Golden Eagles of Skelleftea diary

Early February i will be leaving for my third trip to Conny Lundstrom. Conny has a couple of fantastic hides for Golden eagles and i am hoping to be more successful then the last trip when, unfortunately, no Golden eagles showed up. It is not just Golden eagles but also many different passerines will be visiting the feeders. Birds like Northern Bullfinch, various Woodpecker species and even the Red fox might show up.

The weather should be cold with plenty of snow, making for some amazing images. The eagles can be really close to the hide and, at times, more then 5 individuals can show up. Follow my journey here. Every day, i will try to update my diary with the highlights of the day and of course some images to boot.

Golden eagle close up

7th of February

Another year, another trip. This morning  the local cabby picked me up at 08.15 and by 08.45 I arrived at Heathrow terminal 5. Checking in went smoothly and in the South lounge I met up with Kevin Lunham, who would join me on this week trip to the Eagles of Skelleftea.

As every year, we decided to fly business class. No worries about bags that are too heavy (My bag was 26kg and your allowance in business class is 32kg) and we have the convenience of the British Airways business lounge. I also met up with Paul Beastall, who was flying to Japan to photograph the Stellar Sea eagles at Hokkaido together with the famous English photographer Danny Green. (but not as famous as Kevin and me)

The flight left promptly to Stockholm and by 14.00 hours we landed at Arlanda. The weather was beautiful and the forecast of the week is pretty good: a mixture of sun and clouds and not too cold! We had to wait for 5 hours for our connecting flight to Skelleftea . We paid a visit to the bar, had a few beers and a Club sandwich. By 19.00 we were up in the air again for the flight to Skelleftea, which would take an hour. where Catherina would pick us up and drive us to our “house in the woods” about 2 hours from Skelleftea. The approach into the Skelleftea airstrip was pretty turbulent and the plane was moving left, right up and down…i was glad when we hit the tarmac!

By 22.00 we arrived at our residence for the week and we were welcomed by Conny Lundstrom. We discussed the plans for the week. Tomorrow we would have our first full day in the main Eagle hide. This hide is not only good for Eagles but also attracts all kind of different smaller bird species like Northern Bullfinch, Tits and Woodpeckers. Lets hope for a fruitful day

The hide from left to right: Olympus, Canon and unknown camera mark

8th of February 

Up by 05.00  and by 05.45 we arrived at the hide. The weather was fine, stars and a moon in the sky. The wind was still rather strong. We made ourselves comfortable and within half an hour the first guests arrived: 2 red squirrels. Slowly the light got stronger and the first passerines visited the hide for a bit to eat. Northern Bullfinch, Tit species, Magpies and Great Spotted woodpecker all made regular appearances during the day.  

The hide is very comfortable. It is heated by means of a little stove. Of course we had to make sure that we put wood on it from time to time. Tripods are not needed in this hide. You simply screw your lens support onto a stable metal plate with a screw. 

To be honest: the day passed by rather quietly. Maybe because of the strong winds the birds didn’t show as often as usual. There were plenty of Raven but the Golden eagle remained elusive and wouldn’t show for the remainder of the day. Thank god for Kevin’s wine gums. They kept me going at times! 

By 16.30 Conny picked us up and within 15 minutes we were back in the comfort of the house. Let’s hope for a better day tomorrow. The eagles will show….trust me!

The Red Squirrel

 9th of February

The day started as the previous one: early! By 05.00 a light breakfast (smoked salmon and a lovely homemade jam) and by 05.50 we left the premises for the Eagle hide. Today we have a new guest, a photographer from Denmark, I can't remember his name ,but as he is Danish, I will call him Soren.

The weather was pretty good. Very little wind, sun and shattered clouds. It even snowed a bit. We made ourselves comfortable in the hide and Conny decided to stay with us as well. In comparison to yesterday, the morning was a pretty slow affair. Less birds then yesterday and the birds only got active later in the morning. The usual birds appeared: Bullfinch, Tits and for the first time greenfinch all in relative low numbers.

It shows how one year differs from the other: last time I was here there were many Jays: so far not s single bird visited the feeders. Plenty of raven appeared. These intelligent birds stay in the trees for a long time before deciding to come down to feed. The slightest movement might cause the Ravens to spook and this could also have consequences with regards to the Golden eagle. The Ravens are the pathfinders for the Eagles and if no Ravens are around chances are slim for the Eagles to appear.

Eventually the ravens came down and we took many images of these lovely birds while they were squabling with each other over who should eat where and what. Later on the Magpies joined in as well and this gave us more photographic opportunities.

Jumping Raven

But the price bird didn't show: lunch came and went and we were already starting to think that we had to wait for another day to photograph the Golden eagles. It must have been around 15.00 that I decided to have a look through one of the windows and I instantly spotted an eagle flying towards us. All went very quiet and we spotted the male Eagle perched high up a dead tree. Suddenly a second Eagle fly by: the female. She flew a bit further away from the hide and started to feed. The male followed her and decided to perch in a lovely tree for quite some time. By this time the light was beautiful and many images were taken both of the female eating and the male perched in his tree.

After a while the male Eagle decided to fly off and landed straight in front of the hide, where it started to feed. A zoom lens was all one needed to photography this bird...it was THAT close. It stayed for quite a while and when the light faded, both Eagles called it a day and flew off into the mountains. So a great day had come to an end. By 17.00 we were back in our resdence. Tomorrow another day in the Eagle hide. Lets hope for more! 

 

Golden Eagle

10th of February

A day to forget is the short answer! I was in the hide by 06.00 and an hour later an Eagle was flying close by, perched in a tree for a while and disappeared not to be seen for the rest of the day. There were hardly any small birds around as well. Just the common visitors like Bullfinch and Tit species. Even the Ravens and Magpies, who were so abundant yesterday, didn't show.

One reason could have been the incredible mild weather. It was well above freezing and as the mating season for the Golden eagles has started, the hormones might have started to play up. More interested in females then a nice juicy piece of meat! Another reason could have been the very windy weather. At times i thought the hide would take off. Typical weather whereby the birds stay in cover.

So a pretty boring day, but that's the way it is. You have good days and you have bad days! So what does one do when there is nothing happening? Well we sleep, drink tea (Earl Grey or Breakfast tea, Kevin makes a great brew), eat sandwiches, stretch our legs, peep out of the windows at intervals to check if we can see an Eagle fly by,bullshit about Nikon versus Canon, hearing from Kevin what a rubbish photographer i am, eating all of Kevin's wine gums and talk about nature photographers that are not really nature photographers. Before you know it, it is 17.00 and Conny is there to pick you up.

Early grey or English breakfast sir? The water is boiling

So if you think taking pictures of Golden eagles is easy: think again. You will get frustrated at times and you need to persevere! But if they show it is an absolute fantastic experience and Conny's place is one of the best! Tomorrow we will give the hide another shot before having a break. On Thursday we will go to a different hide to photograph Crested tits in an old forest. 

Jumping Bullfinch

11th of February

I wish i could tell you all that I had a fantastic day...if I would I would be lying! No it was a very disappointing day unfortunately. It was the usual early start of the day, weather was good but again there was a fierce wind blowing and it didn't get any better during the day!

The birds were few and far between. Some Bullfinches, Greenfinch and a first Redpoll. Not much else showed bar the resident Squirrel. Eagles you are wondering? Well I can tell you that one flew by and disappeared in the distance! The only Eagle spotted for the entire day. What is not helping are the extreme high temperatures. It almost feels like spring and the snow is melting at an alarming rate. This weather is causing the birds to mark their territories for the breeding season, so not much time for them to stop by the hide for some dinner. I also suspect the hard wind is not helping. Most birds stayed in cover including the Ravens and Magpies.

So all in all I was glad when I could leave the hide by 17.00. It is a long day if you can't photograph anything. I shot a total of 18 images! It is frustrating and disappointing but that's bird photography for you! You have good days (like Monday) and really poor days like today. Still 2 days to go.

Tomorrow I will have a break from the Eagle hide and spend sometime in an old forest to photograph Crested Tit and Bullfinch. Different setting and new chances. I will not give up!

Oh and the weather? It will start to get colder again from tomorrow for the rest of the week. I might be tempted to sit in the Eagle hide again on Friday.

A soft Great Spotted Woodpecker

12th of February

Today an "early start", en-route to the Crested tit hide by 09.30. Wind has finally eased a bit and it is sunny with scattered clouds. It doesn't take long before we reached the hide. A gentle walk of about 10 minutes (Conny as good host is carrying my equipment) takes me to the hide on the edge of an old forest. Bearded moss everywhere, simply stunning.

The hide is very comfortable and even has a gas heater. Not that it is needed as the temperatures are still just above minus. Birds are in abundance and regularly visit the 2 feeders. Bullfinch, Willow tit, Great Spotted woodpecker and of course the Crested tit give a great show. Also a very nice looking Red squirrel shows up.

Willow tit

The light is pretty good and the sun peering through the fir trees create a lovely orange background for the birds that are willing to be photographed. Eventually I move outside and the birds still come at regular intervals feeding on the sunflower seeds. Slowly the light is fading and it is time to head for the main road where Conny will be waiting for the drive back to the house.Temperatures are finally dropping and the forecast is for colder weather. It seems winter is returning to Vasterboten.

All in all a pretty decent day with some nice images to boot. Tomorrow is the last day before the flight back to Stockholm and onwards to London. A snow scooter ride is on the agenda to visit the Siberian jay hide. Forecast is promising, so let's hope for a great end of this trip.

This (for me) unknown chap all of a sudden ruined my picture at the feeder

13th of February

The last day of the trip and a nice relaxing start of the day. The weather has also improved: sunny, much colder and no wind. By 08.30 I have made myself comfortable in the snow scooter. I am heading towards the mountains, to spend the day in a small hide for Siberian jay and some other forest birds. After a 20 minutes drive over icy roads ( Snow mobile and me will never really go together very well), I reach the final destination of this trip.

The local cab service

Before I have entered the hide, the first Siberian jays already appear and start to feed on the fat that has been placed strategically around the hide. I set up our equipment in the hide, turn on the little wood burner and wait for the things to come. 

During the morning the Siberian Jays regularly visit the feeders and I am able to take some nice images. Besides the jays, the usual visitors appear: Willow it, Great Tit and the Eurasian jay...but that's about it. Don't go to Vasterboten if you expect a great variety in bird species: it simply isn't there this time of the year!

Around noon the weather starts to change and solid clouds cover the sun. Light levels dip and the bird activity also dwindels. I do see the Siberian Jays again a couple of times in the afternoon but I do not take many more images.

By 15.30 Conny is doing the final pick up of the trip and by 16.00 i am back in the house. Tomorrow flight back to Stockholm and onwards to London. All in all it has been a bit of a disappointment. I did manage some great Eagle images on Monday but I would have liked at least one more day with the Eagles. Weather, high temperatures and male Eagles chasing the ladies didn't help. Would i go back to Skelleftea? Most definitely! It is a great place to be, Eagles are almost guaranteed and Conny and Katerina are great hosts. 

I also want to thank Kevin for his companionship. A real sport, great sense of humor,  lovely wine gums and always down to earth. Roll on Bulgaria!

Siberian jay