In the last post, I told you the tale of my visit to Dévaványa, in south-eastern Hungary. I mentioned the Greast bustards and the imperial eagles, but there's one thing I left out.
As the sun set, I heard a call I used to be familiar with, one not unlike that of a yelping dog: a Little owl (Athene noctua)!
When I still lived with my parents in France, we often heard them, and sometimes saw them perched on the neighbour's house. They've always shunned the nesting box we installed in the garden, but they were there. It's not a species we have in Finland, though, so hearing them again that day was a treat.
If you've followed me for a while, you know there's a bird in Hungary I'm absolutely passionate about: the Great bustard (Otis tarda). This great "chicken", the heaviest flying bird in Europe, is a threatened species, but it's also an icon of the Hungarian Great Plains and is the subject of a preservation plan.
As I do for all my projects, I did some background research on the topic, and discovered something very interesting: in the south-eastern part of the country, there is a captive rearing program that collects eggs at risk, hatches them and releases the chicks into the wild.
Intrigued, I scheduled a trip there in August with my friend Marci.
In May, I led my second (and probably last) floating hide photography workshop in Korgalzhyn, in the steppe of nothern Kazakhstan. If you're a regular reader, you've seen a few pictures already, but here is a fluffier gallery. Compared to last year, I spent more time in the water, and less time in the grasslands... and in hindsight, I wish I had done things a little differently. But in any case, through the fun and the hardships, I came back home with an exciting portfolio that showcases several aspects of life in the steppe.
Here we go!
One and a half hour from Helsinki lies one of the largest and best preserved bogs of Southern Finland: Torronsuo. Protected by the eponymous national park, it is crossed by a boardwalk that let's you discover it up close. I visited it with my girlfriend Vivien and a friend on Midsummer evening. It was gorgeous day with a bit of a breeze, which meant the open areas were completely free of mosquitoes. The forest though... yeah, we didn't spend much time there!
Sometimes, there's disturbance in the atmosphere between you and your subject: air is moving and, as a result, your images are not tack sharp... and there is nothing you can do about it!
I visited Suomenlinna several times in the beginning of June. Among the geese and the wheatears, one bird I didn't expect to shoot was the Common eider (Somateria mollissima). Sure, I've seen the species from there, but never close to shore. These times, however, I was lucky to get close and personal with a group of mothers collectively caring for their babies in what's called a crèche (from the French word for kindergarten). Baby eiders immediately leave the nest after hatching, and while some mothers care for them on their own, they often either abandon their brood in a crèche, or join it and care for them and others with other eider moms.
White-throated dippers (Cinclus cinclus) are common winter visitors to southern Finland. Many of the rapids in the region host a dipper (or more) for the season, usually attracting viewers and photographers: this species is a crowd favourite! I can totally understand that, seeing them plunge into cold water without breaking a sweat is a mesmerising spectacle for me too.
I have a secret spot, out of the city, which not many visit. I was there on a sunny February morning last winter. For a few hours, I sat in the snow and moved my toes inside my boots, but having two dippers chasing each other in front of me was well worth enduring such cold conditions. I hid under winter camouflage so the birds couldn't spot me, and it worked like a charm: they sometimes came very close!
I regularly travel to Hungary because Vivien, my girlfriend, comes from there. Fortunately, her parents live near Kiskunság National Park, where the largest population of Great bustards (Otis tarda) of the country can be found. Needless to say, those endangered big chickens have become quite an obsession of mine!
In October, I had some fantastic days in the field which I want to tell you about. Ladies and gentlemen, follow the guide :D
One of the key questions for conservationists is: how do we trigger action that’s bigger than us? There are only a few people who can afford to do conservation full-time or even half-time, whether that’s as professionals or as volunteers. How, then, can we save species with so little manpower?
Bigger action can take several shapes: it can, for instance, be a protest that attracts people who normally don’t join conservation action. It can also be larger numbers of volunteers joining restoration events. It can be political action, with members of the parliament pushing new nature protection laws, or city agents implementing rewilding programs that have been asked for for a long time. In this context, I think the story of Pirkko the Trout is enlightening.
My main project this year saw me follow conservationists and researchers along the streams of Helsinki, as they looked for endangered Brown trouts (Salmo trutta) and restored their habitat.
Trouts are born in rivers in spring. The babies (the “fries”) are tiny and have many predators, including older trouts, but if they survive, they will grow in the river for a few years. At some point, there won’t be enough space and food for everyone, and the largest and most aggressive ones will hold the most bountiful spots. The others will migrate to the sea (or to a lake, but in Helsinki the streams end directly in the Baltic Sea), and come back in autumn to lay their eggs in gravel beds. Unlike some species of salmons, Brown trouts don’t die after spawning. They go back downstream, and return the next year.
That’s of course how it happens in an ideal world. Nowadays, Finnish rivers are too warm, they carry too much sediment, they have been dug (so they look more like straight ditches than meandering brooks)… and there are way too many dams that prevent fish movement. In the face of all this, dedicated people are fighting to free rivers and bring back the fish.