On August 25, 2017, Dave and I made a planned visit to Dayson Basin to do a shorebird and waterfowl survey. This is the perfect time of year to see something like a Wilson’s Phalarope there, and possibly a pseudo-rarity like an Upland or Buff-breasted Sandpiper (it’s a little early yet for White-rumped or Baird’s). We admittedly still had Martin’s August 8th Ruff in the back of our mind as well.
We started at the northwest end and at our first stop were amazed at the numbers of dowitchers and Lesser Yellowlegs – literally hundreds of each. At our second stop we came across a mixed group of dowitchers and a couple dozen Stilt Sandpipers. Stilt Sandpipers are still very uncommon in Northeast Florida due to lack of accessible habitat, but I’ve seen them now on six occasions this year nonetheless (twice at Spoonbill Pond and four times in the Basin).
Our third stop along the north berm produced about 10 American Avocets and a handful of Black-necked Stilts.
Our fourth stop was highlighted by dozens of Roseate Spoonbills and a good mix of shorebirds. As I was scanning about 150 yards out, a large pale shorebird caught my eye…smallish head, sloppy tertials, and huge strong shoulders…damn, it looked like a Ruff! We both got our scopes on it and began taking some distant photos – for sure, it was a Ruff, and based on plumage we think it’s a different one than Martin’s just a couple weeks ago.
This is the 5th Duval County record of Ruff, and 4th in this location; the only verifiable record here outside the Basin was a bird I found at Spoonbill Pond on 3 May 2016 and confirmed with Dave and Graham on 5 May; that bird stayed until 8 May.
Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.” A county designation (in italics) accompanies the first-time listing of each site in this report.
The precipitous decline of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks continued again this summer; a few years ago one would be able to see dozens at the Lem Turner Spray Fields where they breed, but this summer the high count was just 7 birds there observed 17 June. The young male Common Eider first recorded on 6 May at Huguenot Memorial Park continued through the end of the summer season; it was most often reported from behind a residence on Heckscher Drive about half a mile or more further up river from the ferry slip. Red-breasted Mergansers are scarce in summer, and just a few singles were observed along the St. Johns River from Huguenot to Helen Cooper Floyd park through 20 June.
On 11 June I found a single Great Shearwater close to shore at Huguenot along the northern end of the park’s ocean side. The Shearwater was floating just offshore and actually came in to rest on the beach for a few minutes before flying back out just past the breakers. I was able to alert a few local birders who all made it up there in time to see it. Great Shearwaters are only seen from shore here about once every five years, so this was a nice county bird for several.
Least Bitterns are secretive and localized at places like Imeson Center and Hanna Park; the summer’s only report came from the latter location on 5 June. I checked Imeson several times during the season for evidence of breeding and was unable to detect any Bitterns there (although I recorded one there in spring).
Five Glossy Ibis were recorded at Lem Turner on 25 June, and Marie and I found a single one at M&M Dairy on 2 July. Both properties are unkempt, overgrown, and not in favorable condition for any of the migrant shorebirds or waterfowl we’ve enjoyed there in the past.
A rare-in-county dark morph Short-tailed Hawk was photographed over Westside Industrial Park on 25 June.
Limpkin numbers at Westside Industrial Park are also way down this year, with just a few juveniles detected during the breeding season. Construction continues at a heavy clip in some areas of the park, which may have contributed to lower numbers, or perhaps frequent rains and higher water levels affected the species. On 11 June a single Limpkin was recorded at Pope Duval FMA off Beaver Street, marking a new location in the county for them.
At least two pairs of American Oystercatchers frequented Huguenot throughout the summer, but evidently did not fledge any chicks. Oystercatchers did breed successfully in Nassau Sound/Big Bird Island and were subsequently banded.
A single Marbled Godwit was recorded at Huguenot Memorial Park 8 July and was not relocated the following day. Many of the Godwit reports from this location in recent years have been “one day wonders”, as they favor Big Bird Island in Nassau Sound some few miles north of Huguenot. I believe this to be a direct effect of the management plan at Huguenot that includes letting the mudflats in the lagoon regenerate with too much vegetation, thus restricting the foraging opportunities for large shorebirds.
I recorded the county’s only summer Stilt Sandpiper at Big Talbot Island’s Spoonbill Pond on 28 July despite the water level being incredibly high there, with little exposed mudflats. Nine Pectoral Sandpipers were reported from Westside Industrial Park on 30 July but unfortunately not photographed.
The only report of Gull-billed Tern this summer was one I recorded at Huguenot on 18 June. These terns are (yet another) breeding species that has been in serious decline locally due to loss of habitat, overdevelopment, or human disturbance.
The “June Challenge” has a little benefit I suppose; it motivated a local participant to check Seaton Creek Historic Preserve for continued presence of Acadian Flycatcher and one was indeed recorded there 3 June. They’ve been verified there each summer now since Marie and I first recorded their presence in 2014.
I recorded a Gray Kingbird at Huguenot’s pay station 20 June, and perhaps the same bird was recorded intermittently in the camp ground area through 18 July. They breed across the river at Mayport NAS and stray over to Huguenot in mid-summer each year.
A Purple Martin roost in downtown Jacksonville caused a bit of a local sensation, where up to an estimated 25,000 birds would roost in a group of trees along Hogan Street next to the Jacksonville Landing. A local bird club pushed the event rather heavily in the local news and social media, which unfortunately attracted drone hobbyists that proceeded to fly their drones through the mass of swirling Martins on several evenings. It’s always a delicate balance when deciding when to publicize a notable wildlife “event” versus keeping it a little more “secret”. The location of breeding birds is an obvious example, but massive communal roosts or staging areas for long distance migrants should be considered as well.
Louisiana Waterthrushes are perhaps the earliest fall migrant and I search for them beginning around the fourth of July each year. This year I recorded two on Fort George Island on 23 July and had another one there 28 July. One other birder chased them around 28-29 July but otherwise there were no other reports of the bird.
A Chipping Sparrow at Pine Lakes along north Main Street on 11 June was notable but unaccompanied by a photo.