Whips, Another 70+, and BRANT!

It’s been an interesting week…on Thursday evening (the 15th), Dave and I met at Cedar Point Preserve at 7PM to do some owling and look (technically more like “listen”) for Eastern Whip-poor-wills. We arrived with some light left in the day, so we walked back to where they’ve been doing a construction project using a lot of really heavy equipment. It turns out they’re building either a dock or more likely some sort of bridge over a creek way back on the property. I can’t tell what the neighboring property is, but will keep an eye on the development.

In any case, we had three Whips singing beginning at 7:57PM…March 13-30 is about the only time of the year you’ll hear them in full song, with the week around the 15th being the best. On the way back to the parking lot we picked up 2 Eastern Screech-Owls, a species I still hadn’t ticked yet this year.

On the 17th I birded Huguenot hoping for a Whimbrel or some other new arrival, and was treated to a really underrated species – the “eastern” Willet.

“Eastern” Willet. 17 Mar 2018. Huguenot Memorial Park, Jacksonville Florida.

Most people don’t seem to care about this bird specifically, but that will all change if/when it’s actually split from the ‘western’ Willet. It is a very different looking bird and based on plenty of reading, it’s actually genetically very different as well.

This morning I birded Spoonbill Pond where I tallied over 70 species in a single visit once again. I’ve written about “getting to 70” a few times, and this is now the 9th time I’ve done it in the “modern” birding era…the 5th of those 9 at Spoonbill Pond specifically. It was a beautiful morning and I walked the entire loop of the pond, finding a nesting pair of Great Blue Herons there for the first time.

Great Blue Herons. 17 Mar 2018.

I picked up three year birds at the Pond: Barn Swallow, Purple Martin, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and was amazed at the numbers of shorebirds in what is left of the very dry pond. I was equally amazed at the erosion that’s occurred on the Nassau Sound side of the pond. I hadn’t been there since Hurricane Irma roared through last fall, but that beach is in bad shape.

On the way home, I stopped off at Sister’s Creek Marina to check on the Brant, and found it very close to the back dock, where it preened for about 20 minutes before jumping back into the water.

Brant. 18 Mar 2018. Jacksonville, Florida

Based on my exhaustive research on the birds in Duval County, this is just the third occurrence of the species here, and the first since 1973.

Sparrows at Branan

This morning I decided to head to the western side of Duval County in search of Bachman’s Sparrows. I headed to Branan Field mitigation area, which is my second visit of the year; Dave and I went on a frigid January morning in search of Hairy Woodpeckers (and missed).

This morning it was around 50F when I got there and quickly realized it had been burned (prescribed burn) since my last visit. The place looks great and all the understory is nice and charred. The “eastern” or “yellow” Palm Warblers were in abundance – this is a sub-species that is very loyal to pine forest; most of the Palms we see in our city parks are “western” and much more drab.

The Bachman’s Sparrows were singing throughout the section of the preserve I walked, and since there was no morning fog I finally managed a few decent images.

Bachman’s Sparrow. 4 Mar 2018.

As I neared the side of the property where the landing strip is, I flushed another drab sparrow. A quick sweep of the bins made me think “Grasshopper” and I quickly fired off a few shots.

Grasshopper Sparrow. 4 Mar 2018

This is the 16th Grasshopper Sparrow I’ve ever seen in Duval County, but it’s the second one I’ve found in back-to-back weekends here – in opposite sides of the county. An interesting note about this species – every one I can remember seeing is due to flushing one inadvertently and letting it perch. They seem to think they’re camouflaged, because once they light they tend to just sit there…often in the hunched posture you see. Now, this image isn’t that good but it’s taken with a 500mm lens and I’ve also cropped it. Why? Because I’m not one to encroach on a bird or blast tapes in an attempt to get a better shot.

I’ll make another couple trips to Branan Field this year. I didn’t hear any Bobwhite today, and in April or May it’s a better time for that plus species like Chuck-will’s-widow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak, Great-crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird.