NORWAY AND DINTUR
In the first week of February this year I took a trip to Norway, the main purpose of my visit was to photograph birds and top of my list were eagles. Knowing that I simply wouldn’t be able to achieve this on my own I enlisted the help of a company called DinTur.
DinTur is part of the tourist association in Norway and has a remit to attract visitors to the country to enjoy outdoor activities including walking, fishing, skiing and kayaking. A couple of years ago a bird watching specialist, Terje Kolaas, was appointed to work on packages which would attract bird watchers and wildlife photographers.
Terje has created a huge bank of birding information which is provided free to anyone booking their accommodation and car hire through DinTur. The information comes in the form of a folder packed with details about locations, species and times of year and works in conjunction with a Satellite Navigation system in the car.
Creating this system has taken a huge amount of time and DinTur aim to make back the cost of this time by charging a commission to the accommodation providers so it is entirely free to the visitor. By taking a holiday in this way it is possible to avoid the need to go with a tour guide, making a trip cheaper and more flexible, though guides can be employed to lead groups if required.
DinTur has also established a network of photographic hides which have been created by nature photographers across Norway. From their hides in winter it is usually possible to photograph Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Goshawk.
On my trip I took advantage of each of these three systems: self-guide; tour guide and photographic hide, beginning with two days in an eagle hide near Molde on the west coast. Unfortunately due to the very mild weather in Norway during January most of the eagles which would usually come to feed in front of the hide were able to find sufficient food elsewhere. As a result I had just two opportunities to photograph an immature Golden Eagle and both were very early in the morning when it was still quite dark.
On my third day I drove back to Trondheim passing through some of the most stunning scenery imaginable. The steep-sided mountains capped in snow plunge into deep fjords; islands and peninsulas stretch out into the sea and ferries operate to and fro connecting the small towns of colourful timber-clad cabin-style houses. The road system is good, even in winter and though the surface of the roads can be uneven the bridges over fjords and tunnels under mountains are amazing pieces of engineering.
Once back in the area around Trondheimsfjord, where Terje is based, I employed him for a morning to take me to two bird feeding stations in the mountains. Fortunately he had provided me with a small four-wheel drive car as the roads at this altitude were deep in snow making driving an interesting challenge for one usually based in Cornwall.
After showing me the two locations and pointing out the birds that I could try to photograph he left me to my work. What I found surprising was the confiding nature of the birds here. I suppose they lose their fear of humans because of their need to eat continually during the short daylight hours.
At one site there is a small canvas hide useful to photograph the slightly more timid species such as Grey-headed Woodpecker but, having spent two days in a hide I wanted to get some fresh air so I stood outside and watched mesmerised as numerous species past before my eyes.
The commonest species are Bullfinch, Crested Tit and Willow Tit, all of which come to within six yards. I was delighted to watch a Treecreeper climbing awkwardly backwards down a tree to feed on fat whilst a slightly more nimble Scandinavian-race Nuthatch followed the same route but head-first.
Booking my trip with DinTur was to prove invaluable on the next day. Terje has many contacts with local wildlife photographers and he was able to arrange a day for me in an eagle hide in the mountains with photographer Svein Wik. This was to prove a truly memorable day. I had to be out of bed at 3.40am to make the trip to Trondheim airport where I met with Svein and after a further drive of about 40 minutes we took to a snow scooter and headed up into the mountains, arriving at the hide at about 6.30am.
It was cold on a ski-trailer behind the snow scooter but the exhilaration of travelling along narrow tracks between snow-clad trees made it worth getting up early but the day was to get even better. During the day we watched Siberian Jays coming and going from the bait we had put out for the eagles. We also had two visits from an adult Golden Eagle, the second of which occurred just before darkness and coincided with a significant fall of snow creating a wonderfully atmospheric scene.
This would be the defining moment of my trip, literally and metaphorically the high point. Three days spent in hides were to be rewarded with the type of image I had dreamed of whilst planning the trip. My experience does highlight that when working with wildlife, nothing can be ‘guaranteed’.
My final day could have been an anticlimax but it wasn’t. I used the self-guide system to take me to Straumen where Eiders gather on a tidal waterway between two fjords. This winter there were approximately 3500 eiders. Some of them are hand tame coming to bread but to watch them diving for urchins and crabs and flying in groups up and down the river was memorable. A sudden change in their behaviour is usually sign of a White-tailed Eagle or an otter, then the Eiders gather closely together kicking up a spray of water around them.
My trip was unforgettable and even though I didn’t manage to photograph White-tailed Eagles I did get plenty of very good images of a wide range of other birds. I came home tired but content and, of course, I want to go back again next winter. I am also keen to go to Norway in spring when a completely different set of birds can be found and photographed. When I do return I won’t hesitate to book my accommodation through DinTur so that I can make use of their information and guidance, I can’t actually see why anyone wouldn’t.
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
The most useful lenses are a 500mm and a zoom in the range 100 to 300mm, the faster the lenses the better as the light is often low. In the hides it is useful to have cameras with both full frame and cropped sensors so that they can both be used on the same lens(es). A good tip for getting the right exposure in snow is to meter from the snow and then increase the exposure by two stops, keep reviewing the histogram to check exposure detail. The hides that I visited are equipped with a heater and a toilet to allow full day accommodation; photographers must enter before daylight and leave after sunset; they also have bolts to which tripod heads can be attached so there is no need to take tripod legs to the hides.
My trip was in the winter but during spring and summer DinTur have photographic hides for other species including Ruff, Pygmy Owl and Capercaillie, Black Grouse and Great Snipe all at lekking sites (see their website for more details and species).
DinTur provide the self-guided bird watching system in many parts of Norway: Lista; Jaeren; Dovrefjell; Pasvik; Trondheimsfjord and Varanger; I spent most of my time in the Trondheimsfjord area.
Accommodation is self-catering and to a high standard, it typically costs about £150 per week per person based on four people sharing and a rental car costs about £400 per week. My flights to Trondheim from Gatwick via Oslo cost just over £200. So the total cost, per person, of a week in Norway is only about £450, including flights, based on four people sharing. Further costs will be incurred if you book a photographic hide or if you wish to be guided by a specialist.
Contact: email@example.com or phone +47 74073000.