We were lucky enough to first visit the beautiful landscape of central Norway back in 2007 and since then have returned many times. Our initial invitation was to see a number of locations, but particularly to focus on the chance to see and photograph wild Eagles. Memorably we were not disappointed and over the coming 3 or 4 years, we have had some amazing encounters with these illusive creatures.
Typically, a trip to see the Norwegian Eagles would begin with meeting our host, Ole Martin Dahle at the airport, followed by a scenic drive north from Trondheim passing rugged coastline, sleepy fjords and forested hillsides. After around 3 hours we would arrive at our destination, the small village of Lauvsnes. Very comfortable accommodation is provided by Ole Martin’s guest house, sat above the harbour, with great views across to the hills and water beyond.
There is something very special about this part of the world as autumn begins to turn to winter and colder temperatures invite snow and ice into the landscape. Of course, the wild countryside is beautiful in all seasons, but the shorter days and low light just adds a magical feeling of the raw majesty of nature. This time of year is also perfect for Eagles, as it provides a chance to see, both Golden Eagles from hides as well as the majestic White Tailed Sea Eagles fishing out on the fjords.
A trip will normally start with a relaxed chat with Ole over hot tea and coffee at the guest house, to plan which subjects we should target on what days. In fine weather it is more likely we would plan to head out in Ole’s boat and try and photograph the White Tailed Eagles, fishing in the complex maze of fjords and islands in the surrounding area. However, if the immediate weather is less favourable, Golden Eagles would be a usual choice.
Kongeørn, as Golden Eagles are called in Norway, are notoriously shy and timid, and it takes a huge amount of care and patience to create a hide that is simply good enough to predictably attract these iconic raptors. Ole Martin usually has several options, all set out perfectly for photography. Lighting direction, backgrounds and angles are all thought through and Ole will take great care in positioning natural carrion bait to attract the birds.
Photographing the Golden Eagles, largely follows the same pattern. In order to enter the hides in such a way as to not disturb them. An early start is required to be in the hides well before dawn. The short walk in induces a sense of anticipation of what might follow and as your head torch picks out small pieces of the snowy landscape, it is easy to imagine the Eagles watching from their hidden, wild roosts. Once in the hides it is just a question of carefully positioning your camera and then getting comfortable. In the colder months, the hides usually have a small heater running to lift the temperature and it is easy to stay warm with a cosy sleeping bag wrapped over your legs and body.
It is then, of course, just a matter of staying quiet and patiently waiting. With hot coffee from a flask and a supply of snacks, the time passes easily, as you watch from the small hide windows as the light grows from the east and begins to illuminate the scene before you. Hooded crows, Magpies and Ravens might well visit the bait before the eagles, so there are still fascinating things to watch, although you might need to be careful in not moving your camera prematurely. With a little luck and stoicism, the moment then comes when you notice other birds become quieter and then your eye catches a different movement. By comparison to other visitors the Golden Eagles are huge, and you are instantly aware of their steely, magnetic presence.
Cautiously at first, they approach the food set out for them and the job of the photographers in the hide is to hold their nerve and wait for the birds to become relaxed and start feeding. This might take a few minutes or an hour, but it is crucial the Eagles feel no risk or threat around them. Once settled however, it is the possible to carefully position cameras and begin to tentatively shoot the pictures you had been hoping for. As the golden light moves across the sky, morning drifts into afternoon and after eating their fill the Eagles will move away. It is time to leave the hides and return to the warmth of the guest house and review the pictures from the day.
If the weather is better and winds are calm, we can change tack and think about capturing dramatic images of White Tailed Eagles fishing. Again, these days start early as we want to be out on the water to make the most of the early morning sun. Ole knows the local Sea Eagles intimately and will have a good idea of the best places to visit. The objective of course, is to attract these amazing birds down by providing fish for them to eat. The fjords are beautiful and there are chances to shoot the Eagles against a variety of backgrounds. Amazingly the White Tails seem to know the boat and often are in the air and following as soon as we arrive. With great skill, Ole positions the boat, considering wind direction for the Eagles and light for the photographers, and then throw a fish into the water at the perfect distance. With a little good fortune most trips out will have a good number of ‘Eagle dives’ to give multiple chances for great pictures.
Even with a busy schedule of Golden Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, we would normally find a little time to explore the amazing local landscape. Quiet forests, majestic hills and deep shaded fjords all make for super images. There might even be an opportunity to try and shoot images of other native bird species from one of the hides to broaden out the portfolio from the trip.
The one problem we always find with a visit to Norway, is it just isn’t long enough and leaving always induces a feeling we should return soon. The landscapes and abundance of extraordinary Eagles make for an unforgettable trip. This part of Norway truly is the ‘realm of the Eagles’.