by Carl Strang

Many natural history enthusiasts start out with an interest in birds. At first it usually is at a stamp-collector level, making a list of the species one has seen. Some never move beyond that, but few ever completely abandon interest in their life list, the birds they have encountered in the wild places. Over time though, as that list lengthens, new additions come less and less frequently. Last week I made my first life list addition in two years. It was enabled by technology that did not exist when I was a child, the Internet and a birders’ e-mail list. I learned there was a Barrow’s goldeneye on a river half an hour from my home. Waterfowl were my first love as a group (though the great blue heron gets credit as the species that got me started), and so a lifer duck is doubly exciting. I drove up to the designated location on the Fox River, and found large flocks of common goldeneyes enthusiastically diving in the riffles, probably after the mollusks and crustaceans that are their staples.

Common goldeneyes, the black and white males and the brown-headed females

Common goldeneyes, the black and white males and the brown-headed females

At some point, peeking upstream beneath a bridge, I thought I got a glimpse of the target bird, and hastened there. How gratifying it was on a sunny January morning to see a duck I long had been hoping to encounter.

Male Barrow’s goldeneye with a pair and female of common goldeneyes

Male Barrow’s goldeneye with a pair and female of common goldeneyes

It seemed fitting that this duck looked a little larger than the common goldeneyes around it. As it was a male, with the crescent-shaped spot on the side of the head, it was much easier to pick out than a female would have been.

In a lot of ways, this kind of bird chasing is trivial, but it gets a lot of people out and active, leads to support for wild lands conservation, and despite the fossil fuel burned in such pursuits has to be regarded as a net positive. After all, more in-depth scientific study and conservation work has to start somewhere.

And I confess some pleasure at bringing my bird life list count to 812, which I want to keep larger than my beer life list which currently is at 539.




  1. Jay Sturner said,

    January 31, 2015 at 11:24 am

    I grew up on the Fox River and always looked forward to the winter arrival of goldeneyes, buffleheads and mergansers. How great that a Barrow’s showed up! I got my first look at this species in Alaska last year, and never imagined that one would pay a visit to my childhood stomping grounds. Nice post!

  2. February 3, 2015 at 6:56 am

    […] This week’s feature species is chosen in celebration of my seeing its close cousin, the Barrow’s goldeneye, as accounted recently. […]

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