Bird Walk Rarity – Barrow’s Goldeneye – March 6th

11 03 2010

Wot no Goldeneye pictures?

It seems to have been quite a while since something exceptional has shown up on the local walks here in Connecticut. We’ve seen some nice birds and enjoyed some great days out but the further removed from a great find one is the more it starts to play on your mind as a tour guide. Sure the Glaucous Gull was a goody a couple of weeks back but a nice rarity seems to have eluded me for a while –  perhaps even since the Mississippi Kites at the hawkwatch all the way back in October.

The day before the walk Brian Webster had seen a female Barrow’s Goldeneye at Penfield Reef in Fairfield and as luck would have it I had already planned to go to Fairfield on the walk (although admittedly inland). A quick change up of plans and we decided to take a run down to Penfield Reef and see what was around and whether we could get lucky with the Goldeneye.

I have to add that Penfield Reef has always been a favorite spot of mine. It’s a one of a kind spot where at low tide you can trek for miles (it seems) out into Long Island Sound on a narrow causeway. It’s always seemed to have some good potential for something rare and even before I relocated Nick and Charlies Sandwich Tern out there a couple of years back I have always had a soft spot for the place.

When we arrived on Saturday, as luck would have it there were still good numbers of Goldeneye out off of the reef. I quickly scanned through a few of the birds and out popped the previously reported female. Now the challenge trying to get the group on a bird that was moving, actively diving and was distant enough not to be able to be isolated in the scope. As I was trying to give directions and explain what to look for on the female the majority of the birds took off for seemingly no good reason (don’t you hate it when birds do that!!!).

As the majority of the flock disappeared into the sun glare off of the west of the reef a small number of the flock returned to the eastern side. In amongst this I picked up the elliptical facial marking  and darker black back of a corking male Barrow’s Goldeneye. Again the excitement of the find was quickly tempered by the need to try and get people on a distant duck that was in a mixed flock of very similar looking birds. As I called out directions, it was good to hear that the group were starting to pick out the bird in amongst its Common cousins. Slowly but surely the group managed to obtain looks at the bird and then were able to relocate it as I moved around trying to get it in various peoples scopes.

Of course it would have been nice had it been about 500 yards closer to us and easier to isolate, but I think this kind of bird gives people a chance to learn from a challenge in the field. We started by looking at the field guide for identification clues and then began to match them up to with what one was observing in the field. Hopefully as you study a bird there is something about it that catches your eye as different and allows you to replicate the confidence in identifying the bird in future. In the end although distant the bird produced fairly good views and we were able to compare the difference in the way it was displaying compared to the surrounding male Commons. I always think that these challenging birds ID’s provide the most satisfaction when you make the identification. If every rarity was as obvious as a male Painted Bunting, then much of the excitement and of going birding would be lost and it is that challenge that I personally find so thrilling.

For me it was nice to add another bird to my Fairfield County list (after absentmindedly forgetting to chase the Eared Grebe a few weeks back) as well as adding another bird to my self found list (how many lists do I have – too many? ). Although we did manage to spend quite a lot of time with the Barrow’s the rest of the trip was not wholly uneventful with the first dribs and drabs of migrating blackbirds passing overhead, a nice collection of Wood Ducks on Aspetuck Reservoir and a few White-winged Scoter slung out in a line off of the western side of Penfield.

ps: Just to give people who believe the old field mark that an all yellow bill denotes a common Goldeneye here’s a picture to give you fits.

pps: No pictures of the Goldeneye I’m afraid so I thought I’d treat you to a snap of the Iceland Gull from Compo that we saw the other week – as taken by Catherine Hamilton.

Trip Species List: Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, Wood Duck, Mallard, Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, BARROW’S GOLDENEYE x2, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Wodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow,  European Starling, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Northern  Cardinal, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco,  Common Grackle, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch.



3 responses

11 03 2010
Brian Webster

Again, I’m glad you guys were able to relocate the Barrow’s in the huge mess of ducks!!! I felt that same satisfaction (more excitement, really) when I plucked the female. Tougher than a male, at least!! Though I would’ve liked to pull the male too!

Only my 2nd Barrow’s outside of AK. In AK, the Goldeneye flocks are ALL Barrow’s.

Sounds like you guys had a nice trip.


20 03 2010
Alex Burdo

Hey Luke,
It seems all the awesome Fairfield/B-port birds get found when I’m ON treatment!
Congrats to you guys for finding the male and to Brian for the female!
Hope to see you in the field soon!


22 03 2010

Hi Alex,

Ther will be more good birds on their way soon! Hope everything is going well with the treatment at the moment. Look forward to seeing you out in the field in the not too distant future.


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