On the loch – Part 2

Male and female goldeneye on the loch

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

I had hoped, while I was on the loch, that I might see the otter which is frequently at the west end, but no such luck.  I rowed, in the strange manner of facing forwards, down most of the north side, then cut across the centre as I could see a large number of birds had gathered on the south shore again. A jet black cormorant flew over my head.  Cormorants are remarkably big birds, with their full size being appreciated when they take to the air. When they are swimming, a higher percentage of the bird is underwater compared with duck and goose species, so they look deceivingly small and serpentine.  I was surprised at how close the bird came to me, especially considering that they can be considered as pests by fisheries and anglers and licences are granted by Scottish Natural Heritage to shoot a small number every year.  This one surely hadn’t heard of this!

As I got closer to the birds on the south side of the loch, I could see that many of them were common gulls. Behind the gulls, a cormorant stood upright on a rock that jutted out of the loch like an iceberg, wings open to dry them. This bird, unlike the last one I saw, had a grey breast, which made it rather penguin-like.  To the right of the common gulls were my goosanders from earlier, having made their way back down the loch. They were now eight in number, with one of them an adult male, which looked almost pink rather than white. As the group preened themselves, sometimes lying on one side to do so, I could see there were at least two sub-adult males now in the group. They still had the brown head, like the females, rather than the black head they would have as adults. As they were preening, much more white was visible on the young males compared to the females, and as they rose in the water and flapped their wings, again it was obvious they had more white on the wings than their female siblings. Since goosanders lay somewhere between eight and ten eggs, this would probably be a family group of ma, pa and the survivors of the weans.  As I got closer to the birds they swam ahead of me towards the shoreline, then in line astern again, with dad in the centre, up the loch heading westwards. I took some rather long range photos and left them to it.

To the left of them as I’d been rowing over the loch were the goldeneye. They had moved down the loch to just beside the east shore.  I watched them at a distance, like the goosanders, preening and splashing about on the surface. There were three males and three females, and one of the males was having a great time, with water splashing in the air like a fountain. This was the only adult male in the group, its green rather than brown head and the large white spot at the top of its beak differentiating it from the slightly drabber females and sub-adult males, all with brown heads. The females seemed more intent on feeding, and they were diving much more than the males.  A very dark coloured buzzard flew quite low over them, but they did not see it as a threat as they knew they could soon disappear underwater.

I sat for a while in the flat calm waters, watching the many trout mouthing the water’s surface, sometimes breaching the water slightly with a little swirl, and occasionally jumping right out of the water.  Most seemed sizeable trout, but one smaller one of maybe half a pound came clean out of the water twice in quick succession in the manner of a porpoise or penguin.  I wondered if it was being chased by a large trout or maybe a pike. It certainly gave the impression of trying to escape the jaws of some terrifying underwater creature.

I cut across the loch again, heading towards the tie-up point for the boat, and meaning to give the goldeneye plenty of space. They didn’t like the oars, though, and three males and two females took off, circling the boat ahead of me and making towards the other end of the loch. The third female must have been underwater when the others took to the air, and when she came up she probably wondered where they had gone.  She then took off towards the other end, but circled round the back of the boat rather than following her companions.

I edged in to the shore and tied up my boat. I had enjoyed the rowing, but the oars had really been a drawback in trying to approach birds without disturbing them.

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