duval top 10 – 2019

Last year I summarized a top 10 list for birds I observed in Duval County in 2018, and since it’s once again New Year’s eve, I thought I’d do the same for 2019. I actually considered doing a top 10 for the decade since a new one is upon us, but I quickly realized that was going to be a little too much work given the time I have.

I once again spent a hell of a lot of time traveling this year (25 weeks/trips / 83 flight segments / 113,986 sky miles); consequently, I tallied less than 200 species in the county for the first time in over 15 years. That really doesn’t bother me since I tallied birds in three countries (USA, Costa Rica, and Spain), and in 10 US States (South Dakota, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, Florida, Michigan, New York, Georgia, and Nevada).

Having said that, I managed to find a few cool birds, chase a few more, and add a few more to my all-time county list, which is now at 316 and counting – but not for too much longer, given our plans to move west in the first half of 2020. Enough with the intro, on to the list – but one last reminder – these are birds I was able to observe. Undoubtedly, a significant species worth mentioning (that I didn’t see) is the first county record of Vermilion Flycatcher that Carly found at Imeson Center!

10. Ash-throated Flycatcher. 1 December 2019. This species came in at number 2 on last year’s Top 10 list, mainly because it was a) a new county tick for me, and b) it was a bird Marie and I found at Little Talbot Island SP and was not seen by any others. This year, Dave found one at M&M Dairy in late November, and as the “winter season” started on December 1st, I headed over to relocate it. The great thing is that not only did I find Dave’s bird, but I found and photographed a second at the same spot! Two Ash-throateds is a new record high count for Duval County and actually all of Northeast Florida.

9. Smooth-billed Ani. 1 January 2019. This bird was a “2019 gimme”, as it was found in late 2018 and was fairly reliable at Little Talbot Island State Park for a couple months. After starting new year’s day at Huguenot, I headed over to Talbot to notch this sucker on the 2019 list. This bird lingered through at least mid-March 2019.

8. Glaucous Gull. 23 November 2019. Glaucous Gulls are nearly annual at Huguenot, and I found another on 23 November at Huguenot. I was able to point the bird out to a few other birders that were wandering the park and was actually able to relocate it the next morning, but it was not reported since.

7. Franklin’s Gull. 12 October 2019. I’ve written pretty extensively on the site about how Franklin’s are best found in October, and almost exclusively at Huguenot, and this year was no exception. I went looking for this bird on the 12th of October and found it within a few minutes of arriving. It was the only observation this year of the species in the county.

6. Upland Sandpiper. 31 March 2019. This one was pretty special, as it was the first record of the species in several years in Duval, and was also found at M&M Dairy, which is in dire straits and about to be completely wiped out by development. The icing on the cake? The fact that the “guide” walked right by me, and it – without seeing it, while escorting a client. Doesn’t get much better than that.

5. Surf Scoter. 21 December 2019. I expected this one might land higher on the list, but I just can’t get too excited about seeing a bird of this caliber. Sure, they’re cool, but relatively expected along the Atlantic coast in winter. Having said that, it was the first one I’ve seen in Duval County and was a top “Nemesis bird” for years.

4. Great Cormorant. 12 October 2019. Check out my previous post about this one, but in short, I received a text message that this bird was in the park as I was looking at the Franklin’s Gull noted above. I strolled over to the family beach area and checked it out. Ho hum, Florida review species and new county tick.

3. Hudsonian Godwit. 22 October 2019. This bird was found by an out-of-towner at Spoonbill Pond a few days earlier, and when I got back in town I was able to chase it one evening after work. Very rare species here and another state review species.

2. Red-necked Grebe. 4 January 2019. This bird lingered at Huguenot for a few months and I was able to see it on multiple occasions. I was my second I’ve seen in Florida and obviously a new county tick since it was the first Duval record.

1. Fox Sparrow. 13 January 2019. Much like last year’s top bird (Lapland Longspur), I have been deliberately looking for this species in Duval County for almost two decades. Once considered common, Fox Sparrow is an extremely rare species in Northeast Florida. On this morning, I headed the Seaton Creek Preserve to look for one, and found the target several miles in.

So once again, I somehow tallied 5 new county birds this year (same total as 2018), bringing me to the 316. I can’t imagine getting more than 1 or 2 new ones at this point in a given year, and I really only expect at the most, 1. Happy new year!

316! Surf scoters, Purple sandpiper, Monk Parakeets.

I just finished a rough stretch of travel that had me in four time zones in four weeks with about 24-36 hours at home in between each trip. Good news is I saw a few good birds in Arizona, including loads of Phainopepla in North Scottsdale, and ended up adding 5 new ticks to my Maricopa County list. I did make it back to Jacksonville and will be able to bird locally for a few weeks, so I started this morning at Huguenot Memorial Park where I renewed my annual pass before heading out to the jetties. The surf was a little rough and the light was poor, but after a few minutes I was able to locate a Purple Sandpiper among the Ruddy Turnstones.
Purple Sandpiper (foreground). Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida. 21 Dec 2019.
Purples are considered rare anywhere in Florida, but they can be found near annually at Huguenot in Duval County, Fort Clinch in northern Nassau County, and fairly reliably in Volusia around Ponce Inlet. In the photo above, you can see how the bird would stand out rather quickly when scanning a group of Turnstones. Be careful you’re not looking at a Dunlin, but otherwise it’d be difficult to mix it up with anything else out there. This morning, the tide was out so it required walking all the way out to the end of the sandbar on the south side of the jetties to see this bird; there’s no way you would see it (even with a scope) from the “parking area” at the jetties several hundred yards away. Shortly after seeing the Purple, Marie pointed out a Scoter flying by – I raised the bins, and sure enough it was a Surf Scoter! I’ve been birding at Huguenot routinely for almost 20 years and have never seen this species in Duval County…this makes number 316 on my county list, and takes a huge nemesis bird off the board. I’ve lost count, but I’m talking about roughly 2,500 visits to the park (yes, I go there several times a week on average since it’s so close to home). My next biggest Public Nemesis Number One in the county is either Broad-winged Hawk, Magnificent Frigatebird, or American Golden-Plover, all three of which I “should’ve seen” by now.
Surf Scoter. Huguenot Memorial Park. 21 Dec 2019. ID shot – no white in the wings.
Above and below are a couple images of the Surf Scoter. I didn’t have time to adjust my settings from shooting the Purple Sandpiper to capture this duck in a better fashion, but I am happy with the ID shots…and it’s much easier to see than a bobbing head in rough seas, backlit from the rising sun!
Surf Scoter. Huguenot Memorial Park. Jacksonville, Florida, 21 Dec 2019.
We headed up to the north end of Huguenot and didn’t see much more in terms of birds, but I did notice they have some new signs up around the perimeter of the park.
After leaving Huguenot, I decided to drop by nearby Alimacani Boat Ramp to see the Monk Parakeets everyone’s been chasing. They’re obviously not “countable” birds, but I don’t think I’ve seen any in the county since January 2008 when the colony on Black Hammock Island was extirpated.
Monk Parakeet. Jacksonville, Florida. 21 December 2019.
I took a number of shots and don’t see any indication these two birds are banded, although they’re undoubtedly escapees and not part of an established population.
Monk Parakeet. Jacksonville, Florida. 21 December 2019.
Nonetheless, I will add these birds to the corrupt eBird repository, and am considering hitting PetsMart and the Pecan Park Flea Market later today to submit some more pet birds! 🙂

Ash-throated flycatchers (yes, flycatchers. plural). M&M Dairy

Yesterday morning Dave Foster found an Ash-throated Flycatcher at M&M Dairy. Ash-throated is a very rare species in Duval County…so rare that I finally just found my first in the county last winter. Having said that, this winter seems to be a “good one” for Ash-throated in Northeast Florida, with several observations in Duval, Clay, and St. Johns counties already this fall/winter.

I’ve been in a bit of a rut and mainly going to Huguenot to bird when I’m in town, but this morning I decided M&M would be a nice change of pace and maybe I’d see the Ash-throated. (jump to checklist here). I arrived to even more development at the old dairy and continue to lament that in 5 more years there will be nothing left of habitat here.

New warehouses. M&M Dairy. Wild Turkeys near the culvert.

I saw an Ash-throated fly in over head and set up for a picture, when a SECOND one flew in right behind it! There has never been a report of more than one of the species in NE Florida, so this is a new record high count. My pictures are horrible and I had to adjust them to lighten them up, but here they are for the record; the birds were roughly 10 feet apart so no chance of double counting:

Ash-throated Flycatcher #1. M&M Dairy 1 Dec 2019.
Ash-throated Flycatcher #2. M&M Dairy 1 Dec 2019.

Another nice part of this observation is that while Dave got the Ash-throated yesterday for the Fall Season’s Florida Field Naturalist Field Observations Report, today is the beginning of the winter season, so I’ll be able to include the Ash-throateds in the FFN’s Winter Report as well!

After leaving the flycatcher spot, I saw another local birder parked up on the sidewalk area (again), rather than in one of the abundant parking places. Much like I wrote about in the spring this year – at this same location – he left in a hurry and missed these target birds. In the spring he walked right by an Upland Sandpiper and today the flycatchers. It goes to show you that getting out and actually walking around a hotspot can yield a quite productive day versus pulling over and barely getting out of the car. To each their own.

The walk along Port Jacksonville Parkway was pleasant, with overcast skies and a balmy 68F. I managed some decent shots of an Eastern Phoebe, which is a species that normally gives me fits trying to photograph.

Eastern Phoebe. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

I cropped this picture below rather heavily to show the rarely-seen-in-the-field “whiskers” at the base of the bill.

(Heavily cropped) Eastern Phoebe illustrating whiskers.

It was also a good day for sparrows, with dozens of Vespers about, along with Swamp, Song, Savannah, and Field.

Vesper Sparrows plus a Savannah. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

The Vespers were a little sketchy and didn’t allow me too close, but this Savannah was a little more obliging.

Savannah Sparrow. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

I continued walking down the sidewalk towards Alta Drive, and when I got to the power lines, there was a flurry of activity, including a late Indigo Bunting, Song Sparrows, and several Field Sparrows.

Field Sparrow. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

I finished up with a couple Orange-crowned Warblers.

Orange-crowned Warbler. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

On the way back to the parking lot, I passed by the big pond that is now half-filled in; they’ve literally plowed the dirt into half the existing pond and are filling it in so they can….you guessed it….build another warehouse on top of it.

Filled in pond. M&M Dairy. 1 Dec 2019.

The unmitigated overdevelopment in Jacksonville continues.