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A Day With The Sawbills...

  • Thu 4th Jan, 2018

Through the Winter months wildfowl numbers increase on my local lake so it is a great place to practise your photography and capture images of some of our ducks, geese and swans that make this place their home for the Winter. One species of wildfowl that drops by each year is the Goosander.

The Goosander is a member of the "sawbill" family and a diving duck of the genus Mergus, part of the Anatidae family of diving ducks. Sawbills have serrated cutting edges on their bills, an adaptation for catching and holding fish, their main food. We have two species of sawbill that breed in the British Isles which are the Goosander M. merganser and the Red-breasted Merganser M. serrated. We do have a third species that is a Winter visitor which is the Smew M. albellus.

It is always a pleasure to see these birds arrive for the Winter. Recently we have had a group of seven birds resident on the lake which included four males and three females. The images above are of a male Goosander and the image you see below is a female or as they are more commonly known as a "redhead" which I feel is just as cool as the male of the species.

I must admit these birds are very hard to get close to and it takes some serious time, patience, fieldcraft and dedication to capture images of these secretive birds. As with all aspects of photography to create a decent image it is all about the light conditions. Over several days of watching these birds I came across ever changing light conditions from dark grey skies, dense fog to bright sunlight it was certainly a challenge.

Open to public access the lake is a popular destination for dog walkers, families and cyclists and is quite open around the edges. There are a few trees you can hide your profile behind and the odd bush or two otherwise you have to get yourself down to water level to hide your body shape and be very still and quiet. I must have been in a good potion for at least an hour when the Goosanders started to come close from fishing in the middle of the lake and started to head straight towards me. They reached a distance in which I could start to get some decent images when suddenly a dog came running up to me in which through my viewfinder I could see the birds flying back out to the centre of the lake where they feel safe from any predators.

Sometimes you just have to bit your tongue, say hello to the dog walker and then start again. So after several more hours of persistence and trying to keep away from any human disturbance the Goosanders started heading back in to feed near the shoreline. I was ready and the light was pretty good all I needed was a bird to swim towards my camera. The males took the lead with two individuals who seemed braver than the rest headed in. I had one of those magical moments where it was just me and the Goosanders face to face.

I felt like I wanted to stop breathing and not moving a muscle apart from pressing the shutter on my camera I turned in to a statue allowing these beautiful birds to swim a little closer and not be disturbed. What a privilege to see them up close in which their colours of both male and female was incredible as they fished freely in front of my very eyes.

It seemed like there was nothing else in the world at that moment of time but me and the Goosanders, I couldn't take my eye away from the viewfinder and the finger off the shutter it was just me and them - perfect. As you may have guessed we didn't have much of a moment until they where disturbed once again by an innocent passer by in which one of the male birds flew straight past the camera in which I managed to capture the image below.

So I finally gave in to the cold, local disturbance and a wet bottom to head back home, but what an encounter I had and I am certain they will stick around for a while so may be another visit is in order soon - Steve Race YCN