I spent the week running up to Easter in the Varanger region of northern Norway. I had gone in search of snow only to find that I needn’t have bothered as there was a major last dump of it here (almost as soon as I had left actually). My target though was seabirds and in spite of being significantly further north than here in the usually gulf stream dominated Britain, the birds in this remote corner of Europe, well inside the arctic circle, had already started to come ashore such is the intense competition for the best breeding spots.
This was probably best demonstrated by the presence of the ever noisy, but nevertheless my personal favourite from the gull family – the Kittiwake.
I have photographed these delicate birds on the ice and glaciers to be found even further north in Svalbard, but their nest-sites on the huge cliffs there are snow-free in the summer months. Here though they were still going through the pairing and bonding rituals that always start their breeding season but doing so in locations that were clearly not ready for nest building yet: they just knew they would be in a few weeks time and were staking their claims now – generally in their usual noisy manner!
Kittiwakes prefer narrow ledges for breeding and act as very independent couples, but Guillemots are much more social in their approach and during the day were gathering in vast numbers on the flatter more open areas of cliff – again though still covered in snow but increasingly compacted and dirtied by their presence.
The late evening light and the presence of some deep icy blue shadows on the cliffs across the nearby inlet provided both the light and background to work on a few flight shots, but as you’ll see from the second of these images the sky was so full of birds it was really hard to pick any individuals out!
The weather was typically variable and when some of the occasionally very squally arctic storms blew in from the north the birds were increasingly reluctant to come ashore and spent their time wheeling around and around the cliff faces.
Other than the resident Shags that is who took it on themselves to sit out said atrocious weather (the wind whipping the snow around was a bit like having an army of kids armed with peashooters aiming at your face). Mind you the idiot with a camera trying to take their picture was probably just as bedraggled by the time the conditions cleared!
When conditions were calmer then the main reasons for my visit became increasingly comfortable setting foot ashore in isolation and these images of Razorbills sitting in pristine white snow were very much what I had in mind when venturing here.
Some of you will be aware that I have been working on a Puffin focussed project for a number of summers now and when the chance to capture some of them in these really unusual conditions finally arose then for me the trip was made!
My thanks to friend and colleague Paul Hobson for his company on this trip – one that in spite of the conditions here at home really did the miles to be travelled to find the unusual combination of seabirds and snow.