Things to do in February Number 1 – Goosanders at Harlaxton

Goosanders (Mergus merganser) are an impressive looking diving duck whose summer habitat is upland rivers usually found further north than Grantham. Like the waxwings and the short-eared owls featured in January’s posts, this is another winter visitor to the area and makes a welcome addition to the local fauna at this otherwise dull time of year. Whilst goosanders do move from their upland habitats in the winter, it is likely that this small flock have moved further, many migrate from the colder climates of Scandinavia.

For the last few years, there has been a small flock which arrive at the relatively peaceful lake on the drive to Harlaxton Manor – a private drive which the University of Evansville kindly allow access for walkers. I have sadly failed, repeatedly, to get a good photograph of them because they are absent, or at the wrong end, or the light is awful or the battery dies, so please do excuse the rather poor quality below. They show strong sexual dimorphism, that is the males and females look different. In this image, the white birds are the males whilst the more dowdy bird with the brown head is the female.

Goosanders on Harlaxton Manor lake - two males to the right and one to the left with a single female in between
Goosanders on Harlaxton Manor lake – two males to the right and one to the left with a single female in between

If the photograph was better, you might be able to see the serrated bill which is used for catching and gripping the fish they prey upon – this is a definitive characteristic of the ‘sawbill’ family to which they belong.

I counted ten on the lake today – 7 males and 3 females. The lake can be accessed either by walking down the main drive (around the edge of the grand gates) and down towards the manor, or walking from the village of Harlaxton (see location map below). They can be a little shy and tend to stay away from the bridge but a pair of binoculars should reward you with a good view!

For more information in goosanders, the RSPB website is always a good start!

Location of Harlaxton Manor Lake - access from the village of Harlaxton (to the left) or the A607 (at the top)
Location of Harlaxton Manor Lake – access from the village of Harlaxton (to the left) or the A607 (at the top)

Hibernating moths and butterflies

A recent trip to look for bats in Harlaxton railway tunnel didn’t reveal any – it’s still a little early for them to be hibernating – but plents of moths and butterflies were preparing to hibernate for the winter. The tunnel gets cold but the conditions are stable and this allows the insects to enter a torpid state until the weather warms up again. Herald moths prefer dark places and where you find them, the chances are conditions will be good for bats too! Several of the herald moths were hibernating on old spider’s webs – this isn’t something I’ve seen before but seemed to be a populat location, at least half of them were hanging in this way. The peacock butterfly was recently arrived as he was still quite active, flapping his wings slowly when the torch fell upon him, but plenty more had their wings folded tight and looked set to sleep out the winter already!ImageImageImage