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Great grey owls in Finland

Years ago, when I was camping alone in a big forest in Sweden to photograph black grouses, some deep whooo’s woke me up in the middle of the night. I had never seen great grey owls in the wild before, but knowing there was one not far from my tent made me shiver. These are the moments in nature you never forget. I happily fell back asleep and tried to find the owl in the morning, but without any success. It would take me until last week to finally see this bird, when I travelled to northern Finland. I had heard there were a lot of sightings of great grey owls flying out of the forests and hunting on the open fields.

A beautiful massacre

The news had been out for weeks, even in the local newspapers. But I couldn’t leave so soon because I had some other trips planned. Still, this was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. My friend Ben joined me, and with little expectations, we travelled to Rovaniemi, where our guide would help us to find the birds. There were a lot of owl sightings all over Finland and Sweden. But we went up north, hoping for more snow to make some stunning ‘nordic’ pictures. Individual owl behaviour can differ a lot. Some fly away at a big distance, and some take no notice of you at all. Really, just ignoring you. Amazing! The populations of voles in the fields were very good. So we got to witness quite a massacre, caused by the hungry and skillful owls!

Always in good spirits

The weather had changed quite dramatically over the past week, and after a warm and even rainy time, it started to cool down again. Temperatures dropped well below -20°C in the morning, which was quite a change from the temperatures I experienced the week before in Portugal. The cold changed the behaviour of the owls, so we had to find out where and how they were hunting now. But our Finnature guide was of great help. So wonderful to have motivated people like Antti around to keep up the spirit. Especially when it’s -20°C and the snow is more than one meter deep. We even learned to pronounce Lapinpöllö correctly, the Finnish word for great grey owl. What a language!

This was a good time to test my Nikon D4 on the AF-speed and resolution. Ben was carrying his just new D4 with him. Combined with our D3s, D3x and D300s we discovered the benefits of our new camera after several thousands of shots of the owls. Coming home and editing pictures was never more fun with such a high ‘keepers’ rate. But does make it more difficult to select. If you can get your hands on one, go for it!

All pictures are taken within four days in the Ounasjoki Valley close to Rovaniemi. I made them with Nikon D4, D3x, D3s, D300s combined with 600mm F4 VR, 70-200mm VRII, 200-400mm VRI. We used converters 1.4x and 2x. This was only possible with the great help of Antti. So thank you so much, Antti!


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