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

Nottingham Post - - WILDLIFE -

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.

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