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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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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Carelian Rhapsody

Last year, I decided I would visit all 40 national parks of Finland. I knew it would take some time, but it sounded like a fun project, and whenever I’ve been, I’ve discovered wonders. Remember Pallas-Yllästunturi? Pyhä-Luosto? Sipoo?

I’m still not there, but I recently added a new park to my list: Koli! Here is the story.

My parents were visiting Finland this February, and while I didn’t follow them to Lapland, I took them on a trip to North Carelia for their last weekend here. Koli is a very famous place in Finland, for the landscape there has inspired many artists, including the great composer Sibelius and painter Gallen-Kallela. In a sense, it’s the Skagen of Finland 😉

We took the train to Joensuu on Friday evening, slept there, and were off on an adventure in the morning. Koli lay some 60 km north, but we were not so much in a hurry. The weather was cold and sunny, proving once more that February was the most beautiful month of the year.

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Rodeo in Camargue

Camargue is the region defined by the delta of the RhĂ´ne river, in southern France. It’s a region of wetlands and fields, where nature and human activty often meld; specific breeds of bulls and horses are raised there, in partial liberty. I saw a few cows, but no horse. Anyway, cattle was not what had allured me there.

My first birding trip, with the LPO (the French bird protection society), had led me there. That was in 2004, and I had never returned before this winter.
From Grenoble, it’s a 3-hour drive to Le Sambuc, a quiet but windswept village in the Natural Regional Park. I had not left early, so I arrived in Camargue only a couple of hours before sunset.

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Lemmenjoki

Lemmenjoki National Park is the largest national park of Finland. With 2,860 km², it’s just ahead of Urho Kekkonen National Park (where we saw Kuukeli for the first time!) and its 2,550 km². The third one, Pallas-Yllästunturi, is far behind, with 1020 km².

More than its size, though, what strikes the traveller when he arrives in Lemmenjoki is the remoteness of the place. From Inari, we took a road to the south… and suddenly, we were alone. OK, sometimes you see a Hotel sign pointing straight into the forest, or some houses. We stopped before the park to meet Jouni. This was not a period of tremendous activity, but he tried to show us some birds. We saw a Black-throated diver (Gavia arctica) on the lake, and a pair of Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus), but the best was the Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus), a tough cousin to the Great tit (Parus major) so common further south, but inhabiting only northern forests. It stayed high in the pines, but it showed well, and my two friends managed to see it correctly.

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