Country Corner - Pochards make a coastal pitstop and refuel

The pochard, a medium-sized diving duck
The pochard, a medium-sized diving duck

My binoculars picked up a trio of ducks coming in off the sea, writes George Hogg (Hogg Estate Services).

Nearer they came before wheeling down onto the sheltered bay before me.

Only now could I see they were all handsome Pochard drakes, a species I rarely see on our winter coasts anymore. They are distinctive with their reddish-brown heads and black chests.

They had the air of experienced travellers, pitching in for a short rest and refuel on transit to elsewhere.

Latvians, perhaps, for over half the ringed Pochard recovered in Britain in recent years have bred in Latvia.

But then again, ringing recoveries reflect the Steppe habitat these birds like to breed in.

Poland, Lithuania, Finland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and both European and Asian parts of Russia.

This you will realise means that my trio of refuelling Pochard could already have flown well over a thousand miles, maybe nearer two thousand.

The not knowing and the imagining are as wonderful to me as the science.

Many ornithologists crave knowledge. I crave wonder and amazement.

Pochard were not always so scarce.

Older readers may recall when winter would see large numbers gather on the lochs of Holyrood Park in the 1960s and 70s.

They fed in the Forth, on barley from the city’s distilleries and maltings which found its way via the sewage outlets.

Improvements to the sewage system later robbed them of this bounty and they were forced to seek out other wintering areas.

This was also the case with Scaup, another diving duck, which resembles the tufted duck. There were thousands on the Forth in those far off winters.

I even cared for a few oiled ones as I did all manner of wildlife waifs.