Common goldeneye drake, photographed in Phippsburg, Maine on Totman Cove. He just rolled the dice.
Barrow's goldeneye drake, photographed in Brunswick, Maine on the New Meadows River. If the bird had moved a hundred feet east, it would have been in Bath.
When goldeneye chicks hatch their eyes are gray-brown. As they age, the eyes turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue. By five months of age they have turned a clear, pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.
An early contributor to modern birding as we know it today, was Walter Bradford Barrows, a professor of biology who worked for the US Department Of Agriculture. In the mid to late 1800s, Barrows wrote many respected books and professional papers about birds. The Barrow's goldeneye, was however not named for Walter Barrows, but rather after an English statesman, Sir John Barrows.
Goldeneyes are also called "Whistlers." When they fly their wing beats make a loud whistling sound. The whistling sound helps to identify them. Many times, I have heard them before I have seen them. Nonetheless, they are a wary little duck and hard to approach which makes them a challenge to photograph.
I have been looking for a Barrow's, a birding needle in the Common goldeneye haystack, for a couple of years. To finally see one was a thrill! And, though I did have to get out of my bathrobe, I didn't have to get out of my car, nor did I have to travel more than fifteen miles, preserving my standing as The Big Lebowski Of Birding.
The simplest ways to differentiate a Barrow's drake from a Common drake is the patch on the face and the spur of black running down from its shoulder, as you can see in the photos above. The patch on the Barrow's face is a crescent which runs up beyond the eye. In the Common goldeneye the patch is found below the eye. Barrow's have a purple cast to the head, while Commons are green tinted and both birds have slightly different head shapes. The color characteristics are hard to see unless the light is just right and the head shape is a little tough unless the bird turns in the right direction. Females are harder to differentiate. Usually, the Barrow's hen's bill is mostly yellow where the Common's is only yellow on the tip. When the day comes that I roll the dice and shoot snake eyes on the goldeneye hens, I'll show you what their bills look like. Maybe next week.
Kastner, J., A World Of Watchers (1986) New York: Knopf(1986) pp. 42-44
Sibley, D.A., The Sibley Guide To Birds (2000), New York: Knopf (2001), pp. 100
Stokes, D.and L.,Stokes Field Guide To Birds (1996), New York: Little, Brown & Co.(1996) pp. 83-84
For a great guide to birding in Maine click here: Maine Birding
For more on the great taiga biome, click here http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/taiga.htm