Goldeneye – No Question

I have seen numerous Common Goldeneye over the years but never a Barrow’s Goldeneye. During my first year of birding one of my three life chases was for a female Barrow’s Goldeneye. She was hanging with a group of female Common Goldeneye on the Illinois River at Peoria. I easily found the Goldeneyes and spent an hour in the freezing weather but never could turn one of the Common’s into a Barrow.

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Barrow’s Goldeneye at Silverthorne Sewage Ponds. 12/3/16

There had been discussion on the Illinois listserv if one was a Barrow’s or not with the prevailing wisdom the bill was yellow enough for a Barrow’s. I have since seen this argument numerous times as people try to turn a Common into a Barrow’s. Especially in Illinois where a Barrow’s does occasionally turn up in a flock of Common.

Well let me say after spending a couple of minutes at the Silverthorne Sewage Ponds there isn’t an argument on Goldeneye differences. 

Colorado County Birding states the Silverthorne Sewage Ponds are a reliable spot to see Barrow’s Goldeneye in the winter. Since it is only two miles off I-70 I thought I’d stop and see for myself if there is a case for arguing about the species.

It was cold, windy, and snowing in the mountains when I stopped. Luckily the ponds are right on the main drag since I wanted to keep moving and get back down to lower altitude.

Immediately upon exiting the car I saw a group of Barrow’s and immediately recognized them. Not even close to the markings on a Common Goldeneye. I know I was close but the difference was easily apparent. The crescent on the male Barrow’s looks nothing like the round spot on the Common. And the all yellow bill of female didn’t hint at the Common’s mostly black bill.

A zoomed shot of Barrow’s Goldeneye showing the large crescent of the male and all yellow bill of the female. 12/3/16
A few weeks later and I’m on the Connecticut coast looking at a distant raft of Common Goldeneye. Even at this distance there is no doubt they are Common. 12/26/16

 

Other species at the Siverthorne Sewage ponds included American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Gadwall . You can’t tell from the photo but the weather was deteriorating quickly. 12/3/16
The only non-waterfowl species at Silverthorne was a Black-billed Magpie, a species I would see at every stop. 12/3/16
I made one more stop on the day at the Gypsum Ponds where a flock of Black-billed Magpies flew over heading to the hills for the evening. 12/3/16

Then off to Grand Junction to start the real trip.

Brant Flight – Weekend Highlight

Before I continue with posts from my recent Colorado trip I’ll have to inject a post or two from birding Connecticut this past weekend. The weather was a little cooler than last year’s 70F temperatures but was still pleasant with the highs in the upper 40’s. I birded the local reservoir a couple of days and made my usual holiday trip to the Long Island Sound. There were several personal highlights but I’ll go with the Brant Flight as the main highlight.

We did enjoy a White Christmas. The area had received 8″ of snow the previous week.

As with all of the Northeast the continuing drought lowered the water level at the local reservoir. I’m not sure this had an effect on birding but I didn’t see any loons as in past years. Since most of the species I saw there are the same as the Midwest I’ll jump to the ocean.

The red lines are the normal waterline. I’m guessing the reservoir has dropped a good 8-10 feet.

I overdressed both days birding the reservoir. Unlike the Midwest I think it has to do with the hills and trees blocking the wind. So of course I under-dressed at the ocean where the winds were coming off the water dropping the temperature 10-20 degrees. I managed to layer up with some old clothes in my nephew’s trunk and made a day of it.

A view to the east where the strong SE winds were originating.

As usual I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park since it has a pond, marshes, wooded area, and an ocean each. One of those spots I could see birding every day. The woods held the usual suspects and the pond had Mute Swans, Gadwall, and American Black Ducks.

brant flock
I’ll throw in a photo of American Black Duck since it’s a species we don’t see in large numbers in the Midwest.
The surprise of the day was a Greater Yellowlegs that made its presence known by giving its tu-tu-tu call. Checking a range map, it winters as far north as New England.
Common Goldeneye had the largest count on the water with several flocks flying by and landing. Red-breasted Mergansers were the other main species.
Not as many Long-tailed Ducks as in past years.
A distant photo that appear to be Scaup from the white wingbar. I’m leaning towards Greater since they are the expected species.

Brant Flight

After walking the park for almost three hours I was about ready to leave. I was going to climb over the break-wall, take a quick scan, and make the short walk back to the car.

brant flight
The last hurdle, the main break-wall in the park. Up and over and out of the cold!

As I get to the top the break wall I’m jolted by an eruption of birds with a strange call taking flight.

Brant!

BRANT Flight flikr

They had been on the other side of the break wall.

I have never experienced a Brant Flight. The sudden flight and calling was like the Great Horned Owl experience from last week. A captivating scene that keeps one birding.

The quicker wing beats and more agile flight show the difference between Canada Geese and the smaller goose’s flight. More of a duck type flight than a goose’s.  I watched them until they were out of sight far to the east.

I wished they would have turned back but when they didn’t I headed to the car and on to my next stop.

Back to Bushwhacking – Johnson County 1/31/15

In the last few months I have drifted away what I like to do most in birding – bird the local area. And I have come to miss the familiarity of the local haunts.

So with that I went back to Johnson County Saturday to bird the spots I have spent the majority of the last two years.

I arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before sunrise and immediately had an Eastern Screech-Owl at one of the usual spots. I don’t know if it is me but I it wasn’t very far away and I still couldn’t find it with a flashlight.  The other usual Eastern Screech-Owl spot was silent. As was the usual Barred Owl site. I’m not having much luck with Barred Owls this year.

There were numerous Red-tailed Hawks on territory including one dark juvenile that had me thinking Rough-legged.  The local crows started to harass it which prevented me from getting a decent photo.

The bulk of the day was spent at Johnson County Park since there were still many hunters at Atterbury FWA. I spent several hours walking looking for sparrows and bushwhacking through thickets checking for owl whitewash before the snow came.  I didn’t find any whitewash but in the past it has paid off several times.  I came across a couple of good sized flocks of sparrows with the first flock consisting of several White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows.

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White-crowned Sparrow JC Park 01/31/15
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Same bird as above looking dapper.

While standing in some small saplings observing the White-crowned Sparrows, three American Kestrels came screaming by chasing each other and almost hit me.  My guess is they were only two to three feet above my head.  They landed on a power line across the road, all three still calling at each other.  One then flew to a nearby tree and kept calling.  They all eventually moved on with the one still calling.

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Two of the three American Kestrels on wires, the other having moved on to a nearby tree. JC park 01/31/15
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The third Kestrel just to the north, and still calling. JC Park 01/31/15

I did manage to record one of the American Kestrels that kept calling.

Audio of the American Kestrel calling close to me. Turn up your volume to hear. ( A Downy Woodpecker and Carolina Chickadee thought they would get in their 2 cents also)

Before I came upon the second flock of sparrows I was walking through a grass field that had a section plowed.  I kept hearing what I thought were Horned Larks.  The spot looked good for Horned Larks but the area is surrounded by miles of woods, not farm land.  So I was puzzled.  I scanned the area several times but did not see any larks.

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Are there Horned larks out there? JC park 1/31/15

Moving on to the brushy area on the other side I came upon a flock of American Tree Sparrows.  So the question is does the song of a flock of Tree Sparrows sound like the tingled song of a Horned Larks at a distance?

A little later while watching the flock of sparrows I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance.  It then got near enough that I could see it in the thicket.  It was a Blue Jay imitating the Red-shouldered Hawk.  No, it was practicing imitating a Red-shouldered Hawk because the hawk was still calling off and on in the distance.

Audio of a Blue Jay practicing its imitation of a Blue Jay. If you listen hard enough you can hear the distant, real Red-shouldered Hawk at 10 seconds.

I didn’t find anything unusual at Johnson County Park but did hear a Killdeer, which in itself isn’t unusual but I hadn’t heard one since the first of the month,

I then stopped by Walmart/Lowes Pond in Franklin on the way home.  On the limited amount of open water there was a pair of Common Goldeneye to go with the Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Coots.

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Local birds at Lowes/Walmart pond. Franklin 01/31/15

It was a good day to be out and looking for the local birds.