My New Book


Countable Birds?

I had some errands to run yesterday. I needed to pick up some seed for Mr. Neil’s house and I needed some seed to take onto Showcase Minnesota with me. I went to Cardinal Corner in Newport and decided to take a quick trip over to Point Douglas Park to see if I could find a Barrow’s goldeneye. Two had been reported in that area mixed in with some large flocks of common goldeneye, bouncing between the Minnesota and the Wisconsin side of the river. Barrow’s is an unusual bird for Minnesota and you can see some great comparisons of the two species over at Bill Schmoker’s site.

There were oodles of common goldeneye and some trumpeter swans. Note the swan above on the left that is leaning forward? It was trying to break up some of the ice to get through to the other side. It was interest to watch the swan rock back and forth and push its way through.

There were some other species mixed in with the common goldeneye, including redheads and a canvasback (and the ever present Canada geese). I wasn’t really seeing anything that looked like a Barrow’s goldeneye. Local birder Tom Bell said that you watch for a black thumb mark on the side of the bird. I wasn’t really trying that hard either. I don’t know, we seem to have Barrow’s goldeneye reported every year in Minnesota, but it’s not a bird that I try for very hard. So, I just decided to focus on some digiscoping and see what kinds of shots I could get. It was warm(ish) day in the 30s, there was sun and I was just happy to be out on a day when we have only eight hours of daylight.

When I was going through my images on iPhoto I noticed this photo. There is a merganser, but check out the duck in the top center of the photo. Here’s a zoom in:

There’s a thumb! It’s a Barrow’s goldeneye! I haven’t seen one before and I don’t know if I’ll count this one. I didn’t realize I was seeing it while I was there but found I had it when I came home. However, if this was a bird I didn’t know but was trying to id and needed to take the image home to consult some field guides, I would. If you see a bird out in the wild but didn’t know it was there, can you count it? I shall ponder this…

6 comments to Countable Birds?

  • Patrick Belardo

    I say count it!

  • Mike

    That’s a tough call. You were looking for Barrow’s Goldeneye and one clearly passed through your field of view. However, you never noticed it. Listing is what we make it but I think if I was in your shoes, I (with regret) wouldn’t count it.

  • Parus

    I would say that if you conciously saw the bird but at the time passed it off as something else, and then reIDed it in your photo, count it.

    If you never even conciously saw the bird though, it goes on a new list. The “birds that I’ve photographed but have yet to add to my life list” list.

    Happy Birding! –Chris W, WI
    The SW WI birder

  • Anonymous

    I’m with Mike on this, and would
    not count it. If you had spotted
    the bird first, then took photos
    to help confirm the ID, then you
    would have probable cause to
    check it off. However, I can’t
    be sure you have a pure Barrow’s
    in the photo; maybe a hybrid of
    the two? It’s your list, maybe
    Chris W has a good solution.
    Hap in New Hope

  • Ecobirder

    I am not even sure that it is a Barrow’s and not a common. In the picture you see a lot of black but I think that is because the bird is swimming away from you and to the right. The black that you see is the tail. The black “spur” or thumb print, as you call it, comes under the white spots and I can not see on at all in the picture. The other distinguishing marks are the shape of the white spot on the face, which is too far away in this picture to tell, and the shape of the head. Barrow’s have a flatter head instead of the domed shape that the common has. It is tough to tell from the picture but the head shape looks the same to me as the other common goldeneye in the picture. I would say at best it is inconclusive, from the picture, whether or not this was a common or a Barrow’s but that is only my opinion.

  • birdchick

    The voting seems to be in favor of not counting it and the pictures is so far away that there’s even a question if it is in fact the bird in question.

    I’m leaving it off.

    Meanwhile, Non Birding Bill says birders are insane…but he always says that.

    It is an interesting question. I’ve been on field trips where someone was desperately trying to get a “Lillian’s Meadowlark” and every meadowlark we saw he kept trying to see some tiny white marks at too far of a distance. He was driving everyone nuts and I think the field trip leaders finally conceded he saw one just to get him to chill out and move the group along.

    I might go back…today someone not only saw the Barrow’s but also a Harlequin duck…I’ve seen those in Rhode Island but always fun to see them again.