During February I spent three weeks in northern Finland and part of that was leading our Finnish winter trip. This part of Europe is beautiful but during the winter months it really is a wonderful location for wildlife photography. This was a new trip for us but I had done a recce the year before with Finnature and so we had a packed programme for our guests. The first day of our trip was to be spent in a hide which overlooked a feeding station for Golden Eagle. I have photographed this beautiful species before on many occasions but I still get an adrenalin rush when one lands and you can see it through your view finder. Usually it is a long wait but the first eagle landed whilst it was still dark and so it was a while before I could get a decent shutter speed.
The weather conditions were extreme outside which was perfect for some atmospheric images. A front was passing through with heavy snow forecast and strong winds were whipping the snow around. I love these kinds of conditions as it adds that third ingredient to your final results and if you have such a beautiful subject like a Golden Eagle in front of you then you can’t really fail. At first you have to let the birds feed on the carrion because they can be very nervous but after a short while we could then start to take pictures.
I have always struggled with flight shots of Golden Eagles because although they are a big bird, they are also fast. It is difficult to track them especially in a hide with restricted views. These hides in Finland though give you better chance as your overall view is excellent. To do flight shots you need two birds down at the same time as there can be a lot of aggression with one bird trying to push the other off the bait.
It is not easy trying for flight shots in falling snow as the auto focus struggles to lock on to the subject and usually you have an out focus bird but with a sharp snowflake. I managed to get a couple though but had more success once it had stopped snowing.
I have always had a love affair with Ravens as they are such beautiful and intelligent birds. The hides in Finland are also great for this species and trying to photograph their antics around the feeding station is great fun. It also passes the time away whilst you are waiting for the Eagles to show up. At first they were nervous and were perching in the small trees in the background but once the first one had plucked up the courage to come down the rest quickly followed.
The first part of our Finnish trip was in the Oulu region and we had a great bonus in being able to photograph a rogue Capercaillie. The Grouse family has a trait of producing these Rogue birds and although not common from time to time one does appear. I have photographed Rogue birds before in Scotland so I knew what to expect. Basically these birds will display and attack anything in their territory from Deer, Cars and fat photographers, especially fat photographers because they have the advantage of speed. It is a great experience being this close to one of the forests most elusive bird.
Our next destination was to move up to the Kuusumo Region near to the Russian border. This area of Finland is beautiful at any time of the year but during the winter months it turns into a magical place. Our base was in the Oulanka National Park and our main target was Boreal Owls which Kuusumo is famous for. I have tried for a couple of years now to photograph Boreal Owls in Finland and it has been frustrating at times. This time though I got lucky and we had some great opportunities to get images of Hawk Owl, one of the most beautiful Owls in the region. They are much smaller than Great Grey and the speed at which they fly is amazing, to put it in perspective they are about 3 times faster than a Puffin. We had a lot of opportunities with this individual but in the end I only got 4-5 sharp images, frustrating but great fun.
Oulanka is also excellent for some very special Boreal forest birds too and our group had the chance to go into a forest hide to try our luck at photographing species like Black Woodpecker and Siberian Jay. Both birds look stunning in this winter landscape.
This forest hide has got to be one of the best places I have visited for Great Spotted Woodpecker and at one point I could count 13 individuals.
We managed to photograph an amazing amount of subjects in our short time frame and I didn’t expect to get anything else but on our last day our Finnish guides had a surprise for us. Another Rogue Grouse had been reported but this time it was a Willow Grouse and we managed to locate this beautiful bird. This was a highlight for me because it is a species I have seen many times but never managed to get any images off.
I would like to thank Jenny, Sarah, John, Nigel and Julian for joining me on this trip and I am glad you guys enjoyed this beautiful part of northern Europe. I would also like to thank Jari and Leena at Finnature for making the trip run so smoothly. I would also like to thank Ari our guide throughout the trip and Olli our guide in Kuusumo your knowledge was fantastic and your help much appreciated.