SITTING NEXT TO A RUSHING SALMON RIVER WATCHING HARLEQUINS SHOOTING THE RAPIDS is one of my favourite wildlife experiences. We had such a great time in 2017 on the Laxá (‘Salmon River’) in Iceland’s Lake Myvatn region that I was looking forward to returning this summer. However, things are rarely as good a second time sadly. Although we enjoyed some stupendous close views again the chironomid flies after which the nearby lake was named were out in force making photographing quite arduous, even with a head net. Without it the experience of the non-biting although mega irritating flies is like having someone poke you in the face, ears or mouth every second or two. Expect to eat a few of them by accident as they fly into your mouth kamikaze style. Not painfull but very distracting, there can be clouds of several hundred of them around your head within minutes. The weather before my 2017 visit was very cold and they had not really got going but the weather recently had been unusually warm and the sodding flies were bad. Ah well, plenty of bird food I guess, looking on the bright side. Much worse was the sheer number of anglers all along the river at my favourite spots, which caused the Harlequins to move off elsewhere. I am going to need to find a quiet spot away from them when it return in 2020. Consequently my images were not as dramatic as in 2017 but I managed to get the lovely marigold flowers into backgrounds this time. Fortunately this was a birding rather than a photography tour so no one minded but next time with Wild Images this project is going to need some more effort. I also heard some disturbing news that Harlequins are declining in Iceland and no one knows why yet. My original Laxá Harlequins post can be seen here and you can see the details of my next Wild Images Iceland tour here.
Viewing entries tagged
Picture a landscape of a rushing torrent, lined with marigolds, cascading through lush green marshes and heathland dotted with lovely wildflowers. Dark volcano cones loom and snow-covered mountains stretch into the distance under a suffocating blanket of leaden skies. This is Iceland, the domain of the Harlequin Duck. Just as attractive as the landscape, which it inhabits, this hardy little duck could well be the prettiest of all, depending on your favourite colour. Blue maybe? Finished with striking ivory white spots and stripes, as well as deep chestnut flanks and head markings drake Harlequins are masterpieces of natural design. My friend Gary (Rocket) Jenkins’s photos from the Laxá (‘Salmon River’) published in Birding World were the best that many of us had seen at the time and later, in 2013, I travelled to northeast Iceland myself and saw how the birds fitted into the landscape. Since then I’ve had an image in my mind’s eye that I wanted to capture and earlier this month I returned with a Wild Images group to try to do just that. We had hoped for some interesting light at the time of our visit to the Lake Myvatn area. After a stormy couple of days the weather was due to clear and maybe there might even be a little sunshine. That’s it! Mixed cloud and sunshine is just what we wanted.
I don’t use automatic exposure settings and in fast changing light conditions like this it is hard work to keep up, constantly metering from the vegetation on the banks of the river. However, it is absolutely necessary to get close to the correctly exposing the dark blue plumage of the ducks against the foaming river (automatic settings never get it quite right unless the subject is massive in the frame). Once you’ve set a shutter speed sufficient to freeze the action, all you need to do is to concentrate on focusing on the birds, which is another challenge, as they disappear momentarily behind standing waves in the white-water of the river or paddle frantically, opening their wings and half flying through the rapids. With plenty of time to spend close to the water’s edge (don’t fall in by the way!) we enjoyed a steady stream of birds coming and going and some superb action in the water. I think we got pretty close to what we wanted. This appeared to be a great time to catch the drakes. When the females have settled down to nest but the drakes have not yet disappeared downstream towards the coast. A week later and they were all but gone.
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