During this years vacation on the northwestern coast of Norway – Sunnmøre (Ragnhild is from Volda), we decided to take an evening journey to the island of Runde. The island is located on the far west coast of Møre og Romsdal county, not far from the city of Ulsteinvik (for those flying in, the nearest international airport is Ålesund).
Runde is famous for being the southernmost bird mountain in Norway. More than 80 species nest here during the nesting season, and 230 species have been observed on the island. The Atlantic puffin is the most populous, and what most people think of when they hear about Runde, but there are also large populations of Black-legged kittiwake, Common guillemot, Fulmar, Razorbill, Northern gannet and more.
Apart from Ragnhild and myself, the party consisted of Ragnhilds sister, mother and the family dog. We drove from island to island, crossing bridges and driving through tunnels, until we finally arrived at Runde island. The most convenient parking for bird mountain is near the Gurskøy camping site. Parking is free and there are toilet facilities at the parking lot.
When it rains, it pours…
Before we ventured out on this trip, we diligently checked the Norwegian weather service yr.no. Yr promised very little rain, 0.1mm per hour at most. After having walked for 7 minutes, we felt the first drop. And then another. And another. And eventually it was pouring down. We decided to run back to the car to, hopefully, wait it out. By the time we got back, though, everyone was soaking wet – especially the dog.
While listening to the pouring rain, we once again consulted yr.no. This time by looking at the weather radar, which quite clearly showed the current shower that we were experiencing. Luckily it seemed to last only a short while, something that proved true a few minutes later when the sun reappeared behind the island’s mountain and clear blue skies shone through the clouds.
Hiking at Runde
There are several hiking options at Runde, though the trip to the main bird mountain is obviously the most popular. Heading directly there is approximately 60 minutes walk. We decided to walk around the island, towards the old lighthouse, up to Rundebranden and then to the bird mountain. This decision rewarded us with a remarkable view of the sun, slowly setting on the horizon. The North-western to western part of the island isn’t home to that many birds, so during the first leg of the hike, we only saw a few skua, a bird which are nesting the marshes at the island. One of the remarkable things with an island this exposed to rough weather, is how lush and green it is.
After about 90 minutes of walking, we reached Rundebranden, where we decided to fire up the camping stove. We sat down on the top of a cliff diving straight into the Atlantic Ocean – with no other view due west than that of an amazing sunset. As we were eating, we noticed four large sea eagles. These birds have a wingspan of more than two meters, and at some point they seamed to be eyeing the lamb sausages simmering on the camping stove (or maybe the dog looked tempting?), which made for some concern as they were swooping down towards the cliff edge that we were sat. In hindsight, though, they were probably more interested in the huge swarms of black-legged kittiwake flying just below us.
After having spent some time eating, photographing the eagles and preventing the family dog from falling off the cliff, we crossed over to Lundeura, home to the Atlantic Puffin. The night before, according to some Swedish photographers, the puffins had been very visible in larger numbers and had gotten really close to the observers. However, this night we only saw a few of them, either returning to or leaving their little nesting grounds
When we got back to the car it was nearly midnight. Since the evening was mild and there was hardly any wind, we chose to sit by the ocean with coffee and cinnamon buns before driving back to Volda.
The difficulty of photographing birds
This trip is an absolute treat for anyone looking for spectacular landscapes and interesting birds – all draped in the beautiful light you only find by the coast, in the northern hemisphere, in the summer. Norway isn’t know for its easy to spot, and photograph, wildlife, so birdwatching, and bird-photography is the closest one can get. (Yes, I do wish I can do another African safari in the not to distant future).
Photographing birds are difficult. And for the first time since switching, I felt that my mirrorless Fuji-system with my current lens lineup fell a bit short of the task. I’ve recently purchased the XF55-200 F3.5-4.8 and armed with this and the Fuji X-T1 I attempted to get some shots of the eagles. In the quickly fading light, I had my shutter speed set a bit too low and with these birds reaching 70 km/h, it was difficult getting them in focus and get them sharp while in flight. Looking through the shots, my keeper rate was probably 1:100, so it’s clear I need to sharpen my bird photography skills. Switching the camera to manual and using a high shutter speed (1/200++) and a fairly high ISO (3200+) produced better results, and the introduced noise was not excessive.
In addition to this, I realized that with 200mm (304mm full frame eqv), the birds have to be quite big or very close, preferably both (surprise, surprise). Fuji has a 100-400mm lens, but due to cost and weight, I don’t see myself getting this anytime soon. What I may look into is adapting a 300mm or 400mm prime and using that in addition to the XF55-200. My primary concern is of course the lack of autofocus… If anyone has some experience doing this, please share in them comments.