Monday, March 14, 2011

Sir John's Bird

Saturday was fun.  A day off. A good bird in the state. Road trip!

In the early hours (6:30am) I picked up Don and off we went. Location?  Grand Rapids, Michigan. Specifically, the Grand River between the Ann Street and Leonard Street Bridges. 

As you can see in this craptacular photo (175 yards with a 400mm lens on a cloudy day), our target bird clearly has a vertical (almost inverted!) forehead, a tear-dropped patch on the head that comes higher than the eye, and a series of very clear white blocks on the black back/wings.   If you look just in front of the black wings, there is that tiny, black "spur" that stretches down towards the waterline.  If you have those marks, you got it.  A Barrow's Goldeneye

Now, compare the above photo with this next one. Can you tell which is the Barrow's?

The right one, right? Err...correct? Um...left is wrong... Ehhhh, the one on the right is the Barrow's Goldeneye.  The one on the left is a Common Goldeneye.  Did you notice the difference in head shape? Did you notice that the spot in front of the eye is a different shape? Birders notice these things.  

To make matters even more intriguing, sometimes boy and girl ducks have a species identity problem (perhaps they should spend some time with birders).  Every now then, Mr. or Ms. Barrow's Goldeneye gets...ahem...."acquainted" with the opposite sex of the other species.  The little duckies turn out to have traits from both species. These damned hybrids are the bane of birders as they make identification a bit challenging. In addition, if a hybrid is confirmed, a birder can't count the bird. 

So, if this bird showed traits of being a Common/Barrow's cross, I could not count it on my Michigan list.  Fortunately, everything adds up.

So, where does this put me? My Michigan list now stands at 345 species.  I have  recorded the bird in Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, and now Michigan.  On the drive there, for some reason, I was thinking this was bird 341.  Nope. That was the Purple Gallinule last spring. 

So, after securing a stellar Michigan bird (less than 15 records) and what amounted to my second breakfast, Don and I plotted a course for home.  He had to be home for dinner (really).  Along the way, we found ourselves playing a game naturalists often spend time doing on the road - Name That Roadkill.  Deer.  Coyote. Raccoon.  Possible fox. Probable muskrat.  Skunk.  FIVE (!) Mink! I would have been impressed with two! 

The saddest of the bunch was a bird we basically both ID'ed at 75mph.  Brown and tan and  about the size of a two-liter bottle of pop, the tones were very soft.  It was certainly an owl. Too small for a Great Horned Owl, but too big for Eastern Screech, we basically looked at each other and agreed it had to be a Long-eared Owl.  After turning around, we confirmed it.  Sad.  Fortunately, it was in basically pristine condition.  He'll be mounted.  The bird. Not Don.

Oh, by the way, you might be wondering who "Barrow" is (or was). No, it was not named for the location (as in Alaska).  It was named after a fellow by the name of...? Care to guess? Barrow! You're so smart.  Sir John Barrow was an English chap (a Baron, in fact) who was a huge supporter of Arctic expeditions.  The type specimen was taken in Iceland  (an oddly displaced population considering most Barrow's Goldeneyes are found west of the Rocky Mountains).  The bird bearing his name was introduced to science in 1789.

And yes, I got Don home in time for dinner.....

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