Puffins in Blue

Puffin in blue July 3 8628

Image: Atlantic Puffin on Staple Island, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/7.1, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

As I begin to learn more about birds and photographing them, I am noticing the different personalities of each species. When I first saw photos of puffins from my friend Muriel, I was instantly drawn to them by their beauty and charm. 

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Image: Atlantic Puffin on Staple Island, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 460 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

What I didn’t realize was how enamored I would become of them. When I was on Hornøya Island in Norway for 3 days, at least half of my time was spent watching and photographing this one species.  My excitement grew even more when I learned how many puffins I would see on the Farne Islands in England.  When we disembarked from the boat onto Staple Island, the first bird we came across was the Atlantic Puffin!  It was squatting on a rock, resting in the sun.

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Image: Atlantic Puffin on Staple Island, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/7.1, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I could barely drop my backpack fast enough to squat and take its photo.  Because of the sunny weather, we were a bit worried that we had to photograph in midday when the islands were open.  Luckily, the direction the puffins sat worked well for sun angle and I was able to capture them with the deep blue sea as the background.  They constantly changed the position and angle of their heads so I often waited for the right angle to minimize shadows on the body.

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Image: Atlantic Puffin on Staple Island, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/7.1, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I didn’t move from that location for a long time, capturing image after image of various positions.  I loved having images of them standing as well as sitting and even got one almost in a kneeling manner.

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Image: Atlantic Puffin on Staple Island, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 370 mm, f/8, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

When I took a photo of them with their head straight at me, I couldn’t avoid a shadow of their beak, but the way the eyes lit up was worth it.

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Image: Atlantic Puffin on Staple Island, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 450 mm, f/7.1, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

For almost all of the images above, I increased my aperture to f/7.1 or f/8 to increase the depth of field since I was fairly close to these birds and wanted more of the bird in focus.  Since it was sunny, my ISO was 400 and I adjusted my shutter speed to achieve the correct focus to avoid over exposing the whites of the bird.  Seeing these beauties from the first step on the island was a great indication of what was to come…

To learn more about camera settings on these birds from Artie, please see his blog on his puffin images: Artie’s Blog

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The Beauty of Farne Islands

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Image: Longstone Lighthouse, Longstone Island, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

We made it back to the United States late last night after a whirlwind trip, exhausted after the past two weeks.  The trip back was long and thankfully uneventful, and I was able to sort through a few photos.  For 6 days last week, we made a visit to the Farne Islands off the northeastern coast of England.

Farne Islands map

Each morning around 9:30am, we boarded a boat with all our camera gear and lunches and took a tour around the Farne Islands.  It took the boat a half hour to get out to the islands, and another 30-45 minutes as the pilot guided us around several of the islands, starting with Longstone Island and Lighthouse, as shown above in the top photo.

Farne Islands map 2

The Farne Islands are most known for the large number of seabirds living on the various islands. Over 100,000 birds make these islands home and breed among the rocks and grassy burrows, including 23 species of seabirds and over 37,000 breeding pairs of puffins! We spent our time on two of the islands, Staple Island and Inner Farne Island.

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Image: Inner Farne Island, England.  Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 38 mm, f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

During the initial tour each day, we visited a colony of Atlantic Grey seals.  This colony is supposedly the 3rd largest in England and includes over 8,000 seals!  We spotted males and females as well as some young pups, as you can see by the black one hiding behind his momma below.

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Image: Female Atlantic Grey Seal and pup on one of the Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 320 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We spent 10 minutes each day observing the seals as they laid along the shore or swam in the waters.  The momma seal soon got bored with her visitors and laid back down in the sun. 🙂

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Image: Female Atlantic Grey Seal on one of the Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 480 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

For 5 of the 6 days, we had bright sunny weather, a bad sign for bird photography in the middle of the day but great for sparkling blue water.  Locals we met on the island said that this was the longest stretch of sunny weather since 1976!!!  The sun brought us warm weather and great opportunities for scenic shots.

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Image: Our boat waiting in the sea near Inner Farne Island, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000 sec, ISO 640, hand-held

Staple Island, our morning island, had a great rocky cliff and wall that provided great nesting locations for the Common Murre and various gulls.  As we passed by these cliffs in the boat, we could see and hear thousands of murres as they were nesting, fighting, copulating and tending to their chicks.

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Image: Wall of Common Murres on Staple Island, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

At the edges of Staple Island, there were rock formations known as the Pinnacles that made for great scenes as well as home to the murres and gulls.

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Image: Common Murres on Staple Island, England.  Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/16, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

After viewing the islands from the boat, we were given 2-2.5 hours on each island to photograph the birds.  There was a path roped off around the center of Staple island to allow us to observe the birds without disturbing their nesting grounds. In the image below, the rocky cliffs were full of Common Murres, but Razorbills and European Shags also nested in this area.

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Image: Common Murres, Razorbills and European Shags on Staple Island, England.  Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

To hear the sounds of these birds and to see the level of activity, please click on the video below:

Some areas in the center of the island were more grassy than others, allowing for puffin  to dig burrows, as seen in the image below on the left .

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Image: Common Murres, Razorbills and European Shags on Staple Island, England.  Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 35 mm, f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Our afternoons included a visit to Inner Farne Island from 1:15-3:45pm each day.  Arctic Terns nested along the docks, forcing us to wear hats to cover our heads as we walked up the path.  If you came too close to a nest, the terns reminded you by poking your head as they flew overhead.  Sometimes, even the width of the path was too narrow to provide safe passage, so we all got daily pokes.  Occasionally, the whole flock of terns flew up into the sky and I was able to capture this sight once.

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Image: Arctic Tern colony in flight on Inner Farne Island, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

I typically made a visit to one of the rocky ledges were the puffins like to relax or stand before flying out to sea.

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Image: Puffin colony on Inner Farne Island, England.  Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 70 mm, f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

As I sort through many thousands of photos, I’ll try to post them over the next several weeks.  Each species we encountered was special in its own way.  There were many tender moments between breeding pairs as well as demonstrations of love for chicks.  It was sad to say good-bye to all the participants on Artie’s IPT, but I was impressed by all of their skills and amazing photography.

More information on Farne Islands: Farne Islands

Surprise with silhouettes

The past several days have been a whirlwind as we headed up north to Seahouses, England to begin 6 days of photography on the Farne Islands.  I haven’t been able to process more than a couple images from over 10,000+ images that I’ve taken.  I had already started on a few from our previous location on Bempton Cliffs, England and wanted to share these.

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Image: Northern Gannet flying at Bempton Cliffs, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

The third morning that we were in Bridlington, we woke to sunny skies once again and Artie told the group that there wouldn’t be anything to photograph.  We all wanted to get out to practice and left him behind at the hotel to go back to sleep.  :-). He soon regretted that decision.  Peter Kes, our driver and one of the photographers, was out with us and showed me what he was working on–silhouettes!  I was immediately entranced by this! The winds were strong, coming from the northwest, which worked well with the sun for silhouettes.  The gannets seemed to float in midair as they attempted to fly into the wind.  When we stood to photograph into the sun angle but aim at the water, the birds were silhouetted nicely!

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Image: Northern Gannet flying at Bempton Cliffs, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/22, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We played with the settings a bit, switching from f/22 and 1/2500 sec to f/8 and 1/8000 sec to see the changes.   With f/22, the background of the water is in sharper focus and stands out more where as f/8 softens the background. This worked well in the image below to allow me to capture the feather in the mouth with greater clarity.

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Image: Northern Gannet flying at Bempton Cliffs, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8, 1/8000 sec, ISO 100, hand-held

I then switched to a shorter lens on my same camera to capture the scene a bit more.  I was able to show how many birds were flying in this area on the cliffs.  It was a bit chaotic at times, but beautiful nonetheless.

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Image: Northern Gannets flying at Bempton Cliffs, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 70 mm, f/22, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

I even played with switching to my full frame camera, Nikon D750, with the same lens to try out some shots with this setup.  The color of the image changed slightly depending on the time I took the image, as fog started to approach.

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Image: Northern Gannets flying at Bempton Cliffs, England.  Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 70 mm, f/22, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

When the fog rolled in, we began shooting gannets in the mist.  Unfortunately, I haven’t looked at any of those images due to lack of time.  We all learned a very valuable lesson that weather changes very quickly and you never know what you might get. 🙂

Capturing Red Kites

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Image: Red Kite looking back, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

During our stay in Bridlington, England, we were guided generously by Mike Poole, a local photographer from Manchester, England. He had been showing us the best spots on Bempton Cliffs and where to go each time of day.  One afternoon, however, he told us about the Red Kites, a type of hawk in the UK that came back from the brink of extinction with a successful re-introduction program starting in 1989. 

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Image: Red Kite spreading his wings, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

Mike knew about a location in Harewood, England where we could possibly photograph these raptors. We drove an hour and a half through rolling countryside to get to a small town where it was known that an elderly lady used to throw raw chicken on top of a garage shed to watch the kites swoop down to feed. The local story goes that she did it precisely at 2:30pm each day and built quite a following of kites. 

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Image: Red Kite grabbing food from the roof of a garage shed, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

Unfortunately, the lady feeding the birds passed away this past January so there was some concern about the kites being able to survive since they had come to depend on this source of food. Luckily, they have adjusted, and for better or worse, still get fed raw meat from locals or photographers. While I much prefer photographing wildlife without baiting using human food, the kites are scavengers and were flourishing from this system that has been in place for years. 

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Image: Red Kite soaring, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

When we arrived, many kites were soaring overhead with occasional dives onto the shed for food scraps that people from the cafe next door had already thrown onto the roof. It was a bright sunny day which made it very hard to get a shot with a good exposure, especially since these birds had both light and dark feathers.

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Image: Red Kite soaring, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

As we began photographing and observing, we noticed some patterns. The hawks did not swoop down immediately upon seeing the food. They flew overhead in large circular patterns, slowly getting closer and closer to the shed. More and more birds joined this stalking behavior. Soon one bird did a vertical twirl and dove down with great speed towards the shed to grab some meat. Within a millisecond, a second, third and fourth kite dove down in a flurry. See the below video for an idea of what happens. 

These conditions made it extremely difficult to capture these birds in the frame, let alone get a good shot. The light was harsh and we played with the exposure a bit. We started with f/6.3, ISO 1000 and shutter speed of 1/3200 and adjusted as necessary. We went with a higher ISO instead of the typical 400 under sunny conditions since we wanted to expose for the dark feathers on the underside of the bird that were in shade. We needed a fast shutter speed since the background was so bright and the birds were fast. 

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Image: Red Kite banking to the right, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

We spent 3.5 hours there trying to photograph them. When they dove at such high speeds and in such a flurry, it was incredibly difficult to get one in focus. I tried a couple strategies. I watched the bird closest to the ground and when it started to twirl, I hit the shutter and tried to follow it down. Its speed was faster than I could follow initially but I got into a rhythm. It was hard to capture the birds that followed the initial quick dive, but sometimes 5-10 birds dove in sequence and I could capture the last one and follow it as it twirled and dove.  As the day progressed, the light softened slightly and I was lucky to capture a couple shots with one side of the hawk lit up nicely.

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Image: Red Kite diving vertically for food, Harewood, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/3200 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

I tried photographing from various angles, and even though most of my images came out with high contrast on the birds, I enjoyed the fun of focusing on a fast moving animal.

More information: Red Kite Website

Beauty at Bempton Cliffs

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Image: Northern Gannet kiting, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 280 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Artie’s Instructional Photo Tour began with a trip down the eastern border of Scotland into England.  We gathered all the participants in Edinburgh and were driven in a van by Peter, one of the photographers.

map

The countryside was full of farm land and gentle rolling hills. The grey stone buildings gave way to red brick houses with white window trim. We arrived in Bridlington, England in the evening and set out immediately for Bempton Cliffs despite the sunny skies that make it hard to photograph white and black birds due to the contrast and shadows. 

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Image: Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

It was worth the trip and we got acquainted with the Northern Gannets, a large sea bird, and their flying patterns. 

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Image: Northern Gannet kiting, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 270 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 640, hand-held

Many other species were nesting on the cliffs, including the Common Guillemots, Kittiwake Gulls, Razorbills and my favorite, the Atlantic Puffin. The Northern Gannets, however, were the focus of our photography on these cliffs due to the large number of them and their activity. 

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Image: Northern Gannets flying, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We worked on various shots of them—some posing, some flying and some landing. There were several pairs of gannets on the cliffs demonstrating mating behaviors that were quite touching and melted my heart.

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Image: Northern Gannets bonding, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Because the wings have extra joints, it was fascinating watching how they landed.

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Image: Northern Gannet landing, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 290 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We saw several gannets going out for nesting material and bringing it back.

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Image: Northern Gannet flying with nesting material, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 380 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We even got a peek at some chicks when the gannet adults moved around on their nests. 

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Image: Northern Gannet adult and chick, Bempton Cliffs, England. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

We have had some very long days as we leave around 5:30-6:00am and shoot for several hours and head out agin late in the afternoon into the night.  I am very behind on my photo processing, but much of the shooting has been magical and I can’t wait to share!

The Charm of Edinburgh

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Image: Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 48 mm, f/14, 1/200 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

I had heard of the beauty and charm of Edinburgh, but it was beyond what I had imagined! From the moment we stepped off the plane Sunday night, we were treated with kindness and graciousness.  After getting settled into our hotel, Anita and I went next door to The Torfin pub and relaxed while waiting for some chips (fries). Anita started chatting with a couple guys and soon we joined them.  One was a Scottish man, Gary, who worked on oil rigs whom I couldn’t understand to save my life, and the other was an English man, James, whom I could understand quite well, except for some of the humor and slang.  😉 We hit it off since he is a firefighter here in Edinburgh and I could relate, having a brother who is a firefighter in Arizona.  He told me about Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano in Edinburgh, so of course, we headed there early the next morning to climb it.

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Image: Arthur’s Seat (dormant volcano), Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 56 mm, f/16, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

The views from up top (the left peak in the above photo) were amazing and I could get a 360 degree view of the city.  There were many trails on the volcano that allowed for hiking or running, as shown below.

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Image: View of Edinburgh and half of the volcano from the peak of Arthur’s Seat (dormant volcano), Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 29 mm, f/14, 1/200 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We were lucky to have a sunny day that added color to what appears to be a grey town with all the various shades of grey stone buildings.

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Image: Edinburgh, Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 55 mm, f/16, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Later in the afternoon, I wandered about the historic and royal districts of Edinburgh on my own among thousands of tourists.  The Royal Mile was beautiful with cobblestone streets and buildings centuries old.  To avoid having photos filled with random people, I took some images of these buildings from Princes Street Gardens.

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Image: Building along the Royal Mile near Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 66 mm, f/16, 1/200 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

I also climbed Calton Hill that afternoon for more views of the town and to capture the various churches and clock towers.

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Image: Edinburgh churches and clock towers from Calton Hill, Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 70 mm, f/16, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Because of the number of people admiring this amazing town, I had to get a little creative to capture the beauty of some of the buildings up close, such as this church.

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Image: Edinburgh church, Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 26 mm, f/14, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Today we woke to the typical grey cloudy skies with a light fog and I decided to head out early for a run into town.  As I suspected, most tourists and residents were still sleeping and I was able to capture more of the quiet charm of the town with my iPhone.

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Image: Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland, iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held

As the fog burned off, the sun peaked out for a bit while we walked over the Forth Bridge, admiring the village of Queensferry.  It was a great way to end these two days in Edinburgh.

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Image: Forth bridge, Edinburgh , Scotland, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/16, 1/400 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

The next two weeks will be a whirlwind as we begin Artie’s IPT (Instructional Photo Tour) with 11 participants.  We are heading out early to drive south along the east coast of Scotland and England to return to photographing birds.  I’ll update when I can with our journey.

For a quick update on Artie, I have him walking a lot now and he just beat his previous walking record of 6 miles in a day (spread out) by making it over 7 miles today!  His longest walk so far in one bout is 4 miles without knee issues.  He is also going up and down stairs like a champ and we are progressing daily.  🙂

 

 

Highlights of Helsinki

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Image: Barnacle Goose chick walking towards me in Helsinki, Finland; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 450 mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

After 3 weeks in Arctic Norway, we headed west and south into Finland for a couple days.  We drove from Vadso to Ivalo and flew down to Helsinki to enjoy two days of city life.

I often use running as a way to become familiar with a new place and this was no different.  I spent two mornings running around Helsinki–the southern half on the first morning and the northern half on the second.  It was a beautiful city with sights for all interests.

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Image:  Helsinki, Finland; iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held

We happened to be in town during a national holiday so most of the shops were shut down.  We were told that the people leave to go to the countryside for a couple days to enjoy the sauna and drinking beer.  I didn’t mind because the quiet made it a lot easier to run around town and scout places to photograph.

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Image: Streets of Helsinki, Finland; iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held

During these runs, I was also scouting for birds to photograph for the three of us during our stay.  I covered the shoreline along the southern part of the city and found beautiful boats and a few sea birds scattered about.

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Image: Docks in Helsinki, Finland; iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held

In the more historic district, I enjoyed stopping by some of the architectural wonders, such as the Helsinki Cathedral.

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Image: Helsinki Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland; iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held

I noticed some geese in many of the grassy areas around town and took Artie to the botanical gardens later in the day to find some Barnacle Geese to photograph.

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Image: Barnacle Geese resting at Helsinki Botanical Gardens in Helsinki, Finland; iPhone 7 Plus

These geese are similar to Canada Geese in their appearance and tendency to be accepting of humans close by but they are a different species.  They were also quite beautiful up close and satisfied our quest to photograph birds.

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Image: Barnacle Goose resting at Helsinki Botanical Gardens in Helsinki, Finland; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 290 mm, f/6.3, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

On the first day of photographing these geese, we didn’t see any babies but we got a nice surprise the second day when many geese pairs paraded their chicks throughout the parks and waterways.

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Image: Barnacle Geese and its chicks swimming in a waterway in Helsinki, Finland; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 400 mm, f/8.0, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

It was a short stay in Finland and off to Scotland next!