Tuesday 7 June 2016

King Eider

I have a couple of mantras that I use when I'm out with the camera. The first goes something like - "See bird - photograph bird - get better photograph". The second is - "Always leave wanting more". So last year when I found "Elvis" on the Ythan estuary I was able to get some reasonable shots but the weather was working against me. Gale force winds were ripping up the estuary and my tripod and camera were in perpetual motion  - so when I left I definitely wanted more.

I had been monitoring the Aberdeenshire sightings for some time before we travelled up and sure enough he was back for the season. Unfortunately just before we arrived he went AWOL, sightings of a drake King Eider at Burghead and Lossiemouth on the Moray coast had me worried. Normally Elvis moves north in the winter and has been known to reside with thousands of common Eiders near Nairn. Had he changed his holiday plans? A speculative trip in the first week of the holiday confirmed his absence but on the Tuesday night of the second week a positive report - Ythan estuary by the river mouth at 2100. 

Next morning found us parked at the end of Beach Road, just by the golf course. I loaded up the gear and set off, as I rounded the boathouse I realised that I had a problem - high water. All the Eiders were at roost on the sand  and wouldn't be out feeding for another couple of hours. Not only that, the river was full of seals - just to add more distraction. I set up the scope and searched every flock of Eiders looking for that distinctive head - nothing to be found. His other favourite haunt is opposite the green hut on the golf course, so off I went as there were loads of Eiders on the opposite shore - all with their heads down. Finally I found him, about three hundred yards away - would he move?

Then a stroke of luck, I am sure Elvis has never found love on the estuary but he returns faithfully every year and I guess the instincts of parenthood are strong. A newly hatched group of ducklings were led into the river by mother and Elvis followed - almost as if guarding over them and for the next couple of hours he was always adjacent to these little black balls of down.

A strong wind was blowing but the ducklings swam directly to my side of the river, now they were only fifty yards away. Gradually they moved up river to feed on the wide expanse of mud that is on the southern shore and I inched my way towards them. Finally we were all in place and I knew that I could get some decent shots, the birds feeding contentedly in front of me and I was snapping away to my heart's content. In the end I tore myself away, two memory cards full and thinking that I ought to have a decent record by now - one minor problem - I had sunk to a considerable depth in the mud and I was in danger of losing a welly.

"See bird.....

....photograph bird...
.....get better photograph"
 Then go mad.



"An eider with a catchlight - rare"

Standing guard


Do I want more? - you bet - this is a bird that I would be delighted to see again, quirky looks and stunning colours - just couldn't get enough of this chap.




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