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Travel Blog

Flatanger, Norway

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In July 2015, I had the opportunity to participate in another photo workshop with the Swedish wildlife photographer Brutus Östling. This time we went to Flatanger on the west coast of Norway just north of Trondheim to visit the world famous "eagle man" Ole Martin Dahle and photographing white-tailed sea eagles.

After two days and 1,300 kilometres by car, I arrived in Lauvsnes on the afternoon of 8 July 2015 and had to stay in the great guest house of Ole Martin Dahle with a view to the sea.

During the next three days, we would sail out on the scenic fjord through islets and coves that surround the harbour of Lauvsnes for some 3-4 hours every morning and evening to photograph the impressive white-tailed sea eagles.

About 20 pairs reside in this area and during the years Ole Martin has established the confidence of several sea eagles to get close to his little boat and catching the fish he is throwing out. Then, it is time for us enthusiastic photographers to take our dream images.

I shared a room with Reinhold Skoglund from Sweden. A nice guy, I already knew from an earlier trip to Baatsfjord in the north of Norway photographing arctic seaducks.

As usual, it was a great group of Swedish photographers participating in the workshop of Brutus. The others being Frode Wendelbo, Kenny Isaksson and Nils Eriksson.


First encounter with sea eagles

It is only 5 o'clock in the morning and we are full of anticipation in the harbour of Lauvsnes waiting for Ole Martin Dahle to take us on the fjord. Wildlife photographers have to be early birds to get the beautiful soft light.

However, the golden hour of light is not that important this morning as the weather is dull and overcast. All things considered, we are grateful to have dry weather. In this part of Norway, it is statistically raining 19 days during July. And even in the middle of summer it is only 12 degrees Celsius.

We met Ole Martin who is a benign looking guy with a great wild beard. Before entering the boat we had to get some supplies on board - a bucket of fish and a bag with dry food for dogs.

The water is calm as we move out of the harbour to the first encounter with sea eagles. Soon it is revealed what the dog food is all about. The boat is surrounded by gulls and they are obviously used to get some treats.

 
Gulls are following the boat


"Eagle", Ole Martin shout. Soon we all see the big raptor approaching - the adrenalin is pumping!

Ole Martin is an experienced photographer himself and his basic rule is always to photograph from the left side of the boat in order for him to arrange the best light on the eagle.

"Fish is out" it sounds from Ole Martin having thrown out a fish to the left. He manoeuvred the boat slightly back as the eagle is reluctant to dive for the fish if we are too close.

"Eagle is coming" he yells - now it is time for action!

The eagle circle in the air for a few seconds and suddenly it begins to dive towards the sea. The eagle moves fast, and takes a sharp turn making it difficult to keep tracking with the autofocus. It sounds like machineguns when the eagle catches the fish in its talons and disappear with the prey. After all, our cameras take between 6 and 12 pictures per second.

Suddenly, it is completely quiet. We are all sitting bend towards the LCD screen to examine the result. Fortunately, we are blessed with a lot more chances to get that "perfect" picture.

During five trips on the fjord, we witnessed 65 sea eagle dives. Thus, opportunities were plenty and I definitely came home with a few images worth keeping ... ; - )

 
White-tailed sea eagle catching a fish


 
White-tailed sea eagle passing by with a fish


 
White-tailed sea eagle approaching the fish


 
At one time we saw a white-tailed sea eagle sitting on some cliffs and managed to get the boat close to take a few images


Arctic skua and gulls

Although the main purpose was to photograph the impressive sea eagles we had some additional photo opportunities at sea.

Each day we had a visit from an arctic skua. It is fast flying and a challenge to capture when coming in for pieces of fish thrown high in the air by Ole Martin. All the Swedes were captivated by the medium-sized dark-looking seabird with pointed wings, and pale patches at the wingtips. Even Brutus was deliriously taking hundreds of images of "labben" as it is called in Swedish. Great to see a highly experienced and renowned wildlife photographer still showing such an excitement and enthusiasm!

 
Arctic skua passing by


 
Arctic skua approaching the boat to get some fish


Otherwise, it was mainly the gulls that came under fire.

A special moment was to experience the gulls fighting for fish. The same principle as for the sea eagles was used. Ole Martin threw out a fish on the left side of the boat and while the gulls were fighting for the fish, we blasted away fast series of images.

It was impressive to witness the gulls. The lucky winner swallowed the fish in one go, then shook the body a few times and started fighting for the next.

On one of our trips we found an area with black water due to the dark reflection from the mountains. In the tranquil water, we worked hard to get creative images of the gulls. By underexposing about two stops, I made some special images as the white gulls were correctly exposed in the sun while the water became almost black - a Brutus Östling trade mark!

 
Gulls fighting for fish


 
Gull with a fish to be swallowed


 
Gull landing in the "dark" water


Photo hide

The forecast of heavy rain made us cancel a morning trip at sea. Thus, we had the opportunity to use the new photo hide of Ole Martin in the forest.

The promised rain made it a bit dark at first. However, the birdlife was great in front of the fine hide as food had been provided for the birds. During a couple of hours, we had the company of bullfinch, willow tit, eurasian jay and chaffinch. Even some playful squirrels made our day.

We had a great time in the hide and got some fine images. Very fortunate, that we could not get on the fjord that morning.

 
Bullfinch in a nice position


 
Willow tit (left) and chaffinch (right)


 
Squirrel in the rain


Eagles by sunset

At our last evening on the fjord the weather was perfect. It was clear skies in the afternoon and we decided for a late start to be on the fjord at sunset.

It was great to have the soft sunny light on our last visit to the white-tailed sea eagles and gulls.

 
White-tailed sea eagle diving for fish in the soft light


 
Herring gull in the beautiful evening sun


A few sea eagles were still on their wings during dusk and we managed to photograph a few dives for fish with the setting sun as a golden background.

Besides the challenge to get the exposure right, it was difficult to focus on the eagle while at the same time making a great composition. In the darkness, it felt like "hit and hope". However, I managed to get a single pleasing image as a result.

 
White-tailed sea eagle in silhouette against the setting sun


Another great photo workshop with Brutus had come to an end. Now remained only a good night sleep and about 1,300 kilometres back home during the next two days.

A huge thanks to Brutus and the Swedish "gäng" for a pleasant company. And your patience when having a hard time understanding my Danish ... ; - )

Also a very special thanks to Ole Martin Dahle for kind hospitality and exceptional work making it all possible. Your love for the seabirds is an inspiration to us all.

Hope to see you all in the future!

 
Great company at the photo workshop in Norway