Tuesday, December 1, 2015

November 24, 25, & 26 2015 - Birding and Thanksgiving in Jacksonville Florida

While this blog is mainly about hiking, Cindy and I enjoy birding also.  The hobby is kind of new to us and we usually only do it in late fall and over the winter months - and in areas that are warm.  Plus, the areas we like to go give us a chance to get outside and see places we wouldn't see otherwise.  Our goal is to see as many different species of birds as we can - I'm at 193.  Of course we want good shots, but will settle for good enough to ID the bird.  IDing the dang things is a whole other issue that I won't go into here. I have a gallery of most of the birds I have seen here.

Cindy is from Jacksonville and this year we had Thanksgiving with her folks.  We left the mountains on Tuesday with the intention of stopping at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.  When we got to the entrance of the loop road, it was blocked because of a controlled burn in the refuge. Luckily, we had a plan B which was to check out Harris Neck NWR in Georgia.  We've been to both areas several times and enjoy going to both.

Harris Neck also has a one way loop drive with ponds and varied habitats at the different stop. The area has an interesting history and used to be an Army airfield during WWII.  You can read more about it here if you like.  Our first stop today was the short walk to Bluebill Pond.  As with any of the ponds, you never know what birds will be here - if any - and you're lucky if they are close enough to get off a decent shot.  We saw a few ducks and a Great Blue Heron when we first got to the pond, but they saw us also and were laughing as they swam and flew away.  There were also some Wood Storks which nest at the refuge, a couple of Roseate Spoonbills in the far distance, and a few other wading birds.  Below is a shot of the pond.  In the middle right you can see some white specks which are the Wood Storks.

Bluebill Pond
Wood Storks

female Blue-winged Teals

Our next stop was Woody Pond which usually has a lot of birds, but not today.  There were a few night herons, some coots, and moorhens and a guy who couldn't wait to point out the alligators.  Next time we might wear tee shirts that say ' We're not here to see the freakin' gators!'  Sorry.  Anyhow, here's a picture of the pond.  This pond is the main nesting area for the Wood Storks, but it's not that time of year yet.

Woody Pond

Snipe Pond was the next stop, but there weren't any birds there.  The pond didn't have much water in it at all and I didn't take any shots of it.  We were hoping for more - or anything - at Goose Pond and our luck changed.  There was a greater variety of birds here, but most were pretty far out. If there is a large group of birds, we'll shoot several pictures of the group and try to ID them later when we can zoom in on the computer.  We use binoculars in the field, and that helps spot something out of the ordinary in a group.  Our best strategy is still shoot now and try to ID later.  There were several varieties of ducks in this pond including Ring-necked, Scaups, and Blue and Green-winged Teals.  We also spotted Dunlins, a Black-bellied Plover, and a Killdeer.  And on the far side of the pond, my 194th bird - 3 Snow Geese.
Goose Pond
Snow Geese

By now it was getting late and we were losing light fast.  The road passes right between Greenhead and Teal Ponds, so we stopped to see what we could see.  There were a lot of birds on the far end of Greenhead, but nothing in Teal Pond.  I snapped a shot of Greenhead Pond and then we headed on to the hotel in Jacksonville.
Greenhead Pond

There are a lot of state parks around Jacksonville and we planned to hit a couple today to see what birds we could find.  Our first stop of the day was Fort Clinch State Park north of Jacksonville.  We've been here several times in the past 3-4 years since they have a variety of habitats.  Our first stop here was the fishing pier where I was able to get better shots of both male and female Black Ccoters that were swimming around the pier and jetty.  We also saw quite a few gulls and Ruddy Turnstones.

male Black Scoter
female Black Scoter
Ruddy Turnstone
juvenile Great Black-backed Gull
Laughing Gull

Gulls can be particularly hard for me to ID. There is either a 2, 3, or 4 year transition to adult plumage and the juveniles look very different from the adults.  Then there's breeding and non-breeding plumage.  So I'm kind of sure that the above is a Great Black-backed Gull, but it could be a Herring Gull.  We also got to witness a Bald Eagle chasing an Osprey and making it drop whatever it had caught.  What a bully!  They were pretty far off and this is the best I could do - and this is cropped from the original.

Bald Eagle chasing an Osprey

From the pier, we went down to the beach area to see what we could see in the mass of birds hanging out on the shoreline.  Cindy had read on EBird that there had been a mass fallout of Franklin's Gulls and we were hoping to see one of them.  Problem is that the distinguishing characteristic can only be seen in flight, and they look a lot like Laughing Gulls otherwise.  If there was one in this bunch of birds, we didn't recognize it.  Below is a shot of the pier from the beach and then a couple of bird shots.

Fort Clinch State Park fishing pier
Laughing Gulls - juvenile in front
adult Herring Gull

The wind had picked up considerably and salty, sandy air and camera equipment don't really mix well, so we decided to move on.  Little Talbot Island State Park was nearby, so we stopped there next.  The wind was still kicking, so we left the camera equipment in the car and just went out and enjoyed the beach.  Hardly anyone was there and we had a great time.

Thanksgiving Day at Cindy's folks house was great and we were back to the hotel by early evening.  Our hotel was downtown  right on the Riverwalk and we finally decided to take a stroll that evening.  I brought my smaller camera - but no tripod - with the intent of trying out the Twilight Handheld mode on the camera.  It figures that the only rain we saw down there came about 15 minutes into our walk, but I snapped a few before we had to run for shelter.

We left Jacksonville Friday morning and were breathing mountain air by mid afternoon - ahhhh.  It's always good coming home!

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