Recap – My name is Ben Cherry, I’m a Fujifilm X-Photographer focusing on environmental photojournalism. Currently I am part of the WWT Flight of the Swans conservation project, where Sacha Dench is flying from Arctic Russia back to the UK; following the declining Bewick’s swan as they migrate to overwinter in warmer climates. You can find the first blog explaining how I got involved in this unique project and what I’ve brought along with me here.
Flight of the Swans has finally left Russia, only ten days behind schedule… Ten extra days I am very happy to have spent in this dramatic country. Enormous in every sense of the word, we barely scratched the surface, but what we did see left a lasting impression. From incredible generosity to gorgeous autumnal scenes, this rugged place has wilderness to truly get lost in.
Hazard lights cast against the roadside trees as the convoy headed to Kimzha. We were very much alone on this dirt road and the stars were simply spectacular!
The 19th September greeted us with a 32 hour stay at the Estonian – Russian Border, an experience that I’ve recently had a case of deja vu with as we returned from the other direction on the 19th October for a 18+ hour stay to return to the EU. In-between that time we have raced up to Kimzha, Arkhangelsk region, 1800+KM away within five days, via roads where for periods our trailer towing vehicle had to crawl at 6kph. It was a mental run, marred by a diesel spill in the trailer at 2am and paramotor pilots arriving at the collection point ahead of schedule, resulting in some all-nighters.
Once we linked up with the pilots who had just crossed the tundra section, things were marginally less hectic, marginally.
Sacha has done an amazing personal journey so far, she even dislocated her knee! But still going via a trike to take stress off her legs. The Flight of the swan’s team have been featured on news channels all around the world and the ground team are doing their best to engage local communities, particularly through school programs. All to raise awareness of the Bewick swan and other migrating wildfowl. The aim is to improve international awareness and cooperation, to find out more and to sign the WWT’s petition to help their conservation, which can be found here.
Personal highlights included witnessing the northern lights and catching a glimpse of a wolf as it slinked off into the darkness of a moonlit woodland road. But the biggest surprise has the be the incredible generosity that our team witnessed in Russia, I haven’t experienced anything like it before, where families would happily take in 8-12 people, feed us, give us a place to stay and even offer us a banya (Russian bath)! We were welcomed with open arms. Meeting conservationists, or simply random families along our journey, all seemed to have a deep connection for nature and the importance for managing it suitably, including the declining Bewick’s swan. We would be let into the lives of these people and get to know them, usually over a skinful of vodka.
Time-lapse taken with X-Pro2 and XF16mm F1.4 using the in-camera intervalometer.
Cine Fujinon Lens
As well as using my personal X-Series kit on this project we are very proud to be sponsored by Fujifilm with a Fujinon ZK3.5×85 (85-300mm). Our media team are documenting the project in as wide a means as possible, from virtual reality experiences to documenting the project with various filming equipment, to hopefully continuing to share this project to a wider audience and help communicate the importance of Bewick’s swans conservation.
Here is one of our cameramen, Ben Sadd in the Gulf of Finland, Russia searching for swans.
Because so much of this trip is about communicating with as many people as possible, I have been using my instax SP-1 printer a lot to leave little mementos. It always gets a fantastic reaction, the business card sized prints are perfect for travelling with. Giving a physical print has such a positive effect on an experience compared to simply tagging someone in a digital photograph. instax has for a long time been one of the first things in my bag whenever I travel, this feeling has been encouraged further. The benefit-to-cost ratio isn’t even worth talking about as the effect it has on a situation is huge, it sounds cheesy but seeing the smiles appear as the photo develops on the instax is worth it.
I’ve found that it develops a situation from a set of friendly acquaintances to the start of friendships, leaving both the recipient and photographer with lasting, fond memories.
As well as directly sending images to my SP-1 printer, the ability to send lightly edited files (via the in-camera RAW converter) to my phone and then share on the Flight of the Swans social media channels has helped to massively streamline my image sharing process. You can follow these channels here:
Live Map Update
The team are now in Estonia. Russia was an amazing experience but the project is still very much on the move. There is a major set of wetlands in Estonia which we want to visit and hopefully witness more migrating Bewicks. You can stay up to date via our live map, with trackers on birds, vehicles and of course Sacha! Click here.
Flight of the Swans is a fascinating project, where WWT has taken a big leap into the unknown to try and reach a new level of engagement to help improve conservation of wildfowl. If you’re interested in travel, extreme sports or wildlife then hopefully this project will be of interest. If so, then please help us by signing our petition here. Until my final instalment in a month’s time, here are a few more photos from our Russian experience. In the next blog I will update you on the project as well as talking about the 4K capabilities of the X-T2 and how it has been incredibly helpful to film the swans.