Goosanders

The Goosanders were a surprise. I can’t remember the first time we saw them on the Kelvin but I suspect it was by the Botanic Gardens bridge because my earliest image was taken there.

What was this bird? I knew about Red-breasted Mergansers in principle but had never seen one. It didn’t take long with the book to sort this chap out as a Goosander but, can these really be on our doorstep? Well yes, they are. The quality is ordinary but I’m very fond of this image. The bird is relaxed but there is so much potential energy in the image. The ripples in the water seem to speak of imminent action; the drake’s neck looks compressed like a spring, there is intent. The rosy flush of the breast feathers is nearly there – maybe too yellow rather than how it should be – as if touched by the pink light of a winter sunrise.

Some years are better than others for Goosanders on the Kelvin – I don’t think 2022 was good, but 2020 and 2021 were quite different, with many birds on the river and on the Forth and Clyde Canal. As Goosanders are quite large, the autofocus works well and I have a lot of images I like, so I am posting quite a big gallery and threading quite a few images through the text. There are (or were) places were I expected to see them – around Belmont Bridge and immediately downstream was good, as was the area near InnDeep and below Eusebi.

I used to be lucky from Maryhill Locks along to Stockingfield Junction (though I suspect the rather extraordinary Star Trek bridge development at the junction has shifted them, and everything else, off to somewhere else).

I remember seeing Goosanders on Speirs Wharf, catching chunky Perch under the Stop Lock Bridge, and evading the robbing gulls –  a brief and violent scene which evaded the camera. We also had a good morning watching them on a part-frozen Hogganfield Loch – the ice forced them in close in numbers.

The chicks were really quite surprising. We were walking up the Kelvin earlyish one Sunday morning and there was a sort of fizzing in the water over by the far edge. We looked – at first, it was hard to take in what we were looking at, but nine Goosander chicks gradually became clear. One had a fish and the others wanted it.

Up the river they went, led by the duck, coming to rest on a half-submerged log below the Queen Margaret Drive bridge.

Somewhat later in the same season, there were groups of fresh birds up on the Summit Pound and I’d like to think that that group of nine chicks had escaped the predators and were heading for maturity.

My RSPB book tells me that Goosanders are persecuted by fishery owners and angling concerns because they really are quite good at catching fish. I’m an angler and I’m not allowed to fish the Kelvin because I don’t do the posher kind of fishing licensed on the river; given half a chance and a shoal of silvers in front of me, I can catch fish at about ten times the rate that a Goosander could manage.

I really doubt that the Kelvin Angling Association is having Goosanders culled, but I do wonder how the Goosanders  are getting on with all the dogs that Westenders seem to be flinging in the river these days. Whenever I see a relaxed-looking Goosander now, it is usually down the Partick end of the Kelvin where any hurled-in dogs are likely to be unretrievable.

I find it very difficult not to photograph them because they seem to offer almost endless possibilities of attitude and texture. The ducks remind me of Katherine Hepburn for some reason. PS. Three Goosanders on the water this morning – two drakes and a duck – just by the bridge which takes Ruchill Avenue over the canal. I was very pleased to see them.

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