Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Eider Down

Arctic sea ducks hardly reach the latitude of Gibraltar today but during the colder moments of the Pleistocene they did. We find them in the fossil record at Gorham's Cave and they speak of the freezing of Atlantic and other northern waters. At times the polar front was positioned at the latitude of Lisbon and icebergs drifted into the Mediterranean past the Strait of Gibraltar. Today, islands like the Farnes in the North Sea are the closest we will get to some of these Arctic species. One of the most spectacular is the Eider.

At this time of year pairs of Eiders begin to split as the young of various broods gather together into creches that are looked after by the cryptically-coloued females.

Lazy life at the creche

the male stays at a distance and lets the females get on with the domestic chores!

Synchrony amongst the breeding females isn't perfect though and some are still on eggs, hiding on their ground nests, relying on their plumage to keep them undetected. The famous down feathers that line the nest are visible in this image.

But even the most devoted female needs some quality time and a good stretch!

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