The rarest snake in Norway

Here in Sørlandet (southernmost part of Norway) we have some reptiles and amphibians that are not found further north. One of these is the Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) (Norwegian “slettsnok”). It likes to bask in the sun and prefers rock crevises where it can hide, like man-made stone walls. It is not poisonous and can easily be held in your hands. It is not aggressive, but can bite. The bite rarely penetrates your skin, at least in mid-sized animals. It feels like being touched by the stiff side of Velcro. The snake is athletic. The skin is smooth and nice to handle. It feeds on other reptiles like slowworm, mice and insects. Unfortunately, the snake is often killed by people as they think it is poisonous. All reptiles and amphibians are protected by law in Norway.

The Smooth snake basking in the sun near Kristiansand, Norway.

The Smooth snake in close-up. It has a brown stripe through the eye, and brown spots on the back and sides. The pupil is circular.

Snow and skiing

2018.01.19: A heavy snowfall on Monday (with traffic jam) transformed the woods into a scenic adventure. The wet snow cling to the trees, and more snow hung on. This made trees bend and some broke off. Trees fell on the electricity cables and caused short circuit. This led to a stop in electricity supply for many families in Sørlandet. However, the snowfall made a wonderful sight for everyone who enjoyed skiing on these days.

The Bergstøl ski track on 2018-01-19

The Bergstøl ski track, creek to Straisvann

Bossbu tourist cabin

Autumn came with lots of rain, but the weather forecast for the weekend September 16.-17. 2017 looked good. I had never been visiting the tourist cabin Bossbu, located in Vestheiene, Setesdal. The cabin is run by DNT (The Norwegian Tourist Association) and is normally open for hikers.  It got a major overhaul in 2015. September is reindeer hunting season in the area. Because of this, organized groups of tourists are not welcome to the cabin but others are. My wife and I decided to start from Berg in Setesdal, which implies a 15 km walk on trail. From the parking lot the trail goes trough a valley with moderate increase in altitude up to the cabin Stavskar. Then steeper up through  the Stavskar pass, before the path goes down towards the flat plain and lake were Bossbu can be found.

Lemmings are everywhere

Approaching Bossbu, lemmings started to show up around us. They are easy to spot with their brown and black color pattern. They also make sounds and run fast, sometimes in panic. As I put my foot down a lemming ran under the sole of my solid mountain footwear. Probably it thought the gap was a safe shelter on the path. It was not possible to prevent a quick death of the lemming. The day after, on our return, the same thing happened to my wife. Lemmings are apparently not popular among predators since they give a bad taste when eaten. In some years the lemming population grows to incredible numbers.

Reindeer are hunted

The reindeer herds in Setesdal belong to the southernmost population of wild reindeer in Norway. There is a long-standing tradition of reindeer hunting in this area. We observed two animals running towards hunters on our way to the cabin. The next day we observed a large herd only 200 m away from us. At the cabin we met the hunters. They had butchered the animals and now parts of the slaughter were tied up on the wall of the cabin to dry. The weight of the meat gets so heavy that some hunters require helicopter transport to get the meat down from the roadless area. Some people dislike this form of hunting, but since wolves are not present here, hunting is a way of regulating the reindeer population growth. At the same time, resources are harvested that are natural to the area. Reindeer have been found in Norwegian mountains since the last ice-age.

 

Reindeer meat ready to be transported from Bossbu by helicopter.

Bossbu was crowded

Because of the reindeer hunters and also the many hiking tourists present, Bossbu was crowded. There was barely enough matresses for us to sleep on the floor. However, we slept well and were ready for the retun trip on Sunday. During the night I had set up the camera for a trough-the-night timelapse. I use a drill battery as a power source for the camera, enough to do the several hundred exposures necessary for the timelapse. I used an exposure time of 25 seconds on the interval timer, and mounted the 14 mm Samyang wide-angle lens. The interval was set to 35 seconds. That was enough to ensure that the image files were stored to the memory card. I set the camera on a tripod weighted with a rock to ensure stability. A raincoat served to protect the camera. Because of my error the ISO was set to 800, while it should have been set to 3200. Luckily, because of the raw expose together with exposure adjustment in post, it was still possible to get a good timelapse from the scene.

Bossbu cabin and Botnsvatnet.

Bossbu at night – one image from the time lapse series.

Visit to Helfjellet

19. June 2017: Our summer vacation has started. We have arrived in Sunndalen and are living in the same house at  Musgjerd as the previous two years . Yesterday we had a nice trip to Gammelsetra, Lindalen. A bunch of people from the tourist association were already there, looking after the cabin. Lindalen waterfall was impressive as high temperatures had speeded up snow melt. Today we hiked to a mountain I have never been to before. Quite a short trip (3 h), but with an impressive view from the top of Helfjellet. This mountain is special because of it’s location where five valleys meet: Lindalen, Skirådalen, Reppdalen, Grøvudalen, and Grødalen. That is why the view is so great. The streams passing through the valleys all meet at Åmotan, which is located just beneath Helfjellet. Sometimes reindeer can be seen at Helfjellet, Not today, but we saw red grouse trying to lead us away from the chickens. The red admiral, a migrating butterfly, could be seen close to the top cairn, at 1197 m above sea level.

Visit to Helfjellet on June 19, 2017. View towards Grødalen. My wife Cissy and my daughter Ellen enjoy arriving at the top.

A view from Helfjellet toward Grøvudalen and Geitådalen.

 

Samyang 14 mm, f/2.8, is not robust against knocks

I have enjoyed my Samyang lens for about a year now. Some months ago I accidentally lost my photo backpack from my shoulder to the floor at home. The Samyang lens was in the bag. The padding was not so thick between the floor and the lens, but there was a carpet. I did not pay attention to the episode and forgot about it. In December I was hiking at Ljosland (700 m) and photographed my tent and the sky at night. After arriving home I noticed that the photos were unsharp. I didn’t remember the camerabag episode and assumed that there was dew on the lens front element. Then, last night, I was off to photograph the night sky. Before going out I discovered that my lens was unsharp at infinite distance. However, when I focused down to about 0.7 m the image was sharp. I could also feel that the distance ring on the lens was harder to turn. Suddenly I remembered the camerabag episode and understood the reason for the unsharpness.

Returning from the photo trip I examined the photos and could conclude that they were sharp at infinite distance with the lens set at 0.7 m. I am happy with this after all, but I will advice all owners of this lens to be careful with it. Possibly the internal lens elements are so heavy and/or so weakly attached that it will take little force to knock them out of position.

Winter camping can be rough in Norway

Winter camping can be rough in Norway. Ljosland in December. This image is unsharp.

Test of night sky photography with damaged lens.

Test of night sky photography with damaged lens. However, the image is sharp since I have set the distance to 0.7 m.

 

Summit of Snota mountain

The author in front of the top cairn of Snota

The author in front of the top cairn of Snota

Due to bad weather forecast we changed our plans of hiking Jotunheimen to Trollheimen for this autumn vacation. In the heart of Trollheimen you can find the iconic mountain of Snota. I had a longtime wish of hiking to the summit (1669 m) and finally it could possibly be realized. For an old-timer like me it could well be my last chance. The trip was estimated to take eight hours, although this estimate is probably more relevant for young people. The weather was cloudy with occational sunshine but a strong wind required windproof gear. My wife wanted to follow. We left from Trollheimshytta lodge at nine in the morning. There is a walk of 6 km before the foot of the mountain is reached. Then there is a height difference of about 800 m to the top. At about 1000 m above sea level where most of the vegetation gives up my wife wanted to return. She told me to go ahead. There is no climbing involved so everyone can do it if they are in reasonably good shape. My hiking poles helps a lot to save work load on the legs. Close to the top I met three other hikers, one of them, a nice guy called Per Trygge Mundal was already familiar to me from the lodge. He offered to wait for me and walk together on the retour for safety reasons. I declined and said it was not necessary. I reached the summit at 15:30 but the wind was strong and suggested a short brake. After taking some photos in front of the top cairn I started on the retour. I had my last piece of chokolad and realized that I had brought too little food for the long way back to the lodge. About 300 m lower I hit the three other hikers. They had been waiting for me. We joined and continued the descent. I soon ran out of energy but Per kindly offered me peanuts and elk sausage from his voluminous backpack. We were still walking when the daylight slowly faded. Per then produced two flashlights, one for him and one for me. It would have been impossible to follow the path without the flashlights. At the lodge my wife was getting seriously nervous about me not returning before dark. She was about to organize a rescue search for Per and me when we finally hit the lodge at 09:30 pm. Everybody celebrated that it came to a happy end, although my legs were not behaving normally for quite a few hours after the trip.

The southern wall of Snota is very steep

The southern wall of Snota is very steep

Red admiral

One of the most beautiful butterflies in Norway is the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Often it can be seen in late summer visiting flowers for a sip of nectar. My butterfly-bush (Buddleja davidii) which was planted in May gave flowers already in August, and as hoped butterflies were eager to visit it. Among the visitors were the Red Admiral. There were also others, like the Small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae. The Red Admiral is the best looking, in particular when it is in good shape with no wear of the wings. Also the underside is nice. The Red Admiral is not an inhabitant of Norway. It is an immigrant coming from southern latitudes every summer.

 

This beautiful butterfly was visiting my butterfly-bush on the last days of August.

This beautiful butterfly was visiting my butterfly-bush on the last days of August.

Aurland valley trek

June is a nice month for discovering wild flowers, but it can be too early for hiking in the mountains because of snow cover. However, the lower part of Aurlandsdalen valley is not at high altitude, and June is a fine month to hike there. The number of tourists is still low compared to July and August. The hike is wonderful for photographers and there are new motifs showing up around every corner. For those who love dramatic scenery this is the right place. Noteworthy is also the fact that people have lived until recently at the farm at Sinjarheim. A few cows and sheep were enough to keep the residents alive and probably also happy. Sinjarheim is at an altitude of 600 meters with only a narrow footpath from sea level and a 5 km walk to reach it.

I used my 14 mm Samyang lens for all photos, and it proved to be the correct choice of lens. Even if the valley is narrow there is the need to get a wide view of the landscape. The hike down the valley from Østerbø tourist lodge (18 km) is recommended but be aware that you need hiking boots and you should be in a reasonably good physical condition.

This "jettegryte" is formed by sand and gravel grinding the rock through many years.

This “jettegryte” is formed by sand and gravel grinding the rock through many years.

Humans get small in this mighty landscape near Bridlebrui.

Humans get small in this mighty landscape near Bridlebrui.

Its hard not to get wet on the path near Sinjarheim.

Its hard not to get wet on the path near Sinjarheim.

Water is coming down from everywhere.

Water is coming down from everywhere.

Spring pasqueflower

Me and my wife were driving across the Dovre mountain plateau along the E6 road on June 14th as I suddenly realized that it might not be too late for the sight of flowering spring pasqueflower (Anemone vernalis, Norwegian: mogop). The spring was cold this year and the snow would not melt in the alpine areas of Norway. I remembered a location for the “mogop” from back in the 1980’s that was very close to the road. We stopped the car and went looking for it. Normally the best time to see it flowering would be end of May. But sure enough, there it was, and in even larger numbers than I could remember from the visit almost thirty years ago. What a pleasure to see it again.

The spring pasqueflower in all its wonder. The Dovre area is normally a low precipitation area, which are the conditions this flower likes.

The spring pasqueflower in all its wonder. The Dovre area is normally a low precipitation area, which are the conditions this flower likes.

This spring pasqueflower has still not unfolded its petals.

This spring pasqueflower has still not unfolded its petals.

Moths

I have an interest for photographing insects, among them butterflies. To increase chances for having butterflies visit my back yard I went to a flower shop to get a herb called butterfly-bush (Buddleja davidii). While driving home with the bush safely placed in the back seat of my car I noticed a large insect on my left arm. I almost lost the control of driving trying to get a closer look at the insect. By now I had confirmed that it was a butterfly, probably a moth (thanks God not a spider!). After arriving home I placed the butterfly on a stump in my back yard for photography. Moth are easy to photograph in the daytime since it is natural behaviour for them to sit quietly waiting for dusk. I left it there and went on to identify the creature by the photographs. After some search I identified it as Phlogophora meticulosa (angle shades, Norwegian: Taggvingefly). It is a strongly migratory species, and since this happened in May it is likely that the moth had migrated northwards. So the purchase of the butterfly-bush gave results already the first day, and long before blooming.

Angel shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) accidentally sitting on a baby butterfly-bush, but here replaced to a stump.

Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) accidentally sitting on a baby butterfly-bush, but here relocated to a stump.

The angel shades sitting on a stump in my back yard

The angle shades sitting on a stump in my back yard, sideways view