Friday 1st June 2018
FINLAND – LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN
Friday 1st – Thursday 7th June 2018
Our group met bright and early at London Heathrow for our flight across to Helsinki which took off just a few minutes after schedule and arrived spot on time in a lovely sunny Finland. We only had a short time for lunch before catching our connecting flight to the town of Oulu in northern Finland.
We met our local guide Markus and after loading the vans, made the short drive to our hotel. We had some time to unpack and change before heading out into the field.
Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive at the vans, we watched good numbers of FIELDFARE around the hotel plus both EUROPEAN PIED & SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS along with singing REDWING and both BARN SWALLOW and COMMON SWIFT.
Heading out across town we drove for around 30 minutes until we reached an area of woodland with some large clearings. A couple of NORTHERN WALL BROWN BUTTERFLIES flitted around before settling on the track whilst a male YELLOWHAMMER sang from birches bordering the track.
A walk of around a hundred metres was taken and there sitting on an old Northern Goshawk nest was a magnificent GREAT GREY OWL! The female owl was sitting with two well grown chicks and we enjoyed superb views as she stared down at us. The male was seen briefly through the back of the trees so once we had enjoyed our fill, we took a stroll around the area.
Despite a thorough search we didn’t see the male again but did find a pair of GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS and a COMMON CUCKOO. The warm sunshine encouraged a few mosquitos but also butterflies including GREEN HAIRSTREAK and PEARL-BORDERED FRITILLARY.
After such a good start to the tour we tried to continue our owl success by driving another 15 minutes to a quiet part of the forest, where shady conditions proved popular with swarms of mosquitos, but this was soon forgotten when out of a nest box flew a female BOREAL OWL! This small owl gave stunning views as she perched on a branch in the open, delighting the group!
Not wanting to disturb her too much, we left quietly and headed back to base where we had a few minutes before meeting for our evening meal which was superb. Afterwards some of the group headed out into the hotel grounds where WHOOPER SWAN, COMMON CRANE, WHINCHAT and a group of GARGANEY were among the highlights.
This was a great start to our tour of Finland and we very much looked forward to the days ahead.
Saturday 2nd June 2018
Some of the group met at 0700hrs for a pre-breakfast stroll in the garden which produced several singing COMMON ROSEFINCH although unfortunately they were brown immature males. Other sightings included SEDGE WARBLER, COMMON SNIPE, ARCTIC & COMMON TERNS, COMMON SANDPIPER, COMMON REDSHANK, NORTHERN PINTAIL, GARGANEY, EURASIAN WIGEON and the usual REDWINGS and FIELDFARES.
It was then back for a hearty breakfast which went down well with everyone and then we met at the vans ready for our day in the field.
Our first port of call was a large lake where we easily picked out a pair of BLACK-THROATED DIVERS feeding at the far end and although distant, we had reasonable scope views. A male COMMON REDSTART sang from adjacent pines and both ARCTIC and COMMON TERNS were noted.
Around fifteen minutes later we were back in the forest as we had an appointment with a new owl for the tour. Several GREEN HAIRSTREAKS and PEARL-BORDERED FRITILLARIES were seen on the track making the most of the warm sunshine.
It didn’t take long before we heard a calling PYGMY OWL and shortly he came flying over our heads and up into a tree where he sat for around 10 minutes. The local COMMON CHAFFINCHES, GREAT TITS and COMMON BLACKBIRDS were not at all happy with this predator and showed their disdain my making lots of alarm calls.
We left the bird in peace and drove to the local golf course where we made ourselves comfortable on the clubhouse veranda to enjoy a drink and for some, a chocolate bar or two! A Black Woodpecker nest hole was visible but apparently the bird had not been seen for several days, but we did see several WHITE WAGTAILS, EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS and the usual FIELDFARES.
With a full schedule ahead, a short drive was taken to an area of farmland bordered by coniferous and deciduous woodland which was home to a pair of NORTHERN HAWK OWLS and a single chick was seen by some of the group. A local guy turned up having taken offence at us being there, so to avoid any trouble we left the area and headed to our lunch stop at Liminka Bay.
Whilst waiting for our lunch to be cooked we visited the exhibition about the area and also did some shopping, buying t-shirts and picking up leaflets.
A male WHINCHAT perched on the fence in front of the centre and a EURASIAN CURLEW foraged in the wet grassland.
Lunch was eventually served and we tucked in, afterwards taking a walk to the fantastic tower that overlooked Liminka Bay. Up to 10 RUFF were seen, the males all in full summer plumage much to the delight of the group. Other species included a single WHITE-TAILED EAGLE sat out on an island and in the distance we counted up to 77 COMMON CRANES.
Low water levels proved conducive for waders and SPOTTED REDSHANK, WOOD SANDPIPER, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, COMMON REDSHANK, COMMON GREENSHANK, BLACK-TAILED GODWITS and EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS were all seen.
The wind had now got up and made scopes a little difficult to look through with a slight shake, so we wandered back to the van and one lucky member of the group had very brief views of what was very likely a SPOTTED CRAKE on the marsh.
Another short journey later we arrived at an area of agricultural land where we hoped to find one of Finland’s scarce passerines, the Ortolan Bunting. Lots of YELLOWHAMMERS were seen confusing the issue somewhat, but with patience we found both male and female ORTOLAN BUNTINGS in bushes close to the road where good scope views were had.
A lone EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER was spotted in a recently ploughed field and a couple of ringtail HEN HARRIERS quartered the fields in search of food. Another distant male harrier looked good for PALLID HARRIER as it flew over the distant treetops.
With time getting on we moved into deeper forest where a short walk along the track brought us face to face with a stunning URAL OWL. This majestic owl flew into a tree and gave us the most amazing views with plenty of photos taken of this sought after target species.
After a while the bird moved into other trees before we left and headed back to the vans. With our stomachs starting to rumble, we drove back toward base and didn’t get far when a beautiful SHORT-EARED OWL was seen both perched and in flight and on the outskirts of Oulu we spotted a male harrier which on closer inspection proved to be a stunning PALLID HARRIER!
We arrived back later than scheduled and headed straight to dinner which went down a treat after such a long day.
After our meal most of the group opted to head back out into the field for a few hours whilst the remaining sensible ones headed to bed!
Our first port of call was a large agricultural area where we spotted several SHORT-EARED OWLS plus three EURASIAN WOODCOCK roding over the woods. Despite a thorough search, we could not find the European Eagle Owl that frequented the area so we carried on to a woodland where a short walk brought us face to face with an inquisitive BOREAL OWL poking its head out of its nestbox and giving lovely views.
At around 01.30hrs we stopped at a site close to the hotel where a Blyth’s Reed Warbler had been seen earlier in the day but there was so sign, although a couple of SHORT-EARED OWLS ended off a very good day/early morning.
Sunday 3rd June 2018
We had breakfast and were away at 08.00hrs, it was good to have food and coffee before heading out for the day. The agricultural areas around Oulu were our first site and here were several limosa race BLACK-TAILED GODWITS including a colour-ringed bird. A SHORT-EARED OWL was spotted on the ground and in flight and a pair of HEN HARRIERS were in a small plantation bordering the road.
44 COMMON CRANES flew over bugling, probably disturbed by a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE that flew over shortly afterwards.
After picking up food for lunch and having a brief break, we visited sites around Liminka Bay where highlights included LITTLE GULLS in breeding plumage plus RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, COMMON GOLDENEYE, another WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, WESTERN OSPREY, RUFF, COMMON GREENSHANK and drake GARGANEY amongst others.
In the scrub nearby we heard singing GARDEN WARBLER, SEDGE WARBLER and a distant COMMON ROSEFINCH whilst we enjoyed lunch in the sunshine.
A short drive afterwards we found another WHITE-TAILED EAGLE, this time a full adult and in a field we stumbled across 250+ WHOOPER SWANS. Markus took us to a site hoping for NORTHERN HAWK OWL and we were not disappointed with two chicks and an adult giving simply stunning views!
Keen to fit as much in as possible, we drove a few more kilometres and there on roadside wires was another adult NORTHERN HAWK OWL which sat just above us and only flew off when a male WESTERN MARSH HARRIER wandered too close to its territory.
A kilometre away was another NORTHERN HAWK OWL nesting site with one chick in residence which didn’t show quite as well. A singing TREE PIPIT and COMMON WHITETHROAT were heard nearby before we made our last birding visit of the day to the golf course visited the previous day.
We had only been in position around 10 minutes when a female BLACK WOODPECKER flew in and fed two large chicks before dropping into the nest hole briefly and flying out again.
Hoping she would come back we spent time waiting and meanwhile found SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS, EURASIAN SISKINS, COMMON GOLDENEYE and a PARROT CROSSBILL, showing fairly well in pines.
Conscious of the fact we were having an early dinner and heading out again, we walked back to the vans and had just got in when a male BLACK WOODPECKER flew onto the tree in front of us! A mad panic ensued but we needn’t have worried as he remained on the tree for a while before heading to the nest hole. Wow, what a view!
It was then back to base for a rest before meeting for dinner at 19.00hrs. Our last evening meal in Oulu was really good and everybody tucked in, especially to the white chocolate mousse!
Afterwards some of the group headed out for some midnight birding and our first site drew a blank on the Pygmy Owl we’d seen the previous day, but a female GREAT GREY OWL on the nest was much more obliging. Despite thousands of mosquitos, we spent time watching her before checking out the meadows where we hoped the male would be found hunting. Despite a really good search we found several EURASIAN WOODOCK.
On the way back to the hotel we had good views of two ELK feeding before they trotted off into the woodland.
We arrived back spot on 01.00hrs and headed straight to bed for a well deserved rest!
Monday 4th June 2018
Breakfast was at the earlier time of 07.00hrs and afterwards we said our goodbyes to the hotel staff, loaded up the vans and headed to a site on the coast where conditions were far from ideal. The wind was blowing strongly from the north making it feel around zero degrees. On a small pool were LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and several COMMON REDSHANK before we visited the local snow-dump which produced a pair of NORTHERN WHEATEAR and COMMON TERNS amongst others.
Before leaving Oulu we dropped in at a small pond where eventually a pair of SLAVONIAN GREBE showed reasonably well in the overcast conditions.
It was then time to start the long drive north to Kuusamo which by now was in the rain. We stopped off for a break and to get lunch before continuing our journey. Once in the Syote National Park, we stopped and headed for a walk in the forest.
It was quiet bird-wise but several BRAMBLING sang (or wheezed!) from the pines but remained hidden and after a while we heard a HAZEL GROUSE calling from the dense undergrowth.
With patience we had brief flight views as it flew down a slope past us several times before calling once again up the slope which it had reached without being seen!
We had a lovely walk through the gorge before heading back to the vans for lunch and after a straight drive to Kuusamo we dropped in to the local dump and adjacent pool. Up to seven WOOD SANDPIPERS fed along the muddy edges with a COMMON RINGED PLOVER and a small wader that could well have been a Temminck’s Stint, but it flew off before ID could be confirmed.
On arrival at the hotel we had some spare time before meeting for our evening meal which went down a treat, especially the Reindeer and Cheese soup which was great after a cold, wet day.
Tuesday 5th June 2018
It was great to have a good nights rest and breakfast was at 06.30hrs so with lots to do, we headed off at 07.00hrs.
Our first site of the day was Livaara Hill, we donned warm weather gear as it was just two degrees and began the walk slowly up the hill. BRAMBLINGS sang from the forest and with patience we had good views, but not unfortunately of the female WESTERN CAPERCAILLIE that flew off from the path, frustrating us with such a brief sighting.
Eventually we could hear our first RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL singing but only two members of the group got onto it before it flew off. Other birds were heard but remained unseen and we concluded that perhaps the cold, damp weather was an attribute.
A real surprise was a SIBERIAN JAY that flew in briefly but was chased off by BRAMBLINGS and REDWING and it later turned out that both species were nesting nearby.
DUNNOCK, EURASIAN WREN, TREE PIPIT, GOLDCREST and EUROPEAN ROBIN were all recorded before we climbed to the top of the hill. Views were stunning and we could see towards Russia where snow was on the hills. Speaking of snow, it wasn’t long before a shower of wet snow passed through so we headed back down to make another attempt at connecting with Red-flanked Bluetail.
At least two birds were heard singing but we just couldn’t see them. After a brief interlude two BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS were seen and then we managed to get a first-summer male RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL in the scope which everyone saw before it dropped out of view.
It was then back down to the vehicles for coffee and biscuits before moving just a few kilometres on. Parking up at our lunch spot, the feeders held lots of EURASIAN SISKINS, EUROPEAN GREENFINCH and four EUASIAN BULLFINCHES of the chunky northern race.
We tried for Siberian Jay to no avail but a real bonus in the shape of a male THREE-TOED WOODPECKER flew in and out, putting on a superb show on dead trees surrounding the area.
It was then time for a lunch of Reindeer stew with mashed potato and salad with Lingonberry sauce which went down a treat. Bilberry pie was very well received for dessert and whilst tucking in, a GREY-HEADED CHICKADEE flew in and flitted around the trees before vanishing.
A drive was then taken north of Kuusamo where we visited a nest site for GREY-HEADED CHICKADEE and lovely views were had as they visited a nestbox close by.
A small lake held a pair of VELVET SCOTER along with a flock of COMMON GOLDENEYE before stopping at a fast-flowing river where a WHITE-THROATED DIPPER showed well on rocks surrounding a small bridge.
With our stomachs rumbling we headed back to base and an optional visit was made to look for Little Bunting. We had only been there for thirty seconds when a cracking male was heard singing from trees surrounding the track. Over the next ten minutes we had amazing views of this scarce summer visitor to Finland.
There was some spare time before meeting for our evening meal which once again was fantastic.
Afterwards some of the group headed back out to a site north of Kuusamo where we watched six BLACK GROUSE displaying in the evening sunshine, which was a brilliant end to the day!
Wednesday 6th June 2018
With our last full day ahead, we met at 03.30hrs and headed to the edge of Kuusamo where we spent time looking for Rustic Bunting but to no avail, although cold, windy conditions did not help.
Walking into the boggy forest it was much more sheltered and extremely productive especially when coming face to face with a superb male WESTERN CAPERCAILLIE! The group enjoyed superb views of this brilliant bird as it displayed right in front of us and gave some of the best views ever!
After a while we left it in peace and had only gone a few metres when we saw a WILLOW TIT nest above our heads so we backed off and had superb views of adults coming in and out of the hole.
Moving along a forest track we tried once again for Rustic Bunting but did find several displaying TREE PIPITS and a flyover COMMON REDPOLL.
A side track took us to a small building area and on the path were the droppings of Willow Ptarmigan which was an optimistic sign. Within five minutes, a superb flash of white flew past and there was a male WILLOW PTARMIGAN!
Unbelievably it flew back and landed in a tree 20 feet off the ground where it sat for several minutes unperturbed by its admiring audience. Eventually it zipped off into the undergrowth and we took a walk back to the vans and then dropped in at the previous days Little Bunting site.
A GARDEN WARBLER sang from Silver Birches as we made our way to the site and when we arrived, the male LITTLE BUNTING was singing his heart out on top of a small willow giving some lovely views. With it being seen so easily, we went straight back to the hotel for a well deserved breakfast and some rest for several hours before heading out again.
With Siberian Jay still on our wanted lists we drove to the famous birding site of Valtaavara where we parked up and checked out the area adjacent to the large lay-by. Within a few minutes a pair of SIBERIAN JAYS flew in and landed in the close pines.
Using some strategically placed sausages, we had stunning views as they perched on logs and trees at close range much to the delight of their admirers!
All this talk of sausages made us rather peckish so we moved on to the Oulanka National Park where we loaded up our gear and walked the trail through the fantastic woodland and river areas. A pair of GREY WAGTAILS were good to see and turned out to be quite a rarity in Finland, with between 10 and 30 pairs in the whole country.
Several lovely specimens of CALYPSO ORCHID were seen, emblem of the National Park and along the trails were a few COMMON REDSTARTS and SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS.
We eventually reached a superb shelter with a roaring fire and Markus produced lots of frankfurters which we took turns to cook on the fire.
The radiating smell soon attracted more SIBERIAN JAYS and once again we had brilliant views. Steve tried to hand feed them with sausage and although they came within one foot of him they didn’t pluck up courage to take any sausage.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving slowly to the eastern border of Finland and Russia which produced COMMON CRANES, COMMON and VELVET SCOTER, three GOLDEN EAGLES, two WHITE-TAILED EAGLES, COMMON MERGANSER, BLACK-THROATED DIVERS and lots more.
Reaching the border area we took some group photos before making the drive back to Kuusamo for our last night.
After our evening meal we made an attempt to see Rustic Bunting and walking along the pavement were surprised to see a male RUSTIC BUNTING fly up from the ditch into a small tree before disappearing. It wasn’t seen again despite a thorough search and frustratingly the light was dropping so we decided to head back the following morning to try once again.
Thursday 7th June 2018
We met at 05.00hrs and drove straight to the spot on the edge of town for another attempt to find the Rustic Bunting. Light rain was falling as we made our way along the road to where it had been seen, but once again an exhaustive search failed to produce the species. As some compensation we found WILLOW TIT, WILLOW WARBLER, TREE PIPIT, flyover COMMON REDPOLL and a small group of BARN SWALLOWS passed through.
One last ditch attempt was made at a site where a male RUSTIC BUNTING had been seen a few days earlier but the cold, wet and windy weather didn’t help our cause.
It was then back to the hotel for breakfast and time to pack before we left the hotel to make the 220km journey back to Oulu. The journey was fairly quiet except for several WHOOPER SWANS, COMMON GOLDENEYE and lots of FIELDFARES.
After a break for coffee and cake we continued onwards and arrived on the outskirts of Oulu in good time, then drove round to the docks to try for Terek Sandpiper.
Water levels were rather high on the pond which held LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON REDSHANK, EURASIAN TEAL and COMMON SHELDUCK whilst the nearby snow-dump was rather quiet with NORTHERN WHEATEAR, COMMON TERN, COMMON SWIFT and both EURASIAN CURLEW and COMMON SNIPE.
With our stomachs rumbling we drove to our lunch stop and were surprised to see a SHORT-EARED OWL flying over! Lunch went down a treat and from here we made the drive towards the airport.
Arriving in good time we negotiated the self-check-in desks and spent time relaxing before our flight down to Helsinki. We said goodbye to Markus who was flying back to Helsinki with another airline and thanked him for leading a brilliant tour.
Once in Helsinki we had a short walk and a short wait for our connecting flight back to Heathrow which took off on time and arrived back in the UK slightly earlier than planned.
Luggage reclaim was swift and painless and we said our farewells after a superb week of owls and other northern delights all with a lovely group of customers.