Summary of the Winter Season
1 Dec 2016– 28 Feb 2017
Sight-only observations are considered “reports”. Those supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, video or audio recordings, or specimens) are called “records.”
This winter season was a particularly mild, even warm, one where we saw most residential lawns never go dormant, an 80F Christmas day, and the continued after-effects of Hurricane Matthew that kept Huguenot Memorial Park closed through 1 February. We also lost an important inland freshwater marsh and migrant shorebird stop over when Waterworks Pool was filled in for yet another warehouse and Eastport Wastelands is now being cleared and covered in loose gravel in the places they haven’t started harvesting the soil to export elsewhere.
Twenty-six species of waterfowl were reported in the county during the winter season, which was a respectable number considering Huguenot Memorial Park was closed most of the winter (thus limiting the ability to find an Eider or many Scoters). After a banner winter last year, there was only a single Snow Goose record from the westside of town off Blanding Boulevard near the back of Ringhaver Park. The goose favored a residential pond from 18-25 February. Notable ducks included up to four American Black Ducks at Perdue Pond Wildlife Area through the season, and a Canvasback was recorded there from 1 January through 28 February. The season’s only Greater Scaup were reported from the “recharge ponds” at Eastport Wastelands during two December visits. A Common Goldeneye was recorded at a small pond right off Heckscher Drive on 23 December where it remained until it was seemingly run over by a vehicle on 4 February. The specimen was collected and it will be taken to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
This winter is perhaps the only in recent decades where Red-throated Loon was not observed; this is perhaps as much a result of no access to Huguenot Memorial Park as an indicator of how scarce the species was this season, but I did several seawatches from Little Talbot Island State Park particularly targeting them. Reports of Common Loon and Horned Grebe were similarly down based on previous years.
There were two records of American Bittern; one at Ringhaver Park on 18 December and another at Little Talbot Island SP 24 December. The Talbot Island bird was observed at length feeding in the open grasses within 8 feet of a busy A1A.
There were just three reports of Reddish Egret, none documented and all reports from very unlikely or unusual locations for the species. Unfortunately these reports will remain unconfirmed. Roseate Spoonbills have been scarce but regular in recent winters, however this season only saw one verifiable report, of a single bird photographed behind Sisters Creek Marina on 18 February.
As a historically late February arrival, the season’s only Swallow-tailed Kite report expectedly came from near the St. Johns County line on 28 February.
Up to three Sora were reliably recorded off New World Avenue throughout January and the first week of February; they were the only reported in Duval this season.
The freshwater marsh called Waterworks Pool off New World Avenue was filled in for another FedEx warehouse; this was one of only two confirmed locations ever for breeding Sandhill Cranes in Duval County’s history. Despite that, two were recorded in a nearby powerline cut 7 January. For the second consecutive winter, one Sandhill was recorded at Mayo Clinic’s campus, this year from 20-24 February.
American Avocet reports were on par, with as many as 24 at White Shell Bay on 21 January. A high count of 16 Piping Plover were reported from Big Bird Island 17 December. Just one report of Purple Sandpiper this season was of two birds at Huguenot on 16 December. Long-billed Dowitchers were regular at Big Talbot Island’s Spoonbill Pond, but observers should use caution since Short-billeds also occur there in a mixed flock.
There was but one good day for observing jaegers this winter; on the 75F morning of 22 January both Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers could be found with a little effort at Little Talbot Island State Park. A single report of Iceland Gull was not photographed on 12 December at Helen Cooper Floyd Park.
Three Eastern Whip-poor-wills on Fort George Island 1 January were an unexpected surprise. The season’s only verifiable Western Kingbird report came from Lakeside Marina 22 December
A single Red-breasted Nuthatch was reported at Cary State Forest’s Monticello Tract 11 February. Two Golden-crowned Kinglets were recorded there 19 February.
A Wood Thrush recorded at the end of the fall season remained at Spoonbill Pond through 3 December, providing a very rare verifiable winter record for anywhere in the entire state.
American Pipits were fairly reliable at Sheffield Regional Park in December and January, and at westside’s Ringhaver Park in January through February.
The season’s only Ovenbird was recorded at Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park 9 December. There were several reports of Northern Parula, including one at Lonnie Wurn Boat Ramp 26 December and another at Westside Industrial Park 2 January. A very rare-in-winter Yellow Warbler was recorded at Westside Industrial Park 8 January, providing the first winter Duval County record. Up to 1,800 Yellow-rumped Warblers at Sheffield Regional Park on 8 January provided quite a spectacle.
Notable sparrows included one previously banded A. n. subvirgatus Nelson’s Sparrow recorded at Big Talbot Island SP’s Sawpit Creek boat ramp on 11 January. Expected sparrows were mostly found in usual locations and in usual numbers, with the exception of White-throated Sparrow whose numbers were way down this year.
As many as two Western Tanagers visited a private residence in Mandarin for at least the third consecutive winter from 11 December to 18 February.
A westoni (dark-eyed) Boat-tailed Grackle was photographed at Huguenot 5 February, providing a rare Duval record of this sub-species.