The somewhat worried look is typical for puffins. They’re the cutest birds!
On the west coast of Norway, not far from Ålesund, a small island called Runde braves the elements. Populated by 100+ permanent human residents and +500.000 birds, it is the birds that capture the attention of any visitor. Most famous among them are the charming puffins, a small member of the alcid family which also comprises the auks and the razorbills (these are also present on Runde, albeit in much more modest concentrations).
The puffin species encountered in European waters is the Atlantic puffin, Fratercula arctica. It is a spectacular bird to behold, with its black-and-white plumage and bold, colourful beak. The scientific family name Fratercula means “Little brother”, a reference to the monk-like appearance of these unlikely birds. The beaks are only this bold and bright during breeding season – offseason is spent far offshore and in more modest attire, although little is known regarding the precise whereabouts of the Atlantic puffins during winter. Runde holds perhaps as many as 200.000 breeding pairs, and is the southernmost colony in mainland Europe – the UK has colonies further south.
I wasn’t really on a birding trip, rather a combined sea-kayak/nature/paragliding/birding trip with a friend – and spent a few hours trying to capture some of the birding spectacle at the cliffs of Runde. Prominent among the birds were the many White-tailed sea eagles Haeliatus albicilla which patrol the cliffs looking for easy meals. After rowing around the island in the kayaks, and hiking to the cliffs a few times, we moved to the nearby Nerlandsøya to have a go at paragliding with the eagles, and sure enough a young individual came over to check us out, and we got to soar with this magnificent bird for a few precious minutes. Once that box had been ticked we moved inland to the famous flying site of Grøndalen, near Hemsedal, and flew around there for a few hours before driving home through Sweden.
This mix of objectives and activities means that there are pictures of more than just birds in this gallery. I hope to continue that trend, to make the photoblog less monomaniacal, more interesting for a broader audience.
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As usual, the gallery opens with a click on the first image here below, and is best viewed on big monitors. If on a Windows machine, hit f11 to see nothing but photograps in your screen. Enjoy.
Having fed the chick in the underground burrow, the parent quickly BASE jumps off the cliff again to go fishing
This was my most coveted photo subject during the photo sessions – a puffin carrying a beak full of tobis for its little ones, in flight through the sunset-lit skies. Alas the little feckers are fast as bullets and real hard to photograph in flight.
I did get a few sharp in-flight shots, but none with fish in them.
The little monks are strong, fast fliers – it felt like trying to photograph tennis balls during a tennis match.
And there was hardly any light.
Almost all photos are hand-held. My succes rate when using the tripod was near nil.
Nice light in these four.
Nice light again.
They always look very worried – perhaps the parenthood is weighing them down?
Clowns of the skies – but elegant clowns!
Just like any other birds, a preening session is followed by some wingbeating.
When he’s ready, the exposed rock ensures an obstacle-free relaunch into the skies, and back into the water.
“ahh, that felt good”
“yes love, I’ll be sure to bring some fish”
“Guess I should be going then”
“Not sure about this BASE jumping at all – seems sketchy”
“as long as I can trust the equipment I should be fine”
Bringing the “sea” back into “Sea eagle”
The puffins burrow into these grassy slopes to nest – the eagles make sure nothing is wasted if the hatching goes awry.
As a paraglider pilot it is quite impressive to watch these masters of the air while they soar the lee side of the island – we’re taught never to fly in the lee because of the dangerous turbulence found there, but the eagles beg to differ.
This is probably the same young individual who joined us on Nerlandsøya the following day, and flew together with us.
The young one again.
It seems from looking through the memory cards that the young eagle was more accomodating than the adults.
The juvenile white-tailed sea eagle may be a smidgen larger than the adults at least right after leaving the nest. It is BIG.
Sea cliffs in the background.
Rock pipits are relatively common winter guests in Denmark – on Runde they breed, and wear their finest.
The images in the gallery are a decent indicator for the origin of the species’ English name…
Pipit on a rock – rock pipit.
Note the bill full of food for the hatchlings.
I have no idea how they catch the second, third and fourth ones without dropping all the others.
The breeding plumage, while still a fairly low-key affair, is rather more attractive than their winter clothes.
The Golden plover isn’t actually from Runde – it was photographed on the Hemsedalsfjellet.
Late-night shots in hopeless light. But pretty birds.
This one is from the following morning – more light means other challenges. There’s much to learn in photography, as in anything worthwhile.
Great skuas patrol the cliffs alongside the Sea eagles, but are more aggressive in their foraging habits.
They watch the fishing Gannets and alcids, and hunt those carrying food for ther kin until these harried birds drop their catch.
Theoretically the Skuas then swoop down to catch the fish before it hits the water. In reality very many catches are dropped low over the ocean, and the Skuas miss them – so the Heering gulls and the Black-backed gulls are fed too.
The area NE of Hemsedal as seen from almost 3000m.
When you fly between the sun and a cloud, a halo forms on the cloud – here’s mine.
Heading for the bird cliffs in the Atlantic swell. It was a very good experience to be out there in the kayaks.
My friend Mads C playing against a spectacular backdrop of Norwegian islets at Mulevika. Nerlandsøya and Skorpa in the background.