Monday, 12 October 2020

In search of the Eider Duck

 Friday 9 October

In search of the Eider Duck Eider Comun Somateria  mollissima

An Eider Duck I hear you say; what 's an Eider Duck doing down in the most southernmost part of Spain?  The duck, an immature drake, was first seen in June this year and it evidently decided to spend he whole summer with us.  Most unusual.  This is a sea duck that I would expect/hope to find when back in the UK as it visits Norfolk or even the Solent near Southampton for the winter months but never would have expected it here.  But here it is and was to become a Spanish "lifer" for both myself and co-birder friend, Mick Richardson.

Distant record shot of the Eider Duck

Mick had informed me as we drove the two hundred plus kilometres from Algarrobo Costa down to Matalascanas on the Atlantic coast south of El Rocio in the Donana National Park that the duck had been seen about a fortnight ago and even had a "pin" and photograph of its last sighting.  Indeed, it would appear that the duck as been so long with us that many birders no longer reported its sightings.  Well, we were heading for the Marismas del Odiel (Odiel Marshes) on the Friday with a follow-on to the fresh-water pool at El Portil so it seemed only natural that we spend some time trying to locate the Eider.

Come about 5.30pm we had left the pool at El Portil and were on the beach jut west of the town with telescopes and binoculars at the ready.  Even our cameras were on stand-by!  But no sign of the duck no matter how hard we tried to find the  bird.   So a short drive up the coast, park the car and back to the beach to try again.  A similar outcome so Mick took the opportunity to put a message on the dedicated site to see if anyone might respond to a latest sighting.

Yes, within fifteen minutes we had a reply from a lady birder that she had seen the Eider opposite a certain landmark less than a fortnight ago.  With that we set off the find said land mark but no luck so drove on to the next similar landmark.,  Again no joy but we did stop for a refreshing drink and took the opportunity to show the photograph to the waiter in the hope that he might recognise the tiny island on which the Eider had been photographed.  Much discussion resulting in him pointing to a large aerial photograph on the wall behind the only other guest in the establishment and stating that we could drive no further along the coast.  At that point the gentleman below the photograph offered to hire his boat to take us but with time running out, as it was now well after 6 o'clock, we kindly declined the offer.  However, we did walk to the other side of the outcrop to check the roosting gulls and managed to find a trio of Spoonbills, a species which seemed to have evaded us all day.

It looked very much as if we were to be disappointed but, nevertheless, we had had a most enjoyable day's birding.  So making our way back towards El Portil we made one more short stop then carried on (but not before we had added Crested Tit to our day's list).  That's it, for us the hour plus drive back to Matalascanas.  Approaching El Portil I happened to point out to Mick that there was another landmark sign and immediately followed by an almost empty car park. "Let's pull in and have a quick look at the beach," says Mick.  So we did.

This time we just took bins and scope.  Always works, leave the camera behind and find the birds!

Mick finished scanning water and far beach when he called me over to take a look in his scope and there it was, happy as a sandboy, resting on the beach less than a metre from the water.  A couple of gulls were keeping him company within a few metres and we were able to get very good, but distant, sightings of the Eider.

The resting Eider Duck, with his back to us, at the water's edge

At that point we noticed the small boat approaching the shore with a couple of passengers and it looked very much as if a pair of birders had hired a boat to get close shots of the Eider.  As we watched it became obvious that the occupants were not birders, they just happened to be on board and about to be delivered to the island.  Seeing the small boat approach the Eider stood up and moved about five metres away giving excellent views and rested on the water's edge.  Mick took a couple of photographs with his telephone and scope as I returned to car to collect my camera.

What could possibly go wrong?  I met Mick approaching me as I returned to the beach to give me the bad news.  Whilst the Eider was happy to move along a few metres there was no way it was going to remain in situ as a speed boat roared down the water close to the shore.  With that the Eider was up and away over the grass to the Atlantic proper and never to be seen again - by us.  

But we had seen our Eider Dick and you never saw such a happy pair of birders as we departed, now gone 6.30, towards our overnight accommodation in Matalascanas.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information

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