Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

To celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary (New Years eve 2009) our family spent a week in Gambia Dec 24-31. It's not your typical charter destination, but it has a lot to offer for the entire family. We managed to find a reasonably priced hotel directly on Sunset Beach outside of Serekunda and alternated between family outings to local markets and points of interest, sunset walks on the beach, and photography outings with the local birding guides. Some of the best bird photography was on the grounds of the Senegambia Hotel where the birds where almost tame. Photography is best during the morning and evening. Between 11AM and 3PM the harsh light and the heat can be too much. But even midday will work for the birds on the hotel grounds since the birds can also be found relaxing in the shade. So while Lena and Kristina lay by the pool and worked on their tans, Johan and I crawled on our bellies across the hotel lawns armed with our 500mm and 300mm lenses...

The beach behind our hotel
Apparently white-crowned robin chats have young to feed in December...
Village weavers beating the midday heat...
Our local bird guide did a great job! His contact info is on my Pbase page

More images from Gambia can be seen at:

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

2009 - On a Wing and a Prayer...

A few of my favorite shots from 2009...

A week in Homer Alaska with my son Johan in February gave us many fantastic photo opps...

Back in Sweden the fun continued with a Northern hawk owl that took up winter residence not far from our home.
April - Goldeneyes are a sign that spring is on its way
In June Johan and I made a long awaited trip to Iceland. See the separate post for more. We both agreed it was the most fantastic place we had ever been!

December took us on our first visit to Africa during a week in Gambia. A few more images from that trip

Have a great year!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Iceland on the Rocks

I have wanted to visit Iceland for as long as I can remember. I don't know what it is about cold places that attracts me, but while the rest of Sweden heads South in both summer and winter, my son Johan and I head North. Lena my wife takes it in stride; she and our daughter Kristina have traveled to Spain for shopping and sun while Johan and I have packed our winter parkas in the middle of June and headed for places like Svalbard, Varangar, Norway and now Iceland.

The puffins at Latrabjarg are quite cooperative; taken with a macro lens.
Iceland has historically been one of the more expensive tourist countries, so until recently it was just a place I dreamed about. But that all changed in September of 2008 when the banking system in Iceland collapsed and shortly thereafter the entire Icelandic economy was on the rocks. In March of 2009 the value of the Icelandic krona had been cut in half and all of a sudden Iceland was looking like a pretty reasonably priced destination and Johan and I began creating our plans. We decided to take two weeks and explore the1,339 km Ring Road which basically travels along the entire coast of Iceland and add a trip to the West Fjords to explore the bird cliffs of Latrabjarg.

Rental cars are notoriously expensive on Iceland and the best time to book is 3-6 months ahead of time. The closer you get to summer the more expensive they become, and although we paid 1100 Euros for tiny Opel, by the time of our travel the price on the internet had more than doubled.

We landed in Keflavik at 10AM local and picked up our rental car across from the airport and immediately headed South, for the promised lands of bird and landscape photography. The Blue Lagoon was not on our itinerary, and would be saved for the day we managed to convince Lena and Kristina to join us.

After several hundred kilometers and many thousands of birds we reached the hostel near Skogafoss around 9PM. There were no restaurants open so we fired up our Primus stove and prepared a couple of freeze-dried trekking meals before heading back to Skogafoss to do some more photography.

Skogafoss at midnight
 As we continued the next morning we made our way to the glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlon, with more birds and landscape on the way.

Red-throated Diver
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Southern Iceland
Unfortunately we did not spend the night here. We should have; ideally you should photograph here at both sunset, night and sunrise. (Who needs sleep) Instead we spent the night in Egilsstadir as we made our way towards Myvatn, the Mecca for bird watchers and photographers.
Johan is impressed...
Myvatn was beyond our expectations, with a nesting gyr falcon in a public park.  Unfortunately the falcons have not bred here since then.

A pair of cooperative grebes provided hours of photo opps.
It took this tern 10 minutes to swallow this fish, and then it sat for another 20 minutes with the tail sticking out
Lake Myvatn is not just about birds, the landscape is spectacular; there are hotsprings 

and even wild orchids

Heading West we made our way towards Latrabjarg to photograph puffins and landscape

GoĆ°afoss, West of Myvatn

Latrabjarg; that person standing way too close to the edge is Johan, don't tell my wife!
Think you're having a bad day?
After a couple of days at Latrabjarg we continued North on to the West Fjords to photograph arctic fox. This meant 100km over gravel roads through the mountains followed by a three hour boat ride in hard seas (after an inital delay of six hours) and then a three hour hike with 20 kilos of photo and camping gear but we did find our foxes.
The hike in...
Three 18 hour days at a distance from the den brought results

Unfortunately our time was running out and now the race was on to get back to Reykjavik. Luckily we were able to catch a ride on a boat that cut our travel time significantly.

We didn't even have time to stop in Reykjavik, instead we spent our last night in Keflavik to catch the 7AM flight back to Sweden. But we knew we would be back...

More images from our Iceland trips can be seen at:

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Deadliest Catch" Eagle Photography...

My son Johan(15) and I were looking for some winter photo action. Most of the birds in Sweden have headed South and by now are somewhere in Spain or Africa. Not being so keen on the heat we had another alternative that we had been thinking about for a while - Alaska! (I think we've been watching too much "Deadliest Catch")

Winter flights to Anchorage were pretty reasonable; it was obviously not the tourist season, or maybe it was the connections. We flew with KLM Copenhagen - Amsterdam - Minneapolis/St.Paul - Anchorage. Even the lodging on the Homer Spit Road (where all the action is) was reasonably priced; so we booked five days in a one bedroom flat where we could do our own cooking, with a door directly onto the beach.

We picked up our rental car at the Anchorage airport, and then headed to our hotel room, exhausted after our 21 hours of travel we were asleep by 9:00PM. Our body clocks completely out of sync we woke up at 3AM and were ready to go. So we packed our gear into the car and headed to Denny's for a steak and egg breakfast. We sat next to three Alaska police who were probably wondering what kind of cruel trick I was playing on my son by getting him up at this hour. By 4:30AM we were on our way and as we left the lights of Anchorage behind us we drove off into the winter night; a black road, but the snowy mountains lighting up the sides of the road. The sun comes up at 8:45 in the middle of February but there is a long beautiful twilight which we thoroughly enjoyed. We made a few stops after the sun came up looking for other birds and animals, but there was not much to be seen until we ran into a bald eagle eating a dog that had been hit by a car. Not the glorious first encounter we were hoping for.

A few hours of traffic free driving on clear highways and we were in Homer exploring the town. It reminded me a bit of San Francisco, and we discovered that there were quite a few migrants from the Bay Area. There were eagles all along the Spit sitting on rocks, tree stumps, boats and buildings. My pulse was rising, and we took a few photos and then checked into the hotel. We did some shopping for dinner and breakfast groceries and made it another early night.

The next morning we headed out before sunrise to park next to Jean Keene's trailer where the eagles were being given a hand out of frozen herring.

Sitting in the back of our SUV with the back door up we had the perfect view of the incoming eagles.

While it's not the most natural environment for eagles, it's not much different from the bird feeders we have in our backyard at home, although we use sunflower seed, and not herring.

To get some pictures in different environments we took a couple of day trips with Mako Haggerty who runs Mako's Water Taxi who took us to some coves and inlets on the Kachemak Bay to feed and photograph the eagles and look for other wildlife.

So we had actually succeeded! We were on a crabbing boat (I think Mako had a couple of crabbing pots) in Homer, Alaska in the middle of February. Thankfully the seas were calm and the weather was beautiful.

On the water  we saw some of the other local wildlife like these seals,

And a mother sea-otter with her pup.

Our five days in Homer passed quickly. We had several thousand images each, and agreed that this was more fun than our winter photo trips to Norway where we sat in a freezing hide not being able to move or leave the hide during daylight hours.

We headed back to Anchorage for our final night and prepared for the 21 hour trip back to Sweden. As luck would have it we had a two hour layover in Seattle which gave us just enough time to have lunch at the airport with an old family friend, Marion Friederich. For our next trip we want to visit Alaska in the summer.

The equipment we used was the Canon 1DmkIII, 5DmkII, 300/2.8IS, 500/4IS and 100-400. 

For a few more images from our trip see