One of the nice parts of running trips is the planning side of things. Although we have now completed the programme for 2013 and it’s all online now, we’re well into the planning for 2014 and beyond. As well as running the trips and fitting in our own personal projects, we also plan some time to visit places where we hope to run future trips too.
So hot on the heels of this year’s Finnish Winter trip I met up with Danny (along with some other friends in the form of Steve, Nigel and Jules) to spend some time in northern Finland and Norway putting the final elements into place for next year’s new Arctic Winter trip.
Our destination for the first few days was a remote guest house north of Ivalo and almost at the Norwegian border where we based ourselves – and with good reason. At this time of year the plump Crossbill look-a-like and very local specialist, the Pine Grosbeak, has returned to these northern reaches of the boreal forest and at this particular location there are really good numbers coming to a regular feeding site. With a bit of gardening to arrange some suitable perches and settings with the dramatic arctic light, we settled into place to capture some images of these stunning birds, and as you can see from this selection they were pretty approachable. One even taking a shine to Danny’s lens when he’d gone inside to get another cup of coffee – a welcome respite from the cold and literally seconds away!
Although Pine Grosbeak are the big draw here, there are plenty of other species to work with including Siberian Jay and the ever so speedy Siberian Tit. I’ve worked with almost all the Tit species across Europe now and this one has got to be the flightiest of them all but with bags of character too. Equally as confident in coming incredibly close, it took a fair bit of thinking and setting up to finally get a location, lighting and sufficient sitting tome from the bird to get a couple of shots I was happy with.
The other big attraction to this particular guest house is it’s location – it really is in the middle of nowhere and with little more than one car an hour going past, the level of light pollution at night was non existent. As a result and with some good fortune in terms of cloud cover (we had 4 clear nights while we were there) it has got to be one of the best places to photograph the drama of the Northern Lights. It has been a good winter for them generally this year but the owner told us that pretty much any night that it’s clear there is a show, and this array of images were all taken when the rating was as low as 3 or 4 on a scale that goes up to 10! There are some tried and tested techniques to capturing the lights like this at night and this was as extended a spell as I’ve ever been able to enjoy. Something I can’t wait to go back for again next winter. If you look at the last of the images you’ll see a building which is the guest house.
As well as making the most of this lovely location we also planned to spend some time across the border in the northern harbours of Norway, specifically Batsfjord and Vardo, where large rafts of wintering sea- ducks gather at this time of the year; they are among the most colourful species to be found in the form of King, Stellars and Common Eider and the once heard never forgotten Long-Tailed Duck. Gathering in the harbours to keep warm and also in search of food such as sea urchins which gather on the legs of the jetties, there is an excellent photographic opportunity – for example working with an extremely entrepreneurial local fisherman who has pioneered some amazing floating hides and a fixed floating pontoon hide we were able to focus on low level swimming images (some of which really benefitted from the bright colours in the water that the surrounding ships and buildings created) and from the boat some dramatic take off and general flight shots – all quite an exilerating experience wrapped up as we were in our very necessary flotation suits.
The harbour buildings created further photographic opportunities in the form of Kittiwakes who were busy grabbing the best spots in preparation for the forthcoming breeding season – quite a bizarre sight given the freezing temperatures and the amount of snow that was still around!
I’ve been to Norway and Finland on many occasions throughout the seasons, but this was my first time this far north (Svalbard aside) and there’s an undoubted tranquility that goes hand in hand with the harshness of this time of year here. With some unique birdlife and the promise of an aurora drama each night, it’s no wonder that I’m really looking forward to taking a group there next year.