Searching for an Eider

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Sunset, Reykholar, Leica M9, 35mm f2 summilux

About 3 hours north of Icelands capital, Reykjavik, lies the little hamlet of Reykholar, our home for the next week. We’ve been working very closely with Thor, a lovely fellow from the Icelandic Natural History Institute, a true countryman and also a bit of an expert when it comes to Eider Duck. So armed with our new toy, the fabulous new canon 200-400mm with built in 1.4 converter that we have bought for this production, we met up with Thor and Tumi, the landowner.

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Sony F55 and canon 200-400mm, iPhone

Those who have been following our little journey will know that Eider are one of the main characters we want to feature in our film. The reason for this is that they a. are fantastic characters in themselves with a great natural history story,  and b. have a strong relationship with the human inhabitants of Iceland. Thor has been invaluable in helping us and it was at his suggestion that we have come to this farm in Reykholar which has enormous numbers of wildfowl, from Red Throated and Great Northern Diver (18 pairs of the first on one lake here!!!), Black Tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Horned Grebe and hundreds upon hundreds of Eider.

Eider duck, or to be more exact, Eider down has been farmed in Iceland for centuries. Its a superb insulator, and has been gathered for use in bedding and garments since time immemorial. Archeologists have found remnants from the stone age in Finland, and Russia even used it as an insulator in the first astronaut suits.  Of the four tonnes gathered worldwide annually, three come from Iceland, so its a big part of rural life for icelanders. Now when I say farmed, I don’t mean that these ducks are domesticated in any way. They are wild animals who live their winters out on the arctic ocean (thats why they need good insulation) coming to shore in Iceland to breed and rear their young.

 

We’ll go into much more detail about the touching relationship between man and duck later, but rest assured that no ducks are harmed in the making of this blog, film or your duvet. To tell their story fully, we want to cover their whole life cycle, from mating, nest building, egg hatching etc, etc and the aim here at Reykholar was nest building,  First though we had to find their nest sites!

 

 

 

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Neil searching the moorland, Leica M9, 35mm summilux

 

 

 

 

 

now despite the fact that the male eider are nice and white, standing out clearly in this landscape, the females (who unsurprisingly do all the work when it comes to rearing the young) are very well camouflaged and not all easy to see. suffice to say we had our work cut out. Not only that but (deliberately I should point out) we are here at the very beginning of nesting season so only a few ducks are actually on the land nesting, the rest are still on the shoreline feeding…time to use our field skills.



the tracks of ducks are relatively easy to see in the mud of course,

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eider tracks in estuary mud, Leica M9, 35mm summilux

though not all are eider

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Knot footprints, Leica Monochrome

 

we surprised a snipe, who flew off her nest at our feet,

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Snipe nest, Leica M9

almost impossible to see as they are so well hidden

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Snipe nest, iphone

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view east across the fjord from Reykholar, Leica M9

In the end, and after walking for miles, we did find a nest being built, and she’s laid four very healthy looking eggs. Thats what we’ll be looking at filming tomorrow, and thats another story.

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Sunset, Reykholar. Leica M9

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