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Nature photography in the Engadin

Towards the end of the summer holidays I was with the family for 2 weeks in the Engadin. Despite the generally rather low activity of the animals I was able to take some photos, with which I am very satisfied with.

In the first week we rented a holiday flat in Scuol. Situated near the national park, I hoped to meet some animals. But I knew that even in the national park itself it would be rather quiet during these hot summer months. During the first days the memory card remained more or less empty. Only in the night I could take some good pictures of the milky way. But the moon set later and later during the week and the night sky became too bright to take pictures of the milky way. How exactly I take and edit the pictures I will discuss in a separate blog article.

10 x 5s stacked | f/ 2.5 | ISO 12800 | 50mm

10 x 3s stacked | f/ 2.8 | ISO 6400 | 50mm

While the sky was often cloudless at the beginning of the week, it became more and more overcast during the week. Thanks to that, I was able to take pictures even at noon with halfway good light. This allowed me to finally take some pictures of the marmots which could be heard practically everywhere on our hikes from the valley slopes.

In the national park I could only take good pictures of the marmots on the Alp la Schera. At the other places, where marmots could be seenthey were too far away. Outside the national park I could get a little bit closer to the marmots and I could take some good pictures again. One marmot caught my attention. It had crooked teeth and they looked out of the mouth in a funny way.

1/800 | f/ 4 | ISO 250 | 500mm

1/640 | f/ 4 | ISO 180 | 500mm

1/800 | f/ 4 | ISO 320 | 500mm

Besides the marmots I could only take pictures of a crested tit in the first week. Apart from that I could only observe a golden eagle, a doe, some chamois, a few coal and alpine tits as well as red-backed shrikes and crag martins from far away.

1/800 | f/ 4 | ISO 1400 | 500mm

On Thursday strong thunderstorms moved over Switzerland. Unfortunately, the lightning activity around Scuol was only low and so I could only catch 2 lightnings in total. To get the lightnings in the image I set the camera to time lapse mode with the longest possible exposure time. But to make the flashes visible you can only work with long exposure times if it's almost completely dark. Neutral density filters do not help during the day and the lightnings disappear. The photographic success with 2 good photos from 500 shots was quite small. At least deleting the photos was relatively easy for once.

5s | f/ 11 | ISO 64 | 80mm

Landscape photography in general was somewhat a bit more successful than wildlife photography. Beside the thunderstorm I could also take some good photos of the surrounding mountains at sunset. For this we went on Gondola which is running every Friday until half past ten. What a great opportunity for photographers!

1/25 | f/ 9 | ISO 64 | 400mm

In the second week we went to Samedan. Below the airfield there was a wonderful natural area which was built in 1970. On the first day there, the sun was shining and although I was able to photograph some young tufted ducks quite well, I was not so happy with the photos. The sun was still very high in the sky and the light was just too harsh. A cold front in the middle of the week allowed me to photograph the inhabitants of Lake Gravatscha in a better light. The young tufted ducks were still in the same place together with their mother and I was able to photograph them quite easily that day.

Besides the many tufted ducks that inhabited the lake I could also watch some little grebes. One family was relatively close to the shore. The young ones were hiding in the reeds while the parents were delivering fish. However, it was quite difficult to get at eye level with the little grebes and when I finally found a good spot it started to rain heavily.

1/1000 | f/ 4 | ISO 250 | 500mm

The following day I decided to go back and hoped that the weather would get a bit better. And indeed, the weather was much better on the third attempt. There was no wind and the clouds provided soft light throughout the day. The parents were so busy feeding the chicks that they swam right by me countless times. But to get a good perspective I had to take off my shoes and stand in the freezing cold water. After a few minutes I got used to the cold water (or my feet were already frozen). After a few hours I had already filled my XQD card and I decided to go home. But just as I was about to get out of the water, I noticed that one of the young birds was swimming after an old bird. And exactly in my direction! A bit away from me, the young bird was fed by the adult bird just in front of me before it swam away. The young bird swam a little further for a while, but then turned around and swam back to its two siblings just a few meters in front of me. So the reserve SD card in the camera was filled to a good part too and I finally decided to go home. Only when I pulled my feet out of the water, I noticed that the water was quite cold after all...

The next day it was still quite cloudy. Overnight it had snowed over 2000 m.a.s.l. and the mountains were all a little bit snowy. On a long hike up the Roseg valley there were some opportunities to take pictures of this.

25s | f/ 11 | ISO 64 | 6x24mm stitched together  (+3.0 ND-Filter)

In the back of the valley we met a large number of wheatears. With every step a dozen of them flew up behind some stones. Unfortunately, I could not take pictures of the many wheatears as I didn't have any camouflage with me and they were quite timid. Instead I saw a family of lesser whitethroats which I could photograph quite well.

1/500 | f/ 4 | ISO 180 | 500mm

A single shrill whistle immediately made me look up into the sky. This whistle of a marmot was a warning signal for an air attack. iknew that there must be a bird of prey somewhere. Not really a bird of prey, but a fully-grown bearded vulture did indeed glide along the slope. The bearded vulture was very close to the background. I realized that it would hardly stand out on the picture. So, I decided to take the risk and switch to a very slow exposure time. Unfortunately, I forgot to switch the VR mode to Sport. That's why in most of the images, the bird wasn't sharp at all. But on one photo the bearded vulture was completely sharp. The background, however, was nicely blurred.

1/30 | f/ 11 | ISO 110 | 500mm

The next morning, I went to the little grebes again. During the night it cleared up a lot and in the morning, it was much colder. Additionally, a cold breeze was blowing. Just as I was packing up my equipment again, the wind stopped, and the water became as smooth as glass. So I was able to take some good pictures of the feeding little grebes again. 

At the last day I just had to go back to the little grebes. This morning there was no wind at all and there was some fog hanging over the water. It was cold and the little grebes could only be heard in the reeds now and then. So I decided to take pictures of the tufted ducks on the lake. They were quite shy and most of them were in the middle of the lake. But the fact that the tufted ducks were rather far away was an advantage in this case. I could include more of the fog and I positioned the tufted duck at the bottom of the picture. To show even more of the beautiful gradient from the fog into the dark forest, I decided to take the photo in portrait format

1/640 | f/ 4 | ISO 720 | 500mm

The fog gradually diminishedand, in the meantime, the little grebes started feeding again. But this time they were a little bit in a different place and so I could take pictures of the chicks together with their parents. To get on eye level with the birds I had to lie more or less in the water, but I didn't care about that despite the temperatures. I was so happy that I finally had the young in front of the lens during feeding that I did not even notice it at first.

1/640 | f/ 4 | ISO 1600 | 500mm

1/640 | f/ 4 | ISO 1800 | 500mm

1/500 | f/ 4 | ISO 800 | 500mm

The fog had meanwhile disappeared, and a light breeze was noticeable again. So I decided to pack up the camera and go back to the holiday flat.

On a last hike in the mountains I met a rather tame marmot family. Fortunately, some clouds formed over the mountains and so I could take pictures of the rodents in quite soft light. After I had taken some portraits with the tele lens I changed to my wide-angle lens and waited at one of the entrances of the burrow where one of the animals had disappeared before. It did not take long and one of the marmots looked carefully out of the burrow. A bit suspiciously it disappeared with every minimal movement of mine back into the burrow. Only a few moments later, it looked out of it again until it finally came out of the burrow and sat down at the entrance. This wonderful experience made for a good end for the 2 weeks in Engadin.

1/4000 | f/ 1.4 | ISO 100 | 24mm

Despite the photographically and ornithologically rather dull time, I was able to take some quite good photos again. Especially the photos of the little grebes and the marmots made me more than satisfied with the trip. But now the holidays are over and school starts again. Besides school I am now writing my Matura thesis. So in the next time I will have less time to take pictures. Considering the fact that I have to send my camera to the service department and that my Lightroom catalogue is overflowing, this might not be that bad after all...

More images

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Nicolas Stettler

Weyernweg 27

2560 Nidau

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