03 April 2012

Gyrfalcon vs Raven - Hornøya photo workshop, part 2

Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus (Gyr vs Raven photos follows below)

The Hornøya bird hide / wind shelter - a good base camp on windy days in the Arctic

The Hornøya 2012 bird photo workshop is just finished, and it has been a week with lots of good company and fantastic nature experiences! For my part it has been days of travelling back and forth to Vardø to run our architectural office, and making more things happen in Varanger, while at the same time
trying to get as much time as possible on Hornøya. It is a good thing Hornøya is no more then a ten min boat ride from Vardø. It takes me about 20 min to get to "work" - if you can call staying at one of Europes finest bird cliffs work...

The highlight of this workshop has undoubtedly been the spectacular northern lights / Aurora borealis seen from the lighthouse, the 4600 large King Eider raft just south of Vardø and the Gyrfalcon hunting Puffins and Kittiwakes around the bird cliff. We have had everything from snow storm to quiet and sun, and allways with lots of birds in the air - so no lack good photo opportunities.

 Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla

Bird photographers waiting for the right moment

With and abundance of birds and photo opportunities there is no doubt that some birds are more attractive then others. The Gyrfalcon was very high on everyones wishlist. A fast hunter that you will usually see after the action is over. Safety in numbers is the idea of the bird cliff. When the bird cliff ´panics´ then you know there is a bird of prey very close.

 The Gyrfalcon is a super fast hunter not easily photographed.

Ravens are allways looking for a weak bird or an easy snack. A bold and inquisitive bird - perhaps too bold..

Gyrfalcon versus Raven:

The highlight of this years Hornøya adventure was seeing the Gyrfalcon teaching a Raven a lesson! The series that follows below was taken after waiting for a long time, scouting the Gyrfalcons hunting pattern / flight routes. The Gyrfalcon versus Raven scene was over in a few seconds: The Gyr was soaring at the top edge of the bird cliff when a Raven obviously thought it would be safe to bother the falcon for a moment (normal Raven behaviour). Usually birds of prey doesnt bother much, and prefer to drift of without any fuzz, however the young Gyrfalcon surely raised the pulse on this Raven: Without any warning the Gyr started to attack the Raven. I have never before seen a Raven go from its usually calm and sly style to full panic within a few seconds. I guess that is what suddenly having the most powerfull falcon in full attack will do to any bird. The Raven tried to escape by flying faster then I have ever seen a Raven fly before, but only by turning upside down, defending itself with its bill while it dropped to the ground, it managed to escape. What a performance! The Gyrfalcon flew of and probably was not bothered again for a while..

This is where it happened: the top of Hornøya bird cliff: Panophoto towards the neighbouring Reinøya and Vardø town to the left. To the right, the Barents Sea, and the North Pole next. This is spring at its best in Varanger! (The Bird hide is just barely seen to the left). A very fine place to spend a day. Or many.

For the last week I have visited Hornøya several times, with various groups, from bird photographers to architects to business people and local companies - without exeption they are all impressed by this extraordinary place - how can you not be? I am already looking forward to going back. Thankfully it is no more then minutes away. Also the GullFest is coming up very soon - Lets hope the Gyrfalcon will stay around for a while! 

If you are interested in joining next years Hornøya adventures contact workshop organiser Bjarne Riesto (or co-organiser Knut Sverre Horn or myself at tormod@biotope.no). The Hornøya lighthouse is already booked.

Tormod A. / Biotope