tisdag 22 maj 2012

Bird picture of the week / Ukens fuglebilde

Now when the summer has returned to Northern Norway (even though it has been snowing for most of the last week..), a large number of different birds have arrived to their breeding grounds here in the north, and many are still on their way.

During the summer I will therefore start posting a picture each week of the bird-life of the area, with focus on characteristic species of the season.

First out in the series is the Red Knot / Polarsnipe / Kustsnäppa, (Calidris canutus). These beautiful medium-sized waders started to arrive in Northern Norway last week, and can now be seen in huge flocks along our coasts.

Each year, they stop in Northern Norway before continuing their migration to the breeding grounds in the high Arctic.

söndag 20 maj 2012

Solar Eclipse Tonight / Solformørkelse i natt

Tonight, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun, creating a Solar Eclipse. The eclipse is best seen in a band on the Pacific side of the Earth, where a so-called annular eclipse can be seen. During an annular eclipse, the Moon and the Sun are exactly in line (just like during a total solar eclipse) but the apparent size of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun, leaving a "ring of fire" around it, while during a total Solar Eclipse, the entire disc of the Sun is covered by the Moon.

For details on where from our planet the annular eclipse can be seen, I recommend a visit to the NASA Eclipse web-page: Annular Solar Eclipse of 20 May 2012

Here in Norway, the eclipse will be much less impressive and may be rather difficult to see, but from the northern parts of the country it should be possible to catch a glimpse of the eclipse. Since the eclipse will happen just after midnight here in Norway, the northern parts of the country, which now have midnight sun, are favoured.

As seen from Norway, only a tiny fraction of the Sun will be covered by the Moon , but if you have a clear view of the northern horison it should be possible to see the eclipse from around ca 01:20 - 02:20 local time in the morning of 21 May. The solar eclipse of tonight is the second midnight-sun solar eclipse possible to see from Norway within one year, the last one happened on 01 June 2011 (picture below).

The Midnight Sun Eclipse of 01 June 2011 as seen from Tromsø, Norway
The solar disc is covered by the Moon (top) while the Sun was setting
behind a mountain that covers part of the solar disk (bottom).

For detailed information about when and how the solar eclipse can be viewed from various places in the country and instructions on how to best view the eclipse, see the following web-page: Detailed information on how to view the Solar Eclipse from Norway

REMEMBER NEVER EVER too look directly at the Sun as it can cause permanent eye damage. Sun glasses, smoked glass, CD-plates or similar IS NOT ENOUGH. ONLY filters specially designed for the purpose should be used. In Norway, proper glasses for watching the eclipse can be ordered here: http://www.astroevents.no/briller.html

Below is a picture of the Sun with it`s many Sun-spots taken with a DSLR and Baader solar safety filter on 15 May 2012.

The Sun, 15 May 2012. Nikon D3, AF-S Nikkor 70-200 mm with Baader solar filter.
Note the many and large sun-spots that are covering the solar disk.


Even if the solar eclipse won`t be so dramiatic as seen from Norway this time, it is a very good idea to get hold of some solar-eclipse glasses now to be ready for the next big event that will take place on 06 June 2012 - the transit of Venus, which can be seen very well from Norway and is an historical event that won`t happen again anywhere on Earth in our life-time. I will post detailed information on the transit of Venus later in good time for the event, but I already now urge you to read more of the event here:

Norwegian readers: Venus passasjen 6 juni 2012. A very good overview of the event has been published by Jan-Erik Ovalsen and can be ordered here: Venuspassasjen 2012 informasjonshefte

International readers: http://transitofvenus.nl/wp/ or http://old.transitofvenus.org/index.htm

måndag 14 maj 2012

Otter / Oter

After having tried several times to get close to an otter (Lutra lutra) with my camera, I have discovered that they are true experts at disappearing, even though you have your eyes on them and know where they are.

Most of my photos of otters have, therefore, been taken either at long distances, or have turned out to be unsharp and blurry in the brief meetings along the slippery tidal zones where they are most frequently encountered here in Northern Norway.

Last week I discovered an otter feeding on a fish far out on a rocky outcrop, and after waiting until it had finished the lunch and went out to sea again, I decided to hide in a place where I thought it likely that the otter would either pass by close or get up to land. Not daring to look up too often, I took the risk of loosing eye-contact with the otter, and so, it suddenly came up very close.

Even though I managed to hide in the right place this time, it is clear, after looking at the photos afterwards, that I have to try to do the same thing again with better light and a nicer background, but it was a nice encounter with a wonderful animal.

tisdag 8 maj 2012

Snow Buntings and Snow Huntings

One of the nicest signs-of-spring here in Tromsø in Northern Norway is when the large flocks of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) arrive. To me, they always make me think of some kind of large black-and-white butterflies when they fly around, and their beautiful and rather mournful song stir up many memories from when I lived on Svalbard up in the north. In short, it`s one of my favourite birds.

Snow Bunting - male

After having spent the winter in Russia and adjacent areas, the Snow Buntings migrate north-east in the spring and stop here in Northern Norway before they continue on their long journey to the breeding areas in Eastern Greenland. The coasts of Northern Norway is the last chance for them to refill their body-reserves before undertaking the long flight across the Atlantic, and many of them double their weight before they continue their journey.

Snow Buntings coming in for landing on a grassland patch

The first Snow Buntings usually arrive here in the end of March, but the large flocks arrive somewhat later in April and mix with the local breeding birds. In some years, they pass by the area almost unnoticed, mostly high up in the mountains, but in years with heavy snow-fall in the spring (like this year), they may be seen foraging in large flocks along the coasts and mud-flats and even in the middle of Tromsø city center.

Early in spring, the flocks are dominated by males. The females usually arrive a bit later.

This year, the snow is still falling even though it`s soon mid-May. Other birds, with similar migration patterns and breeding habitats, have also turned up in the large flocks now, and during the last couple of days Lapland Buntings (Calcarius lapponicus) have arrived within the Snow Bunting flocks. During a weekend trip, I spent some time with the birds with my camera in the rather chilly summer weather of Troms.

Two Snow Buntings together with a Lapland Bunting

Two males fighting on top of the snow. The background has been burned out.

The arrival of the Snow Buntings attracts various birds of prey that don`t say no to a well-fed bird. While photographing a flock in the snowfall this Sunday, one of the most formidable hunter of small birds, the Sparrow Hawk (Accipiter nisus), suddenly appeared in the middle of the flock and grabbed a snow bunting for lunch.

With relatively strong winds from the East, it is probably just a matter of days before the majority of them leave now, but soon another nice spring-migrant, the Red Knot (Calidris canutus), is here again, replacing the black and white flocks with flocks of red...