Winter surprises


Little grebe, River Idle

Right place, right time again for our winter blog this week.  It was a cold December morning and the River Idle was still in flood, when I took the same route down to Retford town, over the canal bridge by the side of King’s Park and the skateboard ramp.  As I reached the bridge over the river near Asda, a woman was stood looking towards the park.  I stopped and looked too.  She said there was a head bobbing up and down.  Luckily I had my camera with me!  There were two heads coming towards us quickly, diving, then coming back up to the surface.


Little grebes, River Idle

The pictures show two little grebes that had landed.  Amazing!  I stood for ages watching them and taking several pictures.  The following day I looked again, and there they were, on the opposite side of the bridge behind Asda.  Brilliant!  I crept up quietly over the bank and got these pictures.


Little grebe, River Idle

As you can see, they are a small, dark, short-billed bird, very chubby and round.  They seem to move from lakes and marshes in the summer to waters less prone to freezing in winter time.  The grebes aren’t very vocal during the winter months, but have a very loud trilling call in the summer.  They will dive for small fish, aquatic insects and molluscs.  I watched them doing this for 2 days: another great birding moment right on my doorstep.


Little grebe, River Idle

Shortly after this, Alison and I went for our usual birding walk  to the Chesterfield Canal, down the Green Mile.  As we got back to the car, just after 3p.m., we noticed a large duck land some distance away.  When we looked through our binoculars, we could see it was something quite different from what we normally see in this location.  We decided to try and get closer, and quietly crept to within 500 yards of the mystery duck.  Wow!  When we got close enough, we realised it was a male goosander: a first for us on the canal.


Male goosander, Chesterfield Canal

As you can see from the picture, it is a large bird carrying a greeny-black head (male) or a dark brown head with downward crest (female).  The male’s body is a salmony-pink to white colour, and it has a long tail.  The awesome part of it is its bill: it is a sawbill duck with a thick based, hooked, plum-red bill, which inside holds many sharp raspy ‘teeth’.  These birds can take fish up to 4 to 5lb whole.  There are many pictures which testify to this: if you search ‘goosander images’ you might see something surprising!

Years ago, goosanders were shot as they would eat the trout and salmon anglers had paid to fish for each season.  In summer, these birds prefer upland reservoirs and shallow, fast flowing clear streams with plenty of boulders and stony shores.  We’ve spent a few days watching this bird which often dives for food and moves long distances under water to take fish etc.  Not a common bird round these parts, it often winters in the south to the Balkans and France, and is not very often seen on canals and rivers.

So, to end our year at Christmas time, Santa sent us a surprise gift: two wonderful birding moments a stone’s throw away.  These moments are very special to us – it also keeps us fit and healthy.  Why not try it in the New Year – the sights are sometimes breathtaking!



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