Monday, January 10, 2011

A Trip to Alaska

This weekend I took a trip to Alaska and back, at least with birding spirit. On a listserv tip, I visited a new-to-me park along the Jordan River in West Valley City to observe some winter waterfowl, including the 245th bird to be added to my life list - the Barrow's goldeneye. The black-and-white males have elegant, chic plumage with a distinct crescent-shaped patch on the cheek, while the more camouflaged females sport their mostly orange bills with pride. At this location, the males were in full masculine form trying to impress their chosen females with a series of craning necks, fluffed heads, and short, pleading honks. The girls seemed not to watch, but undoubtedly they're sizing up the competing males before deciding who will be their mate when they arrive back at their northern breeding grounds in just a few weeks.

I've wanted to add this duck to my life list for some time, ever since I saw the common goldeneye with its circular cheek patch. At first glance there doesn't seem to be much else different between these two types of ducks, but this sighting gave me an unmatched opportunity to see both species in close proximity. They are actually quite different in their coloration, with the Barrow's goldeneye being a darker bird with more prominent black. The head shapes of the two species are also bit different, though that's hard to tell because they change postures frequently.

In behavior, they do act similar - both goldeneyes were very skittish as I watched, even though the path I was on is set a bit back from the riverbank, and the river itself is wide and open in that area, providing good visibility. In contrast, the mallards, northern shovelers, and Canada geese that were also in the floating flock didn't mind my presence at all.

What a treat to add this bird to my life list; the first of many I hope to see in 2011. May your birding be as productive all year long!

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