The Ribault Monument is part of the National Park Service and commemorates the landing of Jean Ribault in the area. It sits atop St. Johns Bluff and is one of the highest natural places in Northeast Florida. It is an extremely small place, consisting literally of the parking lot, a set of concrete steps, and an area roughly the size of someone’s back porch atop the bluff.
Like I mentioned before, patience is a virtue here. Set up your scope like I’ve pictured above and just relax. Patience and a stationary count will certainly reward your soul. The view is gorgeous, there is considerable shade, and you will see a lot of birds. I’ve found that most other visitors that find their way to this hidden gem are quite kind and usually interested in what you’re doing. Take the time to make someone a birder!
Be sure to scan the spoil area to the bottom right of the overlook; this is a great location to get hard-to-find species like Long-billed Dowitcher, American Avocet, and Green-winged Teal. You can also make out a variety of shorebirds, which vary depending on the season and state of the spoil (it’s often being worked and changing shape). Listen for songbirds in season; Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, Painted Bunting, White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos can be quite noticeable and in full song in spring and summer. In winter, listen for Belted Kingfisher and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Otherwise, just scan the sky, St. Johns River, and in the distance the saltmarshes of the Timucuan Preserve. The two lane road you will see across the river is Heckscher Drive/A1A. If you visit during low tide, it will increase your odds of seeing waders and shorebirds in the river and the saltmarsh. In summer, Roseate Spoonbill should be an easy find and will stand out in your scope.
Summary of the Winter Season
1 Dec 2016– 28 Feb 2017
Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.”
This winter season was a particularly mild, even warm, one where we saw most residential lawns never go dormant, an 80F Christmas day, and the continued after-effects of Hurricane Matthew that kept Huguenot Memorial Park closed through 1 February. We also lost an important inland freshwater marsh and migrant shorebird stop over when Waterworks Pool was filled in for yet another warehouse and Eastport Wastelands is now being cleared and covered in loose gravel in the places they haven’t started harvesting the soil to export elsewhere.
Twenty-six species of waterfowl were reported in the county during the winter season, which was a respectable number considering Huguenot Memorial Park was closed most of the winter (thus limiting the ability to find an Eider or many Scoters). After a banner winter last year, there was only a single Snow Goose record from the westside of town off Blanding Boulevard near the back of Ringhaver Park. The goose favored a residential pond from 18-25 February. Notable ducks included up to four American Black Ducks at Perdue Pond Wildlife Area through the season, and a Canvasback was recorded there from 1 January through 28 February. The season’s only Greater Scaup were reported from the “recharge ponds” at Eastport Wastelands during two December visits. A Common Goldeneye was recorded at a small pond right off Heckscher Drive on 23 December where it remained until it was seemingly run over by a vehicle on 4 February. The specimen was collected and it will be taken to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
This winter is perhaps the only in recent decades where Red-throated Loon was not observed; this is perhaps as much a result of no access to Huguenot Memorial Park as an indicator of how scarce the species was this season, but I did several seawatches from Little Talbot Island State Park particularly targeting them. Reports of Common Loon and Horned Grebe were similarly down based on previous years.
There were two records of American Bittern; one at Ringhaver Park on 18 December and another at Little Talbot Island SP 24 December. The Talbot Island bird was observed at length feeding in the open grasses within 8 feet of a busy A1A.
There were just three reports of Reddish Egret, none documented and all reports from very unlikely or unusual locations for the species. Unfortunately these reports will remain unconfirmed. Roseate Spoonbills have been scarce but regular in recent winters, however this season only saw one verifiable report, of a single bird photographed behind Sisters Creek Marina on 18 February.
As a historically late February arrival, the season’s only Swallow-tailed Kite report expectedly came from near the St. Johns County line on 28 February.
Up to three Sora were reliably recorded off New World Avenue throughout January and the first week of February; they were the only reported in Duval this season.
The freshwater marsh called Waterworks Pool off New World Avenue was filled in for another FedEx warehouse; this was one of only two confirmed locations ever for breeding Sandhill Cranes in Duval County’s history. Despite that, two were recorded in a nearby powerline cut 7 January. For the second consecutive winter, one Sandhill was recorded at Mayo Clinic’s campus, this year from 20-24 February.
American Avocet reports were on par, with as many as 24 at White Shell Bay on 21 January. A high count of 16 Piping Plover were reported from Big Bird Island 17 December. Just one report of Purple Sandpiper this season was of two birds at Huguenot on 16 December. Long-billed Dowitchers were regular at Big Talbot Island’s Spoonbill Pond, but observers should use caution since Short-billeds also occur there in a mixed flock.
There was but one good day for observing jaegers this winter; on the 75F morning of 22 January both Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers could be found with a little effort at Little Talbot Island State Park. A single report of Iceland Gull was not photographed on 12 December at Helen Cooper Floyd Park.
Three Eastern Whip-poor-wills on Fort George Island 1 January were an unexpected surprise. The season’s only verifiable Western Kingbird report came from Lakeside Marina 22 December
A single Red-breasted Nuthatch was reported at Cary State Forest’s Monticello Tract 11 February. Two Golden-crowned Kinglets were recorded there 19 February.
A Wood Thrush recorded at the end of the fall season remained at Spoonbill Pond through 3 December, providing a very rare verifiable winter record for anywhere in the entire state.
American Pipits were fairly reliable at Sheffield Regional Park in December and January, and at westside’s Ringhaver Park in January through February.
The season’s only Ovenbird was recorded at Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park 9 December. There were several reports of Northern Parula, including one at Lonnie Wurn Boat Ramp 26 December and another at Westside Industrial Park 2 January. A very rare-in-winter Yellow Warbler was recorded at Westside Industrial Park 8 January, providing the first winter Duval County record. Up to 1,800 Yellow-rumped Warblers at Sheffield Regional Park on 8 January provided quite a spectacle.
Notable sparrows included one previously banded A. n. subvirgatus Nelson’s Sparrow recorded at Big Talbot Island SP’s Sawpit Creek boat ramp on 11 January. Expected sparrows were mostly found in usual locations and in usual numbers, with the exception of White-throated Sparrow whose numbers were way down this year.
As many as two Western Tanagers visited a private residence in Mandarin for at least the third consecutive winter from 11 December to 18 February.
A westoni (dark-eyed) Boat-tailed Grackle was photographed at Huguenot 5 February, providing a rare Duval record of this sub-species.