NB Naturalist Feature: The 2019-2020 Barrow’s Goldeneye Surveys

The 2019-2020 Barrow’s Goldeneye Surveys

By Janet Doucet, Roger Leblanc, Mike Lushington, and Donald MacPhail

JULY 17, 2020 — Once again, during the winter of 2019–2020, a number of volunteers, supported by Nature NB, surveyed the province for Barrow’s Goldeneyes. This makes three of the last four years that the surveys have been done, generally three times each winter.

Barrow’s are the less common “cousin” of the Common Goldeneye although they can be locally present in groups of a hundred or more individuals. They arrive in New Brunswick around the end of October or early November. Large numbers remain in the Baie des Chaleurs region moving further east and south in significant numbers only when forced to when their open water habitat freezes over. By late January, most Barrow’s are along the Northumberland Strait coastline of New Brunswick where they remain until heading to the boreal forest of the Quebec North Shore and Labrador to nest in spring.

Long-time observers in the Dalhousie area report that very few Barrow’s show up there in the spring, apparently preferring to head directly north rather than stopover in their preferred location from late fall and early winter.

A family of Barrow’s Goldeneye.

The first Barrow’s survey of each year is not a discrete survey for Barrow’s but, instead, uses widespread provincial data from Christmas Bird Counts. The second and third surveys are carried on around the coastal regions of the province at the end of January and the end of March.

As usual, counts were heavy in the north at the start of the winter, but dropped to zero by late January.

The second of this year’s three surveys found the most Barrow’s – 305. This is lower than the high count of last year’s survey – 455 found on Christmas Bird Counts around the province – but was the second highest count since surveys began. No particular conclusions can be drawn from the data over such a short period of time, especially when counts can be very weather dependent. The Barrow’s don’t seem to mind inclement weather, but the counters find it difficult!

A couple of stray groupings of Barrows are of interest:

  • Fredericton had three Barrow’s on each of the last two Christmas Bird Counts and one in 2014. It is not known if there were any Barrow’s present on the other survey dates or whether Barrow’s persist in the area through the winter.
  • The small but significant population of Barrow’s at the St Stephen sewage lagoon seems to be present every year. It does not seem to be a group of birds that heads to the warmest part of New Brunswick only when it gets cold up north. Rather, it seems to be a separate little group that largely bypasses the northern part of the province.  There were 6 Barrow’s in St Stephen by mid-November (at the same time as a couple of hundred arrived in the Baie des Chaleur region) and on December 6, there were 36 Barrow’s at the sewage lagoon. Putting this in perspective, there were only 45 Barrow’s observed along the Atlantic coast between Maine and New York on Christmas Bird Counts.
Barrow's survey - winter 2019-2020 - map

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Another perspective on New Brunswick’s Barrow’s population is that there were 309 on Quebec Christmas Bird Counts and nine on Ontario’s. New Brunswick’s Barrow’s population is an important component of this attractive and not very common sea (and sewage lagoon) duck.

From the Archives

One of the co-authors of this article, Mike Lushington, also wrote about the Barrow’s Goldeneye for the NB Naturalist in 1995. Check it out!

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Lushington Article 1995