Tropicbirds

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
There are a handful of reports of White-tailed Tropicbird (née Yellow-billed Tropic Bird) in Northeast Florida. Historical reports include an exhausted individual collected in Ponte Vedra Beach (in neighboring St. Johns County) that later died in rehab (7 September 1950), and a partial specimen collected by Sam Grimes in Jacksonville Beach 2 days later (McKay, 1951).

On 20 September 1967, Virge Markgraf reported one she was able to “identify carefully” in south Jacksonville Beach (Robertson and Ogden, 1968). Other observations occurred 12 and 13 May 2001, forty-two and nineteen miles offshore, respectively…both by Roger Clark aboard the Mayport Princess. The most recent report was 16 May 2006 about thirty miles offshore of Mayport.

I certainly would not expect to see this species from shore (or even near shore), but would not be shocked one day to find one around Huguenot Memorial Park where most of the other “reasonable” pelagic birds and alcids have been reported over many years. White-tailed Tropicbirds do breed in Bermuda, which is roughly due east of Jacksonville and there are many records from pelagic trips just south of our area.

Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus
On 9 October 1975, Sam Grimes collected Florida’s first verifiable record of Red-billed Tropicbird in Ponte Vedra Beach (Edscorn, 1976). The exact location of recovery isn’t known so it’s possible it was collected in Duval County, but most likely it was collected not too far over the county line in St. Johns County. I include it here because…well, because quite frankly it’d be a shame not to.

Page updated 29 Jan 2019.

Blackbirds and Orioles

Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Bobolink is a species that typically moves through in the third and fourth weeks of April each year, with a few reports in May and a very few into early June. Early spring records include 6 April 1974, 8 April 1978, and 2 April 1990; the latter two reports both by Julie Cocke (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They are seldom observed during fall migration and should not be expected in that season.

In spring, one of the most reliable places to see them has been at the old M&M Dairy off New Berlin Road, where you could walk the sidewalk along Port Jacksonville Parkway and look for them feeding among the grasses. Unfortunately, the old dairy is slowly being developed and new warehouses continue to go up, so in a few years it is unlikely one would see any Bobolink there.

Bobolink. Fort George Island, Jacksonville, Florida (Duval County) May 2017.

Sheffield Regional Park is also good for them, so check on the “far side” of the athletic fields toward the back of the park. There is a nice sidewalk there as well, and the Bobolinks can be found among the grasses and native blackberry bushes. Otherwise, if you’re out birding in the spring keep an eye out overhead for migrating flocks of them; they are more often seen moving in tight groups early in the morning where they are almost regular at Fort George Island, particularly at Kingsley Plantation. I’ve also had good luck seeing low flying flocks of them in late April / early May from the observation platforms along Spoonbill Pond on Big Talbot Island State Park.

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Red-winged Blackbird is an abundant species that can be found literally anywhere there is suitable habitat and at any time of year. Regardless of their commonality, take a moment to really look at an adult male in late spring and “re-discover” how simply striking and beautiful their epaulets are! You can get excellent, up close views of them along the edge of the pond at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Atlantic Beach, which is probably the best place in the county to really observe them. If you find yourself on the northside, look for them around any of the smaller ponds at Sheffield Regional Park.

Red-winged Blackbird. July 2017.

Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Eastern Meadowlark is a species that is really in trouble in the eastern United States, and the Jacksonville area is no exception. Once rather common in certain areas in town, they have declined rather sharply since 2010. They are now fairly uncommon in the county, but (hopefully) are still a breeding species that can be found with some effort . Breeding records date back to 16 May through 23 June 1930, but I’m not aware of any confirmed breeding in the “modern era”.

Some of the favored locations to search for them are M&M Dairy, Sheffield Regional Park, Westside Industrial Park, the Lem Turner Road spray fields, along the Cedar Point Road corridor, and Imeson Center. Most of those areas are also experiencing overdevelopment, and I suspect that like what is now the Tidewater subdivision off Cedar Point Road, they will soon be extirpated from those locations. I used to have the best luck in winter, where in December – February I could almost always find them in front of the large warehouse at Imeson Center or at Tidewater.

Eastern Meadowlark. March 2018.

Since 2012, I rarely find them in what is left of appropriate habitat, and usually only see them sporadically in other places where I wouldn’t expect them…like single birds at Reddie Point Preserve or the saltmarsh at the end of Shark Road on Black Hammock Island. The days of seeing flocks of dozens or more Meadowlarks in Jacksonville is long past.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
There is one credible report of Yellow-headed Blackbird in the county’s history, which is of a bird that frequented the feeder of D. Proctor from 10-20 April 1976 (Kale, 1976). My memory is a little fuzzy on this, but In approximately 2015 or 2016 one was reported during the annual Christmas Bird Count. The account of the observation was pretty poor and didn’t inspire much confidence or credibility, not the least of which described the bird in dense salt marsh. Regardless of whether that bird shows on any CBC data, I discount the report and don’t consider it valid.

It is worth mentioning that there are a few records of Yellow-headed Blackbird from adjacent counties and just to the north in St. Mary’s, Georgia (mostly from October and November). Duval County still has plenty of suitable habitat for one to show up, so I would keep an eye out at places like the Lem Turner and Lannie Road area (although large flocks of blackbirds are scarce there in recent years), anywhere on Black Hammock Island, and Cecil Commerce Center.

Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus
Rusty Blackbirds are very difficult to find and their population is well known to be declining in the United States. In the 1970’s, it was common for them to be reported in the hundreds on the annual Christmas Bird Count and the 1973 CBC tallied a remarkable 565 birds.

Despite a few reports in early fall (including one from 16 October 1976 by Julie Cocke (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994)), the best time to search for them in Duval County is December through early February, and there are only a few select locations that are somewhat reliable. They are usually gone by March, but there have been a couple reports later in spring – one from 3 April 1971 (Kale, 1971), and the latest known report from 24 April 1966, by Roy Edwards who noted a group of 28 (Cunningham, 1966).

First, the Jacksonville Zoo’s parking lot has historically been a great spot for them. You can enter the Zoo’s parking lot for free, where you can drive towards the back and park near where the employee entrance starts. There is a small picnic area there and just to the right of that you’ll see the education center. Facing the education center, bird the trees and work left until you actually cross the driveway where you’ll find a dense swampy area. Up until at least 2017, a youth group was maintaining a short trail into those woods, allowing you to get into some great Rusty habitat.

Since 2010, Rusties have been annual in the swampy area at M&M Dairy near the corner of Port Jacksonville Parkway and New Berlin Road. Park at the warehouse parking lot to the east of this area (on the other side of the pond), and walk along the sidewalk until you’re right next to the swamp. You can stand along the edge there and search for them, but somehow the light is consistently poor at any time of day – making getting any photograph very difficult. If you miss them at this spot, bounce up the road a very short distance and try for them at Sheffield Regional Park.  At Sheffield,  “right” of the large pond at the main parking lot, and then also on the far side of that pond (there is an extensive trail system at the park that gets you about 75% of the way around that pond).

Rusty Blackbird in typical terrible light. Jacksonville, Florida.

Another semi-reliable location to look is along the “back side” of the trail circling Lake Oneida at the University of North Florida. This location has produced the largest flocks since 2005 – sometimes consisting of up to 50-75 birds, and also has what I believe is the best habitat for them. The spot is almost directly diagonal across the lake from where the trailhead near the parking lot is (there are also canoe/kayak racks there along the shore). Unlike the Zoo, M&M, and Sheffield, this location requires a parking fee ($5/day as of 2019, free on weekends).

Lastly, Westside Industrial Park off Pritchard Road has several prime locations but they are difficult to access as they are all alongside busy warehouses or businesses. If you go on Sunday, there isn’t much activity or traffic to deal with, but if you go on any other day it is important to recognize this is a busy industrial park with heavy commerce traffic. Be a “good visitor” – yield to the commercial vehicles, be mindful of trespassing, and respectful if questioned; most businesses are tolerant and understanding of birders around the properties.

Regardless of where you search for Rusty Blackbirds, please keep the use of “playback” to a minimum. This is a species in a lot of trouble and we don’t know the full extent of how playback stresses the birds, so it’s best to avoid it as much as possible. It’s not worth the “tick” on a year or county list if seeing them requires looping playback of their calls.

Brewer’s Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
There are a few county reports (only one record) of Brewer’s Blackbird, but the species should be considered extremely rare and unexpected in any season. Historically, the species was reported on multiple Christmas Bird Counts, including thirty birds on 22 December 1974, six on 3 January 1976, an astounding sixty on 26 December 1994, and twenty-three on 26 December 1998. As I’ve noted in other accounts (see Winter Wren), I’m  pretty skeptical of CBC data and I don’t put too much faith in it – twenty or more Brewer’s anywhere in Florida would be remarkable.

I’ve only seen the species once in Duval County, on 5 April 2009 in a pasture off Ethel Road on the north side. Back then, this road ran perpendicular to Lannie Road and led to Thomas Creek Preserve, but since that time it is now inaccessible as it’s part of the correctional institution property and is gated off by a chainlink fence replete with razor wire! Anyway, I recall the day vividly – I was birding with Roger Clark, Gary Davis, and Dylan Beyer, and Dylan and I were deep in Thomas Creek (down another trail that no longer exists) looking for Acadian Flycatchers and Hooded Warblers, while Gary was wandering the parking lot and Roger had walked back up the road to scan the pastures. Roger called my cellphone and told us he’d found a Brewer’s Blackbird!

Brewer’s Blackbird. Jacksonville, Florida. The infamous, inaugural digiscope. 5 Apr 2009.

We hustled down there in the car and got the scope on the bird. I didn’t have any PhoneSkope or digiscoping adapter (this was really back before digiscoping was widely used), but I held my camera up and managed a few “ID shots”. We called a couple other local birders with the news, one of which poo-pooed it and said she needed to finish vacuuming the house! I don’t know if the magnitude of this rarity settled in, but she called back a few hours later with a newfound sense of excitement and urgency, asking for location details. Needless to say, she missed seeing the bird and it was not relocated. The species hasn’t been reported since then, a span now standing at ten years and running.

Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
True to the name, this is a fairly common species throughout the area in all seasons. They can be found at Spanish Pond, Westside Industrial Park, and are pretty reliable off Heckscher Drive around Brown’s Creek Fish Camp. I would note that Boat-tailed Grackle is the (much) more abundant Quiscalus species here, so don’t just shoot from the hip on identifying a grackle here. What we have here are exclusively the “Purple” Common Grackles, not the “Bronzed” ones of the north and mid-west. Ours are notably smaller and certainly lack the bronzed finish of their brethren.

Boat-tailed Grackle Quiscalus major
Boat-tailed Grackle is also common in all seasons throughout the county, and is the much more abundant and wide-spread grackle species locally. Birders from elsewhere in Florida may be interested in the yellow eyes of our Boat-tailed Grackles, as those on the Gulf Coast and further south have dark eyes. In fact, once you get into St. Johns county just to the south, the “yellow-eyed” race becomes a significant minority (I’d guess about 15-20% of the population), and further south to Flagler or Volusia County they become a notable rarity.

Boat-tailed Grackle. January 2018.

My favorite place to observe Boat-taileds is at Huguenot Memorial Park where they are often especially gregarious…rummaging through the big blue trash bins dotting the beaches, sitting on the tops of the picnic pavilions, and posturing on the power lines near the Nature Center. If you haven’t stopped to watch the “upward neck stretch” competition between two male grackles, you’re missing out. It’s quite humorous.

Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis
Shiny Cowbird is a species that was reported almost annually from 1988 through 1999, but there are no reported observations since. The first known county record of Shiny Cowbird frequented a feeder in north Jacksonville off Yellow Bluff Road throughout the summer of 1988 (Atherton & Atherton, 1988). Rex Rowan went to see this bird at the home of Clarence Cooper, which at the time was the northernmost record in North America. Rex (rather modestly, I must say) recollected, “Clarence was an elderly sweet-natured country fellow who loved feeding birds but knew even less about them than I did…his favorite species was the Painted Bundy” (Rowan, pers. comm., 2016).

Rowan himself reported the next Shiny on 18 April 1992 (Langridge, 1992), and that was followed by one visiting Roger Clark’s yard on Fort George Island from 28-2 August 1995 – when Hurricane Erin apparently chased it off (Rowan, 1995). A pair of them then visited a feeder from 1 June through 25 July 1996, and two more visited Clark’s feeder on 6 June 1997 (Paul & Schnapf, 1995, 1996, 1997). The most recent report is also by Clark, from 13-30 May 1999, also presumably from his honey hole outside the gates of Kingsley Plantation (Pranty, 1999).

Based on the reported history above, perhaps all of the county reports of the species are from backyard feeders, so I’d encourage homeowners to be diligent in watching their stations – particularly in April through June.

Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus
I’m aware of just one report of Bronzed Cowbird in Duval County history, a bird observed in north Jacksonville . Terry West observed this bird from 1 April through 31 May 1993, but no further details are available (Langridge, 1993). I’m assuming based on the timespan of observations that this was a bird visiting a feeder, but that is nothing more than a guess. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) subsequently noted that this was the first County record, and established a “new late spring departure date for Florida”.

Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Brown-headed Cowbirds occur year-round in the county, but can be a tough species to target. Fairly reliable locations used to include M&M Dairy, Black Hammock Island, Blue Cypress Park, Jim King Marina at Sister’s Creek, and Huguenot Memorial Park – where in winter they may number up to one hundred individuals in a flock around the campgrounds. In recent years (2014-2019), this species is (very) fortunately declining locally, and is not found in even historically reliable areas with any regularity.

The first documented record of breeding in the county is from 6 June through 19 July 1971, where two groups were reported by Grimes and Markgraf (Ogden, 1971). By 1980, Julie Cocke and Peggy Powell cited three locations in Jacksonville where they were presumably breeding (Edscorn, 1980), and their abundance grew from there.

Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius
Orchard Orioles are localized breeders in Duval County and arrive back in the area in spring (there are no records or accepted winter reports). In 1969, Grimes noted a record early arrival of 23 March, which would still be considered extremely “early” by today’s standards (Stevenson, 1969). We are fortunate to have reports of breeding dating back to at least 1932 (Howell, p. 429).

Orchard Orioles are rather hit-or-miss during migration, and I most reliably see them in western Duval County in late March or early April. Places like Mecklenburg Dairy Farm and Camp Milton are good areas to check. In May through July, they can be found with some effort along the edges of M&M Dairy near the larger ponds toward Alta Drive.

Orchard Oriole on territory. Eastport Wastelands. Jacksonville, Florida. 29 May 2017.

They also breed at nearby Sheffield Park off New Berlin Road, where you can find them in the heavily foliaged areas adjacent to the athletic fields parking lot. In 2014, I found them breeding in “Eastport Wastelands” off Eastport Road and Heckscher Drive, but the area is now inaccessible. If all else fails, they also claim territory at the Jacksonville Zoo, where they can be found mostly around the area where you visit the big cats.

Orchards depart the area by mid to late August.

Bullock’s Oriole Icterus bullockii
There are five reports of Bullock’s Oriole in the county. The first comes from the Christmas Bird Count on 26 December 1983, and the second a few years later on 8 January 1989, where two individuals were observed and documented visiting the feeders at a private residence in the western part of the county. The third report is of another feeder visitor in the winter of 1993; unfortunately no further details are available (West, Wamer, & Pranty, 1994).

Roger Clark observed one at Ron Davis’s home along with twenty Baltimore Orioles on 10 December 1995 (Rowan, 1995). The most recent report is of three Bullock’s that visited a feeder on 10 April 1996 (Langridge, 1996). I wish I could find more detail on this report in particular; not only does it break the winter pattern, but three of them together anywhere in the southeastern United States would be particularly spectacular. I remain understandably skeptical of this latest report.

In general, Bullock’s Oriole is not a species that should be “expected” anywhere in Florida, but is certainly one to keep an eye out for in the winter and at feeders like the ones described.

Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
In 1967, Grimes noted that Baltimore Orioles were “now a rather common winter resident” in Jacksonville (Robertson, 1967). They are not really known to occur in summer with any regularity, but on 15 July 1968, one was observed in full song (Stevenson, 1968). Today, they are a frustrating species to me simply because I cannot seem to attract them to my yard. They are one of my favorite species and are truly just stunningly beautiful. Many homeowners are able to attract them to the feeders where they seem to be consistent throughout the winter months, but I’ve tried and failed to host them. I believe a good area to look for them is in the Holiday Hill / Glynlea Park area in Arlington. In migration, Reddie Point or Kingsley Plantation is as good a place as any to search for them.

Page updated 26 Jan 2019. All photos taken by Kevin Dailey.

Pigeons and Doves

Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are ubiquitous throughout the county and can easily be found along core urban areas, especially around power lines at just about any major intersection, supermarket, or “big box” store.

Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Eurasian Collared-Doves are uncommon in the county, but can be found with a little effort. There are two very reliable spots along Heckscher Drive, which is convenient because anyone birding in the county will undoubtedly end up at Huguenot Memorial Park and / or Fort George Island anyway. On Heckscher Drive, about 1.5 miles east of the I-295 exit you’ll come to Browns Creek Fish Camp. There are almost always a few Eurasian Collared-Doves on the power lines here; if you miss them there check again further up Heckscher Drive across from the Fire Station. The first known county record is of five birds observed on 12 September 1992 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Inca Dove Columbina inca
On 12 February 2012, an Inca Dove was photographed in Riverside Park but unfortunately wasn’t reported for about a year. The photograph was provided to the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee (FOSRC case 2013-951) and they unanimously accepted the record, which was only the third Florida record for this species. It is a terrific state and county record, but it is unfortunate that only one person was able to see the bird.

Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
Common Ground-Doves are a year round breeding species, and can be regularly found at Huguenot Memorial Park, Little Talbot Island State Park, Hanna Park, and Pumpkin Hill State Park. They are more uncommon at places like Fort George Island, Seaton Creek Preserve or Durbin Creek Preserve. At Huguenot, check around the “free” parking lot or along the sides of the road just past the entrance gate / pay station. They often can even be found sitting on the power lines along this stretch of road or in the playground area. At Little Talbot Island, they can be found along the boardwalks from the parking lots to the beach and roadside throughout the park.

White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
The first county record of White-winged Dove comes from 20-24 February 1962 (Stevenson, 1962); they now occur annually in the county but are very localized in the beaches areas, including Atlantic Beach where they are reported at feeders at private residences in winter months. Other early county reports include 26 May 1988 (Langridge, 1988), 27 May 1997 (Rea Stoll), 21-27 May 1998 (Pranty, 1998), 16 November 2000 (Pranty, 2001), 14 May 2002 (Pranty, 2002), 25 May 2005 (Anderson, 2005), and 12-16 November 2006 (Pranty, 2007). Note three of those reports were from Little Talbot Island SP.

Most reports are from late spring and winter, but I am aware of at least one observation in summer: one in Shell Bay on 4 July. I photographed three at Huguenot Memorial Park the week before the Christmas Bird Count in 2011 as they were sitting on the power lines just before the first camp site. Almost all observations are coastal, but from 12-13 November 2006, some visited feeders in Mandarin along the St. John’s River (Powell). In early 2015 and again in November of that year through February 2016, a pair could be found visiting a feeder outside the education center offices at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Mourning Doves are very abundant breeding species throughout the county, and can be found in virtually any park or place you find yourself birding. They are also regular on any of the power lines running from 95 to Huguenot along Heckscher Drive. Look for them in any and all seasons.

Summary of the Fall Season – 2013

Summary of the Fall Season
1 Aug – 30 Nov, 2013
Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Baker, Clay, Putnam, & Flagler Counties

Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.” A county designation (in italics) accompanies the first-time listing of each site in this report.

Mild weather patterns and higher-than-normal temperatures persisted throughout the season, with the only two notable fronts occurring the last week of September and the first week of November, which consisted of a Nor’easter with strong onshore winds. Hundreds of Black Scoters were observed passing south during this system, with as many as eight hundred counted on 5 November at Hanna Park (Duval). The only freezing temperatures in the region came on 28 November.

The season’s only (dark morph) Snow Goose was recorded at Purdue Road pond (Duval) on 28 November and was not relocated after that day.

Reports of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks persisted throughout the summer and into the fall season, with as many as eighty-five reported on 26 September at the Lem Turner spray fields (Duval), and as many as sixteen reported from the north end of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) (St. Johns) on 6 October.

Dabbling ducks began arriving in the region the second week of October, with Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, and Northern Shovelers all reported from GTM NERR. Often difficult to find in Northeast Florida, American Wigeon were recorded at the Purdue Road pond on 19 November.

On 10 November, eight Canvasbacks were recorded at the Trednick Road ponds across from Lowe’s in Regency (Duval) and continued through the end of the season; these were the only Canvasbacks reported in the region. A rather out of place male Black Scoter was also in the group. Redheads were recorded there later in that week; the only other Redheads this season were reported on 25 November from Marineland (Flagler) and from Washington Oaks State Park (St. Johns).

A Common Eider was recorded in the Amelia River (Nassau) 7 November, and another was reported from Little Talbot Island State Park (Duval) 8 November.

Approximately eight of the original twenty-two Black Scoters from the previous two seasons were present at Huguenot Memorial Park (Duval) to open the fall season. Scoters migrated through the region in great numbers this season, with many scattered offshore flocks consisting of hundreds of birds. Several Black Scoters were recorded in the middle of Duval County on retention ponds and in the St. Johns River. There were a few reports of White-winged Scoter: two on 8 November from Vilano Beach (St. Johns), and one on 27 November from Flagler Beach Pier (Flagler). Surf Scoters were reported 5 November from Hanna Park and Washington Oaks SP on 14 November.

Scattered reports of Northern Bobwhite came from Clay County in August, from Faver-Dykes State Park (St. Johns) on 26 September, and from the GTM NERR on 13 October.

Horned Grebes arrived in the region on 12 November and were recorded at Reddie Point Preserve (Duval).

Brown Booby was recorded at Huguenot Memorial Park twice: once on 30 September and again on 9 November. Northern Gannet arrived 4 November with the first reports from Little Talbot Island SP.

A Great Cormorant was recorded at Washington Oaks SP on 9 November.

There were just two reports of American Bittern, both on 20 October from St. Johns County at Fort Mose State Park and from Six Mile Landing.

Reddish Egrets were observed throughout the region, with one at Huguenot Memorial Park staying through the end of the season.

On 16 August, thirty-six Glossy Ibis were reported from Huguenot Memorial Park, flying in from Talbot Islands and heading south. A single Glossy Ibis was at the lagoon there the next morning. Smaller numbers were periodically reported in St. Johns and Flagler counties in August and the latest report 6 October in St. Augustine.

The only Short-tailed Hawk was reported 29 September at Lake Disston (Flagler).

Limpkins were recorded at the Westside industrial park off Pritchard Road (Duval) on 7 September, including at least one adult and three juveniles. This would mark the first breeding record in the county. At least three persisted through the season and were recorded on 30 November at the same location. Another Limpkin was reported at Seminole Woods pond 23 November (Flagler).

The season’s only American Avocets came from Bell River Island (Nassau) 25 August and then on 25 October from Flagler Beach (Flagler).

On 17 August, one Upland Sandpiper, two Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and several Pectorals Sandpipers were observed on a sod field in Flagler County. Single Uplands were also reported in Baker County (16 Sept) and Nassau County along the St. Marys River (13 Sept). No other observations of Buff-breasted were reported. Pectoral Sandpipers were also reported on Bell River Island 9 September and a few times at Huguenot Memorial Park from 13-22 September.

Purple Sandpiper was recorded at Marineland on 28 October; another was reported at Huguenot Memorial Park 6 November, and two were seen the last week of November at Huguenot. Red Knot were observed in Nassau, Duval, and St. Johns counties throughout the season, with a high count in the region of just twenty-one at Huguenot Memorial Park on 27 October.

The continued lack of Marbled Godwits in the region is perhaps just as notable as the previous shorebird observations. Once regular along the Northeast Florida coast, often including over-wintering birds, they were once again absent this season throughout the region.
One first cycle Franklin’s Gull was reported 21 October at Vilano Beach. Two first cycle Franklin’s Gulls were recorded at Huguenot Memorial Park 2 November, and then another first cycle was reported at Porpoise Point (St. Johns) on 17 November. Adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls were regular at Huguenot in October and November. One Glaucous Gull was reported in the region on 25 November from Flagler Beach.

A late Yellow-billed Cuckoo was recorded 10 November at M&M Dairy (Duval).

Belted Kingfishers arrived in the region around 20 August.

Flycatchers moved through in September, with Eastern Wood-Pewees showing up around 10 September in Baker and Duval. A cooperative Acadian Flycatcher was recorded at Reddie Point 10-12 September, and on 20 September a possible Least Flycatcher was also recorded there; unfortunately the bird never vocalized. A vocalizing Least Flycatcher was reported in Baker County (10 Sept) and another at Washington Oaks SP on 5 October. There was one report of a calling Willow Flycatcher in Baker on 11 October.

Western Kingbirds were recorded on 29 November in two locations in Duval County: one each at Helen Floyd Cooper Park and Imeson Industrial Center. A single Western Kingbird was recorded 25 November at Fernandina Beach Airfield (Nassau). On 23 November, a Tropical Kingbird was recorded at Imeson Industrial Center, marking just the second Duval County record.

Gray Kingbird was reported in Green Cove Springs (Clay) on 2 September, and a late one recorded in St. Johns County on 11 November. A Cassin’s Kingbird was recorded at the same location as last year along Route 305 (Flagler) 21-27 November.

A large movement of swallows was observed 16-17 August at Huguenot Memorial Park, including over 50 Cliff, several Bank, and over 100 Barn Swallows. In recent years, reports of Cliff Swallows in Duval County are all from Huguenot and occur from the 14th to the 18th of August. A single Cliff Swallow at GTM NERR on 15 August was the only report in St. Johns County, and there was one report on 13 August from Flagler. The only other report of Bank Swallow came from Flagler County on 8 October.

Thrushes moved through the region in October, including Baker County where Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, and one Wood Thrush were all reported the week of 11 October. In Jacksonville, there were several reports of Gray-cheeked Thrushes during the first week of October, with one well-photographed bird 8 October at a private residence in Jacksonville Beach (Duval). The only other Gray-cheeked reported were from Jennings State Forest (Clay) on 3 and 21 October during nocturnal flight call counts.

A pair of American Robins was noted in Hyde Grove (Duval) 10 August; presumably the breeding pair recorded there all summer. A lone American Pipit was reported at the Flagler County sod fields on 27 November; the only report in the region for the season.

A female Snow Bunting was recorded 11 November at Amelia Island State Park (Nassau) during a shorebird survey of the southern tip of the island.

A very impressive thirty species of warblers was reported in the region this fall; they really began showing up the last week of August, and a good variety started the following week, with Blackburnian (7 Sept) and Kentucky (8 Sept) reported from Reddie Point Preserve. A front finally pushed through on 18 September and produced a little fallout of warblers, including Chestnut-sided and Blue-winged Warblers at Theodore Roosevelt area (Duval). A Blue-winged was also reported at GTM NERR on 19 Sept, and two more were reported at Washington Oaks SP on 4 October and Princess Place on 12 October (Flagler). A single rare Golden-winged Warbler was recorded at Ft. Caroline (Duval) on 29 September, providing the region’s only record this year.

This season was an uncharacteristically good one for Nashville Warbler, however the reports were isolated to Duval and Nassau counties. They were reported from Hanna Park (one bird, 6 Sept), Ft. George Island (one bird, 27 Sept), Blue Cypress (two birds, 28 Sept), and one cooperative bird was reliable at Reddie Point Preserve from 29 Sept – 31 October. A single Nashville was also reported from Florence Point (Nassau) 9-12 October.

A late American Redstart was reported 25 November in Jacksonville Beach. Magnolia Warblers were sighted in Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, and Flagler counties; with the exception of Reddie Point Preserve just northeast of downtown Jacksonville, all Magnolia observations were made at near-coastal locations.

Bay-breasted Warbler is another increasingly uncommon migrant in Northeast Florida, and they were observed at Florence Point and recorded at Reddie Point on 12 October; the only other report was from St. Johns County on 2 October. It is worth considering the pattern of recent sightings of this species in Northeast Florida over the last eight years, in that the vast majority of observations occur on 12 & 13 October (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013).

A rare-in-fall single Blackpoll Warbler was recorded on 3 October at Faver-Dykes SP. Three observations of Black-throated Green Warbler came from Hanna Park (24 Oct), GTM NERR (13 Oct), and Washington Oaks SP (10 Oct).

Two reports of Field Sparrow both came from Jacksonville on 10 and 17 November, both along Main Street at Pine Lakes and Imeson Industrial Center. Vesper Sparrows returned around 17 November along this same ‘corridor’ in Duval County and were recorded in the same locations as the Field Sparrows. Vespers also made a good showing at Little Talbot Island SP in the south parking lot picnic area the following weekend on 24 November. These were the only reports of either species in the region. White-crowned Sparrow is another species with declining observations in recent years; the only report came from New Berlin Road (Duval) on 27 October. A single Henslow’s Sparrow was reported 28 November at Haw Creek (Flagler).

Scarlet Tanager observations increased this year, with reports coming from Flagler, St. Johns, and Duval counties. They were observed regularly at Reddie Point Preserve from 2-24 October, and at Washington Oaks Gardens SP from 4-10 October.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were tough to find this fall, with reports coming from just three locations: Reddie Point, Harvest Bend (Clay), and GTM NERR.

The season’s only Bobolink was a single bird recorded at Reddie Point Preserve on 8 October.

Summary of the Summer Season – 2013

Summary of the Summer Season
1 Jun – 31 July, 2013
Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Baker, Clay, Putnam, & Flagler Counties

Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.” A county designation (in italics) accompanies the first-time listing of each site in this report.

There were some very significant observations in this year’s summer season, despite it being a short period and traditionally ‘slow’ birding season. The season was highlighted by a first county breeding record for Sandhill Crane and most significantly by a brand new addition to the state species list.

Reports of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks persisted throughout the summer season, including a report of them nesting in the cavities of cabbage palms at Six Mile Landing (St. Johns). Sightings of up to 8 individuals continued at the Lem Turner Spray Fields (Duval), and single individuals were recorded at the Purdue Road pond (Duval) and at Huguenot Memorial Park (Duval) on 3 June. Four of them were reported from Olustee Beach (Baker) on 15 June.

On 13 June, a Red-breasted Merganser was recorded in the St. Johns River at Helen Floyd Cooper Park (Duval). A few are recorded in the area each year during the June Challenge. On 26 June, a single Ring-necked Duck was recorded in a retention pond in Jacksonville.

A group of approximately 22 Black Scoters was present at Huguenot Memorial Park from mid-April and continued throughout the summer season. The single White-winged Scoter in the group persisted until 22 June.

Northern Bobwhites have been reported with increased frequency the last year and the summer season has been no exception. They were reported from western St. Johns County on 5 July, and could be heard calling at Sheffield Regional Park (Duval) the last two weeks of June. One was also recorded at Ringhaver Park (Duval) in June.

One Common Loon was reported during the season, on 2 June from Alpine Groves Park (St. Johns, adjacent to St. Johns River).

A single Sooty Shearwater was reported from Anastasia SP (St. Johns) on 24 June. A pelagic trip out of St. Mary’s Georgia on 2 June produced 6 Cory’s Shearwaters and 9 Red-necked Phalaropes in the waters offshore of Nassau County.

Glossy Ibis were regular the last two weeks of June through the first week of July at the north access of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) (St. Johns).

Mississippi Kites could still be seen in decent numbers early in the season over the spray fields at Lem Turner and Lannie Road in Jacksonville, and as many as 20 Mississippi Kites were fairly regular at M&M Dairy (Duval) the first week of July. A group of Swallow-tailed Kites, including a least one fledgling, was recorded in Fernandina Beach (Nassau) on 12 July. Oddly, no reports of Mississippi Kites came from St. Johns or Flagler counties in the summer season (following no reports from the spring season).

One King Rail was reported at Olustee Beach (Baker) on 12 June.

On 23 June, Sandhill Cranes were recorded off New World Avenue on the extreme western border of Duval County. The 2 colts with 2 adults mark the first breeding record in Duval County, and were recorded as late as 4 July.

A pair of American Oystercatchers at Huguenot Memorial Park successfully fledged at least one chick this season. Up to 48 Semipalmated Plovers were observed 22 June at Huguenot.

There were no notable gull reports this season, outside of a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull recorded at Huguenot Memorial Park 15 June.

Purple Martins were abundant the last week of June at Cecil Commerce Center (Duval), with as many as 200 birds lining the trees. The numbers were significantly lower by 4 July, with only 5 birds present.

On 5 June, Diane Reed recorded a Variegated Flycatcher at GTM NERR. Despite significant efforts the next few days by a large group of birders, the flycatcher was not relocated after 5 June. The Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee has officially accepted the record, which is the first Florida state record.

Prothonotary Warblers continued their confirmed nesting at Thomas Creek Preserve (Duval) and at the Crabshack restaurant on SR13 (St. Johns) on 5 July. On 6 July, the first Louisiana Waterthrush of the fall migration was reported in Orange Park (Clay).

A very rare breeding pair of American Robins produced at least one fledgling in Hyde Park (Duval) in early June, and another American Robin was reported in Ortega (Duval) on 14 Jun.

A rare-in-county Bachman’s Sparrow was reported along the edge of Durbin Preserve (Duval) on 12 July. Several were reported in the GTM NERR (St. Johns) on 4 June.

Orchard Orioles, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting all were observed on territory at Sheffield Regional Park (Duval) in mid-June. In western St. Johns County, male and female Indigo Buntings were observed on 5 July.

M&M Dairy

GoogleMap to M&M Dairy

Location: M&M Dairy is located on Port Jacksonville Parkway between Alta Drive and New Berlin Road in north Jacksonville (Duval County).

Parking: There are no designated parking spaces for visitors as this isn’t a park. Park in one of the warehouse parking lots; they are not marked as “No Parking” and I’ve never had an issue parking there. DO NOT park in the middle of the road or along the side of the highway. There is also parking room available on the grass under the power lines.

Trails: There are no trails, but there are paved sidewalks on both sides of the street running the length of Port Jacksonville Parkway and about 100 yards north along New Berlin Road.

Facilities: There are no public restrooms or facilities; visit nearby Sheffield Regional Park about 1 mile away for the closest public restrooms and water fountains.

The Dailey Birder’s Tips: The tip for M&M Dairy is simple – don’t be fooled by its simplicity. A casual drive down the street won’t reveal very much; you really should invest the time to park and walk the sidewalk. The exercise will do you good and it’s the only way you’re going to find such rarities as Upland Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Greater White-fronted Goose or Fulvous Whistling-Duck.

Target Species: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Kingbird, Greater White-fronted Goose, Glossy Ibis, American Kestrel, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black-necked Stilt, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Rusty Blackbird, Wild Turkey, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Upland Sandpiper, Killdeer, Orchard Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Vesper Sparrow, Canada Goose.

About: Port Jacksonville Parkway runs just 1.2 miles, and is marked on both ends by a “Northpoint” industrial park sign. M&M Dairy is family owned, and has been continuously operated in north Jacksonville since 1921. In 2004, 220 acres of the dairy were sold and construction shortly began on a planned 3 million square feet of industrial warehouses. The original plan also called for the purchase of another 100 acres for construction of 150 single-family homes, but the real estate market crashed and the last part of the development plan has not yet been seen through to fruition.SDC16710

While large warehouses and a few retention ponds make up the majority of the south side of the road, the north side has just a single warehouse and over a mile of slightly rolling pastures bordered by barbed-wire fencing. The wide sidewalk and unobstructed views of the farm fields are a birder’s treat that is rarely interrupted by an occasional jogger or pedestrian.

Birding Strategy:
I usually park at the first warehouse lot on the south side of the road closest to New Berlin Road and start with birding the little swampy area there near the corner. This location is fairly reliable for Rusty Blackbird in December and January each year, and Wood Duck year round. It’s also good for a variety of other migrants songbirds during migration.

Cross the street and set up your scope on the northeast corner of Port Jacksonville Parkway and New Berlin Road to scan the fields. This corner often holds standing water and in the spring can be particularly excellent for wading birds and shorebirds like Pectoral Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilts, Glossy Ibis, and Wilson’s Snipe. Buff-breasted Sandpiper, American Black Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, White-faced Ibis, and American Golden-Plover have all been recorded in that same part of the pasture, and on the 2009 Christmas Bird Count the county’s only record of Lesser Nighthawk occurred here.

Head west along the sidewalk towards Alta Drive and you’ll soon see a metal cattle gate that marks an excellent area for Vesper and Savannah Sparrows in winter, as well as American Kestrel and Eastern Meadowlarks. Continuing west along the sidewalk, make sure to stop and scan the pasture every 30 yards or so – this technique has produced Greater White-fronted Goose and Upland Sandpiper in recent years. Also, make sure to scope the small body of water that runs perpendicular to the road and terminates at the sidewalk about a quarter mile west of New Berlin Road. Shorebirds, waders, and ducks are common here along with an occasional Sora. This is roughly across the street from the APR Energy office where parking is ample; in November 2014 five Greater White-fronted Goose were recorded from that very spot.

Behind the single warehouse on north side of the road is a small pond that is worth checking and will usually reward you with a few shorebirds, hawks, Common Gallinule, American Coot, and a variety of ducks during winter. During migration, this is also a good place to observe swallows as they hunt over the water, and you’ll add Double-crested Cormorant, European Starling, and Eastern Bluebird to your day list. The woods on the far side of the pond can offer calling Barred Owls and (rarely) Wild Turkey. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have been recorded there the last couple of years. As of this writing, the area is still accessible by foot even though it looks like it may be restricted; walk along the barbed wire fence to the east side of the tractor trailer parking lot to get there, and keep in mind it is an active business.

The birding heading towards Alta Drive from that last warehouse can slow down a bit, but can still be very productive. Check around the ponds for Green Heron, Anhinga, Orchard Oriole (in spring and summer), Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, and Lesser (and Greater) Scaup. At the last warehouse on the south side of the road there is small stand of pine trees along the back of the property, which will produce woodpeckers, sparrows, a variety of migrant land birds, and even wintering Ovenbird. The clearing beneath the massive power lines is great for sparrows and Wild Turkey in winter, and for Blue Grosbeak and Brown Thrasher in summer. In the summer of 2014, Marie and I found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in this location that remained for only 2 days.

A visit to the dairy during spring migration will yield Northern Rough-winged, Barn, Tree, and the occasional Bank Swallow, a variety of shorebirds, both Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites, and many other raptors. This location is also perhaps the most reliable place in northeast Florida to observe foraging Bobolinks, which can be found in flocks of up to 200.

Known breeding birds along this 1.2 mile stretch of road include Eastern Kingbird, Mallard, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, Wild Turkey, Black-necked Stilt, Common Gallinule, Canada Goose, Loggerhead Shrike, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.

Summary of the Spring Season – 2013

Summary of the Spring Season
1 Mar – 31 May, 2013
Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Baker, Clay, Putnam, & Flagler Counties

Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.” A county designation (in italics) accompanies the first-time listing of each site in this report.

Heavy rains in March and May contributed to flooded fields at the M&M Dairy in north Jacksonville (Duval), producing a great variety of birds throughout the spring season. Ultimately, there were more species recorded at this location than more popular local hotspots such as Huguenot Memorial Park (Duval) or Ft. George Island (Duval).

Beginning 2 May 2013, a severe weather system moved through the area and by 3 May there were several reports of pelagic species such as Sooty Tern and Red-necked Phalarope being seen well from land.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks can be considered rare in NE Florida, and most reports the last 5+ years are in the second week of May. This year they were right on schedule, with 3 photographed at M&M Dairy on 5 May, and as many as 23 over the next few days at the pond off Purdue Road on Jacksonville’s northside. Two lingered as late as 22 May at that location. Reports of juveniles of this species at “Gander pond” (River City Marketplace in northern Duval) and M&M Dairy in the late summer the last few years indicate they may be breeding in Duval County now, but that has yet to be confirmed. Other reports from the region this season included 4 individuals at the Outlet Mall in St. Johns County (14 May) and 4 at the GTM NERR (St. Johns) on 22 May.

A pair of Greater White-fronted Goose was recorded at Mayo Clinic (Duval) on 8 May, providing the first county record since 6 March 2010 (M&M Dairy).

Redhead, Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Northern Shovelers all persisted through the end of March, and only Lesser Scaup from that group into April.

A group of approximately 22 Black Scoters was present at Huguenot Memorial Park from mid-April through the end of the season, with a single male White-winged Scoter discovered with the group beginning 12 May. While certainly not a first county record, this White-winged Scoter is the first Duval County entry ever submitted to eBird, which is indicative of how uncommon the species is here. An additional report of Surf Scoter from Huguenot in early May rounds out the family with all three Scoters reported from a single location this season.

Magnificent Frigatebirds made appearances three times along the St. Johns County coastline; one in April from Ponte Vedra, 2 photographed from Anastasia SP on 3 May, and another on the final day of the season along the GTM NERR coastline; a Brown Booby was also photographed there the same day (31 May).

Least Bittern arrived again in Jacksonville at the reliable locations of Hanna Park (Duval) (near the kayak rental area) and in Mayport behind the Safe Harbor warehouse. Roseate Spoonbills fledged young again this year at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine (St. Johns) as they have expanded their known breeding range north to this location over the last few years.

Locally rare Glossy Ibis were recorded on two occasions at M&M Dairy, with 5 individuals on 24 March and a single bird the first week of May. Sandhill Cranes were reported in St. Johns County on 8 May; two adults and one colt, suggesting a rare breeding pair in the area.

There were no reports of Broad-winged Hawk in migration this season and just two for Short-tailed Hawk; one in Hastings (St. Johns) on 13 March and another in Arlington (Duval) on 8 May.

Mississippi Kites arrived the last week of April and were most often seen at M&M Dairy in Jacksonville, with other reports coming from Jennings State Forest (Clay), and as far north as Amelia Bluff (Nassau). Oddly there were no reports from St. Johns County. On 26 May, over 35 Mississippi and 20 Swallow-tailed Kites were seen foraging low over the spray fields at Lem Turner and Lannie Road in Jacksonville.

After many years of being absent from Huguenot Memorial Park, two pair of American Oystercatchers are regular along the lagoon and are attempting to nest at the location. Their presence should be considered an indicator of the excellent job the park is now doing with managing the park and restricting vehicular, canine, and pedestrian access from key areas.

Pectoral Sandpipers arrived at M&M Dairy on 10 March, and on 24-26 March, a pair of Upland Sandpipers was recorded at M&M Diary, providing the first county record since April 2010. White-rumped Sandpipers were recorded there beginning 3 May.

Overall, 31 species of shorebirds were reported in Duval County this season, including a single collected specimen Red Phalarope at Huguenot Memorial Park on 28 March. Red-necked Phalaropes were recorded in St. Johns County beginning 3 May, bringing the region’s shorebird count to 32 species.

Notable Laridae included a 2nd cycle Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid recorded at Huguenot Memorial Park on 9 March, and single Sooty Terns in Duval and St. Johns (both 3 May). There were also single reports of Black Tern in Jacksonville and Vilano Beach (St. Johns) the first week of May.

The waning Razorbill invasion included just single reports in Duval (29 Mar; Little Talbot Island SP) and St. Johns (18 Mar; St. Augustine pier).

White-winged Doves are very localized in Northeast Florida but were reported 13 April and 18 April in Atlantic Beach and Mayport (Duval).

Noteworthy woodpecker sightings are rare, but this season produced two: a single Hairy Woodpecker at the Jacksonville Arboretum (Duval) on 12 April, and a Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Bayard Conservation Area (Clay) on 21 May.

Although no Western Kingbirds were reported in the region for the first time in 4 spring seasons, Gray Kingbirds returned to their breeding area in Mayport (Duval) and in front of Ripley’s in historic St. Augustine (St. Johns).

The winter irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches in Northeast Florida continued into the season, with 2 reported in Ponte Vedra (St. Johns) on 9 March, and 3 as late as 20 April along the St. Mary’s River (Nassau). Golden-crowned Kinglets were reported throughout the month of March in Baker County.

Many species that are uncommon-to-rare in spring were reported, including Veery, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes.

Twenty-six species of warblers were reported in Duval County during the season, including 2 Wilson’s (6 Apr, Kingsley Plantation), 2 Black-throated Green, 1 Connecticut (8 May), 1 Blue-winged (17 Apr, Reddie Point), and 1 Magnolia (26 Apr, Hanna Park).

Twenty-four species of warblers were reported in St. Johns County, including the region’s only Bay-breasted (9 May; Faver-Dykes). A single Blue-winged was reported 8 April at Vaill Point park (St. Johns), and a Nashville Warbler was reported on 23 March from GTM NERR (St. Johns). Overall, the region produced twenty-nine species of warblers during the season.

On 5 April, lone Grasshopper Sparrows were reported in Hanna and Helen Floyd Cooper parks in Jacksonville (Duval); then on 20 April, single Clay-colored Sparrows were recorded at Reddie Point (Duval) and at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine (St. Johns). Our coastal state parks produced noteworthy sparrows as well, with a Fox Sparrow at Faver-Dykes SP (St. Johns) on 3 March and a Dark-eyed Junco at the Ft. Clinch SP (Nassau) feeders on 17 April.

One of the highlights of the season was a very cooperative Western Tanager visiting a feeder in Jacksonville’s west side from 22 March – 11 April 11 (Duval). Equally cooperative was the homeowner that graciously allowed any and all visitors to come enjoy the bird.

Gnatcatchers and Kinglets

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are a year round resident and breeding species in Duval County, with the earliest breeding record from 3 April 1931 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They are relatively easy to find in any of the birding hotspots or local parks, so you shouldn’t have much trouble locating them. They are abundant at places like Reddie Point Preserve, Fort George Island, Sheffield Park, Pumpkin HIll, Cedar Point Preserve, or Theodore Roosevelt Area. In March, a good location to observe them setting up breeding territories is at Julington Durbin Creek Preserve or any other park with extensive pine woods. In 1928, Grimes noted “the pine is the tree most commonly chosen for the nest site” and noted six nests in pines on 8 April 1925 (Howell, 1932, p. 368).

Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
Golden-crowned Kinglets are a little more common just to the west of Jacksonville in Clay and Baker counties, but they still shouldn’t be expected in any season. When they are observed in Duval County, it is in the winter season and typically associated with a “mini” irruption of the species. In 1988-1989 Peggy Powell noted it was a “good winter” for them, but no further details are available (Ogden, 1989).

The most recent such event was in the winter of 2006-2007, where they could be found relatively easily at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island and along the treeline at the entrance to Cedar Point. Remarkably, they are one of the county’s oldest recorded species, as Maynard collected a pair in December 1868 (Howell, 1932, p. 368). Perhaps the earliest fall arrival was at Kingsley Plantation on 29 October 1995 (and seen again there on 27 November) (Rowan, 1995). On 30 January 2016, Dave Foster and I recorded five in one flock off Starratt Road in north Jacksonville and found three more there two weekends later.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Ruby-crowned Kinglets are very abundant in winter, arriving the first week of October and departing by the end of April. Much like the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, they can be found throughout the county in any park or suitable habitat with almost no effort.

Wrens

House Wren Troglodytes aedon
House Wren is a fairly common species from October through April, but can be very difficult to find during the summer months. There are just a handful of reports from May through September each year, and most of those are “heard only”, lacking photographic support. In fall and winter, listen or look for them in the wooded areas of local parks and brush piles; they can also be quite common along the dunes of A1A at Little Talbot Island State Park and in the parking lot at Huguenot Memorial Park. They are quite vocal and their harsh scolding call is a rather familiar sound on most winter morning outings. In summer, I’ve seen them on Black Hammock Island and Sheffield Regional Park where they can be found with some effort to the south of the football fields. There are no known breeding records here for the species.

Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Winter Wren is a species that should not be expected in northeast Florida on any given day, but should always be considered as a possible rarity. There are a handful of reports over the years but unfortunately no known records (an observation supported by photo, video, or audio). An early report comes from the 1960 Christmas Bird Count, and one was noted as singing by Grimes on 23 March and 1 April 1968 (Stevenson, 1968). West (1996) noted a single wren in south Jacksonville observed between 28 November 1995 and 30 January 1996. More recently, one was observed on 18 November 2000 at Kingsley Plantation, another on 12 November 2004 in Jacksonville’s south side, and most recently at “Sample Swamp” during the 2010 CBC. As rare as the species is today, it nevertheless shows up on CBC data in 1931, 1950, ’51, ’53, ’54, ’57, ’60, ’64, ’65, ’66, ’68, ’69, ’71, ’76, ’77, ’80, ’81, ’84, ’86, ’89, and 2010. I remain heavily skeptical about CBC data and take most of these reports with a grain of salt.

Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis
Sedge Wren is an uncommon winter resident with no records or reports from May through September. They can be difficult to find even in suitable habitat, and are most often heard rather than seen. The most reliable place to search for them is along the two boardwalks at the southern parking lot of Little Talbot Island State Park. Sheffield Regional Park has good habitat for them adjacent to the first large pond and basketball courts, but that may change if the property is further developed for soccer fields in the future. In western Duval, Fretwell Park, Branan Field Mitigation Area, and Taye Brown Regional Park are all excellent locations for the species. In the eastern and northern part of the county, try the eastern side of Fort George Island along the saltmarsh, Little Talbot Island, and throughout Cedar Point Preserve where there is perhaps the largest expanse of suitable habitat in the area.

Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
Many local birders don’t realize that Marsh Wren (specifically, the “Worthington’s” Marsh Wren) is a year-round resident and breeding species in Duval County. Their breeding habits have been studied for years and it is suggested that while they do occur south of the St. Johns River in winter, they move to the marshes of the Timucuan Preserve north of the river in summer to breed. I can personally attest that they seem to be an abundant breeding species in those marshes, as each summer I kayak into the finger creeks just north of White Shell Bay off Heckscher Drive, where they can be heard singing and seen perching in the grasses. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted one on 24 September 1957 as an early fall report, but did not note why it wasn’t considered one of the abundant breeding population in the area. Good areas to search for them in winter include around the observation tower at Theodore Roosevelt Area, the small fishing pier at Betz Tiger Point Preserve, and the dock behind Jim King Park at Sister’s Creek.

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
Carolina Wren is by far the most abundant wren in the county and can be found in all seasons in appropriate habitat. These inquisitive birds are almost always heard when birding any of the major hotspots and a little pishing should produce them quickly. They are expected on virtually any outing at places like Kingsley Plantation, Fort George Island, Reddie Point Preserve, Little Talbot Island, Sheffield Park, Cedar Point Preserve, or Hanna Park. If you’re looking for near-guaranteed pinpoint locations, you could target the area around the interpretive garden at Kingsley Plantation, the “free” parking lot at the entrance to Huguenot Memorial Park, or around the parking lot trailhead at Reddie Point.

Page updated 21 Jan 2019

Frigatebirds and Sulids

Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens
The earliest report of Magnificent Frigatebird in Duval County comes from around the summer of 1935 when a commercial fisherman claimed to have seen two or three birds during inclement weather around the mouth of the St. Johns River (Grimes, 1943, p. 64). Brookfield (1951) noted four off Neptune Beach on 3 June 1950; the next report followed seventeen years later on 30 May 1967 off Jacksonville Beach (Stevenson, 1967). Jacksonville Beach then produced one on 30 November 1980 (Atherton & Atherton, 1981), and five were in south Jacksonville following Hurricane Elena on 1 September 1985 (Atherton & Atherton, 1986).

There have been a few reports of Magnificent Frigatebird over the last ten years, with about half of them occurring in late August, two on 6 September 2004 (Pranty, 2005) and one as “late” as 15 December 2005 (Anderson, 2006). Most recently, Bob Richter observed one some twenty miles inland at Ortega on 18 February 2016.

This is not a species that you can “target” in Duval County; unfortunately it is one that will just have to find you. I’ve spent many thousands of hours birding along the coast in Jacksonville and have never seen one here just to provide some perspective. I’ve heard speculation that the best time would be after strong west winds, but have no real evidence to back that up.

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra
There is only one reported observation of the extremely rare Masked Booby in county history. The report was of a “well described” bird twelve miles offshore of Mayport observed by Chuck Hunter and Paul Beiderwell (Edscorn, 1980).

Brown Booby Sula leucogaster
Grimes (1943) described Brown Booby as “a casual straggler on our coast”, and noted that Frank M. Chapman reported up to twelve at the mouth of the St. Johns River on 11 March 1907. Almost seventy years passed before the next report on 7 September 1975 offshore of Mayport (Edscorn, 1976). Edscorn (1980) then noted two more reported six miles offshore on 27 June 1980, along with the county’s only report of Masked Booby. There was then a twenty-six year gap in reports until several sightings in 2006-2008, leading to speculation that this species was extremely rare here.

I believe Brown Booby is more regular in Duval County than we once considered, but they hang out on the east end of the jetties and rarely come further up the river. This makes seeing them very difficult unless you get out on a boat. There have been a few “up river” sightings since 2005, with one coming from Clapboard Creek in May 2008 (R. Clark) and another unconfirmed sighting from as far up river as Blue Cypress park.
I’ve had the good fortune to see one from Huguenot Memorial Park on two occasions, but my best luck has been from my boat where I’ve seen as many as three sitting together on the jetties in July.
Three Brown Boobies. July 4 2012. Mayport Jetties. Jacksonville, FL.
I always scope up and down both sides of the jetties when birding Huguenot just in case you can pick out a distant silhouette. More often than not, weather conditions and heat signatures will prohibit seeing birds at that distance, but I have been able to pick one out using this method on a clear day. They are quite obviously different in size, posture, and shape than the usual pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants out there, so you will know it when you see one.
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus
Howell (1932, p. 89) noted a Northern Gannet killed by an airplane near Jacksonville Beach on 12 May 1924. At the time it was the latest (May) occurrence of the species in Florida, until one was recorded in 27 June 1947 in the Dry Tortugas (Sprunt, 1948). Northern Gannets typically arrive in mid-October and are abundant throughout the winter. Some linger through May now, but are gone by June all the way through late September. You can typically see them from any beach in Duval County; great vantage points are Little Talbot Island State Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, Hanna Park, and the Jacksonville Pier.