Thursday 12 April 2012

Norway & Finland: Landscapes, Skyscapes

Norway and Finland is more than just birds - the landscape is amazing. I'm not saying I'd go there just to look at a few hills and a bit of snow, but it certainly adds to the drama. For starters we saw the Northern Lights, and you can't say that about many places you go to. As you may or may not be aware, I slept through an Aurora show on Shetland last year. I wasn't exactly staying in the party house (cheers guys!) and so was all tucked up by about 9pm, or was it 8.30? Anyway, with all our phones on silent for some quality beauty sleep, we missed a pile of calls and texts informing us of a light-show going on just outside the front door. It wasn't to be repeated for the rest of our stay - gutted. I wanted to put this to rights on this trip, but the forecast wasn't good - various websites track aurora activity, and all of them said minimal to nil.....but with one caveat: the further north you are, the greater chance you have of seeing something even on a poor forecast. And we were pretty far north....

I sent Bradders outside with a two-way radio to check and continued drinking beer. He came back with negative reports, so I sent him out again. This time he radioed back in to say there might be a hint. Huffing, I put down my beer and wandered out into the chilly air - where chilly equals fifteen below. He pointed at a cloud. I stared at a cloud. It stared back. And then, was it my imagination, or did there appear to be a very faint light arc across the sky ending where the cloud did? Whatever it was, it had definitely changed. We decided to go and wake Bradders Sr. up, and take a drive away from the lights of the motel. We drove less than a kilometer and stopped. The clear sky and snowy ground meant it wasn't actually dark at all, more a strange kind of half-light. Gazing northwards, the cloud had disappeared. Hmmmm. Nothing else happened for ten minutes, and then we got a hint of light behind some trees. Faint, but definitely there. And then it began to intensify - we were definitely onto something, but we weren't quite sure what. The arc in the sky appeared again, and then a column of light seemed to drop from one end of it, and move off to the right. Was this the Aurora? Twenty minutes later and there wasn't much doubt - lights shimmering all across the sky. Curtains, waterfalls, pulsating clouds. To our eyes it appeared a milky white, but the camera interpreted it as green, which I suppose is how we all instinctively know it. In the flesh, so to speak, it's a bit different. Tick and run!

We stayed out watching it until our bodies could stand the temperatures no longer
In Finland the landscape is pines and lakes, or in our case, pines and expanses of ice. Around the Norwegian coast it's rockier, and birch and willow scrub are the dominant cover (if there is any!) What was common to both was the snow, and loads of it. It's so cold that the snow is incredibly powdery and light versus what we are used to in Britain, ie wet sludge. This means that if you leave the ploughed road, you're immediately up to your waist, and essentially precluded any meaningful birding away from the car. Instead we took pictures of it - here are a few. Proper landscape photographers would have had a ball.

The hoar frosts in Finland were particularly impressive. This was just outside the Tuulen Tupa motel.

This is a typical Varangerfjord road and landscape.

Mist rising from the fjord.

Nesseby - Norway's most photographed church.


"Heading out"


  1. Really stunning photos!
    I'd rather admire them on your blog because I wouldn't stand the cold!