Svalbard: Unbelievable scenes

2 08 2013

I recently spent 10 awesome days on a photographic safari in Svalbard; the land of the midnight sun (well, this time of year anyway; there are also 4 months where it is the land of complete darkness).  There was so much to see and do, so many spectacular scenes, that I have decided to break up my arctic tales into a number of separate blogs.  The first of these adventures was an incredible trip to a bird cliff.

This was not just any bird cliff, this would be more accurately described as ‘the’ bird cliff – sixty thousand pairs of breeding Brunnich’s Guillemots!  For those of you who struggle with math, that is one hundred and twenty thousand birds (these are only the breeding birds, not any other hanging around) on one cliff face!  It truly is a feast for the senses.

Photographing them from the bow of our ship proved to be interesting…  The hardest part was without a doubt, trying to single out a single scene or bird to aim at.  There is so much commotion both on the cliff face, and flying around you, that it is very tricky trying to pick up the rhythm.   After I had closed my gob-smacked jaw, I did work out the general comings and goings of the birds, and managed to get some great images.  The rocking of the boat did not help either, for two reasons.  Firstly, because it makes aiming the camera very difficult, and secondly, because it does not allow you to use a tripod, so for the duration of the three hour continuous shoot, you are holding your (at this stage very heavy) camera, which will test even the buffest biceps!

At a number of points throughout the experience, I found myself standing back just looking up at that impressive cliff, trying to comprehend everything in front of me.  Even harder was thinking how on earth do I explain this to people who have never seen it – I surely would not have believed it if someone had try to describe it to me.  The only sure fire way to fully understand this marvelous phenomenon, is to head up to the arctic, and see it for yourself!

 

To join me on safari, click here!

 

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Sea eagles on ice please

2 07 2013

I was on safari in Japan recently, and had the good fortune to photograph the magnificent stellar sea eagles.  This is quite an experience, one that surprised me in all the right ways.

 

We set out on our icebreaker cruise first thing in the morning, and were lucky to have had the sea ice drift south over night (quick info: no ice = no eagles; there was no ice the evening we arrived).  We headed out straight for the ice (which never seems like a good idea: titanic), and wedged ourselves between the massive blocks of white rock.  The hull of the boat squealed each time we made contact with a new piece of ice, causing even the brave to keep a concerned eye on the lifeboats.  Just as we got settled, the first of these massive eagles swooped past us, looking for bits of fish.

The stellar sea eagle is the world’s largest eagle, which is quite apparent even at a distance.  While the short distance between eagle number one and our cameras did not disguise their size, when eagle number two came and landed less than ten meters away from us, it was properly understood.  These are some seriously big birds.  They are just fantastic to watch, and even better to photograph.  The white-tailed eagles we had seen before also joined in the feast of fish found on the ice, and were somewhat dwarfed by these oversized raptors.  Two and a half hours of pure bliss resulting in thousands of images.  Towards the end, I counted close to one hundred eagles sitting and flying all around us.  To anyone who has even the slightest interest in photography, birding or life experiences, this is an absolute must do!

To join me on safari, click here!