Tag Archives: eider duck

Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire has a release date!

first off, apologies for the lack of activity on here for so long, many reasons, main one being that its been very time consuming going through the post production process! its not the most dynamic thing to watch either, a computer screen, but I will do a post on all the tech workflow in due course.

Anyway, the good news is that we have our transmission date set!!!!


It will be broadcast in the UK on May 1st, BBC2 at 9pm

title card

There will of course be a US release in due course on Animal Planet, as soon as I get it I’ll pass it on. in the meantime, here is a link through to The Natural World BBC website


and the BBC Earth website is always a good place to visit


The Natural World is one of the gems in the BBC’s Natural History Unit, its the longest running series from them in fact, making a dozen or so films every year on a huge range of subjects To them variety is the key, its not restricted to looking at one habitat, species or animal. Anything goes really, as long as it makes a decent film! Hopefully our film will live up to the high expectations, only the viewers can decide that, so tell all your friends and make a date for friday night BBC2 9pm!

You’ll meet the fox family, some very cute ducklings being trained by Thor and his family, the iconic and special Icelandic Horses with Halldor and Snorri, and of course the spectacular Bardarbunga eruption in all its nightime glory.

cubs 3 roundup 4 thor with ducks volc 3volcano 1

more details about extra clips coming soon!

Independence Day

983A4875Been a bit quiet on the blog front of late, no big surprise really as Ian and Neil have been up in the wilds of Northwest Iceland, out of contact, filming Arctic foxes around Hornstrandir. Andy meanwhile has returned to sunny England, and is doing a bit of moonlighting on a Lion film for Martin Dohrn down at Ammonite films.
Going through the thousands of stills taken so far on our little journey, came across these taken on Independence day (june 17th) out on the Island with families and ducklings that made our stay so special.



The kids all made flags, gathered the ducklings together and set off on a parade around the island, ducks in tow. It was quite a spectacle, but trying to keep up with 10 kids and over a hundred ducklings on the march was tricky from a camera point of view!




We’ll see how the sequence comes out, but the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, ending up with building a proper bonfire outside a small cave on the beach and toasting marshmallows, proper Swallows and Amazons stuff, a wonderful day with wonderful people!









A bit about Icelandic Independence (the History bit from wikipedia)
“Icelandic National Day (Icelandic: Þjóðhátíðardagurinn, the day of the nation’s celebration) is an annual holiday in Iceland which commemorates the foundation of The Republic of Iceland on 17 June 1944 and its independence from Danish rule.[1] The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, a major figure of Icelandic culture and the leader of the 20th century Icelandic independence movement.[2]
Abolishing the monarchy resulted in little change to the Icelandic constitution, “The King” was merely substituted for “The President”. However the people of Iceland celebrated the end of the long struggle for total independence and praised Jón Sigurðsson for his early independence movement and Sveinn Björnsson, who became the first president of Iceland.
Today, Icelanders celebrate this holiday on a national scale. The celebration traditionally takes the form of a parade through each urban area with a brass band at the fore. Riders on Icelandic horses often precede the brass band and flagbearers from the Icelandic scout movement traditionally follow the brass band”



Next up, as promised before, a spot of Salmon fishing…..

Eider, the duck that made a golden nest.


Well, we’ve just spent the most enthralling couple of weeks filming Eider duck, their chicks and the age old tradition of collecting their down for your duvets, pillows and the very best of down jackets. These minute feathers are worth a small fortune, but their story and the people involved are where the riches are for us.



 This down is without doubt the finest natural insulator you can find. Its the soft under layer of feathers from the breast of the female which she removes herself to line the nest. Microscopic barbs lock the feathers together, trapping millions of pockets of air, making it incredibly good for us humans. It was even used as insulation on early space missions, so you can see how it benefits the Eider during their long stays out on the Arctic ocean.


Thor and his brother Bubbi, have been our hosts for the trip,  They are co owners of a small island near Flatey, just south of the Westfjords.



It’s the most beautiful place, a sparkling archipelago of dozens of little  rocky outcrops and islets set in the cold clear Icelandic waters.


Legend has it that it is impossible to count the islands here, the tides reveal more  and more rocks that could pass as islands at differing states, but one way used to define an island is whether birds nest on it, and here there are birds nesting galore.





A quick list includes Red Phalarope, Black Guillemot, Redshank (sound recordists note – the noise from these guys is not popular when trying to record an interview!!), Arctic Tern, Ring necked Plover, Shelduck and of course the Eider, it was these guys we came to film as they built their nests and hatched their young.


Eider and the traditional method of down collecting were one of the reasons we proposed making this film (it took nearly four years to get it off the ground!) it’s a very animal friendly way of using a natural resource and typical of Icelanders to find a way of working with nature not destroying it.


The method is very simple really, you walk around your island, find a nesting eider (there are about 3000 on this island), gently lift out the eggs, remove the eider down lining the nest, replace with fresh hay and replace eggs, job done…


(ed note, it also gave Andy the chance to try out a new hairdo, its been a long time since he had a full head of hair)


But that’s where the hard work begins, theres a lot of ground to cover for a start, hopping on and off an inflatable dinghy to get to the smaller islets, carrying a sacks of hay and down around with you as you scramble over the rocks, is tiring work. Fortunately theres plentiful supplies of cocoa milk (a favourite with the families here) and a fantastic meal to look forward to at the end of the day (pepared by a very talented cook, how she manages to look after so many people is a mystery but she’s a star!)


Once you’ve done your days collecting, the nests need to be cleaned, dried, cleaned again, dried more, cleaned and cleaned, mostly by hand. Then when they’ve removed as much of the dried grass, seaweed and bits as possible (you can only get 50% out at this stage) it goes off to the mainland to be cleaned of the rest, then sent to the specialist duvet manufacturer around the world (lots in Japan apparently)



Worldwide production of Eider is only about 5 tonnes, 4 of those come from Iceland. When you think that it takes roughly 65 nests to get 1kg of finished material, you begin to see the numbers of birds involved.


Its worth pointing out that this is totally harmless to the birds, they are not plucked of their down, they’ve done that themselves whilst building the nest., and research has shown no ill effects on the down being replaced with fresh hay. Its one of the few products where the animal it comes from will still be leading a life in the wild whilst you are using its product.

Eider Duck - canon

Eider Duck – canon

The islands are incredibly well managed for all nesting birds, not just Eider, there are snipe, redshank, plover, puffin and black guillemot all over the place. Much is done to improve the numbers of Eider and all the other nesting birds for obvious reasons. Some of the nesting sites here have been used for hundreds of years, with birds returning to the same spot year after year.


Escaped Mink (a non native predator introduced for the fur) play havoc on bird colonies if they can reach them, killing hundreds on their killing sprees.


Not anymore though, they’ve now been eradicated here and all the bird species have recovered thanks to the round the clock vigil that Thor and the farmers take in protecting against foxes, black backed gulls and other predators.

Each year whilst collecting the down, its clear that some of the chicks wont make it on their own, either they are late in hatching and mum leaves the nest with the more fully grown ones, or mum has just laid too many eggs (they normally incubate 4, but can lay 6). So Thor and the family step in to give a helping hand. They hand raise dozens of chicks, incubating eggs to hatching, or rearing already hatched chicks, of course that’s where the fun comes in!


Its been really good fun watching the chicks grow and learn how to survive on their own.



they’ve proved to be willing helpers with the filming too…




The children here (the Eider harvest is very much a family affair) adore them and are always a bit sad when one doesn’t make it, the inevitable circle of life.



Its become a tradition over the years that all the ducklings are given a proper burial by the children, who pay their respects in time honoured fashion.



But after a proper send off they are back busy with giving the chicks swimming lessons, helping to feed them and generally enjoy the experience of working with wild animals.





In just a few short weeks, these ducklings will all leave the islands to their lives in the wild, the females hopefully returning to nest on the island.




Not before they’ve had some tuition in how to find their food of course, The ducklings need to be shown how to grub around under stones to find shrimps and worms, Thor and the children are perfect surrogate mothers, spending precious time in these lessons. It’s a lovely sight seeing kids and a big hulk of a man on his hands and knees in the mud cooing to the chicks and hand feeding them shrimps.


Once again on our trip through this brilliant country, we’ve been bowled over by the hospitality of the Icelandic people, and by the love and knowledge they have of their wildlife and wild places.


Seeing how involved the kids have been in the whole process, collecting and cleaning the down, helping with the chicks, and not a moment of telly watching or playstation to distract them, has been a stark reminder of how we should be raising children too. Their respect and knowledge of the wildlife is amazing, its lovely to see the next generation being raised with that love of the wild, and they’ve made brilliant camera assistants too..


So its with a huge thank you to Thor, Bubbi and everyone on the island, we take many fond memories with us, if not one of the ducklings!


Theres more details of the whole process of Eider collecting here http://icelandeider.is.w7.x.is/?page_id=2347

Ian has now gone off to film the Arctic fox family we’ve been following up in the far northwest of Iceland, and we are heading east to catch up with those wonderful bars of silver that return to the rivers of Iceland each year to spawn….the king of fish in many peoples eyes, the Salmon.



Ian’s Lecture on 4K film making

We’ve arrived on a wonderful little island near Flatey, just south of the Wesrtfjords. We’re spending a bit of time here and of course there will be a full post in the next few days, but Ian was delighted to be invited to give a lecture on the merits of 4K, lenses and cameras to an audience only too happy to listen to his ramblings (we’ve got a bit bored of it to be honest).

more to come when Ian can tear himself away from his enthralled audience




Searching for an Eider


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.


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!





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,


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

though not all are eider


Knot footprints, Leica Monochrome


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


Snipe nest, Leica M9

almost impossible to see as they are so well hidden


Snipe nest, iphone


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.


Sunset, Reykholar. Leica M9

Waiting Game

We are stuck in Holmavik, due to bad weather and road closures. We will eventually get to Isafjodur then via boat to the film the beautiful arctic Fox but for the time being it is a bit of a waiting game. Luckily for us there is a witchcraft and sorcery museum to visit to keep us busy and up to date with that side of things. We are staying in a guest house which has a big selection of Icelandic romantic novels to read which Neil is really happy about. So all in all not too bad! Sadly it is way to windy to film anything. We are joined in the guest house by an American couple who had to be rescued from a car yesterday when it became stuck in bad weather. The rescue/response teams out here are great, and they had nothing but praise and kind words about the Icelanders who helped them out and back to safety. In the harbour a small raft of 20 male and female common Eider, effortlessly ride out the huge gusts of icy wind, a hardy and lovely bird, which we will be filming later in the year.

Thats it for now.