Clouds

For the days when I have no time to write a full-length article, I will try to publish a picture, or a few pictures on a single topic.  Let’s start with amazing clouds I spotted from my house, near Grenoble.

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On the same day I went to Lac de Crop, the evening was quite cloudy. Some clouds looked like cotton, and they were so beautiful I thought they were worth a picture or two. I ended up with five of them.

I started developping this next picture.

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When I applied the same settings to the other photographs, some unexpected features appeared, and I found the result delightful. Unfortunately, it did not really correspond to what I saw this day, so I also tried to work on the original pictures from scratch. Here is the outcome.

With preset

With preset

From scratch

From scratch

With preset

With preset

From scratch

From scratch

Which ones do you prefer? Don’t hesitate to develop your arguments, I’d love to hear them 😉

For the occasion, I also created a Cloud gallery on Flickr.

clouds

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A walk in the mountains: Lac de Crop

The A Walk in the mountains series

Once more, my father brought me to a walk in the mountains. My only demand? Being back home on time to see the final mountain stage of the Tour de France, with the climb to l’Alpe d’Huez. We decided to visit Lac de Crop (“Crop Lake”), a small mountain lake lost in a rocky desert, surrounded by steep summits.

The map

A huge thunderstorm had struck Grenoble the evening before, and the atmosphere had seriously cooled down compared to previous days. As a consequence, the weather promised to be a bit cloudy, but we still hoped to see the light of sun. The clouds were not far above us when we started the steep ascent, but some blue patches were visible there and then. Anyway, we enjoyed the coolness.

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The first part of the walk was in the forest, but we soon reached a pasture field. The last part was also in a forest, but the trees were much lower than downhill. The clouds were pushing us upwards, hidding the valley of Grésivaudan from sight. During the ascent, a few birds sung around us, including Common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and Coal tit (Periparus ater), but they were shy and did not greet us.

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Suddenly, the path turned flat. We tried to see the lake, but it was hidden behind a foggy veil. The wind was blowing, carrying layers of clouds to and from the valley. Sometimes we could see the peaks above us, a moment after nothing was left but the shore of the lake, five meters from us.

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In this desolate scenery, a bird song caught my attention. In a massive scree, a Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) was hunting. Changing my lens, I sat on a boulder. I spotted at least three or four redstarts, male and female, but they were a bit far for a good picture, especially since the clouds were having a lot of fun shrouding the whole area, including me and my target.

Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

After a moment, the birds disappeared, and without the excitement, I started to suffer from the cold. By any means, it was time to go back and witness a fantastic ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez… from my sofa. In the descent, the fog created a mysterious atmosphere around cairns and fallen trees.

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lacdecrop-8

> Full gallery

FOCUS: Arctic tern

The Focus series

Finnish word of the day: tiira = tern

Terns are sea birds distributed worldwide, somehow looking like gulls but with more pointy wings and indented tails. As a consequence, they have a nickname in French that could be translated as “sea swallows”.

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The Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) is maybe the most formidable species of tern. Indeed, it is the animal with the longest known migration path: it breeds in the north all around the world, and takes the air as soon as it’s done to fly to Antarctica. While seeing two summers in a year, birds from the Netherlands have been shown to travel approximately 90,000 km in the course of their non-breeding period. Even more impressive, this dangerous trip doesn’t prevent some Arctic terns from reaching 30 years of age.

One close relative to the species which is very common in Europe is the Common tern (Sterna hirundo). It can be tricky to distinguish one from the other, especially from the distance. Remember, the Arctic tern has short legs and bill, and they are both completely dark red, whereas the Common tern has a black tip at the point of the bill. In Helsinki, both species are present, but it seemed to me that the Arctic tern was more common.

Arctic tern - notice the short legs and red bill

Arctic tern – notice the short legs and red bill

Common tern - notice the black tip on the bill

Common tern – notice the black tip on the bill

Bonus: in Suomenlinna (now, you should know where this is), I met this kind and quiet guy perched on a pier railing. With my friend, we decided to improvise a photoshoot. We ended up with a few pics with flash.

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The guy even faced the flash… it was an accommodating model 😉

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Helsinki, beautiful city

Finnish word of the day: Suomi = Finland

It’s been some time I’ve had the idea of writing an article about the wonders you can find in Helsinki. This has no claim to being a touristic guide, nor an insightful report of what I saw there this year. It is simply a candid introduction to sights I enjoyed; you’ll find many pictures here, and a few explanations. I restricted myself to places inside Helsinki itself. Nuuksio (a national park 30 km from the city) or Otaniemi (where Aalto University’s campus has settled) are located in Espoo, so we won’t talk about them today. Later, maybe 😉

The map

carte_Helsinki

click to enlarge

Finnish vocabulary

Finnish place names are often made of nature/geographic words like bay, peninsula, island… Ruoholahti, for instance, means Grass bay.

tori = square, market

linna = fortress

puisto = park

niemi = peninsula

ranta = beach

satama = harbour

kirkko = church

tie = road

katu = street

talo = house

lahti = bay

Senaatintori, Kauppatori and the harbour

In 1808, Helsinki was largely destroyed by a fire. One year later, the Russian, new masters of formerly Swedish Finland enthrust the reconstruction of the center to Engel. The Prussian architect designed a geometrical city with imposing Russian-styled buildings. The Senate Square is surrounded by buildings from this time, and the cathedral looks down on the square. When the weather is genial, people gather on the monumental stairs.

Senate Square

Senate Square

Cathedral

Cathedral

A few strides to the south, by the harbour, lies the market square, where you can buy berries and eat salmon and potatoes (or eat berries and buy salmon and potatoes, for that matter). The ferry to Suomenlinna (which you can pay with an ordinary travel card) leaves from there. Manta, a statue of a naked woman stands guard nearby. It was a highly criticized sculpture, at the time, because it was said that the artist, Ville Vallgren, was inspired by a prostitute (among other complaints). Every year, on Vappu (April 30), Manta is crowned with a student cap.

Manta

Manta

Behind Manta is Esplanadi, a large avenue with a park in the middle and many luxury shops. I don’t like the area so much, but many people meet here. At the end of it is the Swedish Theater (Svenska Teatern).

Swedish Theater

Swedish Theater

To get a good sight on the harbour, I liked to go to Tähtitorninvuoren puisto. From there, you overhang the harbour and the ferry terminal of Silja Line. If you go there during summer, I encourage you to go there enjoy the sunrise. The sleepy city is quiet, making you feel alone in the world, and the sunrise is as beautiful as its evening counterpart. You can either wake up early, or travel there before going to bed (remember, the sun rises early in the summer).

Sunrise over Helsinki

Sunrise over Helsinki

Katajanokka

A peninsula to the east of the harbour, the main attraction is the Uspenski Cathedral, the main orthodox church of the city. The ice-breakers are “parked” there, and the housing buildings there are quite good-looking. A pleasant walk.

Uspenski Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral

The ice-breakers

The ice-breakers

Kaisaniemi, Hakaniemi

Kaisaniemi is situated next to the railway station, in the direction of the north-east. This lively district is home to the University of Helsinki, which was created 375 years ago. Further away, Hakaniemi is famous for its old covered market (Kauppahalli), not as known by tourists as the one near Kauppatori. Like in several parts of Helsinki, and like Aalto University’s campus in Otaniemi, many buildings are made of red brick. I like this!

Hakaniemi

Hakaniemi

Punavuori, Ullanlinna, Eira

These are district located to the south of Helsinki. I enjoyed walking in Fredrikinkatu at night, watching all those lit up shops. During the day, you can see many typical building from the National Romantic period. The walk along the shore is also very pleasant.

Aleksanterin teatteri

Aleksanterin teatteri, the former Opera of Helsinki

Moreover, when walking in the area without a precise goal, you can discover nice places, including several churches. The hilly terrain adds to the originality of the area.

Johanneksenkirkko

Johanneksenkirkko

helsinki-10

Töölö

This is another lively district, located north of Kamppi, where you can find many shops and sometimes traffic jams too. There are a lot of buildings made of red brick in the southern part of the district, around the two business schools that face each other: the Swedish school Hanken and the Finnish school which has joined Aalto University in 2010 but is much older.

Töölö

Töölö

The main avenue of Helsinki, Mannerheimintie (from Mannerheim, the most famous general in the Finnish army), lines Töölö to the east. On the other side of the street lie many imposing buildings with interesting architecture, like the Opera (Ooppera), Musiikkitalo or Finlandia talo. Behind these buildings, you will find a small lake called Töölönlahti, on which windsurfing-on-ice is practiced during winter.

Hietaniemi

To the west of Töölö, along the bay called Seurasaarenselkä, is the cemetery of Hietaniemi. Behind it is the beach of Hietaranta, where Metallica played in May 2014. The area is quite relaxing, it’s quite appreciated by birds, and, most important, you can witness breathtaking sunsets. Too bad the highway is so close, to the south.

Hietaniemi cemetery

Hietaniemi cemetery

helsinki12_72dpi

Ruoholahti

This is the entrance to Helsinki downtown when you come from Espoo or Lauttasaari. The highway arrives here. The district was created in the beginning of the twentieth century when small islands were connected with earth fill. From an industrial district, Ruoholahti has evolved to shelter housing and office buildings.

helsinkibis

High Tech Center

High Tech Center

The west harbour Länsisatama is built there; you can take a ferry to Tallinn or Saint Petersburg there.

Länsisatama

Länsisatama

Keskuspuisto

This is THE big park of Helsinki. 10-km long and covering 10 square kilometers, it is a perfect area for walking, jogging or cycling out of the city, while still being inside the city. During winter, paths turn into cross-country skiing tracks.

When going to the north, you have to cross several important roads. In the southern part of the park, nice bridges for cyclists and walkers have been drawn from one side to the other, so that people don’t have to wait for the green light. And because we are in Finland, these non-driving bridges are often quite good-looking. Further to the north, it’s not as elaborate.

Bridge over Nordenskiöldinkatu

Bridge over Nordenskiöldinkatu

One day, I went to the far-north of Keskuspuisto (which means central park, by the way) by bike. I was impressed by the number of possible paths, as I wondered many times whether I was lost. I managed to find my way but, as far as I remember, I did not come back on the same path… but it wasn’t on purpose.

Suomenlinna

There are many islands in Helsinki, and Suomenlinna is definitely my favourite one. It is a fortress-island, built in the 1750s by the Swedish as a protection from Russia, but it surrendered without fighting in 1808. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it offers beautiful sceneries, either to the sea or to Helsinki harbour or to the island itself (which actually is made of six islands).

suomenlinna-2

It feels good walking along the rocky shore, watching gulls gliding in the everlasting wind (don’t forget gloves and knit cap -even in June) and geese feeding on the grass with goslings. The wake of the boat attracts innumerable gulls, offering excellent opportunities for the enthusiastic photographer.

Common gulls (Larus canus)

Common gulls (Larus canus)

I’ll write a detailed article about Suomenlinna one day.

Seurasaari

Another island, situated to the north of Seurasaarenselkä this time. It is accessible only to walkers, for cyclists and cars are banned. There is an open-air museum gathering old houses from all over Finland. If you pay the fee, you can visit some of them, but all the buildings are visible from the outside to everyone (the museum is not enclosed in a fence).

Open-air museum

Open-air museum

On the island, you’ll also find feeding stations aimed at squirrels. These curious creatures might well eat directly from your hand if you offer them peanuts. If you are lucky, you may spot a woodpecker nest.

Red squirrel (Scirus vulgaris)

Red squirrel (Scirus vulgaris)

Lauttasaari

Yes, another island! It’s almost as quiet as Seurasaari, even though the highway crosses it from east to west. Lauttasaari is mostly occupied by housing buildings and parks, especially on the shoreline. Be it to the north, to the west or to the south, you’ll certainly see birds and feel the tranquil pace of the inhabitants, who come there with kids to enjoy the sun -when it’s sunny. I have seen hares in the parks, so keep your eyes open!

Common eider (Somateria mollissima)

Common eider (Somateria mollissima)

Uunisaari, Liuskasaari

To close this article, I’d like to add these small islands located to the south of Ullanlinna district. They may have nothing really outstanding, but I enjoyed my walk there, to witness one of the first sunny sunshines after the winter.

Ravintola (restaurant) Uunisaari

Ravintola (restaurant) Uunisaari

On Liuskasaari, an anchor and a flag pole will make you dream of travelling on high seas. A peaceful destination.

Liuskasaari

Liuskasaari

Here we are. This was my personal experience of Helsinki. Don’t hesitate to comment! Would you want to add something to what I said, or to ask a question, be welcome =)

FOCUS: European hare

The Focus series

French word of the day: lièvre = hare

When I arrived in Finland, I lived in Lauttasaari before moving to my appartment in the city center. On this quiet island, there are many parks, and I was surprised to see hares roaming on the grass, in plain sight. Moreover, one could get quite close to them without seeing it move. In France, I can spot rabbits from the terrace of my house, but hares are usually shier.

hare-3

The species we’re talking about is the European hare (Lepus europaeus). Native from a region including Europe and parts of Central Asia, it has been introduced to many parts of the world, such as Patagonia or Australia.

It is related to the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), and people often mistake one for the other. The hare is larger and has longer ears and hind legs. Because of these long legs, when it walks, it kinda looks like a kangaroo…

hare-5

Moreover, hares breed in a hollow on the ground rather than in burrows. In Europe, the European hare has a cousin called Mountain hare (Lepus timidus). Smaller, it turns completely white during winter, like a Stoat or an Arctic fox. I currently have no picture of rabbit nor Mountain hare, but I found this nice picture (unknown author) on the almighty Internet which shows well the differences between hare and rabbit.

hare-vs-rabbit

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In June, I was walking in Otaniemi (in Espoo, near Helsinki) in the end of a rainy afternoon, when I met three hares foraging near a small parking. They were not overly afraid of me (like most Finnish animals, it seems), and I spent a lot of time shooting them. I was delighted to discover how they devour tall grass: they cut one blade of grass, and then swallow it bit by bit, like spaghetti! Funny…

Eating green spaghetti

Eating green spaghetti

hare

BONUS: in Saint Petersburg, there’s an island called Hare Island. It’s situated in the Peter and Paul Fortress, and is supposed to shelter hares. I saw none alive, but met a larger kind of hare…

pietari_hare

> Wildlife gallery

A day in the mountains – Col de la Charmette & Charmant Som

When I was young, I lived for a long time in Quaix-en-Chartreuse, a small village in the mountain range of Chartreuse, just north of Grenoble. In autumn, my dad and I sometimes went very early to the mountains to spot Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and Mouflons (Ovis orientalis, disputed classification). From the pass called Col de la Charmette, we climbed in the forest until we reached an alpine pasture in a glen. There, we often saw Mouflons, whereas the Chamois were higher, on the ridge overlooking the cliffs that faced the east.

We decided to visit the area last week-end. We left the pass at 6.30. The ascent turned steep pretty quickly, but we managed to reach the pasture easily. There, many birds were singing and flying, but no trace of Mouflon or Chamois, neither there nor along the ridge. Still, I spotted an Alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) in its worn summer plumage.

chartreuse

We followed our plan and took the direction of the Charmant Som, a moutain easily accessed from the other side but which we never reached from there. We crossed a herd of cows for the second time. Before arriving in a small wood, I spotted two Mouflons on the edge of a wood, quite far down the slope. We left the path to get closer to them, halting when they showed signs of nervousness. We realized that there was a whole herd coming out of the forest. I counted almost twenty of them, including a few younglings.

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chartreuse-3

chartreuse-2

The last meters of the ascent to the summit were a bit rough, as we needed to help ourselves with our hands, in a rocky area. To our left, Alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) were playing in the wind.

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

I don’t know if one can call a nine-in-the-morning-meal a lunch, but we had some cheese and bread before going down. We were hungry, we had woken up at 5! A few choughs came close, hoping for something to eat, giving me the chance to shoot them with no trouble. However, like at Grand Veymont, they got nothing from me.

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

From there, the view was fantastic: Chartreuse to the south and east, Vercors to the west, the plain and hills in the direction of Lyon to the north, Grenoble to the south and all the other mountain ranges further away, including Mont-Blanc, which we could imagine behind the morning haze.

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The east. In the vale, we can see the monastery of “Grand Chartreuse” (Great Chartreuse).

The south-west. Pinéa in the foreground and Vercors at the back.

The south-west. Pinéa in the foreground and Vercors at the back.

We chose another path on way down to the parking, but it was a bit hazardous. The scree was a bit tricky, but the hardest part was the one in the forest. It was steep and full of rolling stones, and a bit of climbing down was necesary. Nevertheless, we reached our previous path at the foot of the pasture, and headed down in the forest, to our car, without seeing any Chamois. Earlier, we had crossed the path of a man who said that Mouflons, which are a species introduced in the area (coming from an area ranging from Balkans to Iran, they were introduced to Corsica and Sardinia 7000 years ago, and later to continental Europe), were thriving. According to him, this had an impact on cow herds and also Chamois, because of an increased competition for grass. He claimed that he was seeing less and less Chamois in the area.

> Full gallery

FOCUS: Great spotted woodpecker

The Focus series

The Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) is a Eurasian species of woodpecker. With the European green woodpecker (Picus viridis), it’s one of the two most common woodpeckers in France. They can both be seen frequently in gardens. In Finland, there’s no Green woodpecker, but the Great spotted woodpecker is quite a common sight.

It feeds mostly on insects and larvae, which it finds in tree trunks. When hidden by the foliage, you can hear its characteristic drumming produced by its repeated blows on the wood. When flying, the flight is undulating like a passerine.

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The Great spotted woodpecker is one of the numerous species of black, white and red woodpeckers. The adult male has a red spot at the back of the head, whereas the female lacks this spot.

Similar species include Syrian woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus), White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), Middle spotted woodpecker (Leiopicus medius) and Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor). I saw the latter in Finland a few times. When your eye is trained, you immediatly notice the size difference between the species. Between all these species, the variations are nonetheless subtle: take a look at the color of the crown, the neck pattern or the back color.

Lesser spotted woodpecker

Lesser spotted woodpecker

I was walking in a wood near Herttoniemi, eastern Helsinki, when I heard unceasing chirping in the trees. Going further, I noticed several cavities in a single tree. I suspected the presence of a nest in one the holes when an adult woodpecker appeared, fed the babies and left. The nest was definitely in camera range, so I readied it and waited. I waited maybe 15 minutes, and just when I was wondering whether it was to come back, it arrived to feed the younglings once more. I got some interesting shots, and then a few others. Both times it was the male coming.

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I had never witnessed this before, but I spotted two other nests in Nuuksio and one in Seurasaari, where one chick was strong enough to show up out the cavity.

A cavity in Nuuksio

A cavity in Nuuksio

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The young woodpecker taking a peek outside

herttoniemi

In Seurasaari, I observed a bird roaming near mangers aimed at squirrels, along with tits and chaffinches (cover picture).

> Wildlife gallery

Kontiolahti 2015 Biathlon World Championship

This winter, I had the chance to experience a day at the Biathon World Championship in Kontiolahti. This municipality is located in North Karelia, near Joensuu where dwells the nearest train station, and it was hosting the World championship for the third time after 1990 and 1999. It is situated near Russia, therefore there were a lot of Russian supporters along the tracks. The Russian flag was definitely the most frequent among the many banners held by the fans, and we felt like in Russian territory. Although Germany is one of the most successful countries in biathlon, beating all the other nations this year, we saw very few German guys. All the sponsors were however from Germany.

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kontiolahti-4

Biathlon is a sport were cross-country skiers have to shoot at targets with a rifle between short legs of skiing. This day, the men were competing in a relay 4×7.5km.

I went there with a friend. We took a train at 7 in Helsinki, and came back with an overnight bus which brought us exhausted but thrilled twenty-four hours later back to Helsinki. In the meantime, we visited a botanical garden brimming with butterflies and experienced the madness of a race memorable, for the first Russian skier missed its first shooting attempts. He left the shooting area ranking last, by far. To catch up with the first ranks, he and his teammates could count on the hord of supporters cheering every time an ammunition reached the target. After a fantastic rebound in an ecstatic atmosphere, they finished 4th, only dominated by German, Norwegian and French.

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Later was organized in the center of Joensuu a medal ceremony. Men and women competing in the relays of the last two days, ranging from fifth to first rank, were equally applauded by the crowd. Amazing!

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> Kontiolahti 2015 – Biathlon world championship

> Joensuu – Botania

[LIVE REPORT] Borknagar (+Shade Empire and Atena) @ Nosturi, Helsinki – 29/11/2014

Last year, I wanted to start writing about metal. I had written about the video game Guild Wars 2 in the past, but switching from French to English made quite a huge difference. This live report was written more than 6 months ago, but I wanted to have all of them in one place. It was originally published at Enslain, and a few more are supposed to come, one day or the other. Feel free to give me any kind of feedback, be it about the content of the report or the writing style. Read well!

Picture by Felix Schuchmann © Metaltreff.net – Ragnarök 2014 – Creative commons

* * * * *

Borknagar (+ Shade Empire and Atena), Nosturi, Helsinki

29/11/2014

Arriving at Nosturi some twenty minutes before the beginning of the show, the room was cold and quite empty.  Coming from France, that’s quite a cultural difference which never ceases to amaze me, since people usually start queuing some hours before doors open there.

Still, Atena would have deserved a warmer reception given the performance they offered. The bassist and guitar player entered the stage with long strides, the latter holding an instrument with an insane amount of strings (I counted eight of them).  Always moving in exaggerated motions, it felt like they were inhabited by some kind of malicious spirit during the whole show.

The combo presented syncopated music, with fast and blasted parts accompanied by furious screams, but also offered more contemplative moments, where the instruments gave room to samples on tape. This was usually the time for some rest for the musicians, but also for some weird things like kneeling and turning their backs to the audience, feinting prayers (or were they real?).

In summation, I’d say that this performance was weird: the aggressive parts were convincing, but the calm ones a bit too lengthy and esoteric; however, it was quite enjoyable, and consistent with what one can expect from an opening act.

Kuopio’s Shade Empire, who seemed quite highly anticipated based on the fervor in front of the stage, didn’t spend much time on meditative interludes; instead the audience was offered an onslaught of blasting black metal, including many old rarities. However, if you didn’t know the songs, and no thanks to the atrocious acoustics, it felt like all the instruments were blended, and none stood out of the mix.  Worse yet, many of the samples seemed out of place, and not coherent with the rest of the music. Nevertheless, from time to time you could feel something – a riff, a rhythm maybe –  that made you bang you head, and the audience cheered at every song announcement, so it’s safe to say that Shade Empire reached their goal this night.

I must confess: I wasn’t highly familiar with Borknagar before this show. Intrigued by some listening sessions and by the presence of Vortex in the formation, I came with no real expectations. The gig didn’t start all that well, because the sound was quite muddled and the keyboards resonated in an odd way, as if too high-pitched. Still, Pål Mathiesen, live singer of the band for the last two years, delivered Vintersorg’s inherently catchy vocals pretty well, and as the sound improved, the magic revealed itself. I imagine this has much to do with Vortex, who illuminated this night with his unmistakable vocal lines and his perfect pick-less technique on bass. This, and the atmosphere specific to Borknagar songs, created a very emotional show which was to end far too soon.

Yeah, he’s not that good… and we apologize for this! – Vortex, about Baard Kolstad, drummer

 

After a short and satisfying drum solo, Vortex, in a joking mood, assumed the role of the frontman as Pål took a rest (and a beer) on the balcony, posting on Facebook a pic of his own band performing on stage. The charismatic bassist explained how happy he was to play in Helsinki again, not forgetting to thank the fans for coming to the show. Singing alone “Frostrite” and “Universal,” he let burst all his class and talent before being joined once again by Pål for the encore. The harmony between the two of them was tangible, and this duality in the vocals is certainly one of the main assets of the band.

Finishing the show with a colossal “Colossus,” they left the audience dazed but more than willing to welcome them back when the time finally comes again.

FOCUS: Common house martin

The Focus series

French word of the day: hirondelle = swallow

The Common house martin (Delichon urbicum) is one of the two most common swallow species in Europe, with the Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica). Originally, it nested in cliffs and caves, but it now largely occupies human structures, including house eaves in city centers. I visited a colony in Domène, near Grenoble. Occasionally, nesting platforms can be built so that swallows settle in some place, but this colony was 100% natural 🙂

hirondelles

The typical size for such a colony is around 10 nests, but this one was larger, maybe 60 nests. The cup-shaped nest is made of mud taken from lakes and rivers, and built at the junction of the wall and the roof, so that it’s attached to both planes. House martins only nest outside buildings, unlike the Barn swallow.

I have read that House sparrows (Passer domesticus) try to steal nests while they are still under construction. I saw some sparrows roaming near the colony in Domène, but the nests were already occupied so I don’t know if they really expected something. Once the construction is complete, the entrance to the nest is too small for the sparrows to enter.

I observed adults flying high overhead, catching flying insects likes flies and aphids. They came to the nests, hanging to it while feedings the chicks appearing through the entrance. Sometimes they go inside, and we can see their head from the outside.

Chick, left and adult, right

Chick, left and adult, right

There was also this youngling that had already left the nest, but was still fed by the adult, except it was hanging on the outside of the cup, in full sight. Sometimes I noticed feeders with white at the back of the head; I suspect it was younglings from the first-brood helping to feed the second-brood, as House martins usually breed two broods a year.

Chick, right and adult, left

Chick, right and adult, left

The colony was vibrant with life: younglings and adult were squeaking, feeders were bumping into each other when going to the nests, while swifts were hunting insects nearby, gliding between houses at high speed.

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hirondelles-5

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More pictures in my Wildlife gallery. Many pieces of information come from Wikipedia.