Friday, February 9, 2018

St. Marys River Barrow's Goldeneye

The St. Marys River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie hosts hundreds Common Goldeneyes each years.  It was long overdue for a Barrow's Goldeneye to make an appearance.  Luckily, 2018 is the year that one did!  Actually, in 1956, a Barrow's Goldeneye was recorded in the Sault Ste. Marie Christmas Bird Count, but absolutely no details can be found on that sighting were ever found.

This Barrow's Goldeneye was first photographed by an unknown non-birder.  Yesterday, this non-birder ran into a birder, Barry Lyons, and showed him the photo because he knew it looked at bit different than the Common Goldeneyes.  Barry recognized it instantly and the hunt was on from there.  He ended up relocating it at about 5:15pm at the mouth of Fort Creek, which is where the goldeneyes have been congregating each night at dusk.  He got a great photo of it!  A few other local birders were able to get to it before dark as well.

Photo by Barry Lyons
Barry was also able to get a photo of the rare Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrid that has been around lately.

Photo by Barry Lyons

Unfortunately, I was not in town and wouldn't be until much later that night, so I missed out.  First thing this morning though, I was on it.

I arrived at the mouth of Fort Creek at 7:30am in hopes to catch the flock before they dispersed for the day.  I was a little too late, as many had already moved downstream.  I got a good scan in of the remaining ducks before a Bald Eagle flew over and scattered the rest, but the rare bird did not appear to be in there.  I spent an hour or so searching along the river before I had to get back home and do some work!  I did find the hybrid for the first time though, although the photo is not good.

I took an early lunch and tried a few spots I didn't check earlier.  Jackpot.  At 11:30am, I found the Barrow's Goldeneye in some open water of Pine Street Marina.  I got great views of it in my scope and some crappy long distance photos.

I quickly notified a couple people who were also looking for it and they zipped over so get some looks at it.  My quick online updates to Algoma District Birding and Ontario Rare Bird Alert proved beneficial as well, as someone saw one of the updates and text their friends who were only a couple minutes away at the time.  I sure was confused when two gentleman from Southern Ontario showed up only minutes after I posted the updates!

I also photographed this male Common Merganser.  It caught himself a crayfish but was struggling to get it down the hatch.  It kept throwing it in the air and the retrieving it again.  Eventually, he did get it down.

After heading home and working for a few more hours, I met up with my friend James Logan back at the marina so he could see the bird, which luckily was still there.  We hung around for about an hour and watched it as we chatted.  At 5:10pm, the bird disappeared.  I'm not sure if it flew away when we weren't watching or it moved into the direct sunlight that was beaming down.  Regardless, I was banking on it meeting up with the rest of the goldeneyes downtown at dusk again, so I headed downtown so that could try to get a better photo of it.

That proved unsuccessful.  I stood around waiting for 50 minutes, but it never showed up.  At least 140 Common Goldeneyes and 20 Common Mergansers flew in and rafted up during that time, but no Barrow's Goldeneye.  Maybe I'll be able to find some closer looks this weekend!

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