Tyrant Flycatchers

Eastern Wood-Pewee Contopus virens
Eastern Wood-Pewees arrive in early April, but are actually quite tough to find in April and May. They are a limited breeding species in the county, dating back to 11 June 1932 when a nest’s eggs were collected (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Stevenson and Anderson (1994) also noted that Sam Grimes collected eggs again on 21 May 1934.

Eastern Wood-Pewees are more readily observed in the fall, particularly late September through the first couple weeks of October. Hanna Park, Theodore Roosevelt Area, Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, Cedar Point Preserve, and Fort George Island are good locations for them. Fort George Island is perhaps easiest; walk the three mile trail starting from the Ribault Club dirt parking lot, and about 1.5 miles in there starts to be very good habitat for them. You’ll likely hear them calling before you see them. On the west side of town, a brief walk into Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area in fall may yield them as well.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventris
There are just a few reports of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, two from late September and one in April. On 28 April 1981, Joseph Wilson reported one “calling” at the Florida Community College campus on Beach Boulevard (Kale, 1981). Roger Clark reported one from Fort George Island on 22 September 1996, which is the last credible report of which I’m aware. The only one I’ve seen in Florida was at Fort Clinch State Park in Nassau County on 17 September 2006.

The species is very rare anywhere in Florida, and should not be expected in any year here, but always consider the possibility when you’re out in the field.

Acadian Flycatcher Empidonax virescens
Acadian Flycatcher is a localized breeding species, favoring habitat in western and northwestern Duval County. Grimes first described a nest containing two eggs on 5 June 1930 in Jacksonville (Howell, 1932, p. 324). They can be found at places like Thomas Creek Preserve and some of the more densely foliaged areas on the westside, such as Camp Milton. In July 2014, my wife Marie and I discovered several calling individuals at the recently opened Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, where they have been reliable each summer for the last six years.

In September and October they start moving around a bit more and can be found at places like Reddie Point Preserve, but they are more often missed than seen.

Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum
There is a well-documented report of Alder Flycatcher from Fort George Island on 22 September 2001, and another by Clark from that location on 15 September 2005 (Pranty, 2006). A bird was identified on 25 September 2018 as an Alder Flycatcher at Hanna Park, but I remained unconvinced.

Willow Flycatcher Empidonax traillii
There are a handful of reports for Willow Flycatcher and most are from Fort George Island in the fall. This is a very rare species anywhere in the state, and is best confirmed by vocalization. Be very careful in studying a suspected Willow, and try to record audio or a video if you can. The earliest report is of a “singing” bird on 24 April 1982 (Kale, 1982). More recently, single individuals were carefully studied at Reddie Point Preserve on 4 October 2015 and again there on 1 October 2016.

Least Flycatcher Empidonax minimus
After Acadian, the Least Flycatcher is perhaps the most expected “empid” flycatcher for our area and would most likely be found in the fall migration (early October). Indeed, that pattern is reflected at least back to 1969, when Grimes noted one killed by the TV tower downtown on 4 October (specimen sent to Dr. Allen at Jacksonville University (Robertson, 1970)). Again, be very diligent in trying to identify any Least and photograph or record audio if you can. The best places I know of to look for any empids are the Fort George Island trail (along the old fairways) and Reddie Point Preserve, where they were reported on 20 September in both 2013 and 2014. More recently, one was reported at Eastport Wastelands 29 August 2015 and from Ringhaver Park 1 September 2015.

Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Eastern Phoebes are a common winter resident and can be found virtually anywhere you’d be birding. Phoebes are an abundant species in neighborhoods and are the most likely flycatcher species to be seen in residential backyards in fall and winter. They arrive the last week of September and a few linger into very early April. Beyond mid-April, most observations are heard only birds that are likely either Northern Mockingbirds or White-eyed Vireos.

Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus 
There is one certain record of Vermilion Flycatcher in Duval County, and one unfortunately obscure indication of one. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) graphically represent a winter observation of a Vermilion in their county legend for Duval, but there are no details in the account of the species.

When I first drafted this manuscript in 2013, there were no verifiable county records and I noted “One is certainly overdue and places like Eastport, M&M Dairy, Imeson Center, Westside Industrial Park, or the Jacksonville Equestrian Center are the places to keep in mind. It’s only a matter of time.

On 3 November 2019, Carly Wainwright indeed found one at Imeson Center as I (sort of) predicted six years prior. The bird was photographed around the small pond where the Least Bitterns nest, and was not relocated after the initial observation.

It is worth noting that a male was recorded on nearby Amelia Island in Nassau County on 17 April 1983 (Kale, 1984).

Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens 
When I first drafted this book in 2013-14, there were scattered records of Ash-throated Flycatcher occurring about every eight to ten years. Reports came from Huguenot Memorial Park, Little Talbot Island, and from a restricted area on Army Corps of Engineer property near Blount Island. Rex Rowan found what became a well documented bird at Imeson Center from 12 December 1986 – 1 February 1987, which marked the first northeast Florida record (Ogden, 1987). On 19 December 1993, one was reported from the same location (West, Wamer, & Pranty, 1994), but it was later not accepted by the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee.

Marie and I found one at Little Talbot Island State Park 29 December 2018 in the southern-most parking lot, and since that time several more have been recorded in 2019 and 2020 at Little Talbot, M&M Dairy, and Island Drive. On 1 December 2019, I found two at M&M Dairy, which is obviously a northeast Florida record high count for the species.

Note that all records are from the winter season, and anything that looks like a Great Crested Flycatcher in winter should be scrutinized as it is more likely an Ash-throated.

Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
Great Crested Flycatchers are an abundant summer resident and breeding species in the area. They arrive in mid-March and are virtually gone by the end of September. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) note one from 7 June 1970, which may be the earliest documented record but certainly isn’t the actual first occurrence of the species here.

You can find them almost anywhere there are trees, and certainly in just about every park in Jacksonville. They are incredibly abundant at Evergreen Cemetery in the summer, and that is the most reliable place to find them.

Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus  
There are two records of Tropical Kingbird in Duval County. The first was recorded at Spoonbill Pond across from the Big Talbot Island boat ramp off A1A on 26 May 1999 (Pranty, 1999). I found the second one at Imeson Center on 23 November 2013 and with Dave Foster, we managed to photograph and document the bird extremely well. The Imeson bird was a one-day wonder, despite a local self-proclaimed bird guide photographing a bird he reported as the Tropical…except what he took pictures of was clearly a Western Kingbird in the same location.

Cassin’s Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans 
There is one record of Cassin’s Kingbird in the county; on 10 October 2008 Laura Johannsen photographed one that “was near the clubhouse wires” at the old Pine Lakes golf course off North Main Street (L. Johannsen, pers. communication). I recall chasing it the next day with Marie and Laura, but we were unable to locate the bird.

Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis 
The earliest Western Kingbird I’ve found is one reported by Ray O. Edwards from 17 September 1964 from Big Talbot Island (Stevenson, 1965). This was followed by a “late” record on 26 November 1966; birds Grimes thought may winter that year, thus suggesting the species was a regular fall migrant (Stevenson, 1967). Ogden (1991) noted one from 10 January through February 1991, and Clark reported one from Fort George Island on 5 October 1995 (Wamer & Pranty, 1996).

They are now virtually annual in Duval County, but seem to be limited to very localized places. The most reliable spot is Imeson Center at the railroad tracks just in front of the old Sears warehouse. One to four individuals are typically found here starting in November through February (once into April). Another location seems to be along the fences in Mayport, adjacent to the airfield where they’ve been recorded annually since at least 2009. Try behind the old lighthouse and across the street from Helen Floyd Cooper park, but be wary since you are ‘glassing’ a military site.

Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus 
Eastern Kingbirds are summer (breeding) residents that arrive late March, where they can be found along the sides of Mecklenburg Dairy Farm and the parking lot of Reddie Point Preserve. They’re also fairly common at M&M Dairy and Sheffield Regional Park about this time, and they can be found at these latter two locations throughout the summer. They are prolific breeders at Eastport Wastelands and Sheffield Regional Park. They are typically gone from the area by October 1st. The species is known to migrate in numbers through the area in early September, and record high counts include 1,100 in two hours on 5 September 1982 (Atherton & Atherton, 1983) and 865 on 1 September 1988 (Atherton & Atherton, 1989). Both of those observations were submitted by Julie Cocke.

Gray Kingbird Tyrannus dominicensis
The earliest county record of Gray Kingbird is from 3 June 1931. They were first known to be a local breeding species in 1952 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994), and today they are most reliable at Mayport where they continue to breed today. The highest count on record is ten observed by Clark at Mayport on 3 July 2003 (Powell, 2003).

Gray Kingbirds are stragglers elsewhere in the county and sometimes you can get lucky and find one at places like Little Talbot Island State Park, Alimacani boat ramp, Huguenot Memorial Park, or Hanna Park. They are sometimes observed around the Mayport Ferry slip, and have been observed as far inland as Arlington (Dailey, 2014). Grimes observed one on 4 September 1967, a bird he surmised was a straggler in an area where they had previously been known to breed on Fort George Island (Robertson and Ogden, 1968).

After years of attempting it, I finally managed to scope one at Mayport from Huguenot, but this technique is more of an extreme longshot. On 3 September 2014, Clark and I had one land on the Victory Cruise Casino gambling boat right in front of us as we passed by Mayport; it remained for only a minute before heading back to base.

K. Dailey and Roger Clark aboard the Victory Cruise Casino “pelagic”. September 2014.

If you really want a Gray Kingbird, the best bet is to drive to St. Augustine where they can be found rather easily along the power lines in front of Ripley’s Believe it or not.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus
There are just a handful of records of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Duval County. The earliest known record is a bird observed by Julie Cocke in south Jacksonville on 6-7 May 1986 (Langridge, 1986). Powell noted one “near Jacksonville” on 6 February 1989 (Ogden, 1989), and Clark reported two from Huguenot on 1-2 November 1997, providing the county’s first fall record (Wamer, 1998). I believe I remember hearing about two other reports over the years, but did not record the details. On 5 July 2014, Marie and I located an adult male at the Alta Drive end of M&M Dairy near the power lines. The following year on 16 May 2015, Martha Fethe first observed an adult male in the exact same patch, presumably the same individual returning from the prior year.

Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
Loggerhead Shrikes are included in this section as Allies. They are a fairly common year-round resident and breeding species, and can be found most of the time at places like M&M Dairy. The earliest recorded nest comes from 2 July 1925, when Sam Grimes collected eggs from one (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). In the same account, they noted nest building occurring as early as 25 February in 1930, and Howell (1932, p. 373) referred to early nesting on 11 March 1930.

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