The eagles of the sea

The havsörn or ‘sea eagle’ (white tailed eagle) is one of the more fascinating birds out here. Its the largest eagle in north Europe and for me, the most fascinating. Having almost become extinct during the 1900’s, the eagles made an astonishing recovery thanks in part to humans banning the use of pesticides and actively aiding in repopulating efforts in the 1970s. As a kid, I never saw eagles out here yet these days it seems as though I get to see one fly past us daily. Incredible how fast some things can change in the ecosystem.

When I got back into photography I was more interested in capturing landscapes. It wasn’t until I purchased my 70-300mm telephoto lens that I could really try my hand at wildlife photography. I made the most out of my backyard and started taking photos of the local wildlife – mainly ducks, swans, snakes, insects and other birds. The eagles started appearing more often around 2 years ago which is when I started my project of photographing them.

In the springtime, the eagles were quite confident, flying low above the cabin. They were usually on the hunt for food and I could tell when they arrived by the way every single bird would start sounding off. Other telltale signs included unusual flight behaviour (herons flying erratically past the house, ducks fleeing in flocks). I became pretty good at recognising the signs and would often have my camera ready by the door with the settings dialed in for bird photography. Many lunches were interrupted as I heard the birdcalls and would dash outside for a 5 second window to see the eagle before it zoomed off.

These are some of the most exciting images taken in 2019 – watching eagles fight over a meal. The photos above were previously featured in another blog article ‘eagle safari with kayaks’ when we paddled out with the kayaks and followed the birds!

The early summer was a bit tricky for the eagles as they were often harassed by stressed parents doing their best to protect their young. Food was difficult to come by as the eider ducks (their primary food source) have dwindled in numbers the last few years and there are probably too many eagles occupying the same territories. Nature needs to strike a balance between the two species at some point.

This was one example of the imbalance in the ecosystem. This eagle had just attacked a merganser duck in the water. Having barely made it out of the water, the exhausted eagle landed on a nearby rock as the injured merganser tried to swim to safety. Unfortunately, it died moments after the attack and the eagle watched for a bit before flying off. Both birds lost something in the encounter: the merganser lost its life, and the eagle lost its meal. It must have been very desperate to attempt such a hunt as mergansers are larger and therefore heavier, meaning the risks would have been far greater for the eagle. Its not unheard of that an eagle drowns as its prey is too heavy to lift from the water.

The late summer was quiet but the eagles would surprise us with an occasional visit. They would usually fly far out at sea across the horizon at sunrise and maybe return before sunset. It was always exciting to recognise the birds through their ‘flight style’ – slow, powerful flaps of their massive wings.

In the autumn they were back more often but due to the lack of light in the usually stormy weather, photographing them became a bit difficult. It didn’t stop me from trying though! These birds are incredible to photograph and I can only look forward to 2020 and whatever moments I get to witness. One exciting project I’ve got in the works is a trip to the Åland islands where Peter, a friend of mine has been filming the eagles with his drone, should be interesting!

We grew our own potis (potatoes)!

Self-sustainability is something we dream of achieving. Being able to produce enough food for ourselves would be an incredible accomplishment but before we start a farm, we need to learn how to grow a crop. Potatoes are an essential crop in Europe and especially Finland because of their ability to grow in cooler climates so we decided to grow some. They are also relatively easy to grow – we simply planted our spuds and let them do their thing! Perfect for beginners like us.

We had an old concrete ring on the beach that (if memory serves me well) was a leftover piece of well shaft. It was perfect for our potato garden. We started by emptying the ring of its contents and found a gas lighter as well as a smashed beer bottle mixed in with the soil. This was an unexpected find and we are lucky to have been wearing protective gloves because that glass was sharp and we found shards everywhere. The ring was then filled in with our mix that was sand and soil with a nice top layer of kelp. Next time we might try growing potatoes in straw!

Once that was done, we watered the soil properly and placed seed potatoes in shallow holes which were then covered up. I think we placed seven potatoes but in future grows we could definitely fit more.

As the summer progressed, so did the potatoes’ growth. We had neglected them quite a bit but I think thats mainly because they were placed in an area that we rarely visited and we were also quite confident that they would be fine on their own – we’ve seen potatoes grow in our compost bin without any help from us! As temperatures began to lower, we decided it was time to go see how the crop was. The leaves had drooped and wilted which was a sign that these potatoes needed to be harvested so Jenny started poking around the soil which was now covered in pine cones and needles from the nearby pine trees. One by one the taters started showing up and we managed to get quite a few! They weren’t very big but we harvested enough to last us 4-5 meals which was pretty good considering we planted seven potatoes. However, if we ever plan to achieve self-sustainability (even for just one year), we will need to improve our yields by expanding our potato garden quite considerably.

It was a fun experience to have and honestly not that difficult or demanding. Our biggest concern was the very dry summer when we had limited rain water but the potatoes were resilient and managed to survive. We also didn’t seem to have any hungry animals that were interested in eating the potatoes but that might have to do with how well hidden the grow was. Next spring we will try again but with a larger yield in mind!

Höstpyssel

Regnet öser ner ute och jag tänkte passa på att visa lite höstpyssel som jag har fixat. Det fanns massvis med rönnbär tidigare och av dem har det blivit en rönnbärskrans.

Förutom att jag tycker den är fin att titta på fungerar den också som matbord/matsal för fåglarna. Varje dag är där någon som snaskar i sig av bären. Vi får städa väggen i något skede… Tydligen gäller inte ”don’t shit where you eat” principen för fåglar.

När jag ändå var igång med höstpysslet så blev det lyktor av glasburkar också. Jag tycker löven ger så fint orange sken. Jag hittade inget lim så jag fäste löven med ståltråd. Annars är sådana burkar där limmet från etiketten inte riktigt lossnar utan lämnar kladd kvar perfekt, bara att sätta på några löv så är det klart.

Det är nu supermysigt på terrassen med ljus och lampor och det behövs för det börjar bli riktigt mörkt nu. Nu har vi stängt av vattnet här så det är nu utmaningarna börjar på riktigt. Hittills har det inte varit något problem alls faktiskt.

Teijo Mushrooms

We visited Teijo national park and did a hike on a surprisingly warm day in september. There were a lot of mushrooms growing meaning I could try some ‘near-macro photography’ with my telephoto lens. These are my favourite photos from that day and buying a proper macro lens next would be great- the small details in nature can be as eye catching as the big ones and I feel thats worth documenting with my camera.

Anyways I know nothing about mushrooms so leave a comment if you can recognise any of these (samma på svenska). All I know is not to eat the RED ones.

Eagle safari with kayaks!

It always begins when you least expect it. A heron flew past at an angle that suggested it was in a hurry. It startled the nearby merganser ducks who then began to make a hasty retreat. These are the signs I’d been waiting for. I stepped outside to scan the skies and lo and behold – an eagle soared above for a while before it began a descent towards the nearby island.

I had time to get my camera (its always by the door) and take some photos. I spotted another eagle as it landed on the same island next to three more eagles and I had never seen four eagles at once so this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get some photos! The only way for me to do that though was to get closer in a kayak. Jenny was a bit reluctant to join me at first (the conditions weren’t great) but I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity so we got in the water and started paddling out.

Approaching the island revealed the situation thus far. One of the eagles had managed to hunt a large prey and was trying to eat in peace. The remaining three eagles were hungry and were watching, probably hoping for scraps. Two gave up and flew south. Things then got interesting as the eagle with the prey took off, followed by the remaining eagle (and several crows) in hot pursuit. Despite the large waves and my constant stress over dropping the camera in the sea, I managed to get a few decent photos but they don’t really do the scene justice. Watching these huge birds of prey this close was exhilarating.

After a long chase from island to island, the hungry eagle gave up and headed to the east. The eagle with the prey was finally able to eat in peace and found a nice rocky island to do so. We stayed for a while and watched for a bit before heading back home. Winds had picked up slightly but we had tailwind so getting back was nice and relaxing after having followed the eagles that afternoon.

The eagle safari adventure was quite an exciting way to spend an afternoon!

It is rare to experience these kind of moments, and I am always humbled by them. Watching these impressive birds trying to survive in the wild is something I don’t take for granted – life out here isn’t easy for a lot of the wildlife and the eagles are targeted and harassed by other animals due to their size and the threat they pose. I can’t imagine how exhausting this ordeal must have been for all the eagles but it was an incredible display of nature.

Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening!

As the summer fades into autumn, temperatures in the air and sea can vary in such a manner that huge thunderstorms form and for a week or two we get more rain than we do the entire summer. This year was no exception with days of warm fog followed by days of cold rain. One evening as we were watching Stranger Things, I noticed several flashes going off out at sea but shrugged them off as boat lights in the dark (although I suppose it could also have been the mind flayer). Once the episode ended, we stepped outside and realised that the numerous flashes were coming from one massive cumulonimbus cloud. The frequency of lightning strikes was incredible, almost one every 15 seconds!

Each + is a recorded lightning strike. For a while it stayed out at sea but began to head NE around 0230 and completely engulfed us!

In photography, there are so many different techniques and genres to try out. Lightning photography has been one that I have waited years to try but thunderstorms don’t come this close and when they do, it usually rains. Not tonight! I packed my gear and we ventured out to the beach where the following view greeted us.

The storm as seen from the beach. The orange glow is lightning (far away) and the white light at the top is either moonlight or lightning. Not sure which one. Possibly both!

I had been fascinated by photos of lightning strikes since I was a kid, wondering how photographers caught so many strikes in one photo and at the same time avoided getting zapped. The method is quite clever – its just long exposure photography! By keeping the shutter open, you let more light in. Lightning is very bright and so it gets recorded very easily, and more strikes can be seen if you have the shutter open for 30-60 seconds. The professionals use expensive devices that are called lightning triggers but I don’t think I will be picking one up…yet.

For an hour or so we were able to stand on the beach, completely exposed and watch the storm way out on the horizon. We were safe and dry. Here are my first ever lightning photos from that evening. The photos below show variation in colours as the first one was taken far out to sea (south) and the other one had light pollution from the town to the west.

Around 0200 the wind picked up and I noticed the cloud had covered the sky making me a bit anxious. The forecast said the storm would not make landfall nor would it rain but there it was, fast approaching with large curtains of rain being lit up by lightning.

The photo below was the last one I dared take. The sound that came after the lightning shook my bones. I tend to push my luck when I’m photographing but I did not take any chances with this so I packed up my gear and saw how a fork of lightning struck in the same place. Kind of wish I had taken one more photo but it was risky. I ran back to the nearest building and reconsidered my decision to take shelter. The lightning looked amazing this close and I almost headed back out but thats when the rain started falling. I had to run back to the cabin, shielding my camera gear with my rain saturated jacket.

The last photo taken before the storm reached us. Glad I didn’t stay outside any longer after this strike.

After returning home, Jenny and I watched the lightning from the bed. It must have been hovering above us for half an hour or so and we could not sleep – the noise and fury was too intense and the entire house was lit up in bright white every time lightning struck. We ended up unplugging every single electronic device from the wall as a precaution. A week later we had another thunderstorm but it remained out at sea. I tried using my 50mm to get ‘closer’ shots and got these two photos.

Since the last thunderstorm its been very quiet and I doubt we will see anymore this year – they usually don’t occur in winter but its not impossible. I think I will start preparing for the northern lights instead!

Nytt liv åt vinbärsbuskarna

Jag bestämde mig för att ge vinbärsbuskarna här på lande lite kärlek. De var nästan helt uppätna av en vintergröna som tagit sig lite väl mycket frihet. Svarta vinbären hade försökt fly in mot en närliggande rhododendronbuske. Ingen ordning alltså. Jag vet egentligen inte särskilt mycket om vinbärsbuskar, men jag tycker det är roligt med trädgård och tycker det är roligt att pyssla om sådant som växer här.

Nu snyggade jag till buskarna lite grann. Jag tog bort grenar som var döda och sådana som helt hade vuxit åt konstigt håll och sedan gjorde vi tillsammans en “lite cowboy” (som Chris brukar säga när vi kanske inte har 100 % planerat hur det ska bli till slut) ställning för att hålla grenarna upprätt.

Work in progress
Cowboy bygge
Tänk att vinbärsbuskar som har 3 kvistar ändå kan leverera bär
Det är fler än vi som gillar vinbärsbuskar

De grenar som levde men växte åt konstigt håll tog jag tillvara. Jag hoppas de ska få nytt liv. Jag klippte dem så de blev 10-15 cm och satte ner dem i några krukor. Nu hoppas jag på att de får rötter. När det blir kallt tänker jag gräva ner dem i en pallkrage med kruka och allt och täcka med löv. Där får de lov att överleva tills våren kommer. Eller så dör de, men då har de i alla fall fått en chans och det förtjänar alla.