804 The Elusive Barrow’s Goldeneye
By Curt Stewart
We all have bucket list birds we’re looking to check off before we check out, and for Ira McCauley, the Barrow’s goldeneye is one of those. The Barrow’s is a sea duck named after English geographer, Sir John Barrow, and found along mostly rocky marine coastlines. It is unique from the common goldeneye due to its blue head compared to the common’s green. They also have a steeper forehead, crescent shaped white patch behind the bill and small white spots along a mostly black wing.
They’re much less common than the uh… common goldeneye. Based on species composition surveys, about 20 to 25% of goldeneye flocks observed on Puget Sound are made up of Barrow's goldeneye.
Lucky for Ira, Beau Brooks knows just the spot to find these elusive fowl. The year before, Beau took Brook Richard on a “gentleman’s hunt” to the Lewis River where Brook bagged his first Barrow’s. This year, they added Ira to their wolf pack and hit the river. Unfortunately, their trip was short lived due to a boat malfunction. The Higdon crew decided to pivot to another hunting spot while Beau’s dad, Casey Brooks, repaired the boat. Ira’s Barrow’s would have to wait.
On the final day of Ira’s trip to the West Coast, the boat was ready, and the goldeneyes were waiting. We hit the river around noon and made our way back to the spot where we bagged our birds the previous year. Two hours and a handful of mergansers later, it was clear the Barrow’s weren’t going to cooperate. We had seen several on the boat ride in, so we knew they were there. We simply weren’t on the X.
We packed up the blind, loaded the decoys and fired up OnX to find another spot to try. Now the clock was ticking. It came down to the last day, the last hour of the trip. The Versa-Blind was in place, the decoys were set and all we could do was wait. Before long, a pair of blue headed goldeneyes flew by at about 60 yards. Ira squeezed the trigger… and the hen fell. These birds are fast, and Ira didn’t give quite enough lead.
Not long after, a big flock full of drakes came whizzing past, but there was no way to get one without taking out half the bunch. Ira did the right thing and let them go. With one minute left, a goldeneye locked up and started dropping right in front of the blind. Ira raised up, and the hen Barrow’s landed beautifully in the decoys. We unloaded our guns and accepted our defeat.
It wasn’t the way we wanted the hunt to end, but it wasn’t an uncommon ending for most of us. As waterfowlers, we don’t always get the win. Things go wrong, boats break, plans change, and we adapt. We find a way to make it work, but even when it doesn’t, it’s part of the adventure. Ira’s bucket list will have to wait another year, but you better believe he’ll be back.
WHAT WE USED ON THE HUNT
Decoys: 2 dozen Battleship Divers on a homemade long line
Shells: HEVI-12 3” #2