8 Aug 2021

Bellissimo mollissima

Last year I got invited to take part in a colour ringing project on Common Eider (Somateria mollissima - hence the corny title) in Cumbria. Unfortunately I couldn't go but jumped at the chance this year when the opportunity arose again.

The site was Foulney Island close to Barrow-in- Furness and is a site managed by the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust who instigated the project as they have up to 3,000 moulting Eiders on site during the summer. They breed around the area but little is known about their movements so birds were caught and colour ringed to aid identification in the field. The site is very sensitive as it also has breeding Little, Arctic and Common Terns.

Picking Chris up at 06.00 we drove through Liverpool and got the M58 to the M6 and arrived in good time at the designated meeting point to meet up with the rest of the ringing team & get a briefing off Gary.

The idea was to set two canon nets on the shingle beach and catch as many Eider and ring them wit ha BTO metal ring and an individually identifiable red darvic ring. It was expected to be a dry catch so waders weren't deemed necessary.......

Because of the nesting terns all the equipment had to be carried across the mudflats and a small creek rather than the shingle bank to avoid disturbance. With the nets set and tested set we settled for a long wait  out of site and waited...........

Chris catching up on some sleep.

As the tide came in around us we could hear Eider calling to each other and were kept entertained by the antics of the terns fishing and parties of Dunlin & Ringed-plover seemingly unconcerned by our presence. 

News from the spotters was coming through by radio and it wasn't good. The tide rose higher and the Eider weren't coming ashore where the nets were set so there ensued and anxious wait as the birds shuffled around.  And still the tide came higher.....

By now we'd virtually all resigned ourselves to not making a catch but fortune favoured us and suddenly a few eider started coming ashore. We were warned that it would now be a wet catch and we were all wondering how wet as the beach sloped away quite sharply. 

I soon found out it was waist deep as the canons were fired and we ran from our hiding place to extract and process the 15 birds we'd caught. At least it was a relatively warm day! 

It was the first time I'd ringed an Eider and I was really surprised at how big and muscular they are. All were in full wing moult and all the ones we caught were adult males apart fro mone 2nd calendar year bird. 

Me ringing my 1st Eider

Every bird was aged and sexed with moult score noted along with total head / bill length and weighed. Again I was surprised how hefty they were. The heaviest was nearly 3 kg and the average was around 2.5 kg. Beautiful birds and a great deal of variation in the body plumage despite them all being the same age and at the same stage in wing moult. Some had more white coming through on the head and others looked almost female - like.

This bird had very little on the head and almost looked female

This bird was quite advanced in its wing moult but the head has far less white than the bird below.

AIF - red darvic on left leg and BTO metal ring on right

The size of those feet - no wonder they're powerful divers and swimmers


Once the birds had been processed and released we packed all the gear up but had another two hour wait until the tide had dropped sufficiently for us to safely cross back to the mainland.

A great day and fantastic to meet up with some good friends once again.

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