Tag Archives: Dipper

Seasons change in their scenery

Those of you who are Simon and Garfunkel fans (or even The Bangles as they did their own cover version as well) might recognise this line from their song A Hazy Shade of Winter.  I am not long back from a fortnight in Finland, a trip that was very much planned with some winter imagery in mind.  Finland however had a mild spell in February and as a consequence things were just that bit further ahead than normal, and as a result this became a trip of two seasons – there were still some cold conditions though (-28 degrees celsius the overnight low), along with some heavy snowfalls (20 cm in one day) and some mild afternoons and heading south some fields showing that winter was over for the year. The result was an unusual array of opportunities that reflect just how nature begins to change as the season of Spring beckons.

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The Whooper Swan is Finland’s national bird, and one I spent a great deal of time working with in Japan earlier this year. These two were in a winter setting that immediately took me back there – along with their familiar calls.

They are however just returning here after wintering further south in Europe and so far more attractive to them were the fields and farmlands where Spring was already in place and they could look to refuel before the final push to the north of the country a few weeks later for breeding.  I really enjoyed photographing these beautiful birds in this different setting.

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These Spring like conditions also created opportunities to work with the light and colours in a forest hide in the Oulanka National Park too – subtle lighting around this Great Spotted Woodpecker and classic backlighting on this Siberian Jay among the highlights.

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In these conditions I wasn’t hopeful that the main target for the hide, Golden Eagle, would actually turn up.  With the weather this mild, the female will already be on the nest and the male less interested in visiting his winter feed site.  I needn’t have worried though as he did turn up: and again when returning to the hide a couple of days later when the weather had turned wintery again, falling snow completely changing the feel of the whole place as you can see from these images taken over the two days.

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This changeable couple of days also worked well when spending time with a pair of Black-bellied Dipper who were busy pairing up and checking out local nest boxes as they planned for the imminent season ahead.  Falling snow and slow shutter speeds all added to the variety of opportunity.

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A personal priority for the trip was to spend some quality time with one of my favourite birds – Black Grouse.  The lekking season had already started in earnest thanks to the mild spell and so I enjoyed a total of 6 mornings being settled into the hide by 5am in anticipation of their dawn arrival and displays. The first 3 of these were at a lek site near Kuusamo – just inside Lapland, and still very snowy and cold so it was no huge surprise when the first day was a no show.  The second was more successful but the birds chose to lek just a little over a large snow ridge: very enjoyable but only a few images were possible, the spraying snow from their wings as they squabbled particularly appealed to me.

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The final morning here was absolutely perfect in terms of light and conditions, but sadly another no show: quite a sunrise mind which more than made up for it!

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The final 3 mornings were a few hours south at a lek near Oulu and here the snow was patchy but clear; cold mornings meant heavy frost coverage and some fantastic light with which to photograph the amazing antics of these endearing birds as they strutted their stuff and undertook the occasion sparring match with a fellow lekker.

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A great experience, and one that was matched on my final evening in the Oulu area when quite by chance we happened across a Great Grey Owl hunting in some fields near the road.  It was late and the light was not fantastic but the high ISO capabilities of the 1Dx really helped out and again; although not award-winning images, it was a very special hour spent with this simply gorgeous bird, the first seen in the whole Oulu area for the last 30 days so a really fortunate find.

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The final leg of the trip took me across to the town of Lieksa near the Russian border to spend 3 long days (15 hours at a time) in a hide in the hope of seeing the extremely elusive and rare Wolverine.  Here the snow had very much taken a back seat and Spring was taking over and Wolverine females will already have young kits in their dens so any sightings are to be much appreciated given their increased wariness at this time.  We were blessed with a couple of good visits quite close to the hide, some climbing (which as you can see confirmed she was feeding young) and on the final day a flurry of snow which to me was a fitting end to the nature of my overall trip.

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I had had a whole load of pre-conceived images in my mind when planning to run these two trips. The more travelling with my camera I do though I have come not to expect anything and simply look to go with the flow – work hard on the decision making (and thanks to Antti and Era respectively on this front too) but leave nature to create the opportunities.  Once again she didn’t let me or my guests on the two trips down, revealing some very different images to those I had perhaps thought of some 12 months back.  Clearly she knows best after all!

So much more though…

Having waxed lyrical about the Bison that are undoubtedly the icons of Yellowstone it wouldn’t be right to simply leave my recollections of the trip at them alone; there’s so much more in terms of both wildlife and landscape and a sheer sense of awe that the Park creates.

The Park “enjoys” 3.5 million visitors a year – an amazing number that peaks in August with Old Faithful attracting some 25,000 visitors each day to see it’s regular spoutings. I simply can’t comprehend what that must be like as an experience, but as I prodded around in the snow surrounding it I found some of the benches that must be jam-packed every hour at that time of the year.  The winter months see only 150,000 of those visitors so when I watched this iconic geyser erupt there was only ever me, a dozen or so individuals dotted around and the occasional Bison wandering past too – much more my thing!

When it came to photographing the less regularly erupting Castle Geyser in the middle of the night, perhaps unsurprisingly we were the only people there at all!

The power of the geothermal activity in the Park, much of which is in fact inside the caldera of effectively a giant volcano, has a profound impact on the landscape and the life that exists around it.  Trees are literally dissolved through their root systems (the locals affectionately call them bobby sox trees), are killed by the acidic solutions in the thermal waters, and the vibrant colours of the calcium carbonate deposited on the surface in the dramatic terraces that can be found at Mammoth Hot Springs in particular are a sight to behold.

The wildlife in the park is not obvious in the still of a sunny winters day or the constant blizzards that alternate through this toughest of seasons, but it’s there to be found and nowhere more so than the dramatic Hayden and Lamar Valleys.  Besides the Bison the species that eek out a winter here are surprising in their variety – Bighorn Sheep clamber acrobatically around the steeper slopes where the snow struggles to settle in search of shoots, American Dipper find the odd ice hole in the otherwise frozen rivers to search for fry, Elk follow the Bisons trail in their own large herds and the wiley Coyote looks to pick up the scraps from those that don’t manage to survive the harsh conditions.

Winter is always a photographically fantastic season, especially in a place where snow is a given: here it’s piled high all around and with the almost constant wind that whistles through the valleys it’s always blowing and drifting too. Add into the mix some inspiring settings, some thought-provoking experiences experiencing the natural world coping with the conditions as it always has (even swathes of Loldgepole Pine, burned to a crisp in past summer forest fires can be seen regenerating themselves) and beauty in amongst the harshness too, perhaps personified by the winter visiting Tundra Swans who seemed as at home as any in this harsh but beautiful place.