David Nichols
Wildlife Photographer
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The Varanger Peninsula

Monday 28th May... ‘Its been snowing on and off for the last 3 days and sitting here next to the wood burner I find myself asking two questions, will this weather improve? and, can I get close enough to photograph the wildlife?

I left England on Friday morning, flew to Oslo, Norway and changed planes to Kirkenens where I hired a car and drove around Varanger Fjord to the small fishing village of Ekkeroy, my base for the next 16 days.

Like all my wildlife photography trips this one had been planned some months before. My decision to visit Arctic Norway was not easy, I went to Churchill, Canada last June and although the bird photography was superb the weather was poor with only 5 sunny days in the second week. Also, all my previous trips had been to ‘well know’ locations where the wildlife is fairly approachable and together with good weather conditions excellent photographic opportunities are virtually guaranteed.

Arctic Norway presented a challenge, I knew there was an extensive checklist of species to target (Tommy Pedersen, stingray@online.no) but I could find virtually no information on the area as a photographic location. So, I decided to go for 16 days, trying to time it so that I was there during the migration north and home before the insects started to hatch!

Returning from a few hours out ‘scooping’ the area, I found this Red Fox that I could photograph from the car. Now I’m feeling a little happier.

Trond and Ingjerd’s cottage in the village of Ekkeroy was a wonderful place to base my trip. The house had all I needed plus it was within a few 100 meters of a Kittiwake colony. Email: trondmagne@c2i.net.

The small bay was home to Common, Stellar’s and King Eider, Common Merganser and the beach was teaming with waders. It was clear from the outset that Birds were difficult to approach on foot; I would need to work hard for my shots.

The Island of Hornoya lies off the coast of Vardo, Norway’s most North Easterly town. A small fishing boat ferries you to the Island where from the jetty you can follow a path along the underside of the cliff.

After about 400 meters wooden steps scale upward allowing excellent views of a verity of nesting seabirds. From this vantage point I was able to capture spectacular images including Brunnich’s Guillemot and Shag.

A good road follows Vanager Fjord from Varangerbotn in the west to Hamningberg in the east with several dirt tracks branch off allowing access to the interior. Using the car as a hide, I was able to photograph several species at close proximity.

The Ruff were the highlight of the trip, I made excellent images of 22 plumage variations on 3 leks (male display ground). The largest lek had over 30 Ruff!!!!!. All the photos from this lek were taken from the car window with my 500IS on a beanbag. It was amazing; I could just drive the car up and down to within 7 meters of the birds - no problem.

I tried working from a hide at 4.00am, no go, the birds would not even entertain it.

At another lek I used waders and knelt in the water; the birds were not phased by me, landing only 4 meters away on a small exposed patch of earth.

The life history of Ruff is really interesting with male birds on the lek divided into two different status groups 'independents' and 'satellites' the former being owners of territories and the later who are not territorial and behave opportunistically. Classification of males is closely correlated with plumage differences; 'independents' are dark with ear tufts while 'satellites' generally white and show subservient behaviour (Snow and Perrins).

This area was also good for Long-tailed Skua (down to 5 meters) stalked on foot.

Over the following few days the weather improved allowing me to make more great images in wonderful light.

The small pond behind the church at Nesseby is popular spot for Red-necked Phalarope. During spring migration over 100 birds can be present. I found these birds very obligating and used chest waders to make a close approach at eye level.

I returned to England on June 10th with over 100 roles of film to process.

My assessment; overall this was a wonderful trip to a beautiful country.

However, from a wildlife photography point of view ‘ its tough’. To get good shots you need to be patient and work hard to get close. You’ll defiantly need a car that can be used as a hide and a tent hide too.

The extreme weather conditions necessitate ‘the right clothing’ fleeces, thermal underwear, gortex jackets etc; and strong waterproof boots with thick socks are a must. I used chest waders most days and on one occasion spent over 4 hours in sitting freezing water, my thermals kept me going!

If you go to early its very, very cold and if you leave to late then you’ll get eaten alive my insects. The last two weeks in May to mid June seams to be about right.

I photographed over 40 different species; here are two of the common ones.

David Nichols
Wildlife Photographer – July 2001

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