A Surprise to My Goldeneye

I hope everyone that celebrates it had a safe and merry Christmas!  We hear at Lifeintrigued headquarters have been busy trying to wrap up the year’s posts so we can start fresh again after the first.  The plan is to get through the remaining three Yellowstone bird posts so I can spend January getting to the larger animals shot on our vacation last October.  First on this list is kind of a surprise to me.  Most of the time while Linda is driving, my eyes are focused out the window on trees and any water bodies we happen to pass.  Linda is pretty tolerant of this behavior even when I give our special code word for STOP THE CAR – WE NEED TO GO BACK AND PHOTOGRAPH A BIRD I JUST SAW.  This is shortened to a single word since we would be a quarter of a mile down the road before getting all that out (yes, she drives fast).

On one of these occasions out in Yellowstone I found these waterfowl enjoying a calm late afternoon.

For some strange reason I classified them as Goldeneyes and since I already had that bird checked off my Bird List I didn’t get overly excited about the shoot.  The dark reflections off the water were wreaking havoc on the exposure.  Adding time to bring in the details of the darker birds were causing some blowouts on the whiter ones.  Our presence did not go unnoticed and almost immediately they started heading away from the shore.

When I got back home I started the post processing on this shoot, again,  initially thinking they were goldeneyes.  When it came time to check out some of their reference bios it became apparent that my early classification was wrong.  Now the curiosity was peaking.  Thumbing through all the reference books again revealed what appears to be Buffleheads.  The markings on both the females (darker birds) and the breeding males (whiter ones) are a pretty good match.  The region is also consistent and true to the reference information they didn’t make a sound the whole time I was snapping pictures.  One of the other features of the breeding male is their iridescent head.  It is difficult to see in these smaller pictures, but if you look directly at this picture…

you will see the different colors shimmering in the light.

Hit the jump to see additional pictures of the Bufflehead (including some of them taking off from the water)

If this is accurate (and I believe it is at this point), I can officially check this new bird off my list!  Thankfully Linda agreed to go back to make this all happen.  Here is another shot of the breeding male.  The colors didn’t come through on the head but you can definitely make out the unique white markings behind the head – kind of looks like time running on a stopwatch.

According to the reference books, Buffleheads are one of the smaller ducks and generally silent except during courtship.  This species also has the rare characteristic of an increasing population since the mid 1950s.  As a slight justification to myself, the National Geographic reference book actually states, “It’s plumage is suggestive of miniature goldeneyes.”  So there you go!  Oh, another interesting tidbit from the same reference, “It flies so quickly, with rapid wingbeats, that the wings blur.”

Let’s just see how the 400mm Beast thinks about that.

Nailed it!  Similar to the Mergansers (link here) I was able to pan through with the Beast and catch them lifting out of the water.  As with the other shots, keeping them in the frame while zoomed so deep is a difficult task at best.  I was able to grab a second shot thanks to having it in continuous shot mode (a highly recommended mode for all bird photographers out there).

The car’s window frame begins to impede if they travel to far.  Guessing the above shot was just about at the extent of movement allowed by the window – Based on the water pattern, one apparently got away.  A quick reset allowed me to capture one more shot, but the dark reflections of the water caused the birds to get lost in the shot.  If you took a quick glance at this picture without knowing what it was you might think you were looking at flying penguins.

Well, that does it for this bird post.  I am definitely thrilled I was able to add to my collection and hope you enjoyed the shots as well.  As is always the case on this blog, feel free to correct any of my classifications – it is not always easy to match the specimens found in the field with reference shots and having multiple eyes on the task is a good thing.  Two birds to go.. wish me luck.

full size pictures can be found in our Smugmug Gallery (link here)

4 thoughts on “A Surprise to My Goldeneye”

  1. Confirmation! Thanks for taking the time to verify that – an interesting website I was not aware of – I am going to add that to my reference collection as another way to validate the bird classifications. The best part is their picture showed similar markings to my shots which was the struggle with the other reference books I have (as I have repeatedly complained about in this blog).

    I was surprised to see a voice player for this bird seeing as how they are known to be quite. I played it and it is remarkable how similar it is to the Common Raven’s voice which gives credence to a bizarre statement I saw in one of the other books – it indicated that it will call a warning out to Ravens in the area – assuming this is to trick them into staying away from them.

    Thanks again!


  2. I forgot to mention that the females also matched perfectly with their photo on the site. The iBird Pro reference app on my iPad includes 5 hours of bird recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that runs the site I linked to (via the Cornell Macaulay Library that is cited next to the audio link on the site). I’m sure there’s something like iBird Pro for Android, and the audio can also attract birds as I’ve demonstrated.

    Two additional interesting tidbits I noticed: The Buffelhead’s conservation status is “Least Concern” so fire away, and the phonetic text of the female call is given by iBird as “quack”.



  3. I actually have the Audubon app for my iTouch (I think I had to buy it), then got it free for both the Android phone and the HP Touchpad (ported to Android) through promotional offerings. To be honest, that app is only average – they did use photographs, but there is usually only one or two and usually just has the ducks sitting in the water which is limited when trying to classify them. I’ll have to check out the availability of the iBird Pro app for Android – I have tried to call in birds with the recordings in the Audubon app, but the speakers pale compared to the iPad – thanks for the tip.

    Looks like I should be toting my shotgun the next time I make it to Yellowstone – if we let them get too populous, assuredly they’ll rise against us – nothing worse than armed ducks (ha). For some reason shooting birds always makes me recall Bryson’s History of Nearly Everything where he documents the discovery and the immediate shooting of the Dodo bird – they watched in awe as they shot them the flock would take off and circle back to land in the same spot – upon which they shot them again and again – sigh

    if you get the chance, listen to the bufflehead voice and tell me if you think it sounds like quack – (if so Raven’s quack too) – I usually reserve the quack sound to Mallards.

    Once again, thanks for taking the time to comment!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s