Starting off 2012 the Florida way….

I managed to end my 2011 year list with 439 species, just a few short of my 2010 total. I added 20 species in the last week of the year alone, travelling from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, and down the Atlantic coast to Jacksonville, Florida.  Alex and I made a quick stop to see the Snowy Owl at Merrill Creek Reservoir in New Jersey because it wouldn’t be right for me to not see a Snowy Owl during an irruption year.

Since work prevented me from making it to Cape May this fall, we decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to swing through Barnegat Light to pick up Harlequin Duck, Common Eider, Black and Surf Scoter for my year list.  We also made a quick stop in Cape May to pick up a few rarities like Eurasian Wigeon, Dickcissel, and King Eider.  I also hadn’t seen a Northern Gannet for the year, so it was great to get up-close looks at a few that followed the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to Delaware.

In Jacksonville at Huguenot Memorial Park, I picked up Piping and Wilson’s Plover, two species that I saw very late in 2010 but not yet in 2011. I was hoping to add Red Knot and American Oystercatcher, both of which had been seen in the last few days at Huguenot, but I missed both for the year. 2011 was also the first year in five that I had not seen a Whooping Crane. Another notable miss for the year for me was American Woodcock. The surprise ending to 2011 was a first winter Glaucous Gull that joined Herring, Ring-billed, Laughing, and both black-backed Gulls at the Huguenot Memorial Park jetty.

Since we found so many great birds in Jacksonville over the last few days of 2011, Alex and I decided to start the year off right with a big day in Duval County, Florida. Our first species of the year was Yellow-rumped Warbler in the parking lot of our hotel, followed quickly by Fish Crow and Laughing Gull.  In a pond near the highway, we found 56 confused and skittish Ring-necked Ducks who were down because of a thick fog. We then headed to Pumpkin Creek Preserve picking up Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Mottled Ducks, and Pied-billed Grebes in highway ponds along the way.

Pumpkin Creek Preserve in the early-morning fog (Photo by Anna Fasoli)

At the preserve, the fog was still thick but the birds were extremely active. Angry Carolina Wrens answered our pishing along with Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, and a few Swamp Sparrows. Our goal here was Sedge Wren, but our playback was only answered by an angry House Wren. In the distance, we heard the squeaky notes of Brown-headed Nuthatches, and we found them in the pines along with Pine Warblers, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Tufted Titmice, and a variety of woodpeckers. On our way out of the preserve, a White-eyed Vireo appeared amongst the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Carolina Chickadees sang in the distance, and an Orange-crowned appeared in a hedge row! Not a bad start to the day.  Down the road at the Betz-Tiger Point Preserve, the tide was low, exposing mud flats that were full of Little Blue Herons, Black-bellied Plovers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, and Semipalmated Plovers, as well as a Spotted Sandpiper!  Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons were also feasting on fish trapped in small pools and a Northern Harrier perched on a post in the marsh. High in the moss-covered trees, we spotted the first of many Hermit Thrush for the day.

One of two White-eyed Vireos that were at Pumpkin Creek Preserve (Photo by Anna Fasoli)

Next we headed to Huguenot Memorial Park, and picked up American White Pelican on the way, in addition to many common Florida birds like Osprey and Bald Eagle. On the Fort George Inlet side of Huguenot Memorial Park, our reliable flock of shorebirds was still present ( Short-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, Western  and Least Sandpipers, Willets, and Semipalmated, Wilson’s, Black-bellied, and Piping Plovers), but we couldn’t relocate the Marbled Godwits or Reddish Egret where we had been seeing them reliably over the last few days. We did however find two American Oystercatchers!

Wilson's Plover at Huguenot Memorial Park (Photo by Anna Fasoli)

One of three Piping Plovers at Huguenot Memorial Park (Photo Alex Lamoreaux)

On the ocean side, we found Common Loons and a single Red-throated Loon, in addition to a number of Red-breasted Mergansers and Horned Grebes offshore. Most of the gulls were out feeding on the ocean, but we did manage to spot a few Bonaparte’s Gulls floating far offshore, and a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull made an appearance at the gull roost near the jetty.  We found a Sandwich Tern among the Royal Terns and Black Skimmers, but couldn’t relocate a Caspian Tern or the Glaucous Gull, both species we’d seen a few days earlier. At nearby Hanna Park, we picked up Ruddy Duck and Anhinga.

Sandwich Tern at Huguenot Memorial Park (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

'Western' Willet at Huguenot Memorial Park (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Later on in the day at the Guana River Estuarine Research Station, we tried again for Reddish Egret, but instead picked up Common Ground-Dove and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – both species we hadn’t imagined we would see. With some daylight left, we headed west towards Gainesville, picking up American Kestrel, but not Sandhill Crane. We ended the day with 105 species in Duval County, and 110 total for the day!

Brown Pelican and Laughing Gulls at Guana River (Photo by Anna Fasoli)

The big misses for the day were Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, House Finch, Sandhill Crane, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Red-tailed Hawk, Caspian Tern, Marbled Godwit, and believe it or not….House Sparrow! We also tried for owls at a variety of locations tonight but just couldn’t find any, which we found very unusual. Tomorrow we will bird around Gainesville and on Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll start work. I’m pretty happy to have this opportunity to work and bird in Florida until July, and I think I’ll have plenty of time to pick up those few species that we missed today.