To the end of the world

As hinted in my last article, I have a great announcement to make: I’m going to New-Zealand for a year!

Wait… what?

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Snippets of autumn

Today, I would like to share with you a few more pictures of last autumn. Overall, I didn’t spend much time outside, for it rained a lot, especially… on weekends, of course. However, I spent a weekend at a friend’s cottage near Riihimäki.

We stopped in Hyvinkää, a small town.

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Teijo

Flashback.

October last year. Not so long before, I was visiting Lapland with friends from France. There, the woods had gleamed of the many colors of autumn. Then we had flown back to Helsinki, to find that autumn had arrived there as well. A few weeks later, my friend Hauke was visiting Finland, for his graduation. We had met at Aalto University 3 years prior, and so a chapter was closed.

After the party, he stayed at my place for a couple of days. As often when I have guests, I suggested a little adventure; that’s how we found ourselves westbound, in a rental car, for a walk in Teijo National Park. This is a forest-and-lake area (like many in Finland, let’s be honest), which emblem is the Grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus). We didn’t see that bird, but we had a good hike.

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Wildlife Inspired

Photographers, like all artists, need inspiration. It can be the National Geographic contributor, it can be the anonymous bird shooter on Instagram. It can come from the colours, it can come from the composition. It can be in your field… or not. It doesn’t matter, as long as this person’s photographs touch you and push you to try new concepts and improve.

I, myself, have my own sources of inspirations. My “heroes”.
Ray Hennessy is one of them. A bird photographer from New Jersey, he has always captivated me by his advocacy of “small in the frame” and backlit photography for birds. He always has stunning compositions, he always has stunning lighting, and he really tries to think of creative ways to show his birds. I have followed him for a couple of years now, and it’s always a pleasure to see his daily post.

Recently, he and his fellow photographer Scott Keys started live discussions, on Facebook first and now on Youtube. The principle is very simple: they choose a topic (How to approach wildlife, How to post-process bird pictures…), they talk about it, showing their own photographs, and they answer questions you can ask via the online chat. Those videos are pure gold, they contain a lot of useful info for any beginner wildlife photographer, and I have hugely benefited from them. I cannot watch them live (hello time difference), but they are quickly available afterwards on their Youtube chain, aptly named Wildlife Inspired. Sometimes, they invite friends to talk about specific topics.

The last talk was named “We were all beginner wildlife photographers once”, and it covered basic but often overlooked aspects of wildlife photography: light, background, perspective, to name a few. Before the show, they announced they would review two portfolios, and prompted us to apply for it. I applied, without too much hope (it only happens to others, you know).

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Lapland (March 2018): a wrap-up

I wanted to go to Lapland in winter, because I never had. I thought I might as well take a few friends from France with me, and add a few Northern Lights in the mix. Here is a wrap-up, with some detailed info about the planning and activities of this 1-week dream trip (all prices are for 4 people unless stated otherwise).

All the previous articles dedicated to this adventure:
Holiday on ice | Fluffiness against the cold | The greatest lie in the north

The timing

Winter is long in the north (7 months): how does one choose when to go?
My idea was that I wanted both day and night. We needed night to see the Northern Lights, but if we had been there in January, with only a couple of hours of daylight each day but clouds all the time, we would have got bored very quickly. In the end, I chose March, which was also my choice last year for Varanger. We had approximately 12 hours of night and 12 hours of light (and excellent weather 😉 ).

The region

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Fluffiness against the cold

When I planned my latest holidays, I knew they would revolve around taiga birds. The main target, for my friends and I, was the northern lights, but we also needed some activity during the day (it’s difficult to stay outside all night when it’s twenty degrees below the freezing point). I’m not much into husky-this or reindeer-that (because of the price, mainly), so I did some birdwatching. Surprised, aren’t you?

What does a birder think about when they hear “taiga birds”? Well, probably something along the lines of Pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus), Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus)… or maybe Willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus) or Black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix).
The former are easier, because they come to feeders during winter, and they are also more iconic because they can only be found (far) in the north. That said, I’m no stranger to these species. My first encounter with the tit happened during a hike in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park with my friend Vincent; in Varanger, in March, I saw it again, and was really impressed by the grosbeak, which I dubbed Prince of the Woods; finally the infamous kuukkeli was caught in autumn this year. The thrill of the lifer gone, remained the need for more/better pictures, or any picture at all in the tit’s case; luckily, I had good addresses to visit 😉

Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus)

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The greatest lie in the north

I still had memories from September. An arch of light overhead, linking east and west. Green ribbons dancing in the night, immortalized in my photographs. Yes, northern lights were colorful!

Then my parents came back from Lapland, and described grey and white traces against a black canvas. “No no, the ones I saw were green, I’m sure of this”.

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Among the reeds

In the end of February, Bearded reedlings (Panurus biarmicus) were all the rage on Finnish nature social pages. Wherever I looked, I saw loads of pictures of these adorable buggers. Naturally, I wanted to make my own images, especially since I didn’t have any of that specific species at the time.

When I noticed my friend Mika had seen and shot them twice in Espoo, I asked him for some info. I had been to Laajalahti once, but hadn’t managed to spot any reedling. This time, though, the hottest place was Kaitalahti, much further west, and several sightings had been reported to Tiira, the Finnish bird sighting database. On a Saturday morning, I embarked on an epic bus trip through the second most populated municipality of Finland. One hour and forty minutes later, I was carefully treading my path over an icy road.

Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus)

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Fantasy as it ought to be written

I recently finished reading the Fitz and the Fool trilogy from Robin Hobb, and the strong feelings this ending created in me pushed me to write down some thoughts. I’m aware this piece of writing is very far from my usual style, but somehow I felt the urge to share it; I hope you’ll tag along anyway and bear with me. If not, don’t worry, we’re going back to birds next week 😉

The Fitz and the Fool trilogy is the fifth series set in the Realm of the Elderlings universe, the third one to focus on the same cast of characters even though it brilliantly brings all the previous series together. It’s written at the first person, from Fitz’s point of view. A royal bastard, his life has been one of many torments.

The first series starts when the protagonist is maybe 2 years old, when he’s brought to court. Fitz and I grew up together, he much faster than I. Therefore, it’s no wonder that I sometimes recognized myself in him, in his attitude, in the thoughts he shared. How much influence did these books have on me, on the person I have become?

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