Polar parrots of the Aynov Islands. Expedition to the extreme north of Russia.
The time has come to tell you about the expedition to the Ainu Islands or the Ainu Islands. For me and the team of Zoography, this was the first such experience of traveling in Russia. Prior to this, we organized photo expeditions to a greater extent abroad: in Africa, Asia, northern Europe, including the Arctic, and even in Australia and New Zealand. And finally, we did it in our native country.
How was the plan of this expedition born and why exactly the Ainu Islands?
It's all about them:
My love for this little bird - the Atlantic dead end led us to these incredibly beautiful arctic places in the Barents Sea. Before that, I had been photographing dead ends in Iceland and Norway for several years. Of course, I knew that they were in Russia, but it seemed to me a non-trivial task to remove them in the "home" conditions. In Norway and Iceland I reached the dead ends by car on a beautiful and smooth road, in Russia it turned into a really exciting adventure!
Aynovs or Aynovskiy Islands is the territory of the Kandalaksha nature reserve. We contacted their management, told about themselves and about the desire to visit the islands. The management of the reserve was pleased with our desire and immediately supported the idea, proposing to join their expedition, but the dates suggested by the reserve did not suit us, so we set about preparing our own. The main thing is that the reserve immediately gave us passes to the islands and allowed us to use their house, which later on ..
In addition to passes to the reserve, we had to get permission from the border service of the FSB of Russia. I wasn’t filmed anywhere, in which only countries and corners of our planet, but nowhere, even in the border areas, was it necessary to receive any additional pieces of paper. The fact is that near the border with a NATO member country, and this is not a joke! In addition, in these regions, which is not a town, then a military base with nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons ... Anyway, it was necessary to get permission. Fortunately, the FSB did not put any obstacles at all and we were given the necessary papers without any difficulties.Registration took exactly three weeks - day to day, as it is written in the rules of visiting the border areas.
Papers received. Let's hit the road!
From Moscow, we needed to get first to Kandalaksha, on the White Sea, 250 km south of Murmansk, in order to pick up passes in the office of the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve. Then through Murmansk to the border town of Liinakhamari, from where there is access to the sea, and then by boat to the Ainov Islands.
Nothing happened with the plane from Moscow, since Aeroflot refused to let us carry out the most valuable thing - photo equipment - in hand luggage. Even in super strong PELICAN cases, I did not dare to pass in my luggage. In the end, we took the train tickets. That in the end turned out to be a good decision, because on the way to Murmansk the train made a stop in Kandalaksha and we did not have to wind up extra circles on the Kola Peninsula. Although, as it turned out, this is not so tiring, since the roads along which we happened to drive there turned out to be very good! From Kandalaksha to Murmansk and further to the Norwegian border, the route is simply magnificent.
On the way from Kandalaksha to Liinakhamari, we stopped in Murmansk to see the city, buy the missing equipment and products, and chat with friends.Early in the morning of the next day we were in Liinakhamari, where the owner of the only diving center for 10,000 rubles. agreed to arrange our delivery to the islands and back.
Most of all I was worried about the sea part of our journey. The weather in the Barents Sea changes very often, storms are common here, but we were lucky - although it was raining, the sea was more or less calm. From the mainland to the islands go about an hour. The boat is small, but chatted lightly. Looking ahead, I will say that on the way back we were not only lucky with the weather, but also we met killer whales.
Of the two islands of the archipelago - Small Ain and Big Ain we chose Bolshoi, where, in fact, the only colony of the Atlantic dead end nests in Russia.
We came to the Big Ain Island at low tide and we did not manage to drag the boat onto the rocky shore, which to some extent complicated the landing process. But if there are no difficulties, then the adventure is not so bright.
Life on the island:
The Ainu Islands are uninhabited, but there are several buildings on the Bolshoi. First is the lighthouse. He, as expected, stands on the highest point of the island.
Secondly, it is a wooden house in which scientists of the Kandalaksha nature reserve once lived.And thirdly, this is a bathhouse in which, as you probably already guessed, the scientists of the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve washed themselves.
Also on the beach are hacks, of which all the same scientists of the Kandalaksha nature reserve were watching very shy birds.
But all this is already in the distant past. Today, all these buildings are in disrepair, and some even collapsed.
The house where we spent several nights is a classic wooden blockhouse. Once it was made so well that for almost 15 years it has continued to stand on its own - without warmth and care. The roof, of course, subsided and began to leak, two brick ovens became useless, the steps were rotten, but the log house itself was still in perfect order. And if you wish, you can quickly put everything in order.
More about the house on the Big Ainov Island a bit later ...
Before landing on the island, no one knew the condition of the house, so we had a tent with us, but in the end we decided that we would sleep in the house, or rather in its only dry corner. Since both stoves in the house turned out to be unsuitable for cooking, the camping gas stove was very useful. And we were heated with hot tea and sleeping bags at minus 5 ° C.The air temperature kept around 7-9 degrees both day and night, but we must understand that in June there is a polar day, which means the sun shone brightly through the window of our house all night. And if it were not for the constant strong wind, the air could probably warm up to a comfortable 20 degrees ...
The landscape is hilly, but the hills are low. The coast is mostly flat and stony, the highest part is in the west, where there are most birds.
There are no high cliffs. The vegetation on the islands is rather scarce, but one should not forget that this is a tundra. Nevertheless, the island is covered with a green cap with many different colors. Most of the island is marshy. I am sure that at the end of July-August it is full of berries. Despite the fact that the island can be bypassed in a couple of hours, there are five fresh lakes on it, from which water can be drunk. Sea water at the island is very clear. I used to think that the water in the Barents Sea, as well as in other seas of the Arctic Ocean basin, is slightly salty, but it turned out that I was somewhat mistaken. In the Kola Peninsula, the water is very salty. The thing is that the Gulf Stream brings salt water here from the Atlantic. But to the north, closer to the pole, the water is really less salty.
The first day we went around the island along the coast to understand where and what birds nest.Most of all on the island, of course, sea gulls. Their beautiful spotted chicks were everywhere. It is good that we were thoroughly prepared for the expedition and knew about the aggressiveness of gulls, which can easily cause serious damage to your head. Literally one awkward movement in the direction of chicks or nests, as menacing sea birds with a large yellow beak rush at you. To protect against gulls, it is good to wear a hard hat or a long stick, so that it sticks out above your head. As a photographer, I used a monopod for protection from birds. We survived about five attacks, but it ended well for us and for the seagulls. No harm done.
In addition to large sea gulls on the island there are many crested cormorants. This is a terribly shy bird, which, having only noticed us on the horizon, immediately rushed into the sea, leaving its chicks to the mercy of fate. In this sense, they are not at all like gulls. Cormorants chicks, until they are covered with down, look like chicken legs!
There were still many ducks. I'm not sure, but apparently they are exactly the same as our ordinary ducks. True, the chicks are more fluffy, and the ducks themselves are fatter.
Somewhere in the grass the geese constantly quacked.But it was possible to see them only in flight, and quite far from us. Over the swamp in the center of the lake, supposedly skuas floated, which, by the way, also attacked us when we tried to cut off the path from the house to the western shore.
Of all the big birds, this is probably all.
Well, what are the dead ends?
We found dead ends only on the west bank. As I understood, there used to be several colonies on the island, but now there is only one, and not very big one. It is significantly less than, say, in Iceland or the one that I photographed on the island of Runne in the area of Alesund in Norway. It is difficult for me to estimate the quantity, since it is unclear who is in the sky and who is in the nests, but at some point several hundred deadlocks were circling over us. The spectacle, I want to tell you, is exciting when a whole swarm of birds with bright orange beaks is circling overhead. Sometimes it seemed that the penguins still fly or maybe a pack of parrots got off the course and flew over the Arctic Circle!
The first thing that caught my eye was that our dead ends are much more fearful than their relatives from Iceland and Norway. The only explanation for this that I found is getting used to people.As I wrote above, in Iceland and Norway, dead ends can be easily reached by car. To the place of their nesting organize excursions all year round. There are a lot of tourists there. And the birds could just get used to the man. On the Ainov Islands, dead ends could never see people. People rarely go to the island.
As soon as we approached the dead ends, they immediately took off. It hardly made sense to wait until they returned to the nests, because the dead end is an incredibly hardy bird and can stay in the air for a very long time. And if they need a break, they can do it on the water. But these dead ends just circled over us.
I also noticed one important difference in the behavior of our and Icelandic dead ends: they both nest on similar islands, but in Iceland there were a large number of dead ends on the water, but on the Ain Islands I did not see a single dead end in the water. They are either in the air or on the ground. I also found an explanation for this, but I am not sure that it is true: it’s likely that the one who hunts dead ends and birds know it lives in these places under water ...
So how do you shoot birds if they fly away all the time? The only way to get the frightened dead ends to the nests is to disappear.For such purposes, it is best to use backfits, especially since it was on this bank that one of them stood. But alas, we couldn’t hide in it, since inside it a female nesting cormorant built a nest. We could not evict the unfortunate chicks. Therefore, we had to disguise and sit for hours without moving. As a result, we were rewarded for our efforts. Dead ends began to take us for a part of the landscape and we were able to enjoy plenty of photography and watching them. Everything was especially good on the last evening, when the rain ended, and because of the clouds, the sun seemed to gulf, the western shore of the island was a soft evening light.
Such moments can not be forgotten. The tundra around you, warmed by the warm rays of the summer sun, the salty wind, the sound of the surf, complemented by the cries of thousands of gulls, and funny dead ends that look like a sad clown from childhood, or a flying penguin, or a parrot. And all this is literally at the edge of the Earth ...
It is obvious that the population of the Atlantic deadlock is sharply reduced. I am not a scientist, but even it is still difficult for them to understand the exact cause of this sad process.You can immediately blame everything on global warming, but it is not always to blame. Another reason is marine litter, especially fishing nets. In general, the world because of this, millions of waterfowl are killed every year ...
We made a lot of shots, estimated the size of the colony, recorded our bird observations. I want to believe that the information we collected about the dead ends on the Ainov Islands will help zoologists, although I understand perfectly well that our expedition is just a drop in the ocean. But let it be one drop more.
And many thanks to all the readers and partners who supported our idea!
Special thanks to Kandalaksha Reserve for help and cooperation!
Subscribe to updates to learn more about wildlife ...
You can learn about the Atlantic dead ends by following this link.