Wednesday 2 February 2022

The Goosanders of Kelvinside 1st February 2022

On our regular visits to Glasgow we always stay at a hotel in Kelvinside which is in the West End of Glasgow and overlooks the River Kelvin that passes through the city, deep in a wooded gorge with pathways on each side along which the good folk of Glasgow and visitors such as us, delight to wander.

The walkway down to the river

The river also holds a special attraction for me in the winter months, when it provides a home for a number of Goosanders, a large and strikingly plumaged duck in the case of the male and less colourful in the case of the marginally smaller female.

The male is large and long bodied with a narrow red bill, prominently hooked at the tip.Its head appears large due to the mane like feathers on the hindcrown and nape which bulge outwards.The drake can also raise the feathers on its crown when excited, turning its head into a shape reminiscent of a busby. Its body is mainly white but when seen close the white is tinged with delicate salmon pink on the breast and the faintest peach yellow on the flanks, whilst its back replicates black velvet.

The female is more subdued in appearance but is still attractive in her own right, dressed in a combination of chestnut head, white breast and dove grey body. She possesses a similar long and streamlined body to that of the male, and, as with the male, it is held low in the water. Her head mimics the male's with shaggy hind neck feathers that give her a slightly raffish, unkempt appearance.Both sexes possess brightly coloured legs and feet, orange red for the male and orange in the case of the female.

Goosanders like slow rivers and lakes in wooded areas and the River Kelvin provides the ideal habitat and the fact it is in the centre of a city seems to matter not a jot to the Goosanders.I have also seen them in similar circumstances on the River Don in Aberdeen and a pair often frequent the River Cherwell in the busy Oxford University Parks that also lies in the heart of the city.

Here on the Kelvin they have a favourite area where they congregate under a small pedestrian bridge that crosses the river. The females in particular liking to rest on the central supporting pier under the bridge.

The males occasionally join them but prefer to swim in the river or idle in the quieter water by the banks.Both males and females are confiding and are obviously used to the endless procession of people, dog walkers and joggers who use the pathways and bridge all day long.

It is a favourite place to linger, standing on the attractive bridge, watching the Goosanders swimming back and fore, sometimes pushing hard against the current and at other times letting themselves be drifted slowly downriver, then to make a slow return to their favoured area by the bridge.Watching a river forever flowing past is relaxing in itself. Add some Goosanders on it and it is doubly so.

There is a much larger road bridge about fifty metres downriver from the smaller pedestrian bridge, which carries the busy Queen Margaret's Drive over the river to the Botanic Gardens and the ever busy Great Western Road. Yet even here one can look down on the river and see the distinctive white forms of the Goosander drakes swimming around the smaller bridge and if you look closely there are bound to be a few females too, their grey plumage making them much less visible against the murky river water.

All of this is within a stone's throw of a very busy part of Glasgow. Such joy is it to know that one can descend to the river's edge in a minute and be in another less frenetic world.

Today there were twelve Goosanders, five females and seven drakes.They were already paired and the two spare drakes were from time to time chased off by a paired male but never with much aggression. 

It will not be long before they will move to their breeding areas and already one female was soliciting her drake but with a marked lack of success, the drake showing not the slightest interest as the pair cruised against the river's gentle current.

For some minutes she prostrated herself on the water's surface, swimming alongside her partner who swam on or preened with a most unchivalrous avoidance of her. For an uncomfortably long time this went on and I thought the male was never going to co-operate but finally he mounted her back and they copulated - a rough affair with a marked lack of finesse or delicacy, and that was over in seconds, but she appeared content and the pair then swam on.

The drakes look superb at this time of year when they are probably at their finest. Their beauty is enhanced by the impressionistic patterns on the river, created by the reflections of trees and the bridge structures. When the sun catches the heads of the drakes they shine with a green gloss but for the most part their head appears black in the shaded confines of the river.

There is an old music hall song that starts

'I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow Toon'.

Looking at the Goosanders on the River Kelvin I can almost begin to believe it.

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