Sweden Diary

 

In February of this year i spent 4 days, together with Hans Schouten, at the fantastic Golden eagle hide of Conny Lundstrom near Skelleftea, Northern sweden. Read all about it in my diary.
 

Golden eagle

Thursday the 9th of February i will be leaving for Northern Lapland. I will be flying with SAS to Stockholm, followed by an internal flight to Skelleftea. From there it is another 75 miles by road to my destination in the middle of nowhere! Quite a trek but hopefully worth it!

I will be spending 4  days photographing the majestic Golden eagle and my host for this trip is Conny Lundstrom. Conny has a fantastic hide for Golden eagles. Besides Golden eagles birds like Northern Bullfinch, Raven, Black Woodpecker and even Goshawk can be photographed. Needless to say: i am looking forward to this short trip!

I will try and update my Golden eagle diary every day, so you can follow my adventure in Northern Lapland. Hopefully i will come back with many memorable images.

 
Goshawk  

Thursday 9th of February  

Today i started my short trip to Skelleftea in Northern Sweden to photograph Golden eagles. I am joined on this trip by veteran bird photographer Hans Schouten.

My flight left Heathrow promptly at 07.00 and i arrived in Stockholm around 11.00. There i met Hans who flew in from Amsterdam. After a 3 hour wait, we continued our journey with a domestic flight to Skelleftea,where we arrived at 16.00 hours.

Our host was already waiting for us, and we hit the snow covered roads for another 30 miles car journey. Traveling in te dark can be hazardous in Sweden, as we came close in hitting a herd of Rendeer who thought that crossing the road at night was a good idea!

Around 18.00 we arrived! The sky is clear and full of stars. it is bitterly cold! Conny told us that the eagles are around and that he photographed them today mating. Photographic evidence was shown!

After diner Conny will go to the hide to do some final preparations. I might join him and maybe take some "night" images. It will be an early start tomorrow. We need to be in the hide before sunrise and can't come out till after sunset!

The hide at night

Hopefully tomorrow i will be able to upload my first eagle image . Stay tuned for more on the Golden eagles of Skelleftea!

Friday 10th of February

The alarm went off at 05.00. We had a quick breakfast and said goodbye to Katarina, who left for Skelleftea and left us in the capable hands of her husband. By 06.00 Conny took us, in his vintage 1972 Volvo, to the hide. It was only 5 minutes from the house. After we parked the car, we had an easy 5 minutes stroll through the forest. There on the edge of the forest was the hide. It promised to be great morning. No cloud, no wind and a setting moon made for a fantastic scenery.

The hide is very comfortable. It has a small wood burner, a toilet and can easily accomodate 2-3 photographers. You don't need to use a tripod, as Conny has drilled holes on metal plates which can easily carry gimbal and ball heads.

We made ourselves comfortable, set up our equipment and waited for the sun to rise. The first birds to arrive at the feeder were Great, Blue and Willow tit. We heard the call of the Black Woodpecker. Hans and myself were very eager to get some images of this elusive woodpecker. We were not to be disappointed! the male Black Woodpecker showed throughout the day in front of the hide and we took many images!

By 12.00 still no sign of the Golden eagle, so we were still entertaining ourselves with birds like Jay and Great Spotted woodpecker. All of sudden, around 12.30, i spotted a Golden eagle flying! It landed in the top of a fur tree, scanned the surroundings and swooped down on the fat which was positioned in a tree trunk in front of the hide. First we let the eagle relax and as soon as it started to eat from the fat, we started to take our images. What a fantastic bird!

After an hour or so the eagle had filled its belly and flew off. Instantly the smaller birds returned. We managed to take some nice interaction images of Jay and Great Spotted woodpecker. By 15.00 the light started to fade. We decided to clear up our equipment and waited with leaving the hide till dusk so not to spook any Golden eagles that might still hang around..

On leaving the hide i took some images of the sunset and then we made our way through a quiet forest to the car. What a fantastic first day! Hopefully we will get some more opportunities in the next few days but we couldn't have wished for a better start.

The senior member of the group

 


The junior member of the group

 

Golden eagle upclose

 

The hide at dusk

 

Saturday 11th of February

The day started as the day before. We were up by 04.30, dressed up in a zillion layers and had a simple breakfast of Knackebrod with salmon and cornflakes. We hit the road by 06.00 hours and the weather looked fine. There was a bit more cloud and it was not as cold as yesterday.

After the short stroll, we arrived at the hide and made ourselves comfortable, got our little wood burner up and running and put our equipment on the Gimbals heads. Where would we be without the head lamps! These cheap little lights are so useful in hides. I recommend all nature photographers to buy one of these.

Not much happened, after all it was still pretty dark but as always the first bird to show was the Willow tit. Actually the Willow tit is not only the first to show at the feeder, it is also the last to leave the feeder!

WIth the light coming towards us, we were able to take our first images. I had, just like yesterday, the Nikon D3S with the 600MM and the Nikon D7000 with the Sigma 120-300/2.8 at the ready. I must say that i have really come to like the Sigma. For this kind of work (from hides) it is ideal. The AF is pretty fast even with a 1.4 converter and the lens is prety sharp.

Hans was using his Canon Mark IV with a 75-300 Zoom. Later during the day, he would swap that lens for his trusted Canon 500mm.

Soon we heard the prrr, prrr sound of the Black woodpecker. The bird appeared in front of the hide and we were able to make good use of our camera's. It would show many more times during the day in front of the hide but also a bit further away and the image below was taken while the bird was inspecting trees in the vicinity of the hide.

Male black woodpecker

 

We also managed to get our first images of the Northern Bullfinch! Several of these handsome birds made an appearance during the day. Photographing them was not easy. they were very shy but with some persistence we pulled off some nice shots.

The Golden eagle would unfortunately not show today, but i suppose we were spoilt with the performance of this majestic bird yesterday . In the afternoon we tried to improve on our images of  the Great Spotted woodpecker and other smaller birds. Even common birds like Great tit and Blue tit look fantastic when they are lightened up by the reflection of snow.

All in all it was a pretty good day. We still have 1 1/2 day to go and who knows what tomorrow might bring! Please stay tuned for another update tomorrow evening.

Female Bullfinch (Image Hans Schouten)

 

Sunday 11th of February

The morning kicks off exactly in the same fashion as the previous 2. Up before 05.00 hours, a quick breakfast and half an hour later we are hitting the snowy forest track in the Volvo.

The trees are covered with a fresh layer of snow, which had fallen overnight. This morning, however,  the sky is clear with many stars and it is dead calm!

After our stroll through the forest we reach the hide. We set up our kit, turn on the wood burner and wait for the sun to rise. It has been a very cold night as the birds seem very slow coming to the feeder. By 08.00 we finally have some activity and as usual the Tits and Great Spotted woodpeckers are the first ones to appear.

This morning we have more then 5 Great Spotted woodpeckers flying on and off to the feeder. They are very intolerable of each other and they often show their typical aggressive wing display, which we try to photograph.

Early morning Great Spotted woodpecker

The Black Woodpecker is also later to the party but when it arrives, it gives us ample opportunities to photograph it.

The Northern Bullfinches also show from time to time but photographing them is not that easy. They generally "fall" on the seeds under the feeder, then they fly into the small bush in front of the hide to finish of their meal but photographing a bullfinch munching on a sunflower seed ain't a pretty sight! Best is to wait till it has finished and then in a split second, you will need to release the shutter before it flies off again. Persistence pays off and we did get some nice images of this handsome bird.

Of course the big question was whether the Golden eagle would show today, after being absent yesterday. Well it did show up around noon. It perched up in a tree and came down, after 5 minutes,in front of the hide eating the fat that was strategically hidden behind a tree trunk .After a while it jumped up and sat for a good 10 minutes in a dead tree in front of the hide. Using the 600 mm was of no use, so the Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS came in handy.

Male golden eagle

The rest of the afternoon was spent with the smaller birds and with the Black Woodpecker. We have been very lucky. Not only with the birds but also with the weather, which has been very kind to us. Tomorrow one more half day before we return to Skelleftea to catch our flight to Stockholm and onwards to London and Amsterdam.

Monday 14th of February

The last morning of our short trip to Skelleftea. Late afternoon we will be flying back to London and Amsterdam. It is another gorgeous morning. No wind, very cold 9-16 degrees) and not a cloud in the sky!

This morning i have decided to travel "light" to the hide. I leave the nikon D3S and 600mm at home and take the Nikon D7000 with the Sigma 120-300+converter with me.

We arrive at the hide around 06.00 and we both start to "feel" the early morning starts. I don't think i could do this for 7 days in a row! Could well be my age! We set up the equipment, have a quick cup of coffee and wait.

Conny has returned to the house and will pick us up around noon, so we have ample time to get ready for our return journey in the afternoon.

By 08.00 we can start to take some pictures. As ever the Willow tit is the first to appear but also the Black Woodpecker makes an early appearance. The light is beautiful with some high cloud. This morning there are also quite a number of Northern Bullfinches and they pose handsomely in the frost laden small tree in front of the hide.

Time flies and before we know it Conny has arrived to pick us up. The Golden eagles didn't show this morning, but i guess you can't have it all. There were plenty of other birds to entertain us!

Back at the house, we have a quick bite to eat, pack our stuff and leave for the airport in our trusted 1972 Volvo.

At Skelleftea airport we say goodbye to Conny. It has been a short but worthwhile trip with some great images to boot! I have seen quite a few Eagle hides over the years but this hide , is in my opinion, one of the best. It is comfortable, there is ample space for 2 to 3 photographers and well positioned with regards to the light, which is so important for us photographers.

More over, Conny and his wife Katarina are very welcoming and the food is excellent!

I hope you have all enjoyed reading the Sweden diary. If you have any questions about this kind of photography or would like to have some more information about Conny's hide, feel free to drop me a line anytime. Any comments on my diary are appreciated, whether positive or negative!

Golden eagle on fox (road kill, baited)

 

Fact sheet Golden eagle trip to Skelleftes, Sweden February 2012

I organized this short trip myself. Conny has his own website where you can find all information needed. Generally January through to end of March are the best months to photography the Golden eagles, with February being the BEST month, especially  as the days are a bit longer and the light is generally very good. 

Besides the golden eagle you can also expect to photograph species like Willow, Blue and Great tit, Northern Bulfinch, Raven, Jay,  Great Spotted woodpecker and Black Woodpecker. Outside chances are Goshawk and Grey Headed woodpecker.

As temperatures are often below zero, good winter clothing and hiking boots are essential.

From London it is best to fly with SAS. The flight cost me STG 235 return. ( London-Stockholm-Skelleftea). Please note that on the return flight you have only an hour to swap planes.

The total cost for this trip including flight was approximately STG 1000, including cost for hide, accomodation, pick-up/drop off from airport and catering.

 

Websites:

www.connylundstrom.com

www.sas.com

My comfortable hide

 

 

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