The Eyes Have It

Good news, our latest base camp location finally has some decent connectivity. Unfortunately, we also happen to be in the path of a pretty nasty storm that is barreling down on us rather fast. Tornado warnings from Galveston Island (where we are currently camped) to Houston with expected steady high winds, rain and now Linda tells me there is an opportunity for hail. Quite the quandary, hunker down, raise anchor and head for less exposed land or…make a quick walk out to the beach and take in nature’s power. Okay, so there really wasn’t that much of a quandary.

Approaching Storm from Galveston Island, January 2023

Still an hour or so away from the bad stuff, but the sea gods are starting to get restless. Assuming the storm doesn’t grow out of hand, hoping to go back out when the eye passes over and see what the bird situation looks like or if there are any quality shells the Gulf puked up. Fingers crossed for some fallout activity or high seas blow-ins like a Frigate or Jaeger. Until then, need to take advantage of the connectivity and talk about another “eye” of sorts.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about today’s featured feathered friend.

For those of you not familiar with this particular species of duck, it is called a Common Goldeneye. I’ve often raged against some of the horrible names given to many a bird and when I see general names like “common” I usually get ready to bring out the battle flag. A quick look at the range maps settled my ruffled feathers – they indeed, have a majority of the US in the non-breeding months and even cover most of Canada and Alaska when they turn frisky.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

Their few gaps are in southern Arizona, inner Florida (an up into Georgia/Carolinas and, ironically, the southern belly of Texas. At least for those last two, assuming they figure they are that close to the coasts, why not slap the obligatory “Salt Life” sticker on their rump and head for the coast. Ron and I managed to find this particular specimen off the Goose Island State Park fishing pier roughly this same time last year.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

There were eBird reports of the Goldeneye leading up to our visit. Neither of us had that duck checked off for the Average Year yet (link here). That excitement started to wane the further down the coastline we walked. Plenty of Brown Pelicans auditioning for the latest Cirque Du Gulf, a Tern or two doing their thing and a Yellowlegs up to its knees in the salty sea – but no ducks to be found.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

Linda and I have been a long-time visitor to Goose Island State Park thanks to the “Big Tree” area that can be found a mile or two outside the main body of the park. Those of you that are familiar with that landmark probably already know the birding “opportunity” that grazes nearby. For those that are not aware…well, I’ll forego the debate that always arises and simply recommend finding a chatty local. In all those years, I didn’t remember there being such a nice fishing pier at the back of the state park. A quick search confirmed that this replacement pier was rebuilt after the entire area was devastated by Hurricane Harvey back in 2017. They received $2 million in 2019 to recover from the impact. What has risen out of the ashes, so to speak, is a magnificent 1,620ft pier perfect for fishing and birding alike.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

A long walk to nearly the end resulted in the checks we were hunting for – and an unexpected bonus for two Oystercatchers hanging out on a sandbar halfway down. Outside of a Common Loon (there’s that word again), there really wasn’t anything else that far out in St. Charles/Aransas Bay. Even managed to tin the drake (the more colorful one) and the female! Quick update, no Goldeneyes when we visited there a few days ago sigh… but did get the Oystercatchers ticked off for this year…yeah.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

How about we get to some interesting tidbits as takeaways for your invested time. Might want to keep a short distance from the fainting coaches when you read this…These ducks were named after the color of their eyes. “Quick, bring a wet cloth and some smelling salts!”. Next thing they will be trying to tell me is Oystercatchers like Oysters – oh the humanity. Now that you are back on your feet, might be intrigued that the Goldeneye is similar to the Wood Duck (link here) in that they prefer to nest in tree cavities. This makes for one hell of a second day for the chicks who leave that day to plummet down to their mothers taking up position on the ground. And millennials still think they have it rough.

Common Goldeneye found at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, TX, January 2022

According to Cornell, from that point on it gets a bit chaotic. The chicks are able to nourish themselves and simply need parental guidance to help keep them safe. Interesting thing is, that guidance might not come for their actual parent(s). They have a tendency to get mixed up with other broods, traded for pretty beads, abandoned by crackhead moms or simply given up for territory rent to slumlords. They even have a name for the resulting mixed broods – “crackhens”. Wait, wait, wait, my apologies, just occurred to me I read that word too fast .. not crackhens, rather creches. My apologies to all Goldeneye moms out there.

Well, the front of the storm is about to hit here, better dig out my raincoat, get the camera close by and crank ACDC’s Hells Bells.

I’m a rolling thunder, pouring rain
I’m coming on like a hurricane
My lightning’s flashing across the sky
You’re only young, but you’re gonna bird

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