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Awesome Abisko Aurora

I was lucky enough to go to Sweden last year to see the Northern Lights. I confess I have seen them before so I already had a pretty good idea of how to photograph them, but I was really excited just to play around and see what I could capture.

We booked a trip where cameras and tripods were provided, and a guide is on hand to give advice and tuition during the evening. Although we had cameras of our own, it seemed like a good idea to book a guided trip, and there was a great balance between having some down time, and getting out doing other activities in the daytime.  The company is called Lights Over Lapland and for anyone who wants to experience the Aurora Borealis, I whole heartedly recommend booking with Chad and Linnea at LOL.

We were met at the airport and transferred from Kiruna up to Abisko, enjoying the snowy landscapes on our way. We had time to pick up our kit – cameras and overalls, and then had a gourmet dinner before we headed out for our first Aurora experience.

Not far from the hotel, we found some open space with a few trees for foreground interest. Our first night was out of this world. When the aurora “kick off” it’s called a Corona and the lights move so quickly that it looks like a bright green ribbon is waving across the sky.

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One of my lasting memories of that night was Chad shouting out “We’ve got a Corona … woo-hoo” and it echoing around the valley.

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The aurora displayed for a long time that night, and by the end of the evening we had full memory cards, cold hands and feet, and a sense of having experienced something totally amazing.

The next day we had a trip on a helicopter through the Abisko National Park. We saw fantastic landscapes, an unusual trapper’s food store, and stunning reflections in the lake.

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We then had an afternoon to ourselves, and so took a walk down towards the lake by the hotel.

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That evening, the weather was a little uncertain, and so we jumped into the van, and headed down to the waterfront. This was my absolute favourite landscape view. We were treated to another wonderful display, and also managed a great group shot, as well as some portraits / selfies!

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Our third day saw us being driven over into Norway to the town of Narvik. It was great to see more of the landscapes and local area, and having a picnic lunch by the sea was superb! We spent time taking a few photos, and learning to skim stones.

That evening, we walked down to the lakefront to try to see the auroras again, but sadly the clouds just didn’t want to move, and so instead we made s’mores and drank my home-made sloe gin! Not a bad night after all!

Our last full day was filled with a lovely hike through the winter birch wood. It was fun to take time to enjoy the park, the trees, the snow, and just stretch our legs!

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That night, our last night, we went up to the Sky Station which is located on the hill above Abisko. We had to wait till 9pm for the chair lift to open in order to get up to the station, and up to that point, the aurora were being rather shy – just showing on the horizon as a misty green glow.

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As we got onto the chair lift, and started travelling up the hill (with our cameras on chairs behind us) the aurora decided to kick off in another absolutely incredible display. We had no choice but to sit back and enjoy the light show. There was such a multitude of colours, and again really fast-moving auroras that just blew us away.

Having reached the station, we were able to grab some photos and it was great getting different compositions, as well as a couple of other group shots / selfies again!

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Before we knew it, sadly it was time to head home. The memory cards had been filled many times over. We’d been treated to some of the most amazing aurora displays I could have imagined, and met some fellow aurora-obsessed new friends.

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I am definitely going back for another chance to see the lights in 2015. If you’ve not seen them, it seems Abisko is a really good location for them – there is a micro climate that gives you a higher than usual chance of seeing the lights. You can fly from London via Stockholm up to Kiruna, which is about 90-something kilometres from Abisko. There are a couple of guesthouses in Abisko. We stayed at the Tourist Station hotel, which serves fantastic food – including delicious gourmet dinners to keep you going as you head out into the cold to see the auroras! Highly recommended. Check out Lights of Lapland if you want a high quality organised trip however, as they took all the stress away and I would say for all first timers, it’s worth the expense. Tuition so you get the best shots out of the camera, flexible evening plans so as to ensure you have the best chance of seeing the lights, and overall great hosts too!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this update – feel free to ask any questions.

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Into the Realm of the Polar Bear, June 2013

This year I decided to return to Svalbard for a week long holiday on a boat. The goal of the trip was to circumnavigate the islands, but of course, all things are weather dependent, and on arrival we were told that it was about 95% sure that we would not be able to get very far around to the North due to the amount of pack ice that there was still in the area. But, being that I had booked on an adventure, I was happy with whatever our expedition leader, John, decided for us. After all, pack ice meant a higher chance of seeing polar bears, as they live on the ice edge, so there were advantages to too much ice! 

We left the interesting town of Longyearbyen on a sunny afternoon, with temperatures above freezing and light winds.

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We were to be based on the M/S Expedition for a week – it’s a converted ferry that makes its way from Antarctica, up the West coast of Africa, and on up to Scotland, Norway and finally Svalbard.

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Although you could see the tell-tale signs of its old life as a ferry, the boat had been totally overhauled by G Adventures, and our cabins were spacious, and very well looked after!

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We headed up towards Nordenskioldbreen, the glacier in front of which we anchored for the night! What a view over dinner and from our cabin porthole! It was a great start to our trip.

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It was actually my birthday on that first evening, and I was presented with Champagne and a cake at dinner time, and also had all the wait-staff sing to me … they then queued up to give me a hug and a kiss! It was an embarrassing but great way to start my holiday!

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The next day was another pretty sunny day, and we headed over to Pyramiden which is an abandoned Russian mining town.

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Well, mostly abandoned. There are still a few Russian inhabitants, and they are always delighted to share a glass of vodka with you, and tell you all about the mother polar bear and cubs that wandered through the town the previous day!

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Aside from the bears, they have other local wildlife keeping them company, like the reindeer

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Many of the buildings have also become key nesting sites for the birdlife too. Kittiwakes have made nests on air conditioning boxes, window sills, airbricks, and anywhere that there is a small hole to perch on! They are very noisy neighbours, and in summer, that is potentially 24 hours of noise!

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The Russians always ensure there are a few people still at Pyramiden, and we discovered what they do to keep themselves occupied during the winter polar nights (where the sun never actually breaches the horizon) … they build houses … out of what they have to hand … and it seems they have a lots of bottles to hand!

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It’s amazing to be in a place that is effectively a small town, with only a handful of residents. It’s feels a little like we were urban explorers!

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The next day, we headed off out to sea, going North up the coast to find Magdalenefjorden, which we were told was a place with lots of bird and wildlife.

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As we got out of the shelter of the fjord, the visibility really closed down, and we were travelling in temperatures of around freezing, and we had both fog and snow to contend with! How different to our first day!

We did however brave the zodiacs, and had a cruise along the tidewater glacier to take a closer look at the little Auk colony (otherwise knows as Dovekies).

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We then headed out to Smeerenburgfjorden which is a very scenic fjord complex with some historic sites along the way like a whalers camp at Smeerenburg. The scenery was beautiful even in less than great visibility

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We then had our first ice-based large wildlife sighting … of a bearded seal. The captain, Thomas Roder, slowed the boat down, and we crept forwards as quietly as a large ferry can! We managed to get pretty close before the seal decided he’d go for a long swim!

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Later that day we reached our most northerly position of 76° 57.76′ N. We cruised along the Polar Ice Cap. Everywhere we looked there were sheets of ice in all directions.

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The next day, with good visibility and temperatures of about a degree and plenty of clouds in the sky, we continued along the Ice Cap edge, and saw a huge walrus who was kind enough to wait for us to approach before abandoning his resting place!

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We then decided due to the lack of available routes to continue East along the top of Svalbard, to head down into Woodfjorden. We came into the area known as Reinstrandodden, and were excited to see a pod of around 100 beluga whales. At this time of year they are very yellow, and that is because they need to exfoliate! Usually around July time, they will find somewhere that is fairly shallow, where a river empties out into a larger body of water, so that they can rub off their old skins, and return to their paler white colour. But for the time being, they are yellow!

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Our expedition staff were very excited by this sighting, as they are a rarer sight even than polar bears! Going by this revelation, we were getting pretty excited about our chances of seeing a bear! We followed them for a while, but as they continued to move away from us, we left them to their journey, and carried on further into the fjord.

Then Katharine, our expedition musician, shouted out that she had spotted a Polar Bear on the ice at Lemeroyane! Our first bear! It was our fourth day, and we’d seen a polar bear! It was a long way off, and in an area that was incredibly hard for our captain to maneuver the boat, so although we watched him for a while, it was pretty hard to see him.

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It was a very exciting time, but we decided to move on as the fog came right down, and it became increasingly hard to see the bear as he walked across the ice. We knew where he was, so could always return and scout the area again.

We continued down into the fjord, and came down to the Emmabreen glacier, where we spotted two polar bears – a mother and her young cub. It was very hard to be able to see if it was just a bear, or a bear and cub, but eventually through comparison of various photographs, we figure out there was indeed a cub present.

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So we were up to THREE bears, all on the same day! Next stop, was to head down to Vulkanhamna, where the ice was classified as 10/10 which basically is the thickest ice, and would need an ice breaker to move through it. Our boat was only “ice strengthened” which means we could get out of trouble, but couldn’t break through large quantities of pack ice.

We came to rest a short distance into the ice at Vulkanhamna, as there had been ANOTHER bear spotted! This time, it was a mother and her yearling, and she was hunting the seals who had pulled themselves out on the pack ice. We were all out on deck watching the hunt unfold, as the fog rolled down and it became almost impossible to make out the distant shapes of the mother and cub. Everyone was trying to watch either from the main deck, the top deck, or even from the dining room! But we couldn’t see anything!

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So, we all went to have some dinner, as although it looks daylight in the photo, it was about 8pm by now! Needless to say, after dinner, everyone was straight back out on deck to see whether we could see the bears, and to see whether they had been successful with their hunt. Sadly, they hadn’t managed to catch the seal (apparently the stats are that only about 1 in 20 hunts are successful). We watched them for a while, and then suddenly we noticed that the cub was obviously bored with waiting for the seal to appear, and had decided our boat was far more interesting. He was making his way slowly towards us.

We had been instructed about sightings like this. We had to remain calm, quiet and above all NOT make any sudden movements. We all watched, not daring to breathe, as he made his way across the ice, getting closer and closer. This was AMAZING. He just kept getting closer and closer, whilst we were all rather stunned! The expedition staff were going (silently) crazy as this was the best sighting most of them had had!

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As he got closer, his Mum followed him at a distance, happy that he should make his own way, but being close enough on hand to keep an eye on him!

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It wasn’t long before he was right up in front of the boat

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The view from the top deck was by this stage slightly obscured – so the photo below is courtesy of a fellow passenger Chris Westwood who was kind enough to share his photo of the trip with me!

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The yearling was so incredibly curious, when he couldn’t find a way up the front of the boat, he came around to the side to see if any of the port holes could offer a way in …

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His mum kept a close view of what he was up to

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She eventually decided he’d seen enough and  called him away …

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He went, although not overly willingly! She had to huff and puff a few times to get him to move away! And, his curiosity soon overwhelmed him again, and he came back again for a second look

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Then Mum called him away again, and this time was more successful at leading him a short distance away.

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There was a lovely moment where he sat down and looked back longingly at us. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking we were dinner, or just potential playmates!

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Then I took my favourite shot of the holiday – a wonderful moment of interaction between Mum and cub, where you can see their affection for each other, which will only really be present for another 6 months maximum before the cub heads off to lead his own independent life.

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As she led him away, it became clear just how much of a child this HUGE bear was – his behaviour was like any child who spots puddles … he just needed some wellington boots!

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Once he’d stopped playing in the puddles, he followed his mum who walked around the boat to investigate where we’d broken through the ice. The cub used it as an excuse to jump in and have a swim!

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Eventually, they walked off up the ice edge and disappeared into the wilderness. We all retired to the bar to celebrate our incredible experience and stayed up far later than was wise which I blame partially to the fact that even at 2am, it is bright daylight!

After that amazing experience, it was hard to imagine how the next day would top it. We had remained in the area overnight, and so we headed out to see Monacobreen up close in zodiacs, first passing the face of Emmabreen to see whether we could see the mother and cub from the previous day. Emmabreen was a particularly beautiful glacier, and the weather had cleared up considerably enabling us to see a lot more clearly compared to the day before.

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The water was calm and glassy, and Dr Tom was out scouting for bears!

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He found a lone bear on this area of ice – bringing our total sightings to SIX. However, the bear was a long way off – so even if I pointed out where on this ice he was, you’d be unlikely to see him!

We then headed south and cruised along the Monacobreen – a stunning glacier that looks in places like a castle.

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After getting up close and personal with some icebergs in the iceberg field in front of Monacobreen, it was time to move on, heading north up Woodfjorden.

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Looking backwards gave us a stunning view of Monacobreen as a whole … I love the falling sunlight on the right hand side …

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As we headed North, the expedition staff again became very excited, as there was a sighting of a blue whale! For those of you have have visited the Natural History Museum in London, you will be aware of the size (and rarity) of these mammals. And here was one swimming in front of us!

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Along side the blue whale was a fin whale, and some minke nearby too. What a collection of whales! And a great way to end another day in the Arctic!

Next day, the weather had taken a turn for the worse again and we had fog and snow to contend with! However, it didn’t stop us from cruising along between Hambirgbukta to Sjettebreen in the zodiacs. We passed more little auk colonies, and then found a small bay where 6 walrus had hauled out for a rest! There was also one in the water as well!

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After that, we headed back to the boat, and cruised along to Ny London, where we landed in pretty miserable conditions, but were able to walk around and stretch our legs, whilst hearing of the history of the place when it was a marble mining town.

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The next day was our penultimate day of exploring, and we headed further south to Ny Alesund in Kongsfjorden and had reasonable weather – a balmy 4 degrees! Ny Alesund is historically important as it was not only the location of Nobile’s airship attempt to fly over the pole, but it was also a coal mining settlement and still has polar research facilities.

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From Ny Alesund, we were able to send postcards from the “Most Northerly Post Office” in the world, and get a stamp in our passport!

After we left the town, we headed off to Regnardneset to go for a walk along the tundra, which again allowed us to stretch our legs, and attempt to find our shore legs after 7 days on a boat!

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The views were fantastic.

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As we headed off from this position, to start our return journey to Longyearbyen, it was clear that the ice situation was only getting worse, and we had a few issues exiting the fjord. Luckily for us, our captain was an Ice Master, and he really proved himself getting us out through the pack ice, even if it took him several hours to achieve that!

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That night, our last night on board, we again got caught out by the forever daylight and found ourselves in the bar way beyond 2am. However – you’d never know it!

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The next day it was an early start, and transfer over to dry land at Longyearbyen. Our trip was over, and we were all rather shell shocked that we had seen so much, and that the week had flown passed so quickly! It was an amazing adventure, one that changed regularly according to the weather and ice conditions. We saw so much, and the landscapes were so beautiful, and it’s definitely a place I’d recommend everyone to put on their wish list. If you want to see more photos, then there are more on flickr:

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Hope you have enjoyed this post.

Photos: Copyright Clare Forster

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Skomer Island and puffins!

This weekend saw me on a long awaited trip to Skomer Island to find some puffins. I had been lucky enough to see puffins a couple of years ago on Farne Island, so I was excited to see them again somewhere new.

We drove down to Pembrokeshire for the long weekend, just hoping that the long range forecast of rain did not ruin our trip. We arrived to a beautifully sunny evening and went exploring in the last of the sunlight. Pembrokeshire is beautiful and I’d love to explore the coastline more sometime.

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The next morning, we arrived at the time the ticket office opened, to find a long winding queue of people already there. Unlike Farne Islands, where you can pre book your boat tickets, at Skomer you have to buy your landing pass at the ticket office (£10 per adult) then pay for the boat once on board (£11 per adult). I was rather gobsmacked to see someone paying the boatman with a card … so if you are reading this with a thought to go yourself – go armed with cash! Please! You’re on a boat … they don’t carry card machines around with them!

We arrived on the Island after a short 10 mins boat trip, and before we even got off the boat, we were surrounded by puffins, taking off and landing in the sea all around us.

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They were on the cliffs as we climbed up to the welcome centre, and  appeared out of their burrows all around us. The welcome from the volunteers was great – there was a big map showing all the best bird spotting areas, as well as where the facilities were etc. Then off we went. We had about 5 hours at our leisure on the island … so we headed straight for where the puffins were reported to be!

If you have never seen a puffin before, I would imagine that the picture you have in your head is of a bird about the size of a penguin. Well, imagine a much smaller bird! Puffins stand somewhere between about 20 and 30cm tall. Their beaks are beautifully bright with red, orange and black stripes.

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At the moment, it is mating season, so there is a lot of head tossing going on – where they stand tall, and quick toss their beaks into the air.

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They make a very specific noise  – which is hard to explain, but sounds a bit like they are saying “Ohhh-hhhh-hhh”. Find a bird app online that has the mating call of a puffin! It’s brilliant.

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They really are the most photogenic birds, with really comical behaviour – it appears they like to walk up and down in front of the photographers, posing! Or maybe they are just wondering if there is any food to be had!Image

They are currently nest building so we saw a lot of birds gathering suitable materials to line their nests so that once their single egg is laid,they have somewhere warm and comfy to incubate it.

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Sometimes the burrows are old rabbit warrens, otherwise the puffins use their feet to dig out new burrows in the soft earth.

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Because they are not yet rearing their young, it is too early to see them flying in with several sand eels hanging out either side of their beaks, which I was lucky enough to see in Farne (I was there later – around middle / end June). However, the advantage of the trip this early, was that due to the late arrival of the bluebells this year, we saw puffins in bluebells which is incredibly rare.

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There were so many puffins flying around, I had plenty of time to practice getting birds in fllght – which proved tricky at times, but I didn’t mind spending time just relaxing in the sun watching the puffins all around me, and taking lots of photos to practice my birds in flight (BIF for those photographers amongst you).

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This is one of my favourites – it looksl as though he is about to jump a hurdle!

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On Skomer, it isn’t just about puffins however. there are plenty of other species to get excited over, including the short eared owl

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The razorbills

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Also not forgetting the guillemots, swallows, buzzards, and gulls of all varieties!

There are also some beautiful bunnies to be seen too!

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It has to be said, there is plenty to see on the island in terms of birds and wildlife, and we were very lucky seeing the short eared owls, but the main attraction was definitely the puffins.

So I will leave my post with one more photo … I hope you have enjoyed reading this post, and perhaps it will inspire you to get out and explore!

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Northern Lights in Iceland

So I promised a post about the Northern Lights, which I was lucky enough to see for about 20 mins in Iceland in November 2012. We went out in a small mini bus with about 9 others, and drove out of Reykjavik away from City lights. Not really being aware of what to expect, it was very exciting to realise there was a light green “cloud” in the sky, and that it WASN’T a CLOUD! That is how it appears – a band of colour, and then you realise that ever so slowly, it is changing, moving, expanding, contracting. Anyway, it was so exciting, and even though the temperatures were way down below zero, and the wind was blowing a hoolie, we stood outside and watched them for about 20 mins (with some hot-chocolate-on-the-bus breaks).

A few of you have asked me how to shoot the lights – so hopefully this will give you somewhere to start! If the temperature allows it, play around with ISO and exposure duration, and see what different effects you can create.

The kit I had with me was: 5DMkII, 24-105, 15mm fisheye, full sized tripod, remote control.

Most of the shots I took were using the 24-105mm lens, but I did take a couple with the fisheye just to give it a different feel. Before I went out into the bitterly cold night, I set the camera to ISO 400 and f4.0. I then tried a variety of timed shots to get the best effect. I quickly realised 400 ISO was not going to be successful without overly long exposure (which the temperatures were really making difficult), so I changed it to 800 ISO. Below is a shot at 400 ISO, exposure 30 seconds long.

Pre level check in photoshop:

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Then having tweaked the levels in photoshop:

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After this point, all shots are at 800 ISO.  Below is a timed shot of 10 seconds.

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It wasn’t a completely wasted shot, as once the levels are sorted out in photoshop, it looks like this:

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I then tried a 20 second shot which came out pretty well.

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Once I dropped it into photoshop, and tweaked the levels a little, this was the result.

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I finally tried a 32 second shot

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Which after a quick whizz through photoshop looks as follows:

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Just to show you a shot with the fish eye lens, here’s a shot taken with the same ISO as before (800) f4, and the lens is a 15mm. It is a 30 second exposure.IMG_7332edit

The “piece de resistance” was the shot below. As I was taking this shot, we saw a shooting star fall through the middle of the Northern Lights. That was a truly magical moment – and it is my favourite shot of all.

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I hope this has been helpful to some of you … and for those of you who know better than me how to take these shots – I hope you could at least enjoy the photos!! It was a magical experience, and one I’d really like to repeat!

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Farne Islands, Northumberland

This year is the year of doing all those things that I keep saying I’ll do … and seeing Puffins was on my “list of things to do”. So when some friends decided to drive up to the Farne Islands to see Puffins in June, I signed up straight away!

We booked into a pub guesthouse in Seahouses for three nights, and reserved all day places with the Billy Shiels boat company, who are an established family company with a great reputation.

We headed out on the first day, but sadly due to the weather the high swell on Staple Island, the boats were unable to land, so instead of a full day trip, we ended up on a boat tour in the morning, where we circled the series of islands called the Farne Islands. They are made up of many small islands, the two main islands being Inner Farne, and Staple. They are home to many thousands of nesting birds in May June time, including kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins, black headed gulls, oyster catchers, shags and cormorants.

From the sea, it was amazing to see the cliffs full of life

The birds all share the same space. Share the same food sources. Share the same airspace.

The boat tour was very informative, explaining the islands, the National Trust involvement, and the birds that come to nest there. Explanations of how to recognise the different birds were very helpful to those who were new to the bird spotting hobby! There was even some story telling of when Grace Darling and her father set out to rescue the survivors of a wrecked paddle-steamer, the Forfarshire, when it ran aground on a nearby islet in 1838. It was an informative, and fun boat trip.

Having spent the morning on the boat, we headed back to land for lunch, and then went out in the afternoon to the Island known as “Inner Farne”.

We landed, and the Island was pretty big. It has a beautiful white lighthouse on one cliff, and is covered with an easy access boardwalk, that leads you around the island, protecting as many of the birds as possible by roping off the main nesting areas.

Inner Farne has 100,000s of birds nesting, including terns, who nest on or very close to the boardwalk. We were told to cover our heads where possible as the terns get very aggressive protecting their nests. And that’s an understatement! Even with hats / hoodies on, they would fly up and then peck as many heads as they could find! I left with a couple of bloody patches where my hoodie didn’t quite cover my head!

Walking around was straight forward – the island is covered with a boardwalk so it is very easy to understand where we had to avoid. Once we’d taken our heads in our hands so to speak, and walked along past the terns, we were amazed at just how many puffins were there on the island. They had taken over the old rabbit warrens as nesting areas, and would appear and disappear as they brought in food to their nests.

We spent a couple of hours on the island, which was great fun. Watching the puffins were brilliant fun. The shot above really makes me think of a man, walking along with his hands behind his back. He should be whistling!

There were many birds in the their nests, hiding from the cameras!

There were not only puffins and terns on the islands.There were many shags, most of whom had at least a couple of chicks. The shot below shows a mother feeding one of her chicks.

In addition to the shags, there were also a large quantity of kittiwakes. These look like your average gull – but you can tell them apart because if you listen to their cries, it sounds as though they are shouting their name.

We were also lucky enough to see seals that also inhabit some of the Farne Islands.

The second day, we headed out for our second attempt to land on Staple, and this time succeeded. It is a very different island, with a much more barren landscape. It’s smaller, and is mostly rocky, with more open spaces to explore. The puffin nests here have been created by the puffins – whereas on Inner Farne they have taken over old rabbit warrens.

Watching the puffins was really good fun. I sat for quite a while watching one cute chap walk backwards and forwards in front of me, and I was thinking that he was a real poser. He must have walked up and down looking at me about four or five times. Then I realised what he was doing. He was checking to see if there was enough space to run past me in order to take off to go fishing. And as soon as he had built up the confidence, that’s exactly what he did … ran past me to launch himself into the air to go fishing for sand eels!

Watching the puffins come in to land with their sand eels was also amusing at times. They’d sometimes circle, to make sure they weren’t about to get mugged by the black headed gulls, who would chase them and steal their sandeels. Then, when they decided their route was safe, it was like watching an airplane coming into land – “flaps down”… “brakes on” .. and this was the result

Hilarious.

There are other birds on Staple Islands of course! There are more shags, including lots of babies learning the ropes!

And guillemots

And we even saw an Oyster Catcher too which was exciting

But, I always went back to photographing puffins! And with good reason.

If you were wanting to see Puffins, I can whole heartedly recommend the Farne Islands. It’s a very easy trip if you stay in Seahouses, and you can spend a couple of days visiting the islands, then there is Holy Island up the coast a short ways, which is fascinating as you have to drive across a causeway – and therefore can only visit at low tide.

If you like castles, there are plenty of those around the area as well, and plenty of places to see Hadrian’s wall.

Seahouses is a small town with a beautiful harbour, stunning cliff walks and gives you access to some fantastic bird life. Worth a visit.

You can see more photos here http://www.flickr.com/photos/clare_forster/sets/72157627071825216/

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British Superbikes 2011

On Friday I went to Brands Hatch for the first time ever. I blame my mate Sam, who’d talked about going to see the Superbikes, but then had to work. Thing is, he’d sold it to me too well, and although he couldn’t make it, I had to go anyway!

I like to constantly challenge my photography … and taking pictures of bikes is not something I have tried beforel So I took a bag of goodies, got some advice from friends on where I should stand … and headed off to Brands Hatch.

The first thing that hit me, as soon as I got out of the car, was the noise. The races had started already, and I could hear the bikes all the way from the carpark. It was spine-tingling goose-bumping noise … and I was still quite some distance from the track. I started to smile … and I pretty much had a smile on my face for the rest of my time at Brands Hatch!

I found my way to Druid’s corner, as had been suggested to me, and headed over the bridge. I could look across the track to the stands, and see plenty of the track. The racing had already started although it was just the practice races before the main 3-day meet from Saturday. I just stood for a while … letting the noise sink in … and enjoying the racing around me.

I found my way over the bridge to the centre of the Druids corner, so that I could photograph with as few barriers and nets as possible. I spent quite a lot of time there, taking shots as the riders approached the corner, and came round safely the other side.

After a while, the heat was quite overwhelming so I decided to take a wander around the track and see what other angles I could find.

First I found a spot looking at the Druids bend, and it was a perfect spot to take the riders leaning right over as they took the bend …

The shot above shows Jenny Tinmouth – the only female rider on the circuit who got signed by Splitlath Motorsport this year, and is competing in the British Superbikes for the first time. I was obviously drawn to taking pictures of her as she went round the circuit … and loved watching her keep up with her fellow riders.

Other than Jenny, I watched the other bikes with as much fascination, being my first proper bike racing event. The noise continued to raise the goosebumps .. and watching the degree to which the bikes leaned was simply jaw-dropping at times. I enjoyed walking around the track, seeing the various bends and straights, but I was always pulled back towards Druids corner for most of my shots.

I really did enjoy the day at the Superbikes, and will definitely go again. I was shooting with my 5DmkII and my 50D with the 100-400 lens, and my 24-105. Next time, I will go for a faster lens as the shots weren’t sharp enough for my satisfaction. However, as a first attempt, I can only say I had a fantastic day out – and want to go again!

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Lunchtime strolling

I have the usual “New Year Head” on at the moment … which shouts things like “EAT LESS” … “EXERCISE MORE” … “DRINK LESS” … “EAT BETTER THINGS” at me on a fairly regular basis. I have taken some of that to heart and am making my own lunches at the moment. That way I don’t have to enter a supermarket at lunchtime when I am desperately hungry, resulting in a basket containing not only a sandwich or salad, but a dessert, a bag of crisps, a fizzy drink and sometimes even a bar of chocolate … I KNOW I could do without them, but sometimes my hunger head overrules logic! By bringing in my own lunch I take away the requirement for will power. Of which I have none.

Today, with the sun shining, I decided I’d try to listen to another shout from my “New Year Head” and get out of the office for a walk. Richmond is a wonderful place to work – about 5 mins up the road in a car is the Park of course, but about 10 mins walk from the office is the Thames. And that is my usual walking space.

Today was beautiful … the sky was blue with a bit of white cloudyness for contrast.

There were lots of people out walking, enjoying the break in the rainy weather. I was fascinated to see how much higher the water line was. All the boats that usually flounder were floating proud … ready to set off for a jaunt up the river.

There was lots of work going on along side the river, making boat repairs in preparation for better weather later in the year.

Other boats are still safely stored on land, covered up, awaiting the spring weather before making an appearance.

People were out in force, enjoying the sunny weather and taking a break from their usual lunchtime boredom.  Some were feeding the happy geese and gulls

Others were enjoying a quiet break from walking, and soaking up the wintery rays of sunshine.

This last shot shows how high the water is. Usually, this area has a slope that goes down about 5 feet to the water, for boats to “slip” into the Thames .. however at the moment the Thames is level with the walkway!

It was a lovely walk – having my camera with me means I’m more motivated to get out and explore … so grab your camera, and get outside. Whilst this blue sky lasts. Enjoy.

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Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen

This weekend, I went to Copenhagen. A girl friend of mine wanted to go to a European Christmas Market, and so with my new moto of “life is too short, so get on and say yes to things” I decided it would be a great way to get into the Christmas spirit, and have a weekend away too. We looked into a few locations, and finally decided Copenhagen looked a good option as the price was reasonable, and a friend recommended a hotel and some restaurants, so we were decided! Shopping (I mean touring) here we come!

I have been to Copenhagen before, on business, and seen the airport, hotel, office, hotel, office and airport. So it seemed a good chance to go and have an explore around the beautiful City of Copenhagen. It’s so easy to get there – a short 2 hour flight – and then jump on the metro which is very simple to figure out. You can get a train so easily in to the City from the airport, and in less than an hour from touching down on the runway, we were at our hotel dropping off our bags ready to go exploring!

First on the agenda was a boat trip to get a view of Copenhagen from the water. Why we thought this was a good idea in temperatures of -3 I have no idea! But it was fun until our teeth started chattering!! We went along some of the canals and out into the river. We saw Nyhavn with it’s Christmassy decorations and little stalls.

We then headed along towards Christianshavn which is a popular residential area – according to our tour guide this is mainly because the King said that if people moved there, they wouldn’t need to pay income tax for 12 years!

After that, there was the main attraction … the little Mermaid, who has just returned from a trip to Shanghai. She’s very clever to get there and back I can tell you! Over her history, she has lost 2 arms and a head. But luckily for us, she was in one piece on the weekend!

Getting the traditional shot was challenging as EVERYONE wanted their photo in front of her.

After that, we headed back along the canals, and once we’d got off the boat, we headed for a traditional warming drink of Glogg … which is along similar lines to Mulled wine, Vin Chaud, and Gluvein depending on which flavour of European you are used to!

Next on the whistle-stop tour was the Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market. All the reviews were positive and gushing, and my expectations were so high! Everyone at the hotel told us we’d need at least a day there, and we were very excited to visit. Maybe that was my problem. My expectations were already set. It was NOTHING like I imagined! I had thought there’d be plenty of craft type stalls selling little presents ideal as stocking fillas. If I’d been in the market for a hat, or a pair of gloves, I would have had so much choice I’d probably still be weighing up the options even now. However, as I was expecting a “Winter Wonderland” of stalls selling many different craft items, including jewellery, decorations, gifts, and edibles, and as a result was pretty disappointed.

However, not letting a simple thing like NO SHOPPING disappoint me too long, we cracked on with our second pleasure … eating and drinking! Our late lunch was a very large pancake filled with roasted veg, cheese and salad! Then after a bit of a walk around we tried a waffle … and finally before we left the park, we had a hot chocolate (wait for it) DANISH pastry … which we both decided was the highlight of our trip!!

We also enjoyed the challenge of taking some lovely night shots of the park as the lights came into force, and that helped us get into the Christmas spirit (well, the glogg definitely helped too)

There are other interesting things in the park, including some people creating ice sculptures!

If you are expecting a European “Christmas Market” … then this isn’t the place for you! It’s a lovely City to explore and I’d fully recommend it – just don’t expect to sort out all your Christmas shopping here!

Still, not to be put off, and having Sunday to fill as well, we opted to take a bus tour to see more of the City. We went past the Royal Palaces (yes, in the plural – there are 4 in a square), out to see the Mermaid again, and around the main parts of the City. It was a good tour, and happily it dropped us off back at Nyhavn, our new favourite destination in Copenhagen! Here were a handful of what we considered to be Christmas Stalls, and we were able to do a little bit of the shopping we had dreamed of!

This is an area that is quite touristy, with stalls, and restaurants in abundance. Each restaurant maintains an outside area even in the -7 degrees as was on Sunday, but they kindly provide blankets for people to sit underneath!

It’s a very pretty part of town, with lovely boats moored up, and very colourful buildings lining either side of the canal.

Before we knew it, our time had come to an end, and it was time to jump on the train for our short trip back to the airport. A fun, chilly and exhausting weekend, but definitely something I’d recommend to others!

God Jul everyone … Happy Christmas.

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Syon House Enchanted Woodland

On Friday I went to the opening night of Syon House’s 2010 Enchanted Woodland walk. It was my first visit, although I believe it’s their 5th year of holding this event. I had been to something similar a few years ago at Sheffield Park Garden, so had an expectation of what it would be like.

For the most part, my expectations were met. The trees and bushes were lit with a variety of coloured lights, and at points along the route, these were set to change colours. There were a couple of places where I wished I had included a torch with by bag of camera goodies … but for the most part, the paths were easily followed. The trees looked stunning, and they’d definitely picked the most impressive trees to illuminate. There didn’t however seem to be a theme, or any kind of link as you progressed through the walk, so at times you went from glitter balls, to neons, to fairy lights!

I then turned the final corner, and saw the Conservatory which was beautifully lit in a colour changing sequence that went from white, to yellow, green, blue and finally to pink. It was a breath taking sight, and one that was well worth the visit. I would return just to watch the building being lit in those colours. The final section of the walk brings you through the conservatory and the most beautiful piece of music was playing – which I found out was called “Libera” by the choirboys (sorry, I mean boy band) Libera, and it was such a moving piece of music to accompany the amazing light display, I can still hear the piece of music now, days later.

I would recommend the walk if you are in the area. At £5 it’s a 45 minute walk around some lovely illuminated trees, finishing with some angelic music in an amazing glass building. Hopefully some of my photographs have persuaded you it’s worth a look-see.

I used my tripod the whole way round, and varied my aperture to see what effects that had on my images. My favourite images are ones with an “average” aperture setting of about f11, resulting in an exposure time of around 25 seconds.

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