I’m at an erotusaita, near Karigasniemi. This is the place where reindeers are herded, marked, and separated to be slaughtered for meat. But it’s deserted. I’m surrounded by all sorts of small cabins that form an uncanny assortment, while on one side I see high fences marking out large enclosures. No trace of the beasts, though. Either they are already roaming free, or they haven’t left their winter farm. In any case, I’m alone. The sight is eerie.
This place was recommended by my friends in Ivalo, and sure thing, as soon as I open the door, a pair of Wood sandpipers (Tringa glareola) glides by, shouting. I gear up properly, for the wind is blowing, and set off to the area. I notice a big pond, there are lots of birds on and around it, but it’s inside the reindeer pen… noone around, the temptation is real. While I ponder, a small bird attracts my attention: a Lapland bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) forages among the low bushes. I go down and try to approach this lifer (1st time I see this species in my life), but the skulker quickly evades me.
I then decide to cross the fence. I lie even closer to the ground, and go below it. I’m on the other side, and there’s reindeer poop everywhere. Really. Also, as I get closer to the pond, the soil get wetter and wetter. Wet reindeer poop. Amazing.
I spend some time thinking about my next move. I can go on and crawl in this repulsive mix, but I am camping, I don’t really have a proper possibility to clean and dry my clothes. I take another approach and find a shore that’s a bit drier and cleaner. Not by much, but enough to get going without freezing. When I’ll be back on my feet, the wind will dry me in no time, but it the meantime, it will be damn cold.
I forgot to mention the birds that had allured me to this horrid place: waders. A common sight in temperate regions during migration and winter, many species can be seen in a peculier setting high in the north: in the tundra, they like pond edges, but they might also just perch on a tree and sing from up there. That’s very unique, and part of the appeal of the tundra.
At this pond, I see several Ruffs (Calidris pugnax), males in their spectacular livery, two Bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica), and a score of Red-necked phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus).
Ruffs are incredible. Males come in many colors, with manes many a lion would crave! However, it’s a pair of Temminck’s stints (Calidris temmickii) that steals the show.
As I lay on the shore, all stars align and these little birds come to me while the sun comes out and bathes the whole scene in its golden rays. Instant bliss. I shoot like crazy, getting as low as I can in a mixture of earth, straw, poop and water, enjoying the moment. Later, they perched on trees and poles and made their buzzing trill resonate in the valley. Very unique indeed. Further, Golden plovers (Pluvialis apricaria) call in the tundra.
Time goes, the sun sets behind the hill and rises an hour later, albeit veiled. I’m drained, I would like to make this moment last forever and shoot, shoot, shoot, but my body says stop. I sleep one hour in the car, go down the plateau, set up the tent and switch my brain off.
At 4 in the morning, Willow warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus) sing and Common snipes (Gallinago gallinago) display over the woods.