FINLAND - LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUNThursday 5th June
Thursday 5th - Wednesday 11th June 2014
Our journey started from Terminal 3 at Heathrow for our flight to Helsinki and the good news was that it was going to take 2hrs 30 minutes which meant we would have time to catch our connecting flight to Oulu. The bad news was that forty minutes later we were still sat on the Tarmac due to air traffic restrictions!
Nevertheless, the flight was good and we touched down at Helsinki to find the weather hot and sunny and 28 degrees. After a rush across the airport, we boarded our flight to Oulu where we met up with Mark who had flown from Manchester earlier.
After a short 50 minute flight we arrived in the city of Oulu, situated on the Gulf of Bothnia. After collecting our luggage we met up with Antti, our guide for the week and we were soon on our way.
The drive through the town produced a BROWN HARE plus good numbers of FIELDFARE, whilst overhead were COMMON SWIFT and BLACK-HEADED GULLS.
We checked in at our hotel and had time to unpack before meeting for our evening meal which went down very well indeed after what had been a long day. Afterwards we met in the car park for our first excursion to look for owls in the forest around Oulu. In the car park we watched displaying COMMON SNIPE and COMMON SANDPIPERS with the background songs of REDWING.
We were then off and away and once off the main road, drove along sandy tracks until we reached our destination. The mosquitos were out in force and after donning repellent and head nets we made our way into the forest which was pretty boggy at times.
After a few minutes we saw the recently used nest of a Ural Owl, but due to the warm weather the chicks had hatched and already left the nest. Antti wandered off to search for the chicks and came back with the good news that he had found one!
After traversing a ditch, we were soon watching a superb URAL OWL chick as it perched high in a tree. This bird was estimated to be around 3-4 weeks old and it looked quite happy dozing in the evening sun.
We did not have any luck searching for the adults, but as we were returning to the vehicles Kate spotted another chick just above us! This bird was much younger but still looked very content as he just sat there with the occasional look down at us.
By now the mosquitos were getting pretty bad so we left the area and drove back to Oulu. The time was just after 10 in the evening with the sun still high in the sky as we arrived at an area of lagoons close to the road. WOOD SANDPIPERS, LAPWING, REDSHANK, LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS and COMMON TEAL all fed on the shallow area when Antti spotted our target, a singing male TEREK SANDPIPER perched on a streetlight across the road.
We had good scope views of this sought-after bird and were delighted when it flew on to the pool in front of us. This superb bird fed contentedly for a while before flying back up to its favoured street lamp. Other birds here included WIGEON, ARCTIC TERN, SAND MARTIN and several roding WOODCOCK.
It was then back to the hotel where some of the group enjoyed a quick drink before getting some rest before an early start the following day.
Friday 6th June
We awoke to find the sun high in the sky and the gardens around the hotel busy with singing REDWING, COMMON ROSEFINCH, WILLOW WARBLER and PHEASANT. Meeting in the car park at 6.00am, we were soon on our way to a site just outside Oulu where after parking, we took a walk into the forest. A few minutes later we reached the place where there were a few nest boxes and after quite a wait we had brief views of a female PYGMY OWL as it looked out of its nest box before flying off.
Luckily it came back and sat nearby in a tree, where it glared at us as we managed to get good views and take many photos before it flew deeper into the forest. We then drove back to the hotel for a welcome breakfast which hit the spot nicely.
A little while later we were off again for approximately an hours drive taking us deep into the forest and we once again came face to face with hundreds of mosquitos. After a short walk we were taken to a nest site that contained three delightful GREAT GREY OWL chicks which sat on a vast nest of sticks. Despite waiting, there were no adults in the area and they were no doubt off hunting for food within the forest.
We then took a drive along forest tracks where one stop produced a male RED-BACKED SHRIKE, WRYNECK and male GOSHAWK, as well as LARGE WALL BROWN and GREEN HAIRSTREAK BUTTERFLIES.
Further along we watched a female GOLDENEYE with chicks on a small pool and GREEN SANDPIPERS fed in nearby ditches with YELLOWHAMMERS with COMMON ROSEFINCH seen briefly and along the scrub sat a male WHINCHAT.
With lunchtime approaching, a stop was made along the roadside where a male ORTOLAN BUNTING sang from a small tree and both SWALLOWS and HOUSE MARTINS gathered mud from a field. The sky then turned a shade of black so we headed off to a services station where we had a very enjoyable lunch.
We then returned to the hotel and with some time spare, the group took a walk down to the edge of the bay to find a good number of species present both there and in the hotel gardens. GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, MEALY REDPOLL and both REDWING and FIELDFARE fed on the lawns.
From the watch-point we found RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, GOLDENEYE, PINTAIL, TEAL, SHOVELER, WIGEON, MALLARD, SHELDUCK and GREYLAG GEESE, whilst other interesting species included GREENSHANK, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, LITTLE and COMMON TERNS, SEDGE WARBLER, GREAT CRESTED GREBE and WHOOPER SWANS.
With the sky turning black once more we headed back to the hotel to have a shower and change, before completing the bird list and then tucking into our evening meal.
Saturday 7th June
We left the hotel at 3.30am for a journey back into the deep forests around Oulu. Quite surprisingly there were a few people about at this time both on foot and in the car.
En-route we had great views of a SHORT-EARED OWL perched on roadside wire and a male RED-BACKED SHRIKE sat on brushwood close to the road. Suddenly as we drove along, an ELK charged out of the forest wanting to cross the road and we had fantastic views of this amazing beast as it ran alongside the vehicles before it crossed. We then arrived at our destination after driving along the forest tracks and we donned our anti-mosquito nets and repellent before we wandered quietly into the woodland.
The three Great Grey Owl chicks were in the nest but there were still no adults. WOOD WARBLER, COMMON REDSTART and CUCKOO kept us entertained here as we waited for them to come, but as time went by with no sign of the parent birds, Antti told us we ‘had options’.
The words had only just left his mouth when both male and female GREAT GREY OWLS came crashing through the trees and into the nest carrying a vole. We were stunned to see them both at the nest with the chicks and then over the next hour, we had amazing views of the female as she sat with the chicks and then perched in a pine after the male had gone hunting again after delivering the vole for breakfast.
It was a shame to leave this magnificent bird, but with huge smiles on our faces and a spring in our step we moved on to another site in the forest where we had close views of a female THREE-TOED WOODPECKER looking out of a nest hole, whilst GOLDCREST and TREECREEPER called nearby and a WHOOPER SWAN flew over calling.
A slow drive was taken along the same forest track, although we didn't get too far when we spotted another female GREAT GREY OWL perched up in a tree, and although slightly more distant, it was such a joy to see three different adults in such a short space of time.
With our stomachs rumbling after our early start we returned for breakfast, with a chance to fuel up ready for the morning ahead.
Afterwards we went back into the forest to visit a Tengmalm's Owl nest, but despite a wait there was no sign of any birds. From here we drove a circuit of agricultural land around Liminka Bay, noting male HEN HARRIER, several MARSH HARRIERS and EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAIL before heading round to the wetland centre.
The walk out to the tower produced male PIED FLYCATCHER close to a nest box and around the small pools close to boardwalk were FOUR-SPOTTED CHASERS. Along the fence-line we watched good numbers of nominate race BLACK-TAILED GODWIT.
The view from the tower over extensive wetlands gave us non-stop birding with good numbers of wildfowl present, including several hundred COMMON TEAL plus a few GARGANEY and a male SMEW thrown in for good measure. WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were numerous and nearby a HONEY BUZZARD moved through.
Water levels were perfect for waders with superb breeding plumaged RUFF, SPOTTED REDSHANK, GREENSHANK and WOOD SANDPIPERS plus many more showing well. A panic from the local BLACK-TAILED GODWITS and LAPWINGS alerted us to a very close view of a stunning male PALLID HARRIER as it flew past at speed with its entourage. This ghostly raptor is breeding in Finland in small numbers nowadays and is always a delight to see!
We watched breeding LITTLE GULLS hawking insects over the reedy parts of the lake before we walked back to the centre for a spot of lunch, which despite having had a big breakfast went down well indeed.
Afterwards we returned to the hotel for an afternoon siesta, as we’d had an early start, before meeting to do the bird list before our evening meal.
Later we headed off into Oulu, stopping at a small park lake where a pair of SLAVONIAN GREBE were nesting and several WOODCOCK flew over. It was then to the edge of the bay for a spot of sea-watching that proved rather productive with COMMON SCOTER, RED-NECKED GREBE, SHORT-EARED OWL, more WOODCOCK, PINTAIL, GOLDENEYE, COMMON CRANES and good numbers of gulls including GREAT BLACK-BACKED, HERRING and LITTLE amongst others.
Our last site of the evening was close to an industrial area where we had good views of a male BLYTH'S REED WARBLER as it sang its beautiful song from scrub close to the road. At least five WOODCOCK were seen here before we headed back to the hotel, arriving just before midnight. As we unloaded the vans, REDWING, COMMON ROSEFINCH and FIELDFARE could be seen or heard in the garden which rounded off a superb day!
Sunday 8th June
We awoke to find light rain falling which began to fall quite heavy as we said goodbye to Oulu and started our journey north towards Kuusamo.
A stop was made to look for Black Woodpecker but despite waiting, there was no sign. We did however see COMMON REDSTART, RAVEN, SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and a male GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER.
We then had a relaxed drive northeast in which several stops were made but it was generally rather quiet birdwise.
Then we turned off the main road and drove into the Syote National Park and soon after arriving in a car park, we could hear calling BRAMBLING and the simple song of a male RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL.
As we went deeper into the wood, rain once again started to fall and although the Bluetail was frustratingly close, heavy rain made it stop singing so we retreated to the vans.
With no let up in the weather, we opted for a slightly early lunch and made our way up towards Kuusamo, but we hadn't gone too far when close to the road sat a HAWK OWL!
This fantastic bird was completely oblivious to our presence as it sat on a roadside marker hunting for food. Suddenly it flew down and caught a vole right in front of us before carrying it away through the trees presumably to a nearby nest.
This certainly brightened up our day and a little further on we saw some REINDEER. After checking in at our new hotel we had a quick look at the nearby lake, which was rather quiet but the fields nearby held at least four MOUNTAIN HARE.
It was then off to a nearby woodland where we spent some time checking out a small nest box. A few minutes later, in came a super SIBERIAN TIT and over the next thirty minutes we watched both adult birds come in to feed the young. They didn't hang around when coming in with the rain falling once again.
We left the site and headed back to the hotel, making a stop at a lake where we had seen a summer plumaged BLACK-THROATED DIVER briefly, but despite a search we could only find a pair of WHOOPER SWAN plus GOLDENEYE and TEAL.
As we reached Kuusamo a male SMEW was seen on a pool close to the road. It was then a quick wash and brush up before meeting to do the bird list before having a super evening meal.
We then retired for the evening knowing we had an early start the next day.
Monday 9th June
We met at 3.00am and took a drive around the back streets of Kuusamo looking for grouse species. At our first site we drew a blank so we went to check out a small lake that produced BLACK-THROATED DIVER, 2 RED-NECKED GREBES, RINGED PLOVER, WOOD SANDPIPER, WHITE-TAILED EAGLE and a MUSKRAT.
Further down the road we had brief views of a WILLOW GROUSE in flight and then the bird was spotted at the back of some vegetation where it showed reasonably well in the scope.
Moving on, a walk was taken along a private track and soon afterwards we had good views of a singing male LITTLE BUNTING, perched atop of a pine uttering its sweet song. TREE PIPITS sang from telegraph wires and to the north, a flock of WHOOPER SWANS migrated towards the Russian border where they would no doubt breed.
Several stops were made for Black Woodpecker and Siberian Jay but with no luck, so we headed down various tracks looking for grouse and came across a superb flock of BLACK-THROATED DIVERS on a small lake, where the light and colours were stunning!
We then went to Valtavaara and after parking, took a walk up a hill. To our delight we could hear a HAZEL HEN calling and eventually it flew down the hill, narrowly missing our heads before returning to give outstanding views as it perched and posed on a log and fed on both the hillside and track. This species is normally regarded as shy and retiring but this bird had not read the books!
Heading back towards Kuusamo we made several stops, the first of which produced a small number of thunbergi YELLOW WAGTAIL, plus female HEN HARRIER, WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, WHINCHAT and small numbers of MEADOW PIPIT.
The last stop was to look at a flock of around 40 TAIGA BEAN GEESE in a field and on the opposite side of the road was a soaring BLACK KITE that quickly disappeared over the trees.
Just outside Kuusamo we had brief views of a pair of VELVET SCOTER on a small lake, along with GOLDENEYE and WHOOPER SWAN.
We then went back to the hotel for a hearty breakfast which was superb after such an early morning. Afterwards we headed back to look again for Black Woodpecker with no joy, but a MERLIN dashed across the road.
The female HEN HARRIER was still present as were the YELLOW WAGTAILS in the field as we drove past before heading along yet another forest track. This time we parked and soon after getting out of the vehicles, a cracking adult HAWK OWL flew in and perched on top of a pine and started calling. Another adult was seen further away, also using a contact call.
This meant that the chicks were nearby and eventually we had excellent views of three superb chicks and their parents at close quarters before we headed back to the hotel for lunch. We spent longer at a lake where up to five VELVET SCOTER were present, which included several males vying for the attention of the female.
It was then lunchtime and after we had a few hours off before meeting for dinner and heading out for the evening. Thirty minutes later we arrived at a small area of houses and after parking, strolled down the track to a spot overlooking a scrubby area of willows and old raspberry canes.
A male BLYTH'S REED WARBLER sang from low down and we had decent views as he uttered his song full of mimicry. A few WOODCOCK were seen roding and a SHORT-EARED OWL was mobbed by FIELDFARES as it flew by.
As the evening wore on, a RIVER WARBLER started to sing and eventually we had great views as it was spotted in a willow, singing with gusto in the sunshine.
We then took a drive around the forest roads which was pretty quiet until we had a brilliant bit of luck, as on the track ahead was a cracking male CAPERCAILLIE! It flew off but was relocated further up the road where it displayed with its tail spread out and we were delighted to see it walking off with its small display steps into the forest.
The journey back produced SHORT-EARED OWL, GOLDENEYE, MOUNTAIN HARE, REINDEER and a couple of WIGEON. We arrived back at the hotel at 12.30am and went straight to bed.
Tuesday 10th June
After just a couple of hours sleep, we met at 4.30am for a return visit towards Valtavaara. The journey there produced a HAWK OWL perched on a dead tree in a clearing beside the road, but we didn't stop as we wanted to see a speciality of the area. Arriving in the lay-by, it was pretty cold as we donned our coats, but despite this there were still plenty of mosquitos to greet us.
We climbed up the steep hill and once near the summit, could hear a singing male RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL and we were rewarded with good views as it sang from the top of a pine. Although it was cloudy, the male was a beautiful shade of blue with orangey red flanks. This bird is sought-after by birders after being near mythical for many years.
Back down on the main road several SISKIN, MEALY REDPOLL and COMMON CROSSBILL flew over before we drove back towards Kuusamo. Parking along a track we could hear a male LITTLE BUNTING singing and eventually we located it perched in a small pine before it disappeared from view. TREE PIPITS and WILLOW WARBLERS sang from the woodlands and just before leaving, we had good views of a singing male BRAMBLING perched close to the road.
It was then back for breakfast which was a real treat as we certainly were hungry! Afterwards we made a short drive to a plantation where a female TENGMALM'S OWL was seen looking out of her nest box much to the delight of the group! She was so animated and looked most indignant that we should be visiting her!
With a lack of sleep, we returned to the hotel for a few hours rest before lunch.
The afternoon was spent revisiting a few sites and our perseverance paid off when a female BLACK WOODPECKER flew in to a nest hole and proceeded to feed two hungry chicks. To our amazement the male then came in and clung to the side of the tree where he called and gave stunning views in the afternoon sunshine.
Delighted by this, we drove along a wooded track and came across a small lake that held a superb adult BALTIC GULL, which showed well before flying off and here we found female SMEW and on the next lake there were four BLACK-THROATED DIVER.
With little time remaining we went back to Kuusamo and had better views of the pair of SIBERIAN TIT as they went back and forth to their nest box. A WHIMBREL was seen briefly before it was time to return to the hotel for a shower before completing the bird list and having our evening meal.
We then went off to bed to get some well-deserved rest.
Wednesday 11th June
Meeting at 6.00am we re-visited some sites close to the hotel. The first produced a good flock of LITTLE GULLS, plus several RED-NECKED GREBES including nesting birds. We then visited a couple of places in the forest where we tried for species that were missing from our list, but unfortunately we drew a blank.
The next site however yielded a flyover WAXWING uttering its trilling call as it did so, plus a cracking male RUSTIC BUNTING, seen singing from overhead wires. Delighted by this we rounded off the early morning birding beside a large wetland that was alive with birds.
Up to 80 LITTLE GULL, 7 BLACK-THROATED DIVER, 5 RED-NECKED GREBE, WOOD SANDPIPER, drumming SNIPE overhead, WHOOPER SWAN and many more besides, were seen but it was time to return to the hotel for our final breakfast.
Afterwards we loaded our vans and started the drive southwards to Oulu. Several herds of REINDEER were seen plus COMMON BUZZARD and GOLDENEYE amongst others.
Arriving in Oulu, we picked up lunch for Mark and took him straight to the airport where we said our goodbyes as he was catching an earlier flight back to Manchester via Helsinki and then the rest of the group had a short spell birding close to the airport.
Hundreds of BLACK-HEADED GULL took advantage of fallen fish from a fork lift truck, loading a lorry and close inshore were a pair of WHOOPER SWAN with three cygnets. RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were seen and in the car park we found a male WHEATEAR. A single MUTE SWAN swam in the bay and small parties of GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS frequented rocky islands.
It was then time for a spot of lunch in a nearby restaurant before heading to Oulu airport. We said farewell to Antti who was a great guide and a really nice guy before our short flight down to Helsinki. We had a little time to spare in Helsinki before catching our return flight back to London Heathrow which took us in over the new wetlands of Wallasea Island before flying directly over London, where we could pick out various landmarks of the capital.
We touched down at Heathrow on time and after a quick passage of passport control we soon retrieved our bags. We then said our goodbyes after a most amazing tour with fantastic food, landscapes, birds and great customers which made it a pleasure to lead.