[Tweeters] Barrow's Goldeneye Coomunal Roost on Green Lake, Seattle

Martin Muller martinmuller at msn.com
Sat Jan 24 15:09:01 PST 2015


For many years I have known (and occasionally reported on) wintering Barrow’s Goldeneyes forgoing their customary salt water hangout to fly to freshwater Green Lake to roost. Their numbers vary between 30 and 60 during the winter months. One has to get to the area they favor on the lake (the south corner near the Aqua Theater) before sunrise. A scope helps.

I expect to find the birds in this location during the CBC in late-December. Usually we start the CBC in this area (because of the Barrow’s presence there). Starting at around 07:25 - 07:30 the birds leave the lake in (initially) small groups of 3 - 10, but the last group, right around 8 AM may be a single flock of all remaining birds (up to 25). Then the rest of the day one may find only one or two Common Goldeneyes on the lake.

This past (2014) CBC, to my surprise, I didn’t find any Barrow’s Goldeneyes at Green Lake when I arrived at 07:30. Did I miss them or had they changed their behavior?

Today, January 24 2015, I got my answer. I was supposed to meet with a group of birders to walk the lake, and decided to go early and check on the goldeneyes. I arrived at 07:22 (sunrise at 07:45) near the Aqua Theater and initially had difficulty making out any birds out on the water. Within five minutes my eyes had acclimated enough (and the sky was “brightening” despite the cloudy conditions) that I could make out a raft of birds about 200 feet offshore. Using my scope I could make out 246 Barrow’s Goldeneyes & 30 Common Goldeneyes. I was so surprised by the numbers (the highest counts for either species during many visits to the lake since November 1983) I counted the Barrow’s three times. Just to make sure. I did not attempt to get a sex ratio, since it would be difficult/impossible to distinguish sub-adult males from females under the low light conditions.

Soon after I completed the third count (still 246; I like it when the birds string out in almost a single line…) the first small groups started to depart. It’s always fun to watch the first small groups try and overcome the flock mentality. They take off, flying east, then circle up out over the water, then head straight west for salt water. But as they start to head west they fly over the remainder of the flock still paddling, preening, jockeying for position, displaying around the lake, and invariably, the flock pulls one or two of the flying birds back down. As hunters know so well: a swimming/roosting/feeding flock is practically irresistible to birds of a feather. Those birds not quite sure whether they should go or stay, will take the tumble, rapidly descending towards the flock, most of the time instinctively followed by the others in their early-commuter group. They usually don’t land, but then head back east, only to gain altitude out over the lake again, before, once again, heading west.

Later departing groups appear to have less and less difficulty overcoming the remaining floating flock’s attraction, and may even depart on their first attempt.

Shortly before 8 AM, waiting at the meeting place near the Bathhouse Theater, while investigating a trail of Glaucous-winged feathers strewn along the lawn (trying to see if I could find a partially eaten carcass that would shed light on how the gull had met its demise, and possibly who had contributed/caused said demise) my attention was drawn to the island, where some 200 crows had gathered on their way from their communal roost to their respective daytime hangouts. A daily ritual in winter. However, this morning it was interrupted by an adult peregrine repeatedly stirring up the flock of crows (all of them taking flight while cawing, dodging the falcon, and then re-alighting in the tops of the trees on the island). I watched the falcon, during three different bouts, circle around (and through) the cloud of crows some twenty times. She made some feigns in their directions, but to me she didn’t appear intent on nailing a crow. It was quite the spectacle, though. Never did get a good look at the falcon, since she landed on the far side of the island.

Right around 8 the morning commuter flight of (200+) Mew Gulls arrived, flying in from the northwest (do they spend the night out on salt water?), streaming in past the island, dispersing over the lake for their morning routine of bathing, preening, and looking for breakfast.

All under the watchful eyes of the pair of Bald Eagles perched in a nearby tree.

Always fun to visit Green Lake.

Martin Muller, Seattle
martinmuller at msn.com

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