Eastport is Wasted

On Saturday, April 13th, I visited Eastport Wastelands for the first time in a number of months. They’ve been clearing the north side of the property for some time now (obliterating it is more like it), and now they’ve begun the south end of the property as well.

Eastport Wastelands. Jacksonville,  FL
Eastport Wastelands. 13 April 2019.

The photo above depicts what used to be very dense scrub / Florida sandhill habitat. Off to the left, you can see the low lying swamp that is home to many nesting waders, Wood Ducks, Orchard Orioles, and even Purple Gallinule.

Eastport Wastelands. Jacksonville,  FL.
Eastport Wastelands Swamp. 13 April 2019.

The shot above is a better view of the swamp, which on this visit had a singing Orchard Oriole, many Red-winged Blackbirds defending territory, a nesting Green Heron, and no less than six Anhingas on nests. I’m not sure what they have planned here, but if it’s an extension of the work they’ve done on the other side of the property, they’ll be digging out all this dirt to sell it off in the near future. There is no telling what they did to the gopher tortoises throughout this area but I suspect they just plowed them over and buried them.

On a lighter note, I also visited Huguenot Memorial Park that day, where I enjoyed very active Wilson’s Plovers, a couple Whimbrel, and several Willet.

Wilson's Plover. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, FL
Wilson’s Plover. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

The Willet (an “Eastern”subspecies) was flying around high in the air in wide, sweeping circles, constantly calling and chittering. It is quite a courtship display if you’ve never had occasion to see it.

(Eastern) Willet. Display / Courtship flight. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, FL
(Eastern) Willet. Courtship display. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

If you bird at Huguenot, you know how you can often see aircraft from NAS Mayport. I saw these two helicopters coming and jacked up the shutter speed to capture a couple of images. Now one might wonder why they insist on flying at 200 feet above a known gull and shorebird nesting colony, but I digress.

NAS Mayport - (Black Tail) USN Helicopter
“Black-tailed Helicopter”. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

Notice the black tail on the helicopter above; the one below has a red tail. I couldn’t find the “Red-tailed”, nor the “Black-tailed” form on my eBird checklist, so left them both off.

NAS Mayport - (Red Tail) USN Helicopter
The rare “Red-tailed Helo”. Huguenot Memorial Park. 13 Apr 2019.

Heritage River Road Wetlands.

This morning I visited Heritage River Road “Wetlands”, which is off Heckscher Drive in Jacksonville’s northside. The area used to be an overgrown dredge disposal site, but in the last couple years the government has been turning it back into a coastal salt marsh as part of the mitigation plan for building out the “little jetties” in the St. Johns River.

St. Johns River from Heritage River Road. Jacksonville,  FL.
St. Johns River. View from Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

On the south side of the road, you can access the beaches along the St. Johns River directly, where you are treated to views like the one above. Notice the large Dames Point Bridge in the distance. Depending on the time of year, scan the river here for gulls, terns, pelicans, loons, and ducks. Today didn’t produce much on this side of the road, other than a handful of Red-breasted Mergansers, Laughing Gulls, and a few Brown Pelicans. I did photograph this (yellow-eyed) Boat-tailed Grackle here. If you haven’t seen my species account on Boat-taileds, I’ll quickly reiterate that we get the “yellow-eyed” subspecies here in Duval County as our predominant race. This form becomes much rarer in St. Johns County and further south, where their range quickly ends and all you’ll find are the ‘dark-eyed’ ones.

Boat-tailed Grackle (Yellow-eyed). Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL
Boat-tailed Grackle. 5 Apr 2019.

I birded along the road all the way down to Carlucci Boat Ramp (which is still closed from the storms), and captured this Wood Stork image from a pretty close distance.

Wood Stork. Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL.
Wood Stork. Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

The wetlands host a number of shorebirds and waders, and in spring the place usually has Least Terns and the occasional Gull-billed Tern (I didn’t see either today).

Heritage River Road Wetlands. Jacksonville,  FL.
Heritage River Road Wetlands. 7 Apr 2019.

I did collect some images of courting Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, Common Ground-Dove, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. This pair of Mottled Ducks was pretty cooperative as well.

Mottle Ducks. Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL
Mottled Ducks. Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

Shorebird-wise I tallied 11 species without a scope. There very well could have been Semipalmated Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, and maybe even a Stilt Sandpiper or two, but this morning was mostly about walking with the camera and not scoping the scattered flocks.

Lesser Yellowlegs. Heritage River Road. Jacksonville, FL.
Lesser Yellowlegs. Heritage River Road. 7 Apr 2019.

Heritage River Road is free, and while there is no official access (technically it’s probably trespassing to enter the property), it can be quite a relaxing and rewarding birding outing. This morning I recorded just over 50 species from this little patch.

Stilt Sandpiper and 80+ in Dayson Basin!

I’ve written a few times about “Getting to 70“, and today I tallied over 70 species on a single checklist at a single location in Duval County for the TENTH time. Not only did we (a group of 4 of us) get to 70 – we accomplished something that has only been done in northeast Florida history one other time – break the 80 mark!! (Diane Reed and I did that together on 15 May 2016 at Spoonbill Pond).

It rained (rather heavily) overnight and was spitting rain as we arrived at the Palms Fish Camp at 0715 to begin the bird survey at 0730. The rain quickly subsided as we made our first of many stops along the berm.

Dayson Basin. Little Marsh Island. Jacksonville FL
Dayson Basin. 5 Apr 2019

This site is restricted access and is not open to the public, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but in summary we had 8 species of waterfowl and 15 species of shorebird, including the county’s first verifiable Stilt Sandpiper in 2019.

Stilt Sandpiper. Dayson Basin. Jacksonville, Florida. 5 Apr 2019

We also had three American Avocets, including one of the extremely rare “Allaire” sub-species (Allaire’s Avocet).

American Avocets. Dayson Basin. 5 April 2019. Jacksonville, Florida

We had three “heard only” species that were particularly notable: Sora (4), American Woodcock (!), and two Sedge Wrens just going nuts.

Since I know it’s killing you, here are the ten times I’ve broken 70 on a single visit in Duval County:

25 Mar 2017 – Spoonbill Pond (74)

27 Nov 2016 – Spoonbill Pond (70)

26 Nov 2016 – Eastport Wastelands (76)

15 May 2016 – Spoonbill Pond (84)

28 Feb 2016 – Ribault Monument (70)

12 Dec 2015 – Spoonbill Pond (70)

17 Oct 2015 – Reddie Point (71)

7 Apr 2017 – Dayson Basin (71)

18 Mar 2018 – Spoonbill Pond (71)

5 Apr 2019 – Dayson Basin (80)