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Japan has to offer many things. Great people (figuratively speaking of course), very helpful and efficient, rich culture, and lots of traditions. The latter has confused me at times but Harumi, our Japanese assistant, has taken care of us and taught us how to eat with chop sticks while sitting on the floor without shoes and muscle cramp attacks lurking around the corner waiting for the best moment to strike. Japan has made a great impression on me and I like the opportunity to take you on a virtual and personal journey of two weeks in the land of the rising sun…..

I had the pleasure of co-leading a holiday with Danny-san for Natures Images and after many hours of traveling we arrived at Tokyo Airport. Our Japanese assistant was already waiting for us and after our group was complete we headed to our first destination.

Our first port of call was to visit Jigokudani near Nagano and the park for Japanese Macaques or Snow Monkeys. A place I would rather skip but I fully understand it has to be part of the program when visiting Japan with a large group of keen photographers. It’s not the snow monkeys’ fault of course….they live there. It’s them other primates on two legs who annoy the crap out of me. My visit to the monkeys can be described as a walk through the city of Amsterdam on Kings Day. Not my cup of tea but I managed to capture some images I do like. Spending 10 minutes around the pool was enough for me and I killed most of the time observing people doing stupid things and I’m sure most of these people have no idea how close the were to get bitten in the face. I’ve seen some pretty dangerous selfie attempts but the reason no one was hurt is the fact these monkeys are full blood Japanese which means they do their best to make your stay as pleasant as possible no matter how rude or ignorant you are. A few nice moments with the four-legged monkeys were recorded with my Nikon and I would like to share some of them with you…

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You were reading it right… law eggs

One morning in one of the hotels one of our guests was having an egg from the bowl not alarmed by that piece of paper in Japanese gobbledygook saying these eggs are uncooked. Don’t need to explain what happened at the table. The next morning the same bowl had a second piece of paper warning us in a more recognisable language but still amusing.

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Even the monkeys were having trouble digesting these raw eggs and tried their best to keep it down..

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Next part of the trip was the island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the second largest, northernmost and least developed of Japan's four main islands. Its weather is harsh in winter with lots of snowfall, below zero temperatures and frozen seas and of course the beautiful Japanese cranes or red-crowned cranes. Red-crowned cranes almost became fashion victims at the beginning of the 20th century. They were hunted to the brink of extinction in Japan so that their stunning plumage could be used to adorn hats and other fashion accessories. Hunting these cranes is now illegal and a huge conservation effort was undertaken and thankfully the cranes have reached a high sustainable level with around a thousand birds.

These magnificent birds were on top of my list and I was not disappointed. Although the crane centre was busy and crowded with people at times it was still very enjoyable to be around these big and gracious birds. The dance of the cranes and the noise they make won’t be forgotten. At the crane centre there was a small café run by two older and very friendly ladies. The rice and curry they were making will be as memorable as the cranes.

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Young cranes were very amusing to watch. Their playful and shameless behaviour while dancing and playing with snow were a joy for the eye and mind. A clumsy dance was set off by the tiniest things like a falling snow flake or a twig on the ground.

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Cranes were not the slightest alarmed by the red fox who was visiting the cranes looking for scraps. The reason the cranes were not alarmed is the fact that they are well capable of defending themselves against these relative small mammals.

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They did look a bit upset though when the eagles came and tried to steal the fish from them. This was the moment I was waiting for. I’ve seen some great images of cranes fighting white-tailed eagles on the internet but there are just a few of them and most have been taken by Japanese photographers who spend enormous amounts of time at the crane centre every year. No high hopes but I would give it my best.. It’s hard to describe the joy when I looked at the images on the back of my screen. I nailed some decent action shots which I’m very happy with. The Nikon D4 has a great autofocus system and turned out a great help freezing the action in perfect sharpness.

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What a place…full of wonderful species and both suspected and unexpected action. Even a black kite flying over in falling snow was a joy to watch.

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A couple of days with the cranes was a great and memorable time and even at times when I was just watching without taking any shots.

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Next destination of our trip was Rausu. Rausu is primarily a fishing town and located on the east end of Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula. Rausu lies in close proximity of Russia and potential fishing-rights disputes are their main problems as one third of the residents are supported by the fishing industry.

We had booked four trips with a local fisherman who also runs a great hotel where we were staying. The sea ice had just returned to the harbour after been blown out to sea by the strong winds. We couldn’t have planned it better and we turned out to be the first this year who were lucky enough to go out to sea and get us some eagle action on the drift ice.

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Both white-tailed eagle and stellers’ sea eagle were lured in by the daily supply of fish thrown overboard by the fishermen. Two amazing birds flying in, resting on the ice and often so close I couldn’t take the shot cause they were too tight in the frame. An amazing experience as I love eagles and they didn’t disappoint us. Many gigs filled the cards in our camera and everyone stepped of the boat with a big smile.

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The last part of the trip was looking for whooper swans. We visited some good places and had some nice snowy conditions. Although these swans have been done by so many photographers it was still a great part of this holiday. Often seen in the UK from October till March but not as close in these numbers and beautiful winter conditions.

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Beautiful destination, great food, friendly people and a great group of photographers from the UK and Belgium. Two wonderful Americans joined us too and some new friendships have been made.

Let me thank all of you who came on this trip and I hope Danny-san and I have been part of your experience. I had such a great time and hope to see all of you in the near future on one of our many holiday destinations. An extra thank you to Harumi, our Japanese assistant and Mori our driver.

またね

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Ten days in the Alaskan wilderness has been an amazing experience. Before I went I was talking about grizzlies but I learned a lot during my visit at the south coast of Alaska.

More than 32,000 brown bears call Alaska home. Even though there are technically two subspecies in North America (the grizzly and the Kodiak), all brown bears in Alaska are genetically identical. The difference between Coastal and Grizzly Bears is geographical and diet. As their name suggests, Alaskan coastal brown bears live along the coast where the living is easier and the climate is better. They enjoy a greater amount of animal protein, mainly in the form of fish in their diet and hence get larger. The grizzly has to work harder for it’s food and are more aggressive.

Although the coastal brown bears have learned to live close to people it doesn’t mean they are less aggressive than the grizzly, they are just less shy. Our guide Dave told us a lot about these bears and Dave was our extra set of eyes and ears. He watched our back when we were focused and looking through the viewfinder.

Sixty miles of coast are the habitat of the coastal brown bears in the area we were based. At this time of year they need as much fat they can get and one of the best source for that is the Silver Salmon and clams. A whole salmon provides no less then 4.000 calories and a single male has been seen eating no less then 50 salmon on one day.  This is an exception and occurs only in areas where they are very easy to catch.  Along the coast it’s definitely not easy.  We’ve only seen a bear catching a salmon twice.  They were really struggling and even looked desperate at times.  Winter is coming and they need to prepare. The mother can’t keep all for herself because the cubs have to make it through the winter as well so it’s a constant search for anything eatable.

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At low tide they start their search for clams and salmon. The mother seems to know exactly when to look for salmon and when to dig for clams.  Salmon are not easy to catch, even in shallow water. The mother often sat on the bank looking for any movement in the water and ran at full speed trying to catch a fish and often standing up to have a better look.


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After catching a fish she often kept it for herself. The cubs were loudly begging for the freshly caught fish but the mother warned them aggressively not to come any closer when she was eating. She knows full well winter is coming and she needs every calorie to stay alive. She also needs the food to provide the cubs with milk, which contains 25% fat.  I witnessed a cub stealing half a salmon and it ran like hell. It’s all about survival and making it through the harsh winter.


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Clams are also a good source of protein and much easier to catch. The adults developed a good technic and know they have to dig fast because the clams dig deep and fast into the sand when they sense any movement.  The cubs were still learning and watched their mother closely.


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Bears are preparing themselves for the winter and look for anything eatable. We even witnessed a mother bear breaking in a summer cabin.  The owner closed it up for the winter and didn’t think a box containing pancake mix would cause any problems.  He was wrong. The bears broke through the door and didn’t clean their mess afterwards. They left a real mess looking for more food.  Bears can smell food from a distance no less then six miles. The owner will not make this mistake again.


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Although a bear’s life can be brutal the cubs find time to relax and play. They are very curious and want to touch, taste and smell everything.


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Being this close to a wild and powerful animal like the brown bear is an adventure I will never forget. I’ve seen fights to the death on television and am well aware of what they can do. They can run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour, climb trees, swim and knock out Mike Tyson when he was in his prime. Disrespect a bear and you will pay the price big time!


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The rules are simple.  Don’t approach them, let them approach you.  Don’t sneak up on them but let them know you are around. And most important try not to take the salmon like John West did in that commercial.
Being close to them is a privilege and the best time I had was while taking portrait shots. I can’t deny I felt adrenaline rushing through my veins when a fully grown bear walks up to you within the focus distance of my 500 mill.

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I enjoyed every second of this trip. The food was outstanding and flying in and out with a bush plane flown by an 18 year old was interesting.  It was my pleasure to co-lead this trip and I’m hoping to do it again in 2016. When I have whet your appetite with this blog and you want to experience this yourself, please have a look at our WEBSITE for more information.

I want to thank the lodge staff, guide Dave, teddy bear Dan and all the guests for a great trip.  I will hopefully see you again in the near future.


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To be out in the field every day under sometimes challenging conditions can be hard. Our camera and lenses need to be up to these challenges and therefore we invest thousands to buy the best camera gear out there. Working in temperatures well below -20C shouldn’t be a problem for modern cameras and batteries.

Besides camera and lenses we also need to take care of ourselves.  Working outside all day isn’t very pleasant when you’re cold. You can’t concentrate on your subject and it makes me grumpy to say the least. Therefore I like to invest in good clothing that is up to the job and I was very pleased to hear UF PRO wanted to support me on my next trip to Yellowstone National Park.

UNI&FORMA was founded in 1997 with the vision to make high performance garment systems for demanding professionals. Under the brand name UF PRO, the garments are today worn by various military and law enforcement special forces, where they are appreciated for its excellent wear comfort, quality and reliability.

UF PRO provided me the Delta Zero T jacket and the Delta OL over trousers.

The Delta Zero T  is the all-round jacket for extreme cold and rainy weather conditions and that’s all I need in a jacket when going out in cold weather conditions. When traveling we already take a heavy camera bag and tripod so I was very pleased when I noticed this jacket was very light in weight. Most insulated winter jackets are heavy and bulky but that doesn’t apply to the UF PRO Delta jacket.

In Yellowstone the temperature can easily drop to minus 35C but I was convinced the G-Loft lining and double layer Gore-Tex laminate would keep me warm.

When I arrived the temperature was around minus 4C and the jacket felt really comfortable. We had some snow fall on the first day and the snow was sliding off my jacket. All the zippers are finished with a water and windproof lining. The jacket kept me cool but not cold. Even after walking through deep snow I didn’t sweat at all and I normally sweat really quickly. On one of the first days I came across a hunting bobcat. It sat motionless for over three hours waiting for prey and I was standing still all the time in half a metre of snow. Still I didn’t feel the cold and I felt really comfortable. There was a slight breeze and the temperature dropped to around minus 8C. The hood protected me against the wind and I could still look round 180 degrees without my view being blocked by the hood. Everything about this jacket is well thought through.

On my last morning in Yellowstone the temperature had dropped to minus 30C. Proper conditions to give this jacket a final test and it didn’t disappoint me. Even at minus 30C this jacket kept me cool without being cold. The double Gore-Tex laminate protected me against the snow and wind. The inner pockets are large enough to hold the extra batteries and keep them warm and charged. The outer chest pockets kept my memory cards at hand and also protected against the elements.

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The Delta OL over trousers are also very light in weight. I wanted to give these trousers a thorough test so I decided to only wear thin summer trousers underneath to see how these trousers would protect me against the cold, and test the flexibility when walking and kneeling in the deep snow. The Delta 2.0 trousers are equipped with the same G-LOFT lining and WINDSTOPPER outer material. Ergonomic construction with UF PRO FlexZone in the knee and back areas provide excellent mobility when kneeling or sitting.

A little hook is easily attached to the boots and prevent the trousers from riding up when kneeling. Like the jacket, these trousers are also equipped with water repellent zippers. The detachable suspenders prevent the trousers from sliding down and are easily adjusted with the use of Velcro.

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My verdict is that both the jacket and trousers will protect against temperatures as low as minus 30C. I never felt cold or uncomfortable and without any doubt I can recommend both to everyone who’s working in extreme conditions. Both jacket and trousers are of uncompromising quality at a fair price. You can visit their website for more information and also to order directly.

Click HERE to visit the UF PRO website and please contact me if you have any questions regarding this field test.

Edwin Kats

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A long wish has come true. For many years I wanted to visit Yellowstone in winter and this winter it was my turn to co-lead the trip with Danny Green. It didn’t disappoint me as I was blown away by its beauty and it felt I could easily spend a whole month exploring this place. Another great trip with Natures Images.

This ten day trip has given me a pretty good impression of how the real wilderness should look like. True…we drive on man-made roads, drive in man-made vehicles and sleep in man-made hotels but nonetheless it’s easy to forget these things when you stand next to a river or on a snowy hill looking into the distance. The herds of bison, the lone wolf and coyote seem to do the same. They seem to look straight through you and now and then they make eye contact for just a second to tell you, you shouldn’t be there.

Yellowstone national Park is the oldest national park in the world and was established in 1872 -an idea that spread worldwide.

During the flight to Bozeman Airport I was thinking of all the animals I was hoping to see and photograph. Of course the wolf and coyote but also the bison covered in snow and frost.

The bison turned out bigger than I thought. Really impressive animal which seems to deal with the cold very well. But they do struggle.. they feed on everything growing on the ground but they have to move the snow first and what they eat has the nutrition of cardboard. It just takes away the hunger feeling I guess. The energy that keeps them going comes mainly from their fat supplies.  I bet they look forward to the spring….

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Another animal who struggle’s in winter is the Elk or Wapiti. Bigger than our red deer but closely related to each other. They even imported wapiti to the Netherlands to breed with our red deer. Although its genetically possible it turned out unsuccessful.

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During the winter the big horn sheep eats woody plants, such as willow, sage and rabbit brush. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were between 1.5 million to two million bighorn sheep in North America. Today, there are less than 70,000.

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Sometimes labelled as carnivores but more often as omnivores, coyotes are opportunistic, versatile feeders and behave like the red fox. They are smaller than the wolf but certainly not less impressive up close. We had some great moments with the coyote and spotted them every single day. The close encounter we had at the beginning of the trip was simply magical. Making eye contact looking through the viewfinder was memorable.

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A species I did not expect was the Bobcat. Very hard to see because of their camouflage and size. They are smaller than the European Lynx and sit still for a very long time when hunting for wildfowl or birds. We were very lucky to get some pictures.

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Another lucky moment for the group was seeing this wolf feeding on a fresh kill. This elk was being consumed in a day or two by wolf, coyote, bald eagle and raven. Seeing a wild wolf from a close distance was impressive and memorable.

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8 days driving around in Yellowstone park produced some great and unexpected images. Not only for me but for the whole group. The snow coach drivers John and Dave turned out very patient and professional. Us nature photographers can be very demanding at times and John and Dave seem to know that very well. They were great drivers and spotters. How they spotted that porcupine in that tree while driving will always be a mystery to me.  Let me thank all the participants, John and Dave and of course all the animals in Yellowstone who have given us the opportunity to capture the beauty of winter.

If you want to join Natures Images to Yellowstone next year or the year after, please have a look at our WEBSITE

Edwin

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I’ve seen my fair share of places in Europe and beyond, but one place seems to have it all…Iceland.

I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer…far from it.  In fact, before my recent trip to Iceland, I’ve never ever taken a serious landscape image in my life. I have never been inspired to take one but Iceland has changed this. On our way along the coast heading east, we stopped at a stunning glacial lagoon. The ice was floating slowly towards the sea and, for the first time, I was triggered to get out my wide angle lens and my filter set, which I have had for many years but never made the effort to give them a go. It was both the stunning site and the wish to show people at home what I’d just witnessed. The result was not bad at all and I was looking forward to do some more landscape photography. Although not as exciting as shooting wildlife, it has been a great experience to work with these stunning landscapes and dramatic skies.

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Along the glacial lagoon a lot of snow buntings were flying around and I managed to get a shot of a male and his reflection.

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Divers have been on my wish list for a long time. I’ve seen them many times in the past but never had the chance to spend some time with them. I knew Iceland would be the place to finally spend some proper time with these birds and I have not been disappointed.

Both the great-northern diver and the red-throated diver were spotted many times and after a short but thorough recce, we knew where to photograph them. The best way is to take your time and return to these sites a couple of times to get the best out of it. These birds have been the highlight of this trip and I’m very pleased with the images I’ve taken: what stunning birds and so graceful.

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A bird that I only have seen as a winter visitor is the redwing. They were seen all over the island and are as common on Iceland as the blackbird in Holland. Nonetheless…it’s a beautiful bird in its summer plumage and a joy to photograph, especially on a beautiful perch or lichen covered rock.

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The red-necked phalarope was another personal target of mine. I have seen them in Norway but like the divers I’ve never had the chance to do them properly. Spending time with these tiny and brave birds was a delight. Their behaviour made me smile many times and it’s amazing that they are spending such a long time at sea before heading inland to breed. It turned out not so easy to get some decent shots as they are very energetic and are always chasing insect in an unpredictable pattern.

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Harlequin Ducks prefer turbulent water, both in their breeding habitat, which is along fast-moving mountain streams, and in their wintering habitat, which is along rocky coastlines. The mountain streams are usually at low to subalpine elevations within a closed forest canopy, and have midstream gravel bars or rocks for roosting.

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The slavonian grebe was another stunning bird to photograph. They also breed on Iceland and their call is one to remember. As like the red-necked phalaropes, the slavonian grebe is not shy at all and relatively easy to photograph.

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When visiting a large waterfall we came across this ptarmigan sitting on a rock with a fast streaming river in the background. Using a long shutter speed I was able to blur the river in the background.

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The puffin also breeds in great numbers on Iceland. This puffin was resting on a rock and yawned every now and then. With his beak wide open it gave this sweet clownish looking bird some more attitude. It’s always fun to spend time with them.

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Iceland turned out an absolute personal highlight. The stunning landscapes, many bird species and fast changing weather makes this country a true paradise for serious nature photographers and bird watchers. Natures Images is well aware of this and knows how to make the most of it in a relative short time. In twelve days we have taken our guests to the best places in the best possible light. We have been returning to hotspots several times to make the most out of it. We have been soaking wet lying down in the water. We have been well fed in the finest restaurants. We have laughed until it hurts. We have driven over two thousand kilometres to take the group to the most productive places and listened to beautiful and rubbish music on the radio. The next trip to Iceland will be in 2015 and I can highly recommend this trip if you’re crazy about birds and don’t care about getting enough sleep.

Let me thank everyone on this trip for their great company and effort. A special thanks to Mark Sisson and Danny Green for…well you know why.  You both turned out real friends and you have my eternal gratitude.

Sjáumst aftur!!!

 

Edwin

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There’s a saying “There’s no such thing as cold, only bad clothing” I agree to a certain amount but even the best clothes will not keep you warm when standing still for a long time in -30C at night. Waiting for the Northern Light is a static thing and the cold will creep up from your feet. My black parka and camera turned completely white with frost and for a moment I thought I was using a Canon, which scared the daylight out of me for a moment. All jokes aside, the Aurora was a magical experience. 25 seconds exposure worked well and we found a good spot down the road and on the frozen lake below. The sky was crystal clear and I can’t say I’ve ever seen so many stars in Europe before.

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During the day we had a really good time with some of the most beautiful arctic bird species like Pine Grosbeak, Arctic Redpoll, Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit. Finding a nice perch turned out to be quite challenging. The birds were there but I had to find a nice perch to turn a beautiful bird into a beautiful picture of a bird. I ended up using some pine branches and a reindeer’s antler. Although a Siberian Jay was coming to the feeding station, it really proved difficult to get as it was so fast and never really stood still long enough for me to get an image. On the last day, one hour before driving back to the airport, I finally got the shot.

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Our trip also took us to Northern Norway. The arctic conditions made our journey a difficult one. Blizzards and complete white outs complicated our drive up north. But it’s all part of being high up inside the Arctic Circle and it completed our adventure. After a good night sleep we arrived in the harbour at first light to shoot eider ducks from a floating hide. I have been shooting eider ducks in the past but King Eider and Steller’s Eider were on my ‘to do list’ for quite some time. The Steller's Eider is the smallest and fastest flying of the eiders. We came across a small flock in the harbour where they spend the winter. The reflections of the harbour buildings made a perfect backdrop for this lovely duck. Although they kept their distance from the floating hide, I got some really nice stuff.

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The King Eider winters in arctic and subarctic marine areas, most notably in the Bering Sea and migrates to the Arctic tundra to breed in June and July. The male is such a stunning bird and sometimes they came within 10 feet of the hide.

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Also the Long-tailed Duck came very close to the hide at times and my first meeting with this bird became a memorable one. The same goes for their call!

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Another small Harbour in the Barent Sea was great for Kittiwakes, which had returned for the start of the breeding season. They make their nest on the outside of an old wooden building and return to this spot every year.

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Another memorable trip has ended and again my love for the arctic region is stronger than ever. Not long now for my next trip to Iceland and I will report here as soon as I’m back home.

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Welcome to my new blog and I hope you enjoy the content and that you are coming back soon to check for updates.

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I’ve just returned from Poland to capture the wonderful sea eagle in all its glory. Together with Rene Visser we drove more than a thousand kilometres to our destination in central Poland. Our host and local guide was Marcin Nawrocki. He has been feeding the eagles for a couple of years now and although I’ve seen eagles before, I have never seen so many birds at one place. One day we counted no less than 24 eagles feeding in front of our hide and two weeks earlier there were no less than 34!! We had an amazing time in and outside the hide. Our accommodation was perfect and the food was excellent. We were hoping for snow and although we got some, it was not for long unfortunately. But….I managed to get some decent stuff within the 10 minutes of snow we had all week.

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The eagles we saw were mainly youngsters and sub-adults but the all looked perfectly healthy and Marcin is only feeding them from October till March. During spring and summer the eagles feed along the river not far from the hides. For this trip I rented a Nikon 400/2.8 lens and it served me well. What a cracking lens this is. Very fast and sharp. The extra stop of light over my 500 lens was very useful and even at f/2.8 I managed to get both birds in perfect focus. I always shoot wide open to get the fastest shutter speed I can and at the same time a nice shallow depth of field to get the background out of focus.

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We had two lens holes available but after trying both on the first day it seemed the lowest lens hole was perfect and the eye level point of view gave us a nice setting and background. Just my neck was a little bit sore but hey……

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Off to Norway and Finland in a few days with Nature’s Images and I hope you will return to read a new blog post and to check out the images. See you all soon!!!