On the loch

The four goosanders sneaked past me

Monday 14 November 2011.  Weather: Mild, light wind and light drizzle. A dreich November day!

Part 1

The first of my stories from a year ago.

With the pheasant shooting on the estate now started it is more difficult to get a day when no shooting and dry weather combine to make seeing birds possible.  There was more likelihood of seeing birds on the largest of the estate lochs, since wet weather makes little difference to water birds and fishing was finished for the season. I knew the boat with the electric outboard motor would not be available as the charging point had been damaged, so oars would be the order of the day. The boat is very light and rowing is no problem in any case. I was just a bit concerned, though, that the movement of the oars might limit how close I could get to any birds.

The loch was flat calm at the east end, where I started out from. The wind, not surprisingly since it was wet, was from the east and was causing some rippling of the water further up the loch but nothing too turbulent. A raft of 40 or so tufted ducks was busy just out from shore. Only about two-thirds were ever on the surface at one time and whatever they were getting off the bottom of the loch during their dives it was keeping them occupied. Halfway up the loch I could see a black shape, low in the water, that was a cormorant, and beyond it a white bird that proved when I put the binoculars on it to be a male goosander.

I set off rowing, noting the sign near where the boat had been tied up that read, ‘The wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after ’.  The sign encouraged any anglers to appreciate the wildlife on the loch and to dispose of litter safely, in particular nylon line.  Compared with those who participate in most other sports, most anglers are by nature very quiet; out to enjoy the tranquillity of the countryside whether or not they take home a trout. The risk of them disturbing wildlife is remote.

I realised in the first hundred yards of rowing that, in the normal rowing position, anything I wanted to see was behind me. I persevered for a wee while, turning the boat slightly every so often to scan the water ahead of me. I soon got fed up of that and sat on the next seat back in the boat (aft would be the nautical term) so that I could push the oars rather than pull them.  It was not a great hardship, but the downside was that I’d already dried and warmed up one seat, and here I was on a wet and cold one again! I rowed round the loch in a clockwise direction, remaining about 200 yards out from the shore. A group of mallard were resting on the shore, many standing on one leg and with head tucked under wing. After scanning them with the binos, I was happy there was nothing unusual about them or any more unusual species hiding amongst them. I continued up the south side of the loch, seeing a small flock of goldeneye some distance ahead.  They appeared rather concerned about a boat with two oars flapping at either side (even though my rowing was smooth and quiet) and, when still about 200 yards ahead, took off over my head to land at the end of the loch from which I’d just come. Oars were not a good idea.

Ahead of the goldeneye I’d spotted four goosanders, lovely looking birds with their salmon pink serrated bill, white throat and russet brown head contrasting with their grey back. They kept paddling just ahead of me into the small bay at the west end of the loch, with nowhere to go from there. I was now 150 yards from them and suspected if I closed the distance any further they’d join the goldeneye at the other end of the loch. Two were female and two were sub-adult males, with a white bar along the side of each wing that differentiated between the two sexes.  All were keeping a close eye on the ‘boat with wings.’  They began to swim back down the side of the loch again and I managed one or two photographs as they filed past in line astern.  They swam past a lone coot, foraging happily just out from the reeds and much less alert to danger than the goosanders. I had heard a coot several times at this end of the loch but had never seen one until now, as they seemed more at home in the reeds.

Leaving the goosanders in peace, I turned the boat and headed out of the bay, past a pair of mute swans. The swans completely ignored the boat, despite the oars, and had their heads underwater more often than above. Their vulnerability in this position, with bums in the air, does not seem to concern them. They have few avian predators, probably just the white-tailed eagle. These are still scarce in the east of Scotland but those that are here regularly take geese, particularly in Montrose Basin, so I suspect they would manage a mute swan as well. I’ve no doubt that white-tailed eagles are occasional visitors to the estate and I hope to see one here in due course. (I did in fact, and that’s a story for later)

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