Monday, May 31, 2010

Shy seals and naïve little auks

Traveling by dog sledge can be very comfortable. With some practice you can stand while driving (like when putting on camouflage for seal hunting). It may look slow but when you get off to help the dogs you realize how fast they are really going and you get your pulse up from keeping pace (off course you take some of their burden - but that is the whole point). Yesterday I came back from a sledge trip to Kap Höegh a place where little auks gather in massive numbers to breed. On the way there we had some great weather while going over a glacier. The route used to go along the coast but in recent years the ice edge has advanced and the open water now goes all the way to land by Kap Tobin and north making sledging difficult if not impossible. After going down the glacier, we encountered seals enjoying the sun on the sea ice. Marius was eager to hunt the first one but I insisted to try for a photos using the shooting sledge. It did not work quite as anticipated. In the deep snow the seals make a kind of a hollow - making them partly invisible from the low angle of the sledge. Fully dressed in white, I did get a few shoots but the distance was bigger than I had hoped for before the seal slipped into its hole. I will try later in the National Park where the seals may be less wary if the ice conditions allows. The next seal was shot by Marius. We had not thought of making space for it on the sledge so I ended up sitting right on top of it. It was later consumed by the dogs while we had minced musk ox with rice.
At Kap Höegh local hunters told us that the little auks had not seriously arrived yet, but during our first night they certainly did. I was woken up by gun shot on the mountain and the thousands of birds made a lot of noise themselves - especially when shot at or in other ways disturbed by gulls, ravens or people. I went up the mountain three times during our full day there - all the time hoping for improvements in the weather which was still rather foggy - and took a lot of photos. After doing a lot of tele stuff, I wanted a close perspective using a wide angle. This would have to be an unmanned setup but since I did not bring a long remote cord or a radio trigger, I used the interval timer. At first the birds where somewhat skeptical of the big black camera, so at the second setup I camouflaged it with my khaki cap and left for exploring the top of the mountain. This worked so well that I had a hard time finding the camera and tripod again! Image wise I did not get quite what I imagined - more time needed as always. A german nature film maker Uwe Anders and his assistant Mathias will spend 2 weeks there - I wish I could do the same. Oh well I cannot complain, I am shortly going for roughly 4 months in the National Park, and I am confident there will be many great photo opportunities besides the great work with the monitoring. It is just about using "f/8 and be there"!