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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Bird Paradise on Hornøya Island

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Image: A full view of the western side of Hornøya Island, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70mm at 24 mm, f/13, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held from a speeding boat

After being in Norway for two weeks, we had heard from many locals about a special island known for birds outside of Vardo on the east coast of Norway called Hornøya Island.

Hornoya island map

We learned that it is an uninhabited island that has been made into a nature reserve due to the abundant bird colonies and flocks that live on the island. The number of species we saw (8 at my last count) was amazing! We had to take a short boat ride of 5-10 minutes from Vardo to this island with all our camera gear and food for the day.

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Image: Our transport boat from Vardo to Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held from shore

We spent 3 days this past week on the island shooting for 6-9 hours with occasional breaks–hence the lack of blog posts. It was overwhelming with all the species and opportunities to practice various types of bird photography-head shots, single bird portraits, interactions among birds, birds in flight, flocks of birds, scenic shots, etc. 

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Image: Flocks of gulls flying around Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/9.0, 1/640 sec, ISO 400, hand-held from shore

The boat came to the island on the hour but sometimes skipped hours depending on visitors. We always took the last boat at 6pm so we could maximize our time with the birds. The weather was always very cold and windy with some bouts of rain and snow. The first day was a mixture of the above with winds not ideal for photographing birds in flight (we want the sun shining on the bird’s head as they fly into the wind).  The second time we visited, it was cold but sunny all day so the contrast the sun created between light and shadows was too much for great bird photography. The third day, however, it was a cloudy and windy day, perfect for photographing birds in flight with winds coming from the east. 

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Image: Our partly cloudy day during our first trip to Hornøya Island, iPhone 7 Plus

The only accessible part of the island is the western side. There is a lighthouse on top of the cliff but access to it has been closed due to rock slides. The majority of the birds on the cliffs were Kittiwake gulls and Common and Bridled Guillemots. Before this trip, I had no idea what a guillemot looked like but I soon learned that they roughly resemble a penguin in my mind although they are not related to them. In some of the lower cliffs and where the vertical cliffs begin to slope to meet the horizontal land, there were colonies of puffins and shags! 

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Image: Some Shags sitting on a low cliff with gulls down at the base near the water, Hornøya Island, iPhone 7 Plus

In the water, there were thousands of guillemots swimming, diving and flying from one area to another. I climbed down on some of the rocks to photograph the scene of them. It was hard to capture the grandness of it all in a photograph, but I tried to focus on the closest bird when composing the image. They moved so quickly in the water so the image wasn’t always what was planned. 

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Image: Common and Bridled Guillemots flying and swimming in the waters at Hornøya Island, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200 mm, f/11, 1/800 sec, ISO 400, hand-held from shore

Over the next several days, I’ll be processing the thousands of images and sharing a few of them in some posts. To give you an idea of the enormity of the colonies of birds living on this island, here is a video. 

As a spectacular end to one of our days, something scared the birds (possibly a white-tailed sea eagle) and they took off in droves from the cliffs. See the video below to see them take off and make a large circle in the sky before returning. It was phenomenal. 

The Northeastern End of Norway

 

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Image: Reindeer grazing in the tundra along the highway to Hamningberg, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

As part of our adventure to find birds, we headed to Sandfjord in the Batsfjord province in northeastern Norway over the weekend. We made one attempt earlier last week during a bout of high winds, rain and snow, but we turned around at the edge of the province when we realized that we were running out of gas and the only village in the province was abandoned. 

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Image: A stormy first try to get to Sandfjord in Batsfjord province, Norway, iPhone 7 Plus

We checked the weather forecast for round two and waited until the winds and weather calmed a bit. Our second attempt was successful, and although we didn’t find many birds close enough to photograph, the scenery was amazing! 

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Image: The scenic view of Sandfjord in Batsfjord province, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 48 mm, f/13, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

To get to this region, we headed east out of Vadso, past the bird cliffs of Ekkeroy to Vardo (the easternmost town in Norway).  From there, we headed north on the road to Hamningberg. The road started as a two lane road with no dividing line that soon gave way to a narrow road supposedly wide enough for both directions. 

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Image: Artie walking down the narrow “two-lane” highway in Batsfjord province, Norway, iPhone 7 Plus

As we climbed the edge of the mountains and cliffs, we stopped at various scenic overlooks to capture the jagged rocks against the tundra and sea.

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Image: The jagged rocks along the highway that make up Sandfjord in Batsfjord province, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 24 mm, f/16, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

We saw reindeer and sheep roaming the tundra at times and an occasional house.

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Image: Reindeer grazing in the tundra along the highway to Hamningberg, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 400 mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

The 35 km drive from Vardo took a couple hours with all our stops to gape at the gorgeous scenery.

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Image: A sheep and her lambs graze and drink from a stream in Batsfjord province, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 31 mm, f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

When we got to Sandfjord, we didn’t see any small shorebirds that the area is known for so either they weren’t out or had migrated further north already. We did see some gulls on the boulders far off in the distance. We had 5 km more to go to get to Hamningberg, the end of the road on the east coast of Norway. The town had a few houses that appeared to be second homes for Norwegian families but the town was said to be abandoned.   

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Image: A few houses in the town of Hamningberg, Norway, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

We came to the end of the road and enjoyed this old barn and a couple boulders with resting gulls.  It was a bit anti-climatic but just perfect for the quaintness of the area.

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Image: An old barn at the end of the highway in Hamningberg, Norway, Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 mm at 55 mm, f/13, 1/160 sec, ISO 400, hand-held

Despite the lack of birds, we (even Artie at times) enjoyed a day of landscape photography and exploring the eastern coast. 

A Pleasant Surprise!

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and baby in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

After a rough start to the day with heavy winds coming from the east and a steady rain with cold temperatures, we had a heart-warming experience at the end of the day that I will remember forever.  I will warn you that some of the photos will be a little graphic and if you have a sensitive stomach, you will probably not want to look at them around meal times.  🙂

We explored a couple spots around town in the morning to try to find some birds to photograph, but we were not as successful as we had hoped. In the afternoon, the eastern winds conflicted with the direction of the sunlight.  Since birds face and fly into the wind, they would be flying east as the sun set in the western sky, so any photos we attempted of birds in flight would create a dark head–not an appealing image.  Anita and I decided to head back out to the bird cliffs at Ekkerøy just to practice our skills.  When we got there around 5pm, my heart sank as I saw this on the ground.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake eggs, iPhone 7 Plus

Many of the nests were occupied with the other gull in the pair flying about or resting on boulders.  I had hoped that the storm and strong winds did not knock the eggs out.  I looked up and saw one bird standing up in its nest.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and egg in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

It was a beautiful sight to see the kittiwake tending to its egg.  Then I heard Anita cry out in joy!

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and baby calling in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

We had babies!  We were so excited!  The longer we watched the cliffs, the more babies we saw.  Some nests had double surprises!

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and babies in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

Shortly after this, we began seeing nature at its best.  One of the babies pecked at its parent’s beak to signal its hunger.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and baby pecking in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

The parent responded to its baby by beginning the feeding process.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and baby feeing in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and baby feeding in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

It was fascinating to see this right in front of me and capture this special moment.  Little did I know that I would get another special moment in just a few minutes.

As I scanned several nests on the cliffs. I watched the babies stir around and the parents tend to the babies as they stretched their wings or pecked to be fed.  One nest in front of me had a baby that appeared to be very close to the edge.  I was getting worried as it backed up to the edge, but then I learned a couple very important lessons-never stand under a nest and instincts are powerful.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake parent and baby defecating in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/400 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held

Quick reflexes allowed me to capture this defecation on camera!  I was impressed that the baby knew to “go” off the side of the nest and I learned how the parent helped this activity.

Let’s just say that that is the end of this session!  🙂

 

 

Aerial Acrobatics

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

While observing the Black-Legged Kittiwakes on the bird cliffs of Ekkerøy, we had the opportunity to practice photographing birds in flight. The gulls were constantly leaving their nests to collect vegetation, to scream their signature call, and to battle with each other mid-air.  I changed my camera settings from AF “Single” shot to “Group” to improve my ability to focus on a fast moving subject.

I started with practicing tracking a single bird in flight that was moving in a straight line. When the gulls were collecting vegetation for their nests or heading back out, they were streamlined a bit and had a predictable flight pattern.  After watching this behavior for awhile, I could roughly predict their movements to allow me to grab focus of one of the birds as I was tracking it.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 300mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1250, hand-held

The longer we stayed at the cliffs, the more we saw interactions between two or more gulls.  Many screeched at each other and began little spats in the air that changed their flight patterns. 

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 240 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

This led to great aerial interactions and action shots. The different contortions of their bodies during these spats made for great lines in the images when considering the artistic aspect of compositions.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 200mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 270mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

Most of the time, it was two birds fighting mid-air.  However, a couple times I was lucky enough to capture three kittiwakes screeching at each other. 

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes flying in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 240mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

I could have spent several more hours at these cliffs watching and photographing these birds.  After two hours there, luckily my memory cards were almost full since my arm was dead after hand-holding the camera and lens for that long!

Bird Cliffs of Ekkerøy

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/6.3, 1/1000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

Fruda, the owner of our hotel in Vadsø, was a wealth of information about the Varanger Peninsula and various birding sites. He told us about a small town 15 kilometers east of Vadsø called Ekkerøy whose claim to fame is the kittiwake bird cliffs. The town itself is an old fishing village consisting of a few houses on a peninsula and the connecting land. A large hill on the southeastern part of the peninsula gives way to cliffs dropping into the sea. We headed out to visit this area one afternoon and I was shocked by the number of gulls flying about.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake cliffs in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

These types of gulls are the Black-Legged Kittiwakes, a smaller cliff-dwelling gull named after the high-pitched sound it makes.

These birds nest together, often in the thousands, as we saw in Ekkerøy.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake cliffs in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

We were able to practice a variety of bird photography skills at these cliffs. For the images below, I was focusing on capturing the nesting behavior of the kittiwakes.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake nesting on a cliff in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

The nests are on the edges of the rocky cliffs, built up over time by seaweed and other vegetation. In the image below, the green on the kittiwake’s chest is evident of a recent seaweed collection.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake nesting in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

The nests are often very close to each other but that doesn’t seem to bother the gulls as they rest peacefully. Eggs are laid typically between mid May to June, but we did not see any, possibly because most of the nests were above us and the gulls were sitting on them or they had not yet laid eggs.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwakes nesting on cliffs in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/5000 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

Some mating pairs seemed particularly affectionate at times as they huddled together.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake pair nesting in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

Other pairs were in nest-building mode. One gull sat on the nest while the other flew away to find vegetation and bring it back.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake bringing back nesting material in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1250, hand-held

At times, I spotted gulls resting on big boulders jutting up from the sea.  Evidence of years of perching on this boulder gives a nice coloration to the rocks. The rest was short-lived though as they soon returned to the task of collecting sticks, twigs, seaweed or other vegetation for their mate.

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Image: Black-Legged Kittiwake bringing back nesting material in Ekkerøy, Norway; Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held

Coming up in a future post will be some images of these birds in flight, definitely a hard skill that requires some practice.

 

Photographing Phalaropes

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Image: A male Red-Necked Phalarope coming up from a head dunk, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, on tripod

As we began to explore Vadsøya Island more, we found a small pond along the eastern end of the island. The whole island is about 3-3.5 miles in circumference (based on my running app as I ran along the edge of it) and the eastern half is wilderness tundra. The western winds have been present most mornings, but on Saturday morning, there was an area of calm waters at one edge of the pond where Artie spotted some Red-Necked Phalaropes. I was unfamiliar with this bird but I soon learned more. 

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Image: A male Red-Necked Phalarope creating a vortex in the water, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 380mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, on tripod

Red-necked Phalaropes are small wading birds with a duck-like appearance when swimming in a pond although they are not ducks. They were easily spotted for Artie, as they swim quickly in small circles, creating a vortex.  This allows them to stick their bills in the middle of the vortex to feed off tiny insects and crustaceans that have come up into the swirl.  It looks quite comical at first and reminded me of a little kids spinning circles in the playground. Here is a video of their behavior with Artie describing some of their biology and behavior.

The phalaropes were surprisingly tame. As we approached the water’s edge, we moved slowly, not only to avoid scaring them but also to make sure we didn’t fall as we trudged through 6-8 inches of wet marsh. I was able to photograph a series of images below of a phalarope sticking his head into the water and eating a small insect.

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Image: A male phalarope dipping his head for food, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1100, on tripod

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Image: A male phalarope lifting his head from the water with an aquatic insect at the end of his bill, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1250, on tripod

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Image: A male phalarope eating his catch (small yellow insect at the back of his beak, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1800, on tripod

I was surprised to learn about the sex role reversals in which the females are larger than the males and have the more vibrant colors in their feathers with red spreading further down their chests.  They pursue the males and after copulation, the males incubate the eggs and raise the young. 

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Image: A female Red-Necked Phalarope swimming, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, on tripod

Most of the birds we saw happened to be male but there were a few females and we caught a few pairs copulating. It happened fairly quickly and I had about 5-10 seconds to capture a few shots. 

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Image: A pair of Red-Necked Phalaropes copulating, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600, on tripod

For these shots, all were taken on tripod since the birds were smaller, I was standing in 6-8 inches of cold water, and the birds were spinning so quickly.  Timing was hard and when they were facing away from me in the spin, I started pushing down on the shutter button to try to catch one facing sideways with the eye looking at me.  I really enjoyed these charming birds and watching them spin.

 
More Info:
Red-Necked Phalarope

 

Angels in the Sky

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Image: Arctic Tern kiting in the sky, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 240mm, f/6.3, 1/1250 sec, ISO 800, hand-held

The shoreline of Vadsøya Island has turned out be a great location for bird photography. Flocks of Common Gulls and Arctic Terns congregate along the rocky beaches that butt up against the grasses and tundra. Late spring has perfect light due to the cloudy skies and the position of the sun, creating long muted daylight hours. I went out for a run the first morning on the island and spotted a couple large boulders on the shore with gulls covering them. 

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Image: Common Gulls on boulders on Vadsoya Island, iPhone 7 Plus image by Amy Novotny

If I walked slowly towards them, they remained on the rock and didn’t fly off. 

Excited, I ran back to the hotel and returned with camera gear. I have been fascinated by gulls after growing up in the desert, but I know they are not always admired for their beauty since they are commonly found in beach towns or in cities near water. I learned from Artie that there are many species of gulls but calling them “seagulls” is incorrect since there is no true “seagull.” The species I captured below is the Common Gull.

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Image: Common Gull landing, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 310mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800,  hand-held

The following day, I took Artie out to this location and the gulls had moved down the shoreline a bit to the north. Much to my delight, a flock of Arctic Terns had appeared and I learned a little about their behavior in flight. Besides the typical soaring through the air to get from one location to another, they also hover and flap their wings in a beautiful display. The top image and the one below are a couple photos of these terns against a cloudy sky. 

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Image: Arctic Tern hovering in the sky, Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 240mm, f/6.3, 1/1250 sec, ISO 800,  hand-held

The cloudy skies of both days allowed for similar camera settings. I was able to keep my ISO at 800 for these images, but in the past couple days of shooting, it ranged from 800 to 1600, depending on the light. Ideally, I wanted an aperture of f/6.3 and a shutter speed of at least 1/1000, as I preferred to stop or slow the wings. 

The variety of birds in this area is astounding.  As we explore more of the area, I will continue to post about the various species.

Arrival in Norway

The drive from Finland to Norway was full of beauty as the landscape and scenery changed the farther north we went. I used my iPhone to capture images from the van to document what we saw.  The pine and birch trees of the Finnish taiga gave way to lower lying shrubbery and tundra. 

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Image: iPhone photo of coastal Arctic Norway

More little villages began popping up in the countryside with red farmhouses and barns. We saw small herds of reindeer, both tan and albino, scattered throughout the wilderness, sometimes grazing and sometimes resting among the grasslands. 

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Image: iPhone photo of reindeer along the road in Finland

We came upon a small national cultural historical site in Utsjoki at the northern end of Finland called Kirkkotuvat Girkostobut.  We stopped to explore it and got some photos of the grassy roofed houses.  I wasn’t able to read the Finnish to get all the history of the area but when I looked it up online, it was described as the old church courtyard dwellings from the 1700-1800’s. 

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Image: iPhone photo of Utsjoki church and the old church dwellings

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Image: iPhone photo of a grassy roofed house in the historical cultural site.

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Image: iPhone photo of a grassy roofed house in the historical cultural site.

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Image: iPhone panoramic photo of the church historical cultural site.

When we crossed the border into Norway, it was a bit inconsequential. There was a small building and a bridge over the river, but we were surprised that we didn’t have to stop or be screened.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t get another passport stamp. 😊

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Image: iPhone photo of the Norway border crossing.

We continued on and noticed a quick change in the villages. The roads and houses seemed better maintained. More farms scattered about the countryside up but the houses were often painted yellow with green trim while the barns remained the classic red with white trim.

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Image: iPhone photo of the houses along the Varanger Peninsula.

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Image: iPhone photo of the houses along the Varanger Peninsula.

We drove along the southern Varanger Peninsula. The water looked glacial with its bluish tint and we began seeing a variety of gulls and other shorebirds. The temperature seemed to get cooler as the wind picked up. Here is a video of the drive along the area. 

Coastal drive of the Varanger Peninsula

We made it to our new home for the next three weeks on Vadsøya Island in Vadso along the southern edge of the peninsula. Here is a video of our arrival:

Drive to Vadso

Half of the island had houses and some industrial buildings but the other half was Arctic tundra with a small pond and plenty of wildlife! The next few days will be spent exploring this area and the birds inhabiting this area. 

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Image: iPhone photo of the bridge from Vadso to Vadsoya Island.

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Image: iPhone photo of the docks in Vadso.

Coming up soon will be the birds of the Vadsoya Island.

What is a Ruff???

I finally got a glimpse of the main purpose of the Norwegian and Finnish leg of our great European adventure–the male Ruff.  Artie and Anita wanted to photograph these beauties during the mating season, and after having one chance to photograph these birds so far, I can understand why.

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Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held from vehicle

Ruffs and reeves (the females) are considered medium-sized wading birds that breed in marshes and wet meadows across northern Europe and Asia.  During breeding season, the male plumage is a variety of colors that is used to attract a mate.

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Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held from vehicle

The males parade in front of females and fluff up the ring of feathers around their necks like a ruffle.  Hence their name!  The males display the the ring of feathers in front of the females, hoping to encourage copulation.

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Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held from vehicle

If there is more than one male in an area with a female, the males begin fighting, putting on a display of jumping, crouching and flaring up their feathers.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of this behavior yet, but Anita made it out shooting that first afternoon (while Artie and I were napping) and was able to capture two birds fighting in an amazing photo!  You can see two of her images on Artie’s blog, here.

When the males are not displaying their feathers, they are rather calm and I even caught one resting.

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Image: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held from vehicle

All of these images were taken near Kaamanen, Finland alongside a road.  I have learned that these birds are very skittish and fly away in the close proximity of people.  However, they prefer certain spots and often go back to that same exact location.  Artie described it to me as a microhabitat that meets their needs for a breeding location.  Typically, the open grassy area where the males display their feathers is called a lek.  In this case in Kaamanen, the display was along the edge of this road.

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Image: iPhone 7 Plus, hand-held from vehicle

The Ruffs pranced just on the other side of the gravel and when a truck drove by, they often flew to the edge of the water several hundred yards away, only to return to the exact same location after some time.  Because of this, we photographed these birds from the van (stationary), so as not to disturb their mating rituals.

Because this is the migration season, the Ruffs and reeves are on their way north, as were we.  We then began our journey north to Norway in hopes of seeing and photographing more of this species.

Info about Ruffs: Ruff website