Skuas centre stage

What happened before the click...Photographers tell their story behind a special picture. This time eye to eye with a skua.

Portrait of a Skua
© Jan Sohler

After one severe autumn storm, I went for a tideline stroll along the beach at St. Peter-Ording. For once it was quiet and deserted. Storms like these often throw up something interesting on the beach. It is also a great opportunity to watch the ocean-going birds seeking shelter from the storms out at sea.

I was really in luck this time: there were three skuas resting along the water’s edge. These darkly-coloured predators with their dagger-like claws breed on rocky islands and on the coastal moorlands of the North Atlantic and usually spend the winter out at sea. Despite the harsh and exhausting weather conditions of the previous days, the skuas appeared to be in good condition. Knowing well how aggressive and fearless these predatory birds are near their nests, it was a pleasant surprise to see how my presence provoked no alarm in them; indeed they were almost indifferent to me. They were simply snacking on a dead herring gull, undisturbed by anything around them. After each snack, they would take a bath in the choppy sea and then rest on the sandbank, an ideal opportunity for some great portrait photos.

I spent several hours that day, lying there on the sand, observing the skuas – an intense experience and one of my absolute highlights of the last few years.

young photographer
© Christian Höfs

Jan Sohler is a passionate ornithologist and enthusiastic wildlife photographer. Raised in northern Frisia, he knows the coast of Schleswig-Holstein like the back of his hand; it is a source of numerous subjects for his photos. He has been on expeditions in many other parts of the world, including to the Faeroe Islands and Costa Rica. You can see his photos at


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