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Trip report: Red-throated Divers, Knuthöjdsmossen

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 07:41

Red-throated Divers passing by.

The 22nd of July me and Daniel Stenberg went to Knuthöjdsmossen, Hällefors in Sweden. This is a location widely known for it's nesting Red-throated Divers. Worth mentioning is that the best time to visit the area is after 15th of July when it's allowed to walk freely in the nature reserve. In the beginning of the summer you're bound to walk at a designated footbridge. This limits your opportunities at getting good photos of the birds. Last summer I photographed the Black-throated Diver for the first time and since then I've always wanted to photograph the Red-throated Diver. In the 80s there were nesting Red-throated Divers on the Åland Islands but not anymore. I was therefore forced to go elsewhere.

Red-throated Diver

I met up with Daniel around 5 pm and four hours later we arrived at Hällefors. Since light conditions were still OK despite a dense layer of clouds, we decided to pack our gear and head out for some recognizance. We soon met another photographer who turned out to be Henrik Randén, who I've emailed with back and forth the last year. It was fun to finally meet him in real life. He showed us around the reserve and when it got dark we set camp near our car. Henrik decided to spend his night in his car and we slept in my old tent. As soon as we went to sleep the wind rose. This was bad news since I was looking for calm water and beautiful reflections. I was hoping the wind would calm down, but it didn't. Despite the wind we found a few calm area where we could photograph the Divers. When we got back to the tent after three hours of photography I was pretty disappointed with the results. Maybe a few decent photos but no close up shot and not the light I had been looking for. The sun had barely manged to penetrate the clouds. We went to sleep and then decided to stay for another night. The weather forecast included rain for the coming evening, so we went out for a few hours after lunch. This time I was more lucky and got a few nice shots! Because of the clouds the light was soft even though it was the middle of the day. Daniel got good photos as well, so we decided to go back to Stockholm and spend the coming night at Torö, photographing waders. 270 km later I was in bed and got 2 hours worth of sleep before we headed of to Torö. It was really windy and few birds showed up near our hides so at 10:00 we decided to call it a day. All in all it was a great weekend and I finally got photos of the Red-throated Diver!

Red-throated Diver portrait.


Golden Eagles on the Åland Islands

Sunday, 21 February 2010 18:55

Golden Eagle fly by

This weekend was my fourteenth day in the hide. I've been there two days since my last update, without any good results. I've gotten som photos of the woodpeckers, but almost no good photos of Buzzards or Eagles. Because of this I was not very motivated to sit in the hide for twelve to thirteen hours only to come home empty handed. However I knew this was going to be one of the last chances this spring, so I decided I'd give it a go. With me for six days has been Daniel Stenberg, but now I was accompanied by Tom Sundström. He had previously spent one day in the hide in November. That day we had eagles feeding for about an hour, but it was raining and foggy so there was really no good photo opportunities.

For this session we decided to start at 6:45, which proved to be 30 minutes too late. The days have really gotten longer since last time and by then it was already fairly bright outside. We managed to scare one Buzzard, who was probably sleeping there that night. We then had to mount the Wimberley heads, light the heater and when we were done it was already 07:30. Not the best start on the day and frankly I thought we wouldn't see anything more that day. I hoped that we only alerted one bird and not all Ravens and Crows. Unless they feed on the ground no Eagles will get there either. The day started pretty much like all other days in the hide. First one Raven gets there, checks the area and then alerts all the friends. The first to arrive is usually there at least 30 minutes before the rest arrive. It's the same procedure every time. The woodpeckers visited us together with the usual passerines. By accident I spotted one Golden Eagle hiding behind a few branches. The first few hours had been pretty calm, but now I felt we might get lucky. My goals for the first winter was to photograph White-tailed Eagles, Northern Goshawks and the Golden Eagle. I got some photos of the white tailed eagles the first weekend out there. Not perfect, but still quite decent. I've got no photos of the Goshawk, but I saw one adult lady in November. That must have been a migrating bird though, since I haven't seen one since then. Last year I observed juvenile Golden Eagles in the area, so I hoped they would visit Åland this winter as well. Something they actually did, because we saw one sitting in the tree tops a month ago. There was still some chance to finally get a photo of it and this weekend was when it had to happen. By now I knew I wouldn't get photos of the Goshawk, but instead I had a few shots of the Common Buzzard, so I was happy anyway.

Golden Eagle

This day the Golden Eagle sat there, hidden, for one hour observing all the activity on the ground. There was probably 16 crows feeding at the time and the Eagle was very interested in what they were doing. When it took off I missed getting any photos of it and after that I thought I'd lost my chances this season. After that nothing happened for four hours, when the Eagle all of the sudden arrived again. However this time it was not alone. There was at least two more birds there and it looked like it was two Golden Eagles accompanied by one sub adult White-tailed Eagle. I only saw them for a few seconds as they passed my hide, so it was impossible to say for sure. It was calm for 30 minutes when one Eagle all of the sudden landed on the food. After a few minutes it left the place, but it was kind enough to land right near by, giving us the opportunity to photograph it. The bird ate a few times, giving us many good photos. When it left it attacked one bird at the far end of the marsh. Away went a second Golden Eagle. They chased each other the rest of the day and later two White tailed Eagles arrived, of which one was adult. The old guy didn't feed at all, but sat there for one hour or so.

Golden Eagle

What I thought would be yet another day without any photos turned out to be the best day of the year. It was a perfect day to end the season. I might be able to squeeze one more session out there, but I doubt it. I'm already looking forward to november, when I'll start feeding them again.


Grey-headed Woodpecker and Common Buzzard

Friday, 05 February 2010 21:27

Common Buzzard.

I've now spent 4 more days in the hide since my last update. This means that I've now been there a total of 11 days this winter. This equates to almost 90 hours in the hide. I've enjoyed (almost) every second of it! Sitting there can be both frustrating and the next second so rewarding. You can sit there for 6 hours without any activity when a Buzzard all of the sudden appears and you get a big smile on your face.

During this winter I've placed out over 200 kg of meet and currently they feed at a rate of between 7-10 kg per day, depending on the outside temperatur and if they find food elsewhere. I'm therefore our local slaughterhouse's largest customer when it comes to bird food. By now they are not surprised when I place my orders almost weekly. Many thanks goes to my father who is kind enough to pick the food up for me and drive it to the hide and also my father- and mother- in law who regularly bring out food for the birds during the dark hours of the day.

Grey-Headed Woodpecker.

The Buzzard in this post is the third individual visiting the hide and it is probably the youngest of them. It's a juvenile, which can be seen on the longitudinal streaks on the chest. Adult Common Buzzard's underpart is instead horizontally cross-barred.

Not only large birds benefit of the food I bring them. Everything from Tits to Woodpeckers and Jays come to feed there everyday. They are usually the first to arrive and last to leave each day, only to be away when the Buzzards and Eagles are there. Even though I doubt the Buzzards care to attack the Passerines their natural instinct kicks in when they see a bird of prey. I've also placed food at about 5 meters from the hide, which is a perfect range for the smaller birds and a place they go to when other birds feed at the main area.

The season will end in mid March. Partly because the days are too long to sit the hide, but mainly because the birds start finding natural food again. I will go out with food less often in the end making the transition back to their ordinary life more seamless.  I hope they will remember this place next winter and visit the hide regularly for food and shelter. In February I will hopefully be able to spend 6 to 8 days in the hide. With some luck I might be able to get a good photo opportunity on the Golden Eagle I know visits the place. I've seen him or her in the tree tops once and I'm sure it's still there. Look forward to more updates in a few weeks!  


Grey Herons

Friday, 08 January 2010 00:15

Grey Heron eager to grab one of the fish we placed on the ice.

This year has been unusually cold here in Stockholm. Not in the six year I've lived in Sweden have I experienced temperatures between -10 and -20 and lots of white powder. Winter usually means gray, wet roads. This weather makes it tough for all the birds. They burn a lot of energy and food is hidden under the snow. Luckily many people have feeders at their backyard and bring food to parks such as Råstasjön and Lötsjön, just North of Stockholm in Solna. Råstasjön also happens to be one of the better spots for bird photography in Stockholm this time of the year. It offers a nice mix of Passerines, many Grey herons, Water rails, ducks and if you're lucky Northern Goshawks. This week one of the world's oldest Goshawk was spotted, 21 years old feeding on a duck.  

Portrait shot.

Daniel and I visited Råstasjön this wednesday and he brought some fish to feed the Herons with. They were all very interested in the food and quickly we had at least 20-30 herons waiting for us to throw Herring to them. If it wouldn't have been for the cold feet and fingers it would have been a perfect day. It was lots of fun, and at the same time challenging to focus on these birds and get them in the frame. Their long neck makes it extremely important that you aim right if you want the eye to be in focus.The cold sure didn't help. This day many bird photographers and birders visited the area and for the general public it must have been hilarious to watch all of us sit on the ice photographing birds. 


Hide photography episode 4-7

Monday, 28 December 2009 20:48

Common Buzzard. 1000 mm, F8, 1/80, ISO 1600.

If my last few days in the hide was a big success, the following three were a huge disappointment. With me the first two days I had Stefan Oscarsson and Daniel Stenberg. They were eager to photograph White-tailed Eagles, Ravens and Grey-headed Woodpeckers. Unfortunately there was almost no bird activity at the hide. Only smaller birds and one Eurasian Jay. The weather conditions were ideal with beautiful snow fall and a white landscape. I really can't understand where all the birds went. No crows, no nothing. The weeks after we started feeding the birds it could best be described as a circus, with birds visiting the hide from dawn to dusk, and now it was abandoned. Despite not getting many pictures it was a nice weekend with many god laughs. I took a break from photography one day and sat in the hide Tuesday the 22:nd. No pictures that day either. 

Eurasian Jay. 

My friend Gabriel wanted to visit the hide before he went back to Turku, so the 27:th we made a fourth attempt. By now I wasn't very optimistic about our chance of success, but since they promised bad weather for the rest of the week, I decided to give it a go anyway. With me and Gabriel was also my dad, who has helped me build the hide and also help bring out food to the birds. This time luck was on our side, and besides the usual suspects we also had Grey-headed Woodpecker and Common Buzzard. The Buzzard is most likely an individual living under a kilometer north-west. I've taken some photos of it this autumn, but have never gotten a chance to meet it this close. The photos I got from that day aren't fantastic in any way, but after a few days of coming home empty-handed, anything will do. Still though, I think the hide so far has been a success. Birds of prey visiting four out of seven days. Unfortunately we had poor light conditions, resulting in high ISO and slow shutter speeds. 

Having been in the hide for a few days has given me a few ideas on how to improve the "studio". Daniel and Oscar came with some good suggestions as well. I'll add some better looking branches for the smaller birds and move the food closer to the hide. For eagles the current distance is OK, but for smaller birds such as Buzzards and Hawks 30 meters is too much. I'll aim at 20 meters, which makes 500 mm on a crop sensor perfect for Buzzards and 300 mm good for Eagles. If I shoot in portrait then the 500 could be useful for close up shot on the eagles and flight shots when they fly up to the food. 

Grey-headed woodpecker. 700 mm, F5.6, 1/200, ISO1250