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Having spent some extended periods in Scotland I have had the pleasure of watching both Black-throated and Red-throated divers close up on many occasions. I have had licenses to photograph Red-throated, enjoying long sessions in a hide with a pair and their young coming close enough for a 300mm lens. Black-throated are so rare that licenses are not freely issued and I have never had one. However, they do appear the more approachable of the two species and I have got close to them on none breeding lochs simply by sitting still on the shoreline.
They are two of our most attractive birds. Not only are they good looking, but their mysterious, wailing calls coming from a misty loch creates a wonderful image that is the very essence of Scotland. They are very elegant, sitting low in the water with their legs a long way back down the body making them streamlined swimmers on the surface and skilful divers under the water, but quite hopeless when hauled onto the land, where they can only flop forward a few inches from the lakes edge.
For a tour group to get pictures of divers in their breeding plumage it is easier to photograph abroad where they are more common and licenses unnecessary. Finland, with its thousands of fish rich lakes, is an obvious place to go and in July 2012 Focus4nature arranged a trip there with the aim of photographing both divers and a wonderful Osprey nest as a bonus.
The Osprey site was quite spectacular. A tall tower hide in the middle of a remote marsh gave the perfect view into the nest containing three large youngsters. The hide is about 5 meters high and large enough to hold 4 photographers and surprisingly close to the nest. A 300mm lens is all that would be needed to fill the frame.
I do not have a great head for heights, but inside the hide it was very stable. The ladder that needs climbing to reach the hide is a bit wobbly and I found this more difficult, especially with a large camera bag on my back. I find it best not to think about what you are doing and just get on and climb. This works for me and once inside the door I was very relaxed.
The 20 minute walk across the marsh to the hide was hard going and needs rubber wellington boots as it gets very boggy. From time to time each of us sunk into the mire and had to be pulled out by our guide, sometimes leaving the boots behind, stuck firm in the mud. The insects feast on you during this hard walk, but once inside the hide I was pleased to find no mosquitoes present. Probably because it is too breezy up there.
Within 3 minutes of being left in the hide by our guide the female Osprey was back on the nest tending to her young. The male would sit on nearby trees in-between fishing trips, sometimes within range of our cameras. The female would sometimes fly off, but return quickly with talons full of moss to keep the nest fresh, while the male would come in with either a new fish or large stick to add to the nest. Continually building the nest during the whole breeding cycle is common with birds of prey.
The birds were not nervous of the hide and right from the start we could photograph at 10 frames per second following the birds with our lenses as they approached. We had several sessions in the hide and would love to do more in different weather condition and perhaps at the earlier stages of nesting. The backgrounds, position and height of the hide could not be better and it was very well made and comfortable.
The Black-throated divers also worked well. It is amazing how a bird that is so rare and protected in the U.K. fits in so well with the human population in Finland. Almost every lake has wooden, colourful houses built around its shores and the Black-throated divers seem to like to nest very close to the buildings, one being just 10 meters from a wooden outhouse. Perhaps the divers feel there is safety in being close to humans who keep predators away from their nests. This is the case with other bird species too.
It means the birds are used to people and we had two wonderful sessions with Black-throated divers where they came very close to us while we simply sat quietly on the banks with no hides. In fact at times they were too close to be able to focus.
We were not successful with the Red-throated divers. Normally these are photographed from three wooden hides placed on the small pools where they breed. The hides are permanently there, but nobody visits them until the eggs are hatched. This year they were 3 weeks late in hatching and we were unable to enter the hides.
A bonus on the trip was to photograph a very obliging Three-toed woodpecker at a low nest. It was easy to do and took no notice of 4 photographers standing in the open shooting away with noisy cameras. A species I had not seen before let alone photographed.
It was a short trip with only 5 days photography, but well worth it. We will be repeating the tour in 2013 and hopefully the Red-throated divers will have hatched this time. 

Grippa Beanbag