It’s almost the end of the year, and I thought I’d reflect back on the top 10 birds I recorded in Duval County this past year. Considering the fact that I spent 120 nights in hotels outside of Florida this year, I feel really good about this list of birds I was fortunate to see and photograph. I’ll preface this list by saying the criteria is birds I was able to photograph – so no Swainson’s Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, or Warbling Vireo on the list. I also much prefer to find birds on my own versus chasing someone else’s, so that affects the order. There are 4 honorable mentions (rather than make a top 14 list, that’s my way of sneaking in 4 more birds. :))
Honorable mention: Grasshopper Sparrow (I found four in three different locations this year, photographed all of them), Western Kingbird (I found one on 23 Dec and two on 30 Dec), Snow Goose (I found two in two locations, one blue and one white), and Purple Sandpiper ( a high count of three on 9 December, photographed).
Without further ado, here is my top 10, in descending order:
10. Western Tanager. 23 Feb 2018. Western Tanagers are pretty much annual in the area each winter, most often coming to feeders. That is the case here, where I was invited over to view one coming to a feeder in Mandarin. It was a spectacular bird and would be higher on the list but for two reasons – I didn’t find it, and it was a stakeout “feeder” bird. This was my fourth time seeing the species in Jacksonville.
9. Glaucous Gull. 3 Feb 2018. I always like seeing “Glauczilla”, and in February I found my 11th in Duval County (I found a 12th in November). The cool thing about both of these observations is that Marie and I saw them each together.
8. Iceland Gull. 3 Feb 2018. My 13th observation in Duval County, but many of those 13 were of the same lingering bird. I didn’t really realize it, but I hadn’t seen one here in 4 years prior to Marie and I finding this bird in the same flock as the Glaucous (above). This bird was a “one day wonder” and remains the only Iceland reported in NE Florida this year, and the first since 2014.
7. Red-breasted Nuthatch. 27 October. No, you KNOW the rest of this list is going to be good if a Red-breasted Nuthatch comes in at number seven! I found this bird at Huguenot Memorial Park of all places, on a great morning I spent out shooting with my cousin Tom. This bird followed us along the parking lot and we finally had to walk away from it. This was my first in the county since 2013.
6. Snow Bunting. 25 November. WHAT? How can a freaking SNOW BUNTING be number 6? Wait and see. This is a really tough call, actually, especially considering this is the first State record in over 4 years. It probably should be ranked higher, but it falls at number 6 because I’ve seen them several times previously in the county. I found this bird at Huguenot the morning following the evening that I saw a Lapland Longspur. This bird sat for a minute, flew off, and never was seen again.
5. Long-tailed Duck. 27 January. This is a bird that I have been waiting a long time to see here. Lesley found this bird at the Wal-Mart pond and I was able to see it that same afternoon. Unfortunately, eager birders got too close to it and it moved across the street and eventually left after a few more days of harassment.
4. Brant. 12 March. I feel a little dirty chasing this bird considering who found it, but since it was the first county record in several decades I kind of had to. This bird lingered behind the Sisters Creek Marina for a couple weeks.
3. Smooth-billed Ani. 9 December. This bird was reported by an out-of-towner (like so many rarities from Little Talbot Island State Park), and has remained through at least 30 December. Marie and I were in Las Vegas when it was reported, and I was really afraid it’d be gone when we got back 5 days later because of the birder behavior I was hearing about. There has been rampant harassment using playback and trampling the dunes to see this bird, and it’s the final straw for me…I have suppressed my eBird rare bird alerts, and on top of that will refrain from providing any specific location details on rare birds I might find. There are about 3 people inside the circle of trust on that right now because I’ve been terribly disappointed in the behaviors of local birders I’ve know for years. Anyway, this is an incredible find and the first record here since the 60’s.
2. Ash-throated Flycatcher. 29 December. Not as rare as some of the ones above, but this one ranks higher because Marie and I found it together, and it’s honestly even a little more special because to-date, no one else has seen it. It’s roughly the 5th county report and only the 3rd county record.
1.Lapland Longspur. 24 November. This is number one for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it’s been such a target bird for me for so many years. I have purposefully been looking for this species at Huguenot every winter since at least 2005, and have put in countless hours working the edge of the dunes searching for one. This evening, I was walking the perimeter and came across the bird feeding with Ruddy Turnstones. I was lucky enough to see it again the following morning for extended looks.
So that’s it. I somehow managed 5 new county birds this year, when it took 3 years to get the previous 5. Things slow down considerably around 299, so I’m tickled with notching 5 more this year. I have a few nemesis birds left, and the most likely candidates for me to add to my Duval list in 2019 are Magnificent Frigatebird, Surf Scoter, Broad-winged Hawk, and American Golden-Plover. Here’s to hoping I’m right!