Great snipes and more in Central Sweden

Part of the show comprises much puffing of chest and spreading of tail feathers.

Part of the show comprises much puffing of chest and spreading of tail feathers.

Almost a month ago I was lucky enough to spend a few nights watching and photographing the great snipes (gallinago media) on their lek (playground, for want of a better word) in Jämtland, Sweden. They’re a feisty lot, allegedly flying from their wintering quarters in West Africa to their Scandinavian breeding grounds in one non-stop megaflight, then spending more than a month vying for the attention of the coveted ladies by going all-out on the lek all night, and hopefully catching a little shut-eye plus some nourishment during the days.

Since the show takes place at night, and we aren’t quite far enough North to meet the midnight sun, photographing the critters is a challenge – for the camera as well as for the photographer. The first night saw rather adverse weather too, with temperatures dropping to around +1 degrees, a wind reaching 20m/s and quite some precipitation. This only bothered the photographers and their equipment; the birds kept at it like nothing could stop them. Fortunately the high-end Canon gear is well-sealed against precisely this sort of thing, the photographer often less so.

The birds arrive at the lek almost completely unnoticed around 9PM, but soon they’re all around, and too busy strutting their stuff to care about neither bird watchers nor -photographers. Our particular lek had upwards of 40 birds in action during the night, and is said to be one of the most popular among the snipes. These mill around between the tussocks, and interrupt their busy schedule only to fight other males, or get up onto higher tussocks to perform a peculiar little song/dance. The noise they make come from their beating the mandibles of their beaks together, and each and every little display is identical to the next one – how the ladies do their selection is a total mystery to me, but then I am only human and can hardly be expected to understand the intricacies of snipe courtship. And speaking of ladies; we never saw a bird which we could positively say was a female, but they must be around to check out the goods, or the whole scene makes even less sense.

As the whole thing takes place during the darkest hours of the short summer night, I have deliberately sought to purvey the feel of the scene by keeping the images relatively dark – if left to its own devices the camera will always try to expose each frame “correctly”, i.e. with long enough shutter times, and large enough aperture openings, to show the image as if it had been day-lit. This makes for a somewhat gloomy gallery this time around, hopefully it will manage to give you an impression of this great natural spectacle.

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As usual, please click on the first image to open up the gallery, and remember that once you’re viewing the individual images it is possible to click on them to see them in their full glory – this makes for the best/sharpest viewing experience. There’s a separate gallery beneath the snipes for other images from the trip.

The whole place is full of birds and wildlife, plus the landscapes are pretty wild too. I had the opportunity to go and see the whole thing a bit from above too, since my friend Pål Hammar Rognoy was kind enough to lend me his XC paraglider for a great flight from the famous Åreskutan out to the lek and part of the way back again. So there are even (going to be) some aerial shots in the following gallery:

  • Aperture: ƒ/4
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Taken: 11 June, 2016
  • Exposure bias: -2.3EV
  • Focal length: 500mm
  • ISO: 3200
  • Shutter speed: 1/100s

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