Saturday, 28 March 2015

My new favourite ducks

It's been a while since I posted anything, so although I'm back in Lincoln now, today's post is one left over from York. Over the next few days I'll be writing more about wildlife at home, but for now, I'd like to introduce my new favourite ducks. 

One of the most noticeable things about the University of York campus, aside from the 1960s architecture, is the largest plastic bottomedlake in Europe. It sits in the centre of campus, and while it makes it a pain to get to lectures on the other side of campus, it attracts a huge amount of wildlife. A little while ago I went down to the lake in the evening to try and get some photos of the geese when I was stopped by a man on the bridge. He asked if I was photographing anything in particular, before pointing out a group of birds. I had completely missed the fact that the ducks in the middle distance weren’t mallards at all. They were goosander. 

The University of York, complete with 1960s spaceship and goosander

My quick walk turned into an hour and a half. There were 16 birds, all posing beautifully, and the opportunity to photograph them was just too good to miss. Despite the cold (and I'd forgotten my gloves, so it was very cold), I stayed until the light went.

Goosanders are undeniably beautiful birds. The males are showy and monochrome apart from an almost iridescently green head, like an art-deco print of what a duck could aspire to be, The females are in theory plainer with grey bodies, but they have a shaggy chestnut mane which glowed red as the sun set. Together with their long, slightly downturned beaks, it made them look like avian versions of Viking dragon-boats. 

A male goosander

A female goosander, like an avian dragonboat

Sometimes it looked like they were displaying. The males would rear up and flap their wings, while the females flattened themselves against the water surface like small, streamlined sea monsters. Afterwards, I tried to find out what they were doing, but Google failed me. My gut feeling is that it was some sort of courtship display- I've seen the university’s resident great crested grebe female do something very similar. Or it could have been aggression from females to males that were a little too persistent. If you have any ideas, please let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

Was this a display? 
It was a real treat to watch and photograph such magnificent birds, especially on a lake which fades into the background all too easily. It just shows that you can see fantastic things in mundane places if you keep your eyes open. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on the lake in future, in case I get to see these beautiful goosander again. 

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you'd like to know more about goosander, you can find more information here and here.

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