Since 2003 I have been photographing the same female Gyrfalcon on her territory in northern Iceland. She started breeding there a year earlier and since Gyrfalcons start breeding between 2-4 years old she is now at least 12 years of age. Every winter, when I return to the north to photograph falcons, I wonder if she’s still there. And to my delight last winter she was still holding her territory with her mate, which she’s been partnered with since 2006. I first paid them a visit in February and returned in early April. By that time the female had stopped hunting and was mostly roosting close to the chosen nest site, but she has used six different nests the years she’s been breeding. There was a lot of snow when I arrived, which gave me hope for nice white backgrounds and I put a hide in place.
Luck was not with me this time around and the day after I erected the hide the weather changed, it became warm and the snow started melting at an alarming rate. The wind also picked up the day I started sitting in the hide. The first day was an easy 8 hours but the following one I sat there for about 10 hours. It’s difficult and boring when absolutely nothing is happening and the birds are out of reach. On the third day the female Gyr finally sat down where I was hoping she would sit but the wind had become so strong that I had to hold the hide with my hands. Had I not been in there it would have collapsed. But the extreme wind also created a unique situation. The small tent was flapping as I struggled to hold it up, which made the falcon curious and she hovered above me a couple of times and then just barely touched the ground with raised wings. It was a wonderful moment and I managed to capture a few images.
As the wind picked up even more and it started raining sideways I gave up and left the area only to return in June. Although breeding success was low for Gyrfalcons this season, due to cold and wet weather and lack of prey (Ptarmigan numbers are down), the pair of falcons I photographed in April raised three chicks. I am now just about to travel north once more to photograph their chicks, which should have fledged by now but should be around the nest. This will probably be my last excursion to the north for a book I’m making about the Gyrfalcons. It’s difficult to stop though and I’ll hopefully be photographing falcons for years to come.