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.

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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!

Searching For More

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Image: Dunlin feeding on an aquatic invertebrate near the Tana River, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm with 1.4x teleconverter at 700mm, f/8, 1/640 sec, ISO 1000, on tripod

In comparison to Hornøya Island and Ekkerøy bird cliffs where we saw thousands of seabirds, the rest of the areas we visited in Norway had less density of bird populations. As I have learned, sometimes finding a species requires gathering knowledge from others in addition to patience and a bit of luck.  We used recommendations from locals, a birding guidebook of the Varanger Peninsula and Artie’s bird photographer friend to help us get to the right areas for specific birds. Once close to these locations, we searched for small pools of water or ponds. 

Along the Tana River delta, we took a road through vast expanses of land with little vegetation but with small pools of water. At first glance, we didn’t spot any shorebirds, but when we studied the landscape a little longer, we saw small movements and realized that little brown shorebirds were indeed present, such as the Temminck’s Stint. 

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Image: Temminck’s Stint looking for a mate in a field near the Tana River, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm with 1.4x teleconverter at 700mm, f/8, 1/400 sec, ISO 1600, on tripod

Although many of these birds appear an earthy brown from afar which helps them blend into their environment, up close their feathers have a wide variety of colors and beauty. This bird below, the Little Stint, was one on Artie’s bucket list and was in full breeding plumage.  Dunlin

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Image: Little Stint looking for food in a small pool of water near the Tana River, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm with 1.4x teleconverter at 700mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, on tripod

In another location near Gednje, we stopped at a small pond for Anita when she spotted one of her bucket list species—a Red-Throated Loon. These birds are very shy and we had trouble getting close to them.  We caught the pair nesting but they are very secretive of the location of their nest and it took a couple hours of watching and waiting to find out where they nest. 

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Image: Red-Throated Loon swimming in a pond near Gednje, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm with 1.4x teleconverter at 650mm, f/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

Finding this one bird at the pond led us to finding more as we walked around the pond and discovered that this barren landscape was full of life. We caught a Eurasian Golden Plover guarding its nesting area. We never found the exact location of the nest because the bird chirped at us and attempted to draw us away–which worked! 

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Image: Eurasian Golden Plover calling out on the tundra near Gednje, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm with 1.4x teleconverter at 700mm, f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

As we were photographing that bird, I heard some chirping and looked up at some dead-looking shrubs to find a Bluethroat!  This little bird might not look special from the back or when flying a first glance, but when I got my lens on it, the vibrant colors of his chest shocked me! We learned that it tended to rest and stay around a certain low shrub along the pond.

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Image: Bluethroat singing on some shrubs near Gednje, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm with 1.4x teleconverter at 650mm, f/8, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

In all of the above images, I added a teleconverter to my setup because we were not in an area where a specialized habitat was confined to a small area such as the bird cliffs.  I needed the extra lens length to capture images of these birds since they could easily fly away as soon as we got close to them.  It was a good experience to see this side of bird photography as well. 🙂

The Scenery of the North

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Image: The scenery along Highway 891 on the way to Berlevag, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/16, 1/125, ISO 1000, hand-held

The drive up through the center of the Varanger Peninsula had vast changes in scenery. We went from birch trees covering rolling hills and low lying mountains to treeless arctic tundra and occasional low lying shrubbery.  The first time we visited this region, we took the highway to the right at the Gednje junction and visited Batsfjord. 

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Batsfjord is a small fishing town whose prominence has declined according to one restaurant server. We saw many gulls but we weren’t able to find the shorebirds that the area was known for so we had a quick lunch and headed back south.

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Image: Batsfjord, Norway, iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held

The landscape to and from Batsfjord still reflected winter with many snowfields covering the land. Glacial lakes dotted the rolling hills and we could see the snow melting, forming little streams.

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Image: The scenery along Highway 890 on the way to Batsfjord, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 70 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO 400, hand-held

I loved the colors of the lakes and decided to get a little creative. I used the Nikkor 200-500 mm long lens to zoom in on the floating ice in this lake.

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Image: Ice in a lake along Highway 890 on the way to Batsfjord, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 700 mm with a 1.4 x teleconverter, f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800, hand-held

The second trip up through central Varanger Peninsula led us to the left at Gednje to Kongsfjord and then to Berlevag farther north. The scenery was similar to our trip a couple weeks ago on the eastern side of the Varanger Peninsula with jagged rocks coming out of the ground, but the green tundra appeared more vibrant on this side of the peninsula.

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Image: The scenery along Highway 891 on the way to Berlevag, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 60 mm, f/11, 1/125, ISO 640, hand-held

In Berlevag, another fishing town, we saw a fishing boat come into harbor with a swarm of gulls flying about. They had learned that they would soon get some fish scraps from the fisherman after processing the day’s catch.

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Image: A fishing boat comes into Berlevag harbor, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO 500, hand-held

It was a fun activity, capturing the gulls diving into the water to eat fish scraps.

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Image: Herring gull diving for fish scraps in Berlevag, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO 1600, hand-held

We also saw some Kittiwake gulls nesting on window sills of many of the town’s buildings.  The chicks for many of these gulls were much bigger. Some were even beginning to practice flapping their wings.

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Image: Kittiwake gull and chicks nesting on a windowsill in Berlevag, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO 1000, hand-held

We are now preparing to leave Norway for a few days in Finland.  I will hold this country dear in my heart, as I have enjoyed the kindness of the people in this region and have been awestruck by the beauty of the land and wildlife.

The Adventure Run/Hike/Exploration To Remember

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I decided to go out for a run this morning to explore our new home for the next two days. We had arrived at the northern tip of the Varanger Peninsula last night and stayed at a guesthouse just outside of Kongsfjord on the Veines Peninsula.

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I left our guesthouse amidst a dense fog that had appeared overnight and decided to run north on the tundra to the northern shore of the peninsula and then head east.  Initially there was somewhat of a trail.  I stopped periodically to take all of the following photos with my iPhone.

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It was hard to see far in the distance because of the fog and the terrain varied from narrow trails to tundra to rocks.  The tundra was full of different colors and plant life.

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I didn’t see anyone on this run and I felt as though I was the last person at the end of earth.  I continued along the northern shore and came across a large wooden wheel.

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I examined it before pushing on, stopping periodically to take in the views.  I stayed close to the sea and stopped once when I saw 5 sea lions bobbing their heads up out of the water.  They were too far away for a good photo of them.

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I continued on and came across these balls on the landscape.  I suspected they might be from WWII but since I hadn’t read up on the history of this place, I wasn’t sure.

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I went closer to get a view of them up close and wondered if they were cannonballs.

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I knew I was getting farther out on the peninsula and I started seeing more jagged rocks in the landscape.  At one point, I spotted a large white-tailed sea eagle but it flew away before I could get close enough for a photo.  I had to climb some of the rocks when the trail disappeared.

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I then came to what I assumed was the end of the peninsula since I saw a lighthouse in the distance.

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I climbed the rocks to get closer to it and decided to keep going until I reached the peak of the cliffs. I turned around to get a view of the land.

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Here are my thoughts on a video as I described my run so far:

Views of the Peninsula

I left the lighthouse and found a path as I continued up the mountain cliffs.

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I could see on the other side of the cliffs that I would not be able to run along the southern shoreline so I continued with what looked like a trail that would lead me back to the guesthouse.

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I came across some mounds in the tundra and then saw some openings and doorways.  Since I still had not seen anyone in over an hour, I didn’t try to climb down into these areas.

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I then saw the area below and didn’t know what it was, but I began to suspect that the doorways led to bunkers from WWII with various war remnants throughout the land.

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I then came across a bunker that looked safe enough to go inside.  Please click on my video below to see what I explored:

Exploring a bunker

As if all that wasn’t enough on this run, I had a special little (or big) surprise as I continued on my run and came around some boulders.  Please see the following two videos:

Surprise 1

Surprise continued

It was truly a special run and the hours out exploring flew by.  I was a bit relieved but at great peace when I saw the platform in the mist, signaling I was close to the guesthouse.

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Headshots on Hornøya

The birds on Hornøya Island were spectacular! A couple species perched or nested fairly close to the rocky trail, so I was able to work on head shots of them.  Initially I focused on clear shots of their heads without any activity so I could capture the details in the eye and feathers.

The European Shags liked to stand on the rocky ledges near the floating dock and watch all visitors coming to the island. Their green eyes glowed and they turned their heads constantly from side to side, allowing me to get the right angle to light up their eyes. With the image below, I picked my aperture of f/6.3 for a shallow depth of field and was able to use a lower ISO since there was a lot of light despite it being partly cloudy.  I used a slightly fast shutter speed in order to capture a sharp image due to the high winds that made it difficult for me to hold the camera and lens still.

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Image: European Shag perched on a rocky ledge on Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO 400, hand-held

The Atlantic Puffins stayed close to the vertical cliffs since their colonies were at the base.  I realized that when I stayed still for awhile, they became curious and came out of their holes to stand on rocks relatively close to me.  The coloration in their faces was amazing.  For this image, the light was less so I had to bump up my ISO to 800.  I was also able to improve my exposure by dropping my shutter speed a little without losing sharpness in the image since the location where I was standing was more protected by the cliffs.

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Image: Atlantic Puffin perched on a rock on Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 410 mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO 800, hand-held

After getting a few close-up headshots of these birds, I backed away a bit to get them in action.  It was fun capturing the Shags preening, as they tended to elongate and twist their necks to reach all their feathers.

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Image: European Shag preening on a rocky ledge on Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 240 mm, f/11, 1/800, ISO 400, hand-held

The Atlantic Puffins were also active in fluffing their feathers throughout the day.  The conditions became even more cloudy so I had to increase the ISO and drop the shutter speed even more, but I was able to keep the image sharp, despite being hand-held. 🙂

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Image: Atlantic Puffin preening on Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 410 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO 1250, hand-held

It will take me awhile to process all the images I took over on the Hornøya Island.  I’ll try to feature some of the other species as well in future posts.  We are heading up north to Berlevag, Norway tomorrow to look for some other species of shorebirds for the next couple days.  I hope to have internet connection up there to post more, but if not, we’ll be back to Vadso on Thursday!

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