3 Feb 2013

Nature Notes - Feb 2013 - Pete Lambert

Gradually the floodwaters were receding, leaving brown silt like ash across towpaths and bankside vegetation. Having taken the last crunchy bite of my apple I leant over the iron lattice of the Coleham foot bridge and tossed the core towards the goosander flock untidily grouped upstream.  The handsome ducks were part of a mixed bunch of bottle-green headed males and rusty crowned females. Spotting the treat the birds sedate paddling turned into a mildly hurried scoot and then the pace quickened, the pack was led by a white flanked male who almost propelled himself out of the water by powerful web footed strokes. At the last moment the prize was snatched by a dive bombing black headed gull and the hungry cavalcade dispersed in disappointed anti-climax.

A few days later we took a Sunday morning perambulation of Colemere lake near Ellesmere the goosanders here announcing their arrival in a loud splashing thrash beyond our sight and then having recovered composure they glided into view. The goosander also known as the Pied Wigeon in Shropshire, is mainly found on freshwater lakes, primarily in the north and being a hole nesting bird needs veteran trees close by. Colemere is fringed by woodland of which a number of the trees are of great age and developing the cavities that so many birds need. The goosander is a ‘sawbill’ duck, its narrow and long bill is armed with rows of sharp teeth. Its primary diet is fish and this ‘sawbill’ gives the bird its deathly grip on its slippery prey.  Sadly this diet has lead to persecution but numbers seem steady and as work is underway to improve our rivers for all wildlife then I am sure there will be enough fish to go round.  The goosander is not the only ‘sawbill’ When close to the coast it can be easy to confuse the Red Breasted merganser with our inland goosander, but the merganser has the most distinctive ‘ragged double crest’ and a speckled brown chest.

To get the best out of the winter walking we had chosen a loop from Hughley below Wenlock Edge up onto the limestone edge itself and back down to the car again. My young companion proved his worth again when we had one of those special wildlife moments. His arm, finger pointing, flew up, hushing me at the same time. A small herd of fallow deer paused briefly the far side of a high but none too thick hedge, ears flicking they looked straight at us and then plunged out of view into the river bound copse below. Moments later a hare sprinted away from us or was it the four buzzards spiralling upwards on the late winter thermals below the Edge that had spooked this long legged sprinter. Finally W’s favourite, a Grey heron lifted up from a wooded meander , heading upstream to land and settle into a new angling spot. A few weeks later found us avoiding the crowds on the eastern flanks of the Wrekin Hill. W. was ahead and saw five fallow deer this time. A momentary pause by the deer, a nervous assessment , then easily downhill and into the thick conifer stems, to pass from sight.

And, finally an oddity from home. The open run of the chicken quarter has no roof. Mixed flocks of sparrows, dunnock, collared doves and corvids parachute in to peck away the seed mix scattered by the chook brown Warrens. A few evenings back we collected the eggs as usual, being hybrids most lay through the winter, and there between the powder blue Aracaunas and the usuals nestled a blue-grey egg addition. A check confirmed that a pheasant was not only enjoying the corn but had decided that the fruit box and whorl of hay was just the place for a little bit of laying!

Happy Wildlife Watching, from Pete Lambert