Take a gander at the goosander
Attenborough Nature Centre manager TIM SEXTON on a species of fish-hunting duck that’s quite different to its friendly bread-fed cousin
ATTENBOROUGH Nature Reserve is probably best known for its waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans). One of the best times to see ducks is during the winter when many different species arrive on the Reserve from their breeding grounds in Northern Europe to spend the colder months.
The Reserve has a special designation of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which was given in part due to the nationally important numbers of winter ducks that the Reserve regularly attracts.
One of the most charismatic of the winter duck species that can be found on the reserve is the Goosander. This large, streamlined diving duck is a very different animal to the portly bread-fed ducks you may be used to seeing on your local park pond. They are perfectly designed for catching fish and do so with deadly effectiveness. They belong to the family of sawbills – so-called because of their narrow, sharply-hooked beaks with serrated edges.
Goosander are often shy and tend to only gather on the larger ponds on the reserve - far away from human disturbance. However, over the last week we have been treated to unprecedented views of around 50 birds which appear to have found an abundant source of food under the barge channel bridge next to the Attenborough Nature Centre – viewable from the cafe.
The number of goosander that arrive on the reserve each autumn is largely dependent on the weather. In an average winter we would expect to see between 50 and 100 individuals across the reserve. However, in colder years this number increases dramatically. In the cold winter of 1997, 900 were reported across the County.
Most of the Goosander that spend the winter at Attenborough will be birds that have bred in Scotland and the north of England, although some will have travelled from as far away as Scandinavia and northwestern Russia.
Goosander are pretty unique among most duck species as the males not only perform seasonal migration but will also undertake a moult migration in mid-summer. They leave the females and travel all the way to the North Cape of Norway. Here they mingle with 35,000 other males from other parts of western Europe and loaf about, while their new feathers grow.
Male goosander can be identified by their warm cream-coloured body, dark green head, black back and long red bill. Females are uniformly grey with a brown head and white throat patch. They frequently dive for fish – often for minutes at a time - so be patient when you are looking for them.