Rusty Blackbirds. M&M Dairy.

M&M Dairy has been an interesting place to bird again this winter, so I’ve spent a bit of time out there every weekend or so. I wrote about it recently, but some interesting birds I’ve found there since December include Western Kingbird(s) and a pair of Grasshopper Sparrows. On January 20th I headed back out there on a very windy and chilly morning and tallied a nice list of around 36 species.

The highlight for this visit was a check of the swampy area at Port Jacksonville Parkway and New Berlin Road. The swamp seems to be dying, and I haven’t seen Wood Duck in there for a long time now, but I did tally at least three Rusty Blackbirds. Roger and I first “discovered” this spot for Rusties about twelve years ago and it’s been fairly reliable each winter since then.

Red-bellied Woodpecker. M&M Dairy
Red-bellied Woodpecker. 20 Jan 2019. M&M Dairy.

What is concerning is the huge swath of forest that has been cleared behind this swamp, where a developer is putting in a neighborhood of hundreds upon hundreds of homes…the development will span New Berlin and Alta Roads and the deforestation there will certainly impact the habitat these blackbirds and many other species have relied upon.

As always, I’m compelled to ask birders to consider not using playback to call the Rusty Blackbirds in…with patience, it is really not necessary as the birds will come into easy view.

Fox Sparrow! Seaton Creek Historic Preserve

I was struggling Saturday night (the 12th of January) in deciding where I wanted to go birding the next morning. It’s so hard to not bird Huguenot in the winter months but I felt really in the mood for going on a prolonged walk in the woods. I decided on Seaton Creek Historic Preserve off Pecan Park Road, thinking I could turn up a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, or something somewhat interesting. (see my 2014 article on this location).

Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. Jacksonville,  FL.
Marsh overlook, Houston Creek Trail intersection. Seaton Creek Historic Preserve

I got to Seaton just before 8AM on Sunday, January 13th, and headed down the Main Trail, staying “right” as the trail meandered past several other intersections. I walked all the way to the back corner, where I was treated to the picturesque scene in the photo above. From that point, you can pick the Houston Creek Trail back up, and so that’s what I did – knowing it’d take me into a hardwood hammock and out of the pines.

I passed the “Acadian spot” and finally saw a flurry of activity ahead of me in the palmettos. It’d been a slow day to that point and I was eager to find my first feeding flock of the morning. I got my bins on the commotion, and couldn’t believe what I was looking at! A Fox Sparrow!!

Fox Sparrow. Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. Jacksonville, FL 13 Jan 2019.

The bird above is the first one I saw in the bins, and it sat on that branch long enough for me to take a couple shots, then realize my settings were still for bright sun on the open trails. I quickly fiddled with the ISO and shutter and managed at least the shot above. Notice the deep, bold reddish streaking on the breast of this bird, as it differentiates it from the second bird below.

Fox Sparrow. Seaton Creek. Jacksonville, FL. 13 Jan 2019

As that bird moved further away, a second Fox Sparrow popped up and sat on that branch for five minutes or more. They’re not depicted here, but the bird turned around twice, allowing me to get nice shots of the back / dorsal view and all the relevant field marks. 🙂 As this bird sat there, the first bird sat a little further back and did the “smack” calls that can be found on the Sibley app.

Fox Sparrow habitat. Houston Creek Trail, Seaton Creek Historic Preserve

The picture above is the habitat these two birds were in, which is not exactly what I would’ve expected for them.

I’ve been waiting a long time to see this species in Duval County, and have purposefully searched for them each winter in the cypress domes of Pumpkin Hill, Cedar Creek, and other brushy habitat on the westside. Based on all the research I’ve done for Duval, there are a handful of scattered reports dating back decades, but most are from Christmas Bird Counts…which I find of highly questionable authenticity. For example, one year there were 25(!) Fox Sparrows on one CBC. There are two or three that I actually have faith in based on the observers (Clark, Rowan, and Hintermister), the most recent of which comes from 2002.

My hot streak continues!

Thus far in January…

The Snow Goose that Marie and I found the last week of December attracted quite a bit of attention the first week of January, and I hate to think how much gas was consumed by everyone driving to the northside of Jacksonville for no other reason than to tick a year bird. Regardless, that bird lingered through at least the first week of the month, as did other notable rarities like the Smooth-billed Ani at Little Talbot Island State Park (present since December 3rd), the Red-necked Grebe (present since January 1st), and the Purple Sandpipers at Huguenot (present since early December).

The Western Kingbirds I found around Christmas stayed at M&M Dairy, but other than that no terribly unusual birds have been recorded yet in January. Roseate Spoonbills are pretty uncommon in winter and can be hard to find, but there have been a small group hanging out on the pond in my neighborhood.

This morning I birded Huguenot Memorial Park for several hours and saw pretty much everything you’d expect there this time of year except a Piping Plover or the Oystercatchers. They’re around, but I just missed them. The Purple Sandpiper(s) were not present at 8AM (the tide was out), but when I checked the area around the jetties around 11AM, I found one among the Turnstones.

Purple Sandpiper. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019.

While I was looking at the Red-necked Grebe, I met Tom R. and had a pleasant conversation. We’ve known of each other through email and such over the years, but had never met in person. Nice to make the connection.

Red-necked Grebe. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019

I drove up the beach and around the north end of the park, and would definitely recommend four wheel drive out there – the sand is soft and powdery. Groups of shorebirds were roosting on the mudflat, including a handful of Wilson’s Plovers. I snapped this Black-bellied Plover as it cruised by the truck.

Black-bellied Plover. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019.

On the way back in, I parked at the nature center and walked up family beach, where I met another pair of familiar names – Janet and Gary L. from Orlando. Again, nice to make the personal connection and put faces to names. The grebe was showing pretty well at that point.

Ring-billed Gull. Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Jan 2019.

The new road construction is progressing pretty well through the park, and they’ve cut the path right through the dunes where it’ll run “behind” the playground. I checked the small patch of remaining scrub there and had a number of birds including two White-crowned Sparrows, Gray Catbirds, Swamp and Song Sparrows, and Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers. This new path for the road may actually open up a couple new birding options at Huguenot, as it will give us a chance to get closer to the interior coastal scrub.

Red-necked Grebe at Huguenot Memorial Park

Today I was able to get very good looks at a Red-necked Grebe at Huguenot Memorial Park. The bird was often difficult to see due to a combination of wind, chop, and distance, and it wouldn’t sit still for very long most of the time. It did come in close enough to provide great scope views and allowed for a short video grab.

Red-necked Grebe. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, FL. 5 Jan 2019.
Red-necked Grebe. Huguenot Memorial Park. 5 Jan 2019.

This bird is the first Duval County record of the species, and (pending FOSRC acceptance), would be the first in Florida since Pranty’s Hudson Beach Park bird on 13 November 2016. It would be the fifth accepted state record (along with three more accepted sight-only reports). (Kratter, 2018).

It’s another new county bird, putting me at 312 in Duval.

Reference:

Kratter, A. (2018). Twenty-seventh report of the Florida ornithological society records committee: 2016-2017. Florida Field Naturalist, 46(4): 96-117.