What’s in a pic

Two weeks ago, I made a picture that I felt was great, and which is undoubtedly my greatest accomplishment from a purely technical point of view. It was this portrait of a Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus).

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Today, I want to explore the path that led me to it: how I created it, what I find so great in it, and what it means to me. So let’s go!

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Before the storm

It was still autumn. Sure, there were fewer golden leaves on the trees, and it was getting colder, but nothing announced the forthcoming storm. I was out, looking for the elusive Siberian accentor (Prunella montanella), first in Vuosaari, then in Myyrmäki. I followed tenuous paths, wandered through secret places, and ultimately found the bird. Oh it was a short sighting, and most of the time I only saw its rufous back, when it fled my approach from one bush to the other. But still, from the distance I saw this wonderful yellow face, and that made my day.

Below are some pictures from these glorious days in Helsinki, in Keskuspuisto, Vuosaari and Honkasuo. I admired the squirrels, in their grey winter coat, cautiously coming near the feeders, or the thrushes, Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) alike, feasting on rowan berries, like the Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) before them.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

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And there was autumn

When I left France, we were barely leaving summer. Nights were getting fresh, but the only hints of orange in the forest came from dead trees, those which didn’t survive the latest heat wave.

I feared I would arrive in Helsinki after the end of the autumn colors, what they call here “ruska”. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and the ruska was in full swing! So I took a walk on my first day, going from Munkkivuori to Ilmala, visiting a patch of kitchen gardens, a residential area, a park and a forest. Yes, I did not even leave Helsinki, yet I did all this in one afternoon.

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My Denmark: one year in a flat country

A year ago, I arrived in Copenhagen as a student, and settled in Tingbjerg, somewhere half-way between the center of the city and the university, located in Lyngby. My passion for birds had reignited a couple of months before, when I had bought my telelens, and I knew I would want to see birds there. I didn’t really have any expectation, but I found that the local bird protection society, DOF (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening), had a website with many birding spots located and explained.

I discovered that one of those, Utterslev Mose, was located next to my new dorm. What a great way to start!

Mute swan (Cygnus olor)

Mute swan (Cygnus olor)

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Birding & mosquitoes

Finnish word of the day: vene = boat

I have waited for this moment since I arrived in Denmark, it seems, almost a year ago, but here we are: I’m spending the summer in Helsinki. While I am looking for a job, I have plenty of time to go out and see things… yes, mostly birds of course 😉

After the concert of Black Sabbath, I spent a few days at Jaana’s mökki (what, you don’t remember what a mökki is? Hop, take a look!), where I saw a family of Black-throated divers (Gavia arctica) every day.

Valajärvi

Valajärvi

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Insects for lunch

After two days of adventures on our own (see the updated map), the last day in Bornholm was to be in good company: Alex’s stepfather had arranged a meeting with Mogens, a birder from the island. Our journey started in a farm in the south-east of the island: we met a small group of birders there, and the owner offered us a tour to see the rookery established for years in the trees behind the farm. We learnt many anecdotes there, with clear explanations given in English especially for me (thank you!). Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) nest there, but they leave for the winter, feeding on the coast of Bornholm.

After this interesting morning, we drove to Svaneke (I was still behind the wheel), where Mogens offered us a generous lunch. I tasted some delicious marinated herring from Christiansø. I will remember it for a long time! The most exciting thing at Mogens’ home, though, was the garden: in nesting boxes, I found a pair of Common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and a pair of Common redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus).

Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

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Kings of Bornholm

Soon after my escape to Skagen, I visited Bornholm. A Danish island located south of Sweden, it is home to a variety of sceneries quite different from what I’m used to around Copenhagen, including cliffs, sand dunes and dense forests. I was with my friend Alex, who invited me to spend a few days there at his family’s place (during the nights) and on the roads (during the days). Here is a map of our peregrinations.

These were mad days, as you can expect from two like-minded people fond of nature and discovery. We were lent a car by his family, but since Alex doesn’t have a driving license, I was the entitled driver all day long. Given that I hadn’t driven since January, I was really nervous at this idea, even though I knew I would do it. My nervosity increased when I saw that our coach was an old gasoline Opel sedan, quite the opposite of the small diesel Renault Clio I’m used to when I’m at home. But no worries, after short-lived hesitations for the first steps (ok, wheel turns maybe), I got quite used to it, and discovered a car very comfortable and easy to drive. At that moment, I was pretty sure we would survive this ride… (spoiler alert: we did!).

So here we were, driving east from Rønne en route to Ekkodalen. A Northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula) had elected to stay on the island for weeks, probably the young bird that was found injured and healed at the local “raptor show center”. It was sighted the day before our arrival right in front of the house in Ekkodalen, so we set sail with high spirits; alas, the bird was nowhere to be found that day. Anyway, we took a walk in the forest, enjoying the warm weather and the numerous birds swarming around: Common ravens (Corvus corax), my first European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) in Denmark, Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) in the pine forest, Common whitethroats (Sylvia communis) and other passerines… we tried the echo place (Ekkodalen means “the echo valley” in Danish), but weren’t convinced.

After a nap in the ruins of an old castle, we drove to the eastern coast of the island, bought some food in Nexø and walked along the sea. We saw some birds there, among those many ducklings, but soon time forced us to go back to Rønne. After a delicious dinner, we headed north. Our plan was to see the sunset from Hammeren, a rocky peninsula guarded by the castle of Hammershus. We arrived there just as the sun started to hide behind a thick layer of clouds (but the light while we drove was gorgeous!), and started to walk along the cliff. Soon, we could witness black and white shapes flying from the open water to a place hidden from view, down there. Razorbills (Alca torda) nesting in the cliff! From where we stood, it was impossible to see the eggs or the chicks, but I felt elated. I knew there would be more coming on the day after, though. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) nested on top of the cliffs, in the grass, and a group of sheep we scared received an aggressive welcome when they arrived a bit too close to the eggs.

bornholm

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Skagen Fugle Festival

As you know, I visited Skagen a second time after my visit there with my parents. I was there between the 5th and 8th of May, for the Bird Festival that takes place every year on the first week-end of this month.

After travelling 8 hours in bus and train, I reached the top of Denmark at 5 in the afternoon. The sun was shining bright, but when I tried to go to the supermarket, I found the door closed. On Ascension Day, like on most holidays (and Danes have quite a number of those), stores are closed. At least the stores I go to (and it’s not the first time it happens to me). Anyway, this time I had anticipated, and had enough food to survive a day.

I had booked a bed in the dormitory of the hostel, to discover that I would be alone in the room for two out of my three nights there. I must confess it was difficult to choose a bed among the 12 available…
A word about the hostel: there’s no locker, and the shared facilities (bathrooms/kitchen) are very small. It was ok for me, as there were very few people when I visited, but I can’t imagine the chaos (and the fear for one’s valuables) during high season.

Gammel Skagen

Gammel Skagen

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Baby time

For a few weeks, the waters of Utterslev Mose have been teeming with younglings. The first to arrive were the Greylag goslings (Anser anser), followed by the Mallard ducklings (Anas platyrhynchos).

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

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Grønjordssøen

Before showing you Skagen, I wanted to take you to Grønjordssøen. What hides behind this barbaric name is a small lake notorious for its Black-necked grebes (Podiceps nigricollis). I went there in quest for pictures of this beautiful animal, but the pair I spotted stayed way too far. I still saw some interesting birds.

Common pochard (Aythya ferina) & Greylag goose (Anser anser)

Common pochard (Aythya ferina) & Greylag goose (Anser anser)

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