Vardo, north-east Norway. Spring-Equinox 2006
Driving snow struck me full in the face. The snow plough tipped its load into the harbour close by an old, timbered building where a noisy colony of kittiwake prepared to nest on a ledge, their heads white as snow. A raft of eider began its courtship display: King Eider, Steller’s Eider, Common Eider.
Tiers of shingle in an auditorium we had to ourselves in a drama of sea-watch. Late September sun, a lovely cloudscape and the sea all shades of aquamarine. White water where tidal races met. Closer to the shore rafts of eider bobbed up and down on the waves, heads tucked into the plumage of their mantles, somnolent. Gannet looked lively, flying high, flying low, hunting for fish. piercing the waves in an audible fussilade, a diving spectacular. Seals swam close to the shore, where waves picked up swags of seaweed and the sea blushed red and flung it on the shingle.
Eider are at their furthest south here and on Walney Island- they lie on the same latitude. On South Walney, eider come ashore to breed but they’re oceanic ducks and we glimpse their sub-marine power only on natural history programmes. We hear their gentle cooing call, see their seeming somnolence, but there's a very different aspect to eider as diving ducks.
Saltstranga Strait, Norway. A maelstrom- of grinding, crushing currents and whirlpools. Eider are tidal specialists, oceanic ducks. They’re the only creature with the power to dive into the maelstrom, down some twenty metres to yank up mussels and swallow them whole. Hundreds a day. Mussels hold-fast to rock by their beards of byssal threads but the eider tug them free. After such formidable dives the eider need to rest. Heads tucked beneath the wing, they may be digesting mussels- molluscs in their shells. In a fusion of acids and muscle-power the eider break down the mussel shells and expel them as fine sand.
Winter Watch 2021. 5 Iolo Williams presents East Coast of Scotland. Firth of Tay. 39 minutes into the programme.
In winter, up to 20,000 eider gather in the Firth of Tay to feed on beds of blue mussels that hold-fast to each other, to rocks of the inter-tidal and sub-tidal zones
Like Iolo WIlliams, I've always admired the handsome eider duck. But seeing the creature diving into the vortex shows eider in a new light. The gannet dive is visible, with its aerial prelude. Gannet plummet through the air, hitting the water audibly and fast. The eider dive is awesome and hidden beneath the waves.
A theme of maelstrom, ocean currents, tide and wind this week.
I’ve watched Perfect Planet: Oceans and Weather.
Winter Watch 2021 episode 5. Firth of Tay.
The Investigation, a murder case where a body was dumped in the Oresund Strait between Denmark and Sweden. A search for forensic evidence demanded fortitude, a detailed knowledge of tides, currents and winds. the determination to seek justice. The two wildlife films, featuring eider duck, were a revelation. We are privileged to see eider diving prowess captured by wildlife cameramen. It's an aspect of the eider's life few will ever witness and it makes us reflect afresh on the behaviour we are able to see for ourselves.
4 February 2021. BBC radio 4. The RIver. The Tay. Writer Kathleen Jamie on the RIver Tay, the longest river in Scotland.