Six Severn Goosanders – and no males!

Last Friday, I took the Severn Valley Railway from Bewdley to Bridgnorth, and walked the 15 miles along the river back. I wondered why I had not done this before, because the river Severn is stunningly beautiful along this stretch.

Steam train leaving Bridgnorth

Steam train leaving Bridgnorth

The one problem was that the weather was iffy – there were several significant showers of rain, which was not ideal photographically. However, some of the views were impressive despite the grey skies!

The River Severn being joined by the... at ...

The River Severn being joined by the Borle Brook just south of Highley

While walking towards Hampton Loade, I happened to see six red-head goosanders (that is, a mixed group of females and juveniles): these are one of my favourite birds, enough to be the highlight of any walk.  I soon lost sight of them though as the path took me behind a long line of hedges and trees. A couple of hours later, I happened to be looking at the river when they flew past – a fortunate coincidence, and I thought that would be it. Some while later still, I was puzzled by some features on the other side of the river which, on examination, turned out to be low wooden posts – but beside them were the six goosanders! As I was able to lurk behind a shrub, I took a series of photographs without disturbing them – two of which are below and another the banner image above.

The absence of the black-and-white males is curious but highly significant. Each year in mid-summer, thirty-thousand male goosanders from northern Europe migrate to the coast of northern Norway in order to moult. It is a safe haven while they are flightless, and can only return when their new flight feathers have grown sufficiently. The females have their moult migration later in the year, and are in smaller, more scattered groups, closer to home. That’s why I only saw the red-headed females and juveniles.

Four of the goosanders

Four of the goosanders. (Click to enlarge)

The six goosanders: the five swimming had been preening while the sixth, which was about to join them, rested up. Click to enlarge.

The six goosanders: the five swimming had been preening while the sixth, which was about to join them, rested up. Click to enlarge.

Wryneck near Severn Beach

Wryneck near Severn Beach

A couple of days’ later, I saw a report that there was a wryneck near Severn Beach, west of Bristol.

I’ve had previous with wrynecks, dipping on several, so as I’d had a busy weekend (including my first wedding – of a great couple, Rob & Natalie Chatley), and having a free afternoon, I decided to go down.

I’ve heard wrynecks described as a kind of ‘aberrant woodpecker’, which is a nice description. Although they bred in the UK in the 19th century, they are now only seen on passage in the migration seasons.

As I arrived, the birders who were there were trying to re-locate it in some bushes, and there was a feeling that it could hide out of sight for hours. Ten minutes later, a birding couple spotted it again, hopping around a lawn – nowhere near as obscure as they are reputed to be! The owners of the house were moderately tolerant, before gently ushering the bird off the premises…

Wryneck helpfully posing with a robin: they're much smaller than I thought, and with their plumage are quite easy to lose sight of.

Wryneck helpfully posing with a robin: they’re much smaller than I thought, and with their plumage are quite easy to lose sight of.

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