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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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