Teno/Tana

I had a terrifying morning. It had started well, I had woken up early and had breakfast at the back of the car, the air was cold but the sun shone from time to time. It looked like a fine day.

Then I tried to walk away, and in doing so, lock the car. Except it didn’t work. I pressed the button on the key, times and again, but nothing happened. I thought the fresh night in the tent might have depleted the battery, but I had managed to unlock the car with no trouble. I didn’t understand.
Sunday morning, 6 o’clock, basically in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and I didn’t mention my phone’s battery was completely empty. Stay calm, Samuel.

Fortunately, the car was open, and I had access to the car’s manual. Said manual was only in Finnish, but with the illustrations I hoped to gather some knowledge. First, I managed to understand I could still start the car without battery in the key, by bringing the key close to the “start engine” button. Big “ouf” of relief, I was not stuck there. I wondered whether the local town would have the specific battery needed to power the key, but at least I could drive wherever needed.

My second fear was to be able to lock the car (miracles happen), but then be locked out on the key’s whim. So I dived into the manual again, and learnt how to unlock the car manually. I was still annoyed, but I wasn’t lost anymore. And then I removed the battery from the key, put it back… and it started to work properly again. “Have you tried to switch it off, and switch it on again?”

As it turned out, I had no other problem until the end of the trip, and quickly forgot the incident. But what a fright!

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Spring water

I had settled in Sulaoja, the entrance of the Kevo trail. This is quite a renowned path that winds its way along a canyon, but the status of the area, a “strict nature reserve”, comes with some limitations. One is not allowed to leave paths when they are visible (i.e. when snow doesn’t cover them), and in spring, until mid-June, the canyon is completely close to preserve the nature.

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Wader show

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.

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Hills of Lapland

I landed in Ivalo in early evening. The aircraft’s door opened to a fine weather, partly sunny, partly cloudy, bathing in warm light. I picked up the car, went grocery shopping, and drove to the shore of Akujärvi. I had heard about some nice bird observations on that lake, and wanted to find a place to camp there. Following a track I had noticed on Google Maps, I found a lean-to shelter next to the water.

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Force of Will

This was not the trip I had imagined.

For these two weeks in Lapland and Varanger, at the top of the world, I thought I would sleep during the day and enjoy the midnight sun to take pictures and watch the abundant bird life. Alas, the weather was not on my side, and I mostly saw clouds above. That’s not necessarily bad per se, for an overcast day brings soft and even light on my subjects. The problem is that, two weeks of cloudy weather, that’s long. And frustrating. Alone in a cold land, it would have been easy to give up.

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Crisp morning in Nuuksio

Nuuksio National Park is one of the most popular day-trip destinations for Helsinki inhabitants. It’s only 30km from the center, and there you can hike in the forest, along the small lakes that dot the whole area, and grill sausages at fireplaces available to all.

During the day, it’s usually rather crowded and birds stay quiet. However, life truly reveals itself in the morning. That’s what I discovered on this trip with my friend Mika.

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My spring in Suomenoja

Beware, this is a long story. This is the tale of a known place discovered again, explored and enjoyed in new ways. I’m flying today to Lapland and Varanger, for two weeks of birding and photography. Talk to you soon!

I discovered Suomenoja when I was still a student in Helsinki, three years ago. I actually do not remember how I came to know about this pond, but I was amazed by the quantity of birds, and the proximity with the exciting Horned grebe (Podiceps auritus). I was so enthusiastic I wrote a “Focus” article about this species… before you click here, be warned: I was a very early beginner at bird photography, so the photos you will see there are, well… not up to the standards I keep nowadays, let’s say.

I went again last spring, but only once: it’s a bit far from where I live (1 hour, bus or bike). In addition, I wasn’t very comfortable with the shooting method I should employ. You see, in bird photography, eye-level shooting is often primordial, to ensure connection between subject and viewer. Problem: all the target birds in Suomenoja (grebes and ducks, essentially) are waterfowl, so they glide on water, and unfortunately, water is often at a lower level than ground. There’s no way to shoot standing: one should go on their belly, close to the water’s edge, but even that’s not enough. The ideal, and that’s something I’ve dreamt about, is a floating hide, to go into the pond and have the camera just above the surface. I’m not equipped for that (yet), so the shore would have to be.

Northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata)

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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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