Monday 26 December 2016

Scaly-sided Merganser...? Not a chance!

Football is rife with cliches. Most seem to state the obvious even if we're meant to infer there's hidden depth; "It's a game of two halves." and the like. One that winds me up every time is "You make your own luck". What nonsense! How would you apply that logic to winning the lottery? Hard work is hard work, luck is arbitrary.

I'm feeling irritated I suppose, just back from my annual Scaly-sided Merganser dip: or at least the first of them. This was the Saigawa dip, now a four-winter streak, I've still got a couple of Kyushu rivers to dip on later this month or early in the New Year.

We all have a bogey bird or two but I never anticipated the Merganser slipping into that category. The first time I tried I saw a male and female on the Kisugawa in Gifu, as well as seeing my first ever Baikal Teal and Long-billed Plover as an added bonus (it really was a long time ago!), though I did have to walk 50km that day. Those 50km pale in comparison to the total distance I've covered since then without so much as a sniff of another Scaly-sided. Just let any football manager to tell me I have to make my own luck!

As you'd imagine I've seen an awful lot of Goosanders on all these dips. I'm not complaining, they're great birds and the river views are often better than those on Lake Biwa. And yet, it now seems I'm guilty of not looking closely enough at them. Goosander has always struck me as one of those birds you get what you pay for; not a lot of variation. Until now.

I spent the best part of the morning trudging the banks of the Saigawa before taking a break to see the Redpolls in my previous post. Then back to river duty in the late afternoon hoping that there'd be some pre-dusk movement. There were definitely more Goosanders on the city stretch of river in the afternoon. Light hadn't been up to much all day, noon was little different to dawn, and as afternoon progressed night was an all too eager replacement. Finally giving up I stopped to look at a Goosander perched on a rock, I'd already seen it on my upstream walk but, as the last bird light would permit, it was worth a second and longer glance. Can a glance be long? Well, you know what I mean. Car headlights were getting brighter by the minute as they passed along the far bank and even at 16000 ISO photography was increasingly the preserve of the over-optimistic.

I sat myself on the damp stones as a feeling was growing that there was something a bit off about this Goosander. While it didn't look like a Scaly-sided Merganser, it did have a greater suggestion of merganser about it. Since getting home and looking into it I find the features that first caught my eye are maybe not so unusual, so clearly I haven't been looking closely enough, but I've yet to find any information or images showing such a large size difference between birds.

So starting off with 'standard' Goosanders both on the dull day and the following morning in brighter light.

Not a great deal of variation there. Below is the slightly odd bird...

On my way upstream it looked a typical Goosander, though in retrospect the breast markings and lower flank 'scales' are more pronounced than any of the other birds present along the river.

Coming back down stream I first thought the breast markings were more conspicuous than I normally notice.

The bill seemed thinner, the nape feathers wispier and the lower flank markings stronger than the typical muted grey and white barring.

Once into the water it still looked slightly 'off' with its thinner bill and less full, rounded nape feathering.

It floated down river to a point where two other Goosanders were hauled out on rocks, one of which jumped into the water as this bird approached. This was when the size difference became apparent and really was quite striking in the field, definitely something I've never noticed before with Goosanders.

It never looked less thinner-billed or longer-, wispier-crested, and not only was the size difference striking but also overall paler colouration stood out in direct comparison.

I suppose I'll have to look at Goosanders more closely in future.

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