Male Common Goldeneye In Flight And Flaring To Land

Goldeneyes in flight are a work in progress for me but I think I’m making some headway.

Common Goldeneyes are fast, twitchy and erratic flyers especially when coming in to land on water so I find them extremely challenging to photograph in flight. I don’t get much practice with them because they’re only here in Utah during winter in relatively small numbers (most of these birds winter on coastal bays or large rivers). About the only thing I have going for me with this species is their fast wingbeat (9 beats/sec) that produces a whistling sound especially in cold weather so I can often hear them approaching and that does give me some advantage.

That whistling sound gave rise to their colloquial name, “whistler”.


1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this adult male late yesterday afternoon as he came in to land on a local pond. As you can see from my camera settings lighting was marginal especially for a fast, erratic and relatively small duck in flight but there was just enough light to get a hint of the iridescent greens on his head.

I was only able to lock focus on him for two shots in a short, quick burst.



1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is my favorite of the two because only .1 second later he’s already in a full flare posture in order to quickly slow his air speed in preparation for landing on the water. He’s using his entire body including wings and spread webbed feet to increase drag and slow down for a more controlled landing and I think that angle of attack makes for an interesting image especially since he’s tipped toward me a little.

I have three primary nits to pick with this second photo (don’t I always…):

  • better light would have allowed me to have sufficient shutter speed at a lower ISO setting which would have improved overall image quality
  • if I’d been closer to the bird I’d have better detail and I would have had to crop less to get the duck sufficiently large in the frame
  • I don’t like the pale horizontal band at the top of the frame because it looks like a processing artifact (which it isn’t)

I know, coulda woulda shoulda. But I’m making some progress with this difficult subject in flight and I do feel good about that.


Note: Ernest Hemingway compared the whistling sound of goldeneye wings to the sound made by ripping silk. If you’ve never heard it here’s an interesting sound clip from BirdNote.



20 comments to Male Common Goldeneye In Flight And Flaring To Land

  • Alice Beckcom

    Ron, I love the shots. Their whistle is marvelous. Thanks.

  • Laura Culley

    Like Marty said, “Birds are just so COOL!” I mean, really! We’re nowhere near that cool.
    On top of that, you’re just so darn COOL to bring these images (almost) every morning! Such a deal!
    As for your nits, well what can I say? In MY eyes, which are admittedly not that sharp, they’re invisible until you point them out and sometimes, not even then.
    As for the whistle, I remember the sounds of all the ducks in the world coming in to roost in a spring-fed creek in Wyoming as the sun disappeared behind the Big Horn mountains. I’ll never forget that sound! I love outside!

  • Love that sound clip. And the flare. And the whole body landing pose…

  • Beautiful bird…like the Flared tail….

  • Marty K

    That second shot is so neat with everything flared out for landing. Birds are just so COOL! You’ve definitely increased my appreciation of them — and continue to do so daily.

    Hope everybody stays warm today!

  • Dick Harlow

    One of my favorite ducks along with its cousin the Barrows, I like them both, but the second one is “in my mind” excellent. OK, usually I take issue with your negative comments on your images, even though I can remotely understand what you dislike. However, with the last image as it came up on my computer it cut out the top bar that ran across the top of the picture, so I was about again to disagree with you, until I lowered the image to see the top of it. Ah, I agree, but you could alway crop that top bar out. At any rate we are always our most concerted critic. As I am a rank amateur in photography, I marvel at your expertise, even many of the images you consider marginal I would have been delighted to have taken.
    I think we are getting close, maybe not there yet to MT temperatures, but we were-16 last night and with the wind chill tonight are expected to be -25 to -30 here in the Greens (Green Mountains). Constant very fine snow flurries and wind driven. I have to admit I’m a wimp – staying inside only going out when I have to!

  • Diane Bricmont

    Does your nitpicker ever take a day off??? Neat shot of all the landing gear fully deployed!

  • Judy Gusick

    I love these shots despite the minor shortcomings that I only see when pointed out! 🙂 That is an interesting whistle – reminds me of what morning doves do when they take off at times…………… Looks like it has a bit of a “tooth” near the end of it’s bill………..

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