Tag Archives: Iceland

3rd time luckiest…(so far)

Like everyone who attended I suspect, I thoroughly enjoyed the Wild Photos conference in London this last weekend. It was very easy to be inspired by professionals at the very top of the wildlife photography tree as well as heartened to see the next generation coming through.  There were certainly some thoughts, approaches and techniques that I will be considering and building into some of the projects I have planned for the coming weeks and months too.

One of the clear messages that came through though was the need for dedication and what I like to call stickability: others might call it sheer bloody mindedness, but it’s the drive that makes you keep going out in the belief that this time might just be the occasion when something special happens.

Although it pales into insignificance in comparison with a 90 day vigil  in a hide in remote Kamchatka for just 3 images of the incredibly rare Amur Tiger which we heard about at the conference, simply keeping on going back to places that you know work well and have serious potential (especially if you have certain images in your mind that you have pre-visualised there too) is an approach that I have always worked on and encouraged.

On a very small and personal scale, a third visit to the now very popular glacial lagoon at Jokuslaron in southern Iceland earlier this summer proved the benefit of this.

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I first visited here nearly 10 years ago now, and this was my third visit in total.  Like much of Iceland it is now very popular, very well photographed and during the normal working hours of the day also pretty busy with people stopping in on their way round the island.  Fortunately at the time when the light has the potential at least to be at it’s best then it is less so, but it’s not a place you can expect to have to yourself anymore.

In spite of having stayed there for a number of days on both previous visits, I never felt this was a place I had done justice from either a landscape image perspective or with regards to the wildlife to be found in and among the icebergs floating here on their way to the sea having broken off the vast Vatnajokull glacier.

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The quality of images that have been taken here are very high now, and I don’t consider myself really to be a high quality landscape photographer, but on this visit was both determined (and ultimately lucky with the way weather conditions worked out) to at least feel I was doing the place justice when it came to the magical scenes of broken pieces of ice on the black sandy beach at the mouth of the lagoon as well as the incredible colours of the lagoons ice itself.

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Still very much work in progress, but these were certainly the best representation of the nature of the place that I feel I have achieved yet.

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A closer look at this last image reveals a Great Black-backed Gull perched on top of this particular multi-coloured piece of ice; in and around the icebergs were large numbers of Arctic Tern who nest in a large grassy area adjacent to the lagoon and working with the tides, use them as a base to fish from and rest on.  These make a great background and setting for the birds as they go about their business.

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Although I have been lucky with a beautiful male Harlequin duck here in the past, the star bird here though (and more reliably present), for me has always been the Eider.  Emerging from the seeming chaos of ice across the still calm waters of the further reaches of the lagoon, these elegant ducks look very much at home.

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The final morning though this summer offered the best conditions I have had in terms of the different elements that go into the small in frame type of photography that they offer here – mirror calm water, intense colours in the icebergs and the fantastic early morning light that these northern reaches can offer in the early hours of a summers day.

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All you then need is the ducks themselves to swim into exactly the right places and the icing lands well and truly on the cake.

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With the usual resident Snow Bunting also playing ball (albeit briefly) and allowing an iceberg created background I knew this was a special morning.

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None of these images are going to be prize winners – the bar is way way higher these days.  What they are though is a simple reminder that persistence does pay off, and as my autumnal targets are just about to enter my sights then this, along with the messages of the conference, is an always welcome tonic.

Icelandic Gems

Well I’m behind again as far as posting is concerned, but in my defence I’ve been away once again (more of that in a future post) and have at least updated the Natures Images Blog between times too: well worth a visit if you’ve not been there yet as there’s stuff from all of our tour leaders to be found there as well as some different selections of my images!

There is of course much more to be seen and found in Iceland than water based birds, and most photographers visiting the country do so for the impressive and at times awesome landscape opportunities.  I don’t consider myself to be much more than a competent landscape photographer in comparison to my wildlife work but you almost can’t fail to capture something here, whether it’s one of the seemingly thousands of waterfalls, the beauty of the extreme isolation of the place or the amazing colours that the sulphorous activity at the core of the country can bring to the scene.

One of the beauties of travelling around the country is that almost wherever you stop there seems to be an opportunity to spend time with breeding waders at this time of year.  These are birds that are notoriously difficult to work with in terms of their general wariness (or scarcity) here in the UK but with some patience, sensible stalking and preparedness to wait until the moment is right then whether it’s Black-Tailed Godwits or Whimbrel on the moorlands or Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher by the shore then it’s time well spent, and very enjoyable too.

Last time I’d visited the country the wader I was most pleased to spend some time with, in part because simply listening to their call is so evocative of any moorland habitat, was the Golden Plover.  This trip they once again didn’t disappoint but with a fantastic twist in the form of a heavy snowfall as well – summer plumage and winter weather all in one: the pleasures of working in the far north neatly summarised.

As enjoyable and unusual as this was though it was another smaller and more dainty wader that really took my heart this trip – the Red-Necked Phalarope. Here in the UK, the odd winter vagrant apart, they are only to be found breeding in The Shetlands, and in by no means great numbers either.  They are fantastically confiding birds, more intent on busying themselves in their almost constant search for flies to eat it would seem or at this stage of the breeding season making sure that the female has found herself a good male to incubate her eggs and bring up the chicks – it’s a complete role reversal from the norm for this unusual birds.  When the beautiful Icelandic early morning light combined with a couple of perfectly still mornings conditions were near perfect to capture a little bit of their antics.

Iceland is a stunning country to visit and work in photographically – extremeley hard work in these summer months when the weather is in your favour as the nights are very short and the best light is to be found on either side of it so sleep comes in bite-sized chunks.  But interacting with nature and enjoying the experience both emotionally and photographically is what all nature photographers like best (much more so than the admin and office work that’s necessary) so I’ll never be one to baulk at a bit of tiredness when there are opportunities like this to be had.  It won’t be 5 years till I go back next time for sure!

Ducking and diving..and a grebe or two as well

I’m just back from a hectic but rewarding trip to Iceland and I have managed to lay some ghosts to rest in the process.  As a teenage birdwatcher my identification bible was the Collins Guide by Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow.  Many a rainy evening I would look through it and find myself drawn to the beautiful looking Harlequin Duck that had a remote green blob in the north-west of Europe indicating the only place to see it outside of a wildfowl collection.  I finally went to Iceland 5 years ago and whilst the trip was rewarding on many fronts and I certainly saw and photographed these stunningly colourful ducks, things didn’t quite work out image wise beyond some decent record shots so it felt a bit like unfinished business when I returned this time. Fortunately all fell into place both at a coastal site where a drake in clear glacial waters and early morning light was a welcome sight after a 4.00 am departure from my bed.

The Lake Myvatan area in the north of the country is the main place to find and see these birds in their real element though as they swim and feed in the fast flowing waters of the river Laxa and a couple of long sessions waiting by some rapids gave some great opportunities to show just how strong and agile they are as swimmers as well as a chance to try some more creative interpretations of their efforts in the fast flowing waters.

Harlequins aren’t the only Icelandic speciality on the duck front though and Barrow’s Goldeneye is also unique to the island from a European perspective – a morning spent with 4 males though saw little activity other than sleeping and gliding, so beautiful as they were (and the light was pretty decent as well) they will have to be one of the reasons to warrant a future return for some action.

There never seems to be much to worry about on the action front when it comes to Long-Tailed Ducks though.  They were pretty much paired up by the time of this trip and gathering on many of the little pools to be found around the main lake, and the noisy and very characteristic call of the males was an almost constant sound in some places as they looked to protect their less colourful but equally pretty female partners from the attentions of others.

This constant calling and occasional but ever watchful sleeping would be broken on fairly regular intervals though with a mad dash across the pond to see off a rival male who’d swam a bit too close, and once seen off a little shake of the wings to regain composure would be necessary before normal service was resumed.

I always look forward to going back to good sites as there are always new and different opportunities that present themselves, and my previous trip proved disappointing as far as one of the most beautiful families of water based birds, namely the Divers.  Great Northern sadly eluded me once again but an evening and early morning session with a family of Red Throated Divers was particularly special – what a magnificent call to listen to close up, what an elegant bird when it glides by like a battleship, what a powerful bird when it takes to the air across the still morning waters of the pool and what a gentle bird too as a parent.

The pretty breeding water based birds though all have to give way to the elegant and dainty Slavonian Grebe when it comes to charm and cuteness.  I spent most of the Spring photographing a local pair of Great Crested Grebes at home this year so it was fascinating to watch and capture some of the antics of these smaller relatives who are only now at the beginning of their breeding cycle, a full 2 months after the chicks in Shropshire were on the verge of fledging. It’s a reminder of the temperature variances and the very brief nature of summer as you head further north.

Ducking, diving and grebeing (if there is such a word) besides there is and was a lot more that this remote, harsh, challenging and beautiful country had to offer so I’ll be looking to cover some of this in an additional blog next week before I head south this time in search of Mediterranean butterflies by way of contrast! As a taster though here’s a Whooper Swan family who probably wintered at Caerlaverock or Martin Mere where my photographic year so often begins: they certainly have a long trip south ahead of them as well once their  summer is over.

Back soon!

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last couple of weeks – it’s a really busy trip spell at the moment so after a great seabird week in Ireland and Wales I’m off to Iceland tomorrow for 10 days to find some more (amongst other things).

I’ll try and bring some decent stuff back for an update as soon as I’m back.

In the meantime here’s a fellow I spent a happy morning with on my recent travels – still makeing me smile just posting it here!!