Yesterday we were still in the grips of a "Mini Beast from the East Part II", but that didn't stop Becca, John and me from braving the cold (1C, but felt like -8C with the wind chill), the winds (pretty sustained at about 25 MPH!) and the grauple/snow, to go out at 9:00 AM for training along the coast to become volunteers helping with the Eider Duck Project . We will be counting Eider ducks (and eventually their chicks) at their breeding grounds, as well as noting all the surrounding circumstances around them - weather, tides, other animals, people, etc. The project has been going since 2007, and our area - The Leithies – a collective name for a group of intertidal islands near North Berwick - were noted as a successful mainland coastal breeding site for eider, recording 50 or more attempted eider nests. Therefore this area of the North Berwick coastline was noted as being a nationally important site for breeding eider.
The Eider is the UK’s heaviest duck, and its fastest flying. It is a true sea-duck, rarely found away from coasts where its dependence on coastal molluscs for food has brought it into conflict with mussel farmers. Eiders are highly gregarious and usually stay close in to shore, riding the swells in a sandy bay or strung out in long lines out beyond the breaking waves. It is an Amber List species because of its winter concentrations.
We met Sam, from the East Lothian Countryside Ranger Service (yes, the same Sam with whom we did trash picking last week!), and two other adventurous ladies at a car park near the golf course. The winds were so strong I almost couldn't close my car door! After some instructions from Sam, we set off on a coastal trail, trudging over icy ground directly into the winds and snow - talk about tough going! After awhile we stopped on a hillside overlooking The Leithies, and had to crouch down to keep from getting blown away while Sam did some instructing. The sun peeked out a few times here and there, but it was really, and I mean really windy! In true Scotland form, wait 5 minutes and the weather changes - sunny to snowy in the bat of an eye! No one complained, though.
We hiked very carefully down the steep, icy and grassy hillside to get down to the islands, which we could walk to because of low tide. Here, just as at the beaches nearer town, the Beast from the East's ferocious tides of a couple of weeks ago have swept the sands off the beaches, exposing rocks that have been covered over for years and years. It's so interesting to see the difference between the barnacle-covered rocks and the smooth rocks below the old "sandline".
These little islands, I have to say, are one of my favourite spots so far in Scotland. There was something about them - I expected to see fairies or elves peeking out from behind the rocks. The tough, yet delicate grasses, the little "fairy" pools and the sea crashing all around were just magical to me, and that's without any ducks there. We did see some ducks off of the islands, but too far away to get any shots of with my camera. I anticipate with pleasure and excitement the days when they are here, (probably starting beginning of April) especially with their babies. We won't actually go onto the islands during nesting time, but with my "big guns" lens I should be able to get some fun shots sanding a little ways back from the islands.
Becca, John and I did the 4 mile round trip hike back to the islands today, because it was such a beautiful morning, and because I am really entranced with these little gems of land. I wanted to get back onto them before the ducks start their nesting. The first three photos below are from today - no snow and plenty of sun (but still relatively windy and cold). I can see that I will love coming here, either just to visit, or to take part int he survey!