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Friday 27th May
Well it started as the same old bird trip as most birders do, but having wider interests it evolved into something a bit different, and as usual we had a few incidents. We flew SAS Blue 1 to Helsinki, which was uneventful and after finding the baggage hall (badly signed) picked up our hire car a Peugeot 206+, the + must have signified AC (because it did not have any other features of any use) and was an addition to my booking that would prove most welcome and almost the only redeeming point of a crap car, which sounded like it had already been ragged to Varanger and back by other birders. Anyway we were off headed NE noting little on our trip to Parikkla. Here we headed for the lake shore where we had some nice views of Red necked grebes. But our accommodation was next and we just caught the staff at the Punkaharjun Valtionhotelli, one of Finlands oldest hotels, which was actually still closed but we had been in e-mail contact and were able to stay, with a few limitations! More of that later. We got settled into our idyllic cabin on the lake with a few goosander and a sleeping duck? I could not identify. Anyway we took the 2 min drive to Punkaharju arboretum, where we quickly located severalpied flycatchers and a couple of nutcrackers perched in a dead tree, with the tripod still in the cabin, I hand held the scope and dig scoped them rather successfully. Back at the cabin the duck had woken, and transformed into a black throated diver a very nice species from the cabin. The accommodation shortcomings came into view, the cabin was fine but the shower and toilet block were still being repaired, fine for me but not so good for the wife. The local petrol station proved to be very well situated and we had a nice crane on the way.
Red-necked Grebe © Mark Hows
Saturday 28th May
We were up early to check my 10 small mammal traps, but nothing at home, and after a petrol station stop we were heading to our semi arranged boat trip, meeting a local guide who I had been in contact with and a reporter and photographer from Finland's biggest paper Helsingin Sanomat . But they all duly arrived around the allotted time and we headed off on the waterways of Linnansaari National Park while being interviewed by the reporter and photographed as we went. We were given a 50:50 chance of finding our quarry by the Captain due to the poor weather, but the weather improved all the time during the trip. We quickly found a couple of nesting Osprey, and were told we had just passed a spot where the captain had seen our quarry only yesterday. We then passed another favourite spot for them but no sighting, then suddenly a shout came up from our guide and we were all quickly looking at the very rare Saami ringed seal (our first mammal of the trip) the population thought to be less than 300 individuals. A quick landing on the island adjacent to the seal and we walked to a close vantage point for some great views. After having our fill we hopped back onto the boat and continued our trip all the while answering questions from the reporter. Suddenly I spotted something at the end of a pile of rocks on a shore and we had found our second seal of the trip, very lucky as most people fail to see even one. We headed for shore and were treated to a traditional lunch by the reporter. Our guide (unpaid) offered to take us to a Ural owl and white backed woodpecker nests nearby if we were interested, we jumped at the chance and were quickly watching a Ural owl in a nest box, and then shortly after a White backed woodpecker nearby.
Ural Owl © Mark Hows
A drive back south to the Siikalahtti reserve was uneventful, but the reserve was excellent. We watched from the road viewpoint and caught up with bittern and golden oriole. Then onto the reserve itself where the first tower had been smashed by a falling tree, with all my extensive knowledge on structural integrity of structures ! I deemed it safe and used it without incident. The reserve held a few dragonfly species and a hobby dining out on them. We popped back in to Parrikkla, where the local chavs were revving their cars up in the car park and giving us duck noises when we realised what we were up, but they quickly left when I got the camera out. More excellent red necked grebes and a flighty Blyth's reed warbler but we did get some reasonable views, but the best was a cracking male rosefinch giving it all. With time getting on we headed back to the cabin for dinner, stopping for a brown hare on the way.
White-backed Woodpecker © Mark Hows
Sunday 29th May
The weather was overcast and a bit breezy, and nothing still in the mammal traps as we set off for the Parikkla area again, we were using Gosney's guide and searched some of his sites and had a few successes with some nice Ortolan Buntings, we managed to find some of the towers despite the direction, and one was particularly wobbly, but all the birds were the usual stuff. It was then back to Siikalahti for lunch and we spent quite some time here with some nice < b>whinchats and the first muskrat of the trip. Back at our lodging we tried the shower block as repair men had been there earlier, we took a look and were confronted by two naked men who ran past us and jumped into the lake. The sauna was clearly fixed, we got a shower in the hotel itself. After some food we headed back to Sikkalahti for night singers, with various stops on the way, on one we located a beaver lodge which was marked for a visit later on. At Siikalahti only a nightingale bothered to oblige with its nightsinging, another muskrat was the highlight of the visit. So we started our drivered backed shrike was unexpected but it was still quite light, we had snipe drumming and displaying a woodcock all over the place. As it became quite dark we heard the warble of black grouse and we located a small leck in a field. It was here we heard something different a great snipe displaying but it flew over us and continued in an area we could not view. We headed back following the signs to Parikkla which took us to the Russian border check point, oops! A quick U turn and a look at the sat nav, we could indeed go that way if we had a visa. We found ourselves back at the beaver lodge after a few mins we had activity but our spirits were dampened by the fact they were muskrats, but we did manage to see a couple of Daubenton's bats feeding over the lake.
Monday 30th May
This was a touristy day with a few touristy sites and an easy day heading to a hide to do some bear watching, the instructions were not clear but a phone call cleared it up and late afternoon we were driven to the hide through the pouring rain. We settled into the luxury hide overlooking a lake and bait of salmon and a dead pig and waited. We had a few common birds but not much, as the hours went by we took in shift getting a little sleep but still no bears. In the very early hours we did have a great grey owl fly through and a little later a northern bat but nothing else and we left the hide in the morning a little flat and quite tired. Back at our car we tried to pay for our visit but they would not accept any money at all for our visit which was incredibly generous - many thanks.
Tuesday 31st May
We needed some serious caffeine so I hit the pepsi max hard as we headed north to Lentua National park one of the very few areas that have wild forest reindeer and this was our target. We arrived at the small visitor centre with a board about the reindeer stating that they would be on the islands to give birth and seeing them would be very hard. But in a short space of time scanning we had a some velvet scoters and a wild forest reindeer walking along the shore of an island, but it was a bit distant. A rather nice pair of spotted flycatchers entertained us. Our first real dirt road were encountered as we headed to Elimyssalo, a nice nature reserve, where we followed a boardwalk / path to the lake, and encountered our first real forest birds, brambling in cracking summer plumage, a Siberian jay and waxwings in an environment alien to us. After some lunch we headed north and while hunting for a shop again reached the Russian border and had to do a quick U turn. We reached our destination at Wild Brown bear for another night of bear watching and after some dinner we were off to the hides for the night, which were incredibly small and now with nice weather were very warm. It was less than 30 mins when we had our first sighting but it was distant and quick and we were not sure what it was, but it showed itself a few minutes later as a cracking wolverine it visited a feeding cache very near our hide top draw. The bears started to come 90 mins later a single male bear walked through without stopping and another male bear did the same an hour later. About 9.30 the stars of the night showed up. A female bear being followed by a very large male, he was not interested in food! But she was so over the night they appeared about 20 times and we had a some excellent views. Two additional male bears also showed interest in the female but kept their distance due to the big male although one did do some posturing. The wolverine took advantage of the lulls in bear activity to visit and eventually came incredibly close for a food cache., and returned several times during the night, usually just as my wife tried to get some sleep so had to jump up again. Some rustling just below us was a rather interesting vole, which we later confirmed as a sibling vole. After about 4am the wolverine and bears left and we had a few birds to keep us entertained before leaving the hide and after some breakfast had some sleep - top day!.
Wednesday 1st June
The day which the weather scuppered us, after getting up mid afternoon and pottering around we were contacted by our guide with bad news our excursion to see the flying squirrels had to be cancelled due to poor weather, yet it was scorching with no wind at all, I was prepared to trust our guide but kept looking for an opportunity to try for the squirrels but as it turned out our guide was right. We decided to try a beaver hide and then search for reindeer and moose. Reaching the beaver hide through torrential rain, hail, thunder and lightning we realised we had made the right call. It was interesting getting to the hide, walking on fallen logs semi submerged, and avoiding the nesting whooper swans. The hide was very warm and we welcomed the regular heavy showers to help cool it down. The whooper swans were nesting just infront of the hide, and we had several muskrats swimming around before we got our first sighting of a Canadian beaver. In the next couple of hours we had plenty of sightings and some real close encounters. Having our fill we headed out in search of Moose and reindeer, but despite an extensive search until 4am we had nothing but a mountain hare. We had a cup of tea and headed off North.
Thursday 2nd June
We had not gone far when a wild forest reindeer crossed the road in front of us and disappeared into the forest, 45 mins later we were crossing the reindeer fence and all subsequent ones would be domesticated. The drive was quite eventful with a stop at a war memorial and some art installation that looked like the village of the dammed, hundreds of scarecrows in a field very surreal at 5am, and had someone sleeping on the picnic table as well all very weird. A Hazel grouse was spotted on the drive to Kussamo but not much else. We were too late for blue tails but took a walk up Livaara anyway but had little and missed the singing rustic bunting that had been there a short while before. Today's national holiday had brought loads of screaming children to where we were with the usual effect. Onto Kussamo itself and we checked out the towers overlooking lake Toranki, failing to get one set of directions correct we got wet feet, the tower held a good selection of ducks inc smew and scoters. While having some food we met a group from Shetland wildlife and shared a few sightings. Our next stop was the tip for a selection of Gulls. We picked out several subspecies, Baltic gull, Heuglins gull and herring gull var omissus Our first field vole was seen scurrying about at our feet. We tried another tower which had the bottom few steps missing, and was a wasted effort climbing it as there was not much of interest. We tried a few sites for Rustic bunting but had no luck, but did see two wood lemmings chasing each other so headed onto to our accommodation at Ruka. I put a few traps out at the edge of the forest before getting some sleep.
Friday 3rd June
After a hearty breakfast we headed to Oulanka National park, via my traps, no inmates but a couple of traps had had the food eaten. We had no luck with the Calypso orchids with the information we had, but did flush a hazel grouse on a track. So when the visitor centre opened we asked and got an unhelpful they are everywhere. So we walked a trail and 100m from the centre we had a nice group of Calypso orchids in perfect flower, they could have told us that. Shame the light was poor as we had several rain showers. We headed off for the long drive north, our only major stop was at Ilmakkiaapa Bog which was a top place grey headed wagtails were singing from all over the place, several ruff were around but no sign of the broad billed sandpipers. As we left we saw the Shetland wildlife group just up the road and joined them, they very kindly put us onto the two broad billed sandpipers they were watching. - many thanks. They left and we watched the ruff before continuing our journey across the Arctic circle with the obligatory stop for photos etc. A wood lemming crossed the road in front of us as we neared our next stop the Neljan Tuulen Tupa Or the Grosbeak Hotel as it is known. We had a nice meal before staking out the feeders. A good selection of birds was visiting meally redpoll, siskin, greenfinch and brambling but we were after something else and it did not take long before it arrived a grey sided vole feeding under the feeders, the most of the other watchers present us paid little interest but a few were interested, a couple of field voles were also coming to feed but the wood lemming was only seen at a distance and at high speed. The pine grosbeaks did put in an appearance, there was a really grumpy photographer there who seemed to get the hump with people coming and going, none of which bothered the birds or voles but did him. We decided to stay the night in a comfy room.
Pine Grosbeak © Mark Hows
Saturday 4th June
I was out at the feeders at 6am but not the first one there, Mr grumpy was already in situ and he clearly disliked me photographing the voles and red squirrels, the pine grosbeaks turned up quite regularly with a max of 4 birds. A brief appearance of the Siberian tit went down well but Mr Grumpy seemed unhappy with his efforts. A wood lemming showed briefly as did a red vole but were out of range of the camera, I moved to a good vantage point but they did not show again and at 8am it was time to check out and get breakfast. A couple of wood lemmings were seen crossing the road on the journey to Utsjoki. Here we bought a few things before crossing the almost non-existent border into Norway. We pushed on to Varangerbotn our first stop where a couple of hides overlooked the bay and the first three of many white tailed eagles showed.
White-tailed Eagle © Mark Hows
There was not much on the bay but the area behind with pied flycatchers and other small birds was excellent, it was teeming with voles mostly field voles but the odd other species as well but what caught our eye was a Norway Lemming which gave us the run around before settling sown and offering some great views. Next it was to the famous phalarope pool at Nesseby Church. It did not disappoint with at least 6 red necked phalaropes showing down to a few feet. After a phone call to our accommodation to arrange a meet it was a visit to Vadso the biggest town to get some money and then to Ekkeroy Where we were staying but where the Steller's eiders had been seen, and we were quickly on to them about 15 unfortunately none of them adult males. They came onto shore and I went down to the beach to get some photos, they were not bothered in the slightest, however a herring gull must have been nesting nearby as it continually dive bombed me so I got a few photos and retreated.
Steller’s Eiders © Mark Hows
Our cabin was on the pier head and was excellent, with a view of the harbour, we settled in and it was still early afternoon so we headed for Vardo to check out the details for the boat trip to Hornoy (Bird Mountain), we had stops for three Steller's eiders in a bay, displaying temminck's stint, several white tailed eagles and many others before reaching Vardo and we also found another group of three Steller's Eiders. The boat trip was at midday on Sunday which was ideal or several times on Monday which we could possibly do but not so handy as we were going back to Finland that day. We found a supermarket and bought some food to cook that evening as little else was open. We birded all the way back going up a few side tracks in worsening weather mostly rain but the wind was slowly building, but espit this we had excellent views of golden plover and willow grouse and an interesting warbler which I could not ID. With the weather turning very bad we made it back to our cabin, to weather the massive storm which shook the cabin all night threatening to tear it down at any moment, I was surprised the Peugeot 206+ had not been blown away.
Siberian Tit © Mark Hows
Sunday 5th June
We awoke to bright sunshine and a dry day but although still very strong winds it was possible to venture out, we decided to work our way to Vardo and check the status of today's boat to Bird Mountain and get some food, however being Sunday everything was shut. We spoke to the boat captain who said he would go but the weather was going to be much better tomorrow, so with me feeling sick just looking at the sea we decided for the 9am boat the following day. Despite the wind we decided to drive to Hamningberg and do some birding along the way, a nice mountain hare was one of many we saw during the day including some pure white ones. We worked our way along stopping at the quarry for the rough legged buzzard nest. We stopped at a few places and for birds, picked up a few target species such as arctic redpoll and lapland bunting and finally scaup which had been eluding us. The terrain was completely different from anywhere else on the trip very rocky and barren, one bay we spotted a seal but only had brief views before it was lost to view.
Rough-legged Buzzard © Mark Hows
We reached Hamningberg and could hardly stand up due to the wind but we managed to find a couple of snow buntings but at distance. We slowly worked our way back stopping where the seal had been seen and it was again showing, and we got some record shots but it was probably a grey seal. The bays were full of ducks, common scoter, eider, goosander and red breasted merganser made easier to see as the wind dropped, we headed inland we finally picked up some red throated divers now on calm lakes, the weather was indeed improving. We drove back to Vadso and headed up to the radio tower where Gosney had a long tailed skua colony, but despite s long search over the moors I only had one long tailed skua and a couple of arctic skuas. After some ice creams we took a look round the bays but could not find anything of note so headed into town to find some food. We managed to find a kebab shop open so after some chips we headed back to Ekkeroy. The bay in Ekkeroy was teeming with birds, the Steller's Eiders were nowhere to be seen but there were loads of eider and the beach had a nice selection of waders, we then took a walk to the massive kittiwake colony to finish the day.
Arctic Skua © Mark Hows
Monday 6th June
Conditions were perfect, we packed up and left the cabin and headed to Vardo get the boat, two tickets purchased we joined the rest of the birders on the harbour, two boats went such was the demand, but we were in the first and were quickly underway flushing a pair of king eider halfway to the island. On shore we quickly picked up a group of Brunnich's Guillemots on the cliffs and put the other birders on to them, scanning further there were lots and they were easy to pick out. We spent the next couple of hours wandering the island catching up with the usual auks, shags, gulls and watching the raiding ravens easily rob the kittiwake nests, twite and rock pipit were added to the list and we got some good views of grey seals fishing just off shore and saw a massive feeding frenzy of gulls and auks. We headed back to the mainland and started the journey back to Finland stopping for a few birds on the way including some cracking bluethroats. We crossed the border again without being stopped, but we did do a stop after spotting something in a tree near the road, on closer inspection it was a rough legged buzzard on a nest. After some discussion we decided to drive on catching a few hours sleep.
Tuesday 7th June
An early morning walk around Pyhantunturi ski resort nature reserve was not as productive as hoped but did add bank vole to the mammal tally. Then it was the drive to the Arctic circle and Santa's Grotto where we indulged in the Christmas spirit which was a little hard as it was 27°C And sunny, it was nowhere near as tacky as I had expected. We drove back to Ruka for an early night.
Wednesday 8th June
The alarm went off at some stupid hour and by 3am we were heading up Konttainen where there had been a male red flanked bluetail showing recently but despite an extensive search by a few birders including a Finnature guide it was not located, still we had some great views from the top. So we headed back down and up the Valtavaara ridge where the guide had told us were some 1st summer males, better than nothing. But we could not find any of them either, we reached the hut by the lake where with a Maryland cookie or two we lured in a family of Siberian Jays to eat from my hand but I had to leave them prematurely as I heard a three toed woodpecker and after a few mins I located it. The jays did not return but we left them some more cookies anyway. We had another search for the bluetails and eventually heard one distantly calling, and after a few mins I had located it and indeed it was a 1st summer male not far from the hut, the cookies had all gone I could see.
Red-flanked Bluetail © Mark Hows
We had been encountering a few crossbills but one caught my eye and I was onto a two barred crossbill but it was quickly off and I could not relocate it. We did get better views of a nice greenish warbler during our wander back but not much else. Back to the Hotel for a shower and breakfast, stopping on the way for the small mammal traps which again caught nothing, was I losing my touch? We tried the Livaara Area again for buntings and was quickly onto a little bunting but no rustic, when another birder passed us and had one 200 yds up the track but despite a long search we could not find it. But there was plenty to keep us interested, the clear water made watching the fish hunt the mayflies and each other interesting. There were lots of Lapland ringlets flying but none would settle for photos so we gave up and headed back to Kussamo for food and a return visit to the tip, there were only a few gulls this time but a rather nice black kite was around instead. We took another general drive round but got nothing else of note and started the drive to Oulu.
Three-toed Woodpecker © Mark Hows
Thursday 9th June
After a couple of hours sleep at a random car park about 50km from Oulu we continued our journey, Anna shouted owl, we stopped and turned round and had an eagle owl on top of a tree, it flew as I got the camera on it, but landed on a another but further away and I managed some record pics. - a good start to the Owl day as we had named it. We arrived at the meeting point at ABC Tupos and had the second owl of the day a short eared quartering over the fields. We got our heads down for a couple of hours before the meet with the Finnature guide. There were 6 of us on the trip one travelled in his own car he had to leave early for a flight the rest of us went in the minibus. We were soon off and were asked if we wanted to see moose, we jumped at the chance and although everyone else had seen them (they had passed them on the way to the meeting point) they were kind and let us divert to see 4 young moose by the side of the road, we had almost given up on seeing them. Onward we were shortly watching the guide locate a pygmy owl it responded to her whistles.
Pygmy Owl © Mark Hows
Next was a Tengmalm's Owl nest but we were just too late they had bred early this year and the young had just left the nest but we could not locate any of the birds. The Ural owl was much more successful but the female was a little shy contrary to their fierce reputation and we had a red breasted flycatcher on the way. We had a snack while looking for pallid harriers (a few pairs breed locally) without any luck so headed a short distance for more owls. Here we found a red backed shrike and a wryneck before locating a young hawk owl and then one of the adults.
Hawk Owl © Mark Hows
We were then met by another Finnature group of a few photographers dressed in serious mossy protection who joined us for a three toed woodpecker nest hole viewing, they showed quite well but the photographers who were going to be there hours barged to the best viewpoints and then proceeded to walk in each other's way at the crucial moment, we were all dismayed at their field craft / consideration for others as they continually walked in front of us without a care (these are the people give photographers a bad name). Sick of them we moved on to our last stop where we soon at the massive Great grey owl nest with the female and three chicks present, but the male did not show during our visit. A real top bird and a fine finish to the owl trip.
Great Grey Owl © Mark Hows
Back at ABC it was cold drinks and ice cream before heading to the Limingalahti Visitor centre. Here we quickly bumped into two of the owl trip participants and another Brit who put us onto Finland's 5th Black winged stilt, we also had a few spotted redshank but nothing was that close. We passed frantic birders running on the board walk asking us if the stilt was still present a major twitch was on, we left them to it and visited the other towers on the reserve encountering a few large flocks of cranes and some geese and swans as well. We were driving between towers not far from our owl trip area when a cracking male pallid harrier flew by. The last tower had a few goodies, plenty of dragonflies on the way and our only shrew of the trip, we were too slow with the camera but we got several good views of it and confirmed it as a taiga shrew common in the area, nothing to get excited about apparently still good for us, and we even had a flyby Caspian tern for good measure. We checked in at the oil terminal for the possibility of Terek sandpiper but no luck and then to the tip not for eagle owls which are present, but for something else. I went in through the hole in the fence and after 10 mins had found my quarry a brown rat this youngster was quickly attached by a herring gull and made a good meal. Off into Oulu for food and our accommodation for the evening where I set some traps. Here was a site I had visited during a previous trip to Finland Where the sea had frozen and we could walk on it, not I paddled in the same spot in what was quite warm water a real contrast to my last visit.
Friday 10th June
I was up early and checked the traps, some were tripped and contained bank voles three in total but at least I finally had caught something. We checked out the oil terminal again but nothing so began the long drive to the south west, there was little of interest until our late afternoon stop. I had some vague directions for this site but finding the school made it all drop into place, there was a map of the reserve and pictures of the target species. It was a short walk to the reserve and we quickly spotted what we were after and a couple of mins later I had one close and settled. They were Clouded Apollo butterflies and we eventually saw several and even a pair mating, the site also held several other species some I even knew. We had ice cream in the shop who's owner was the only person in Finalnd who did not speak English. She must have recognised us from the newspaper as she came out of the shop to get our autographs in her autograph book, which is guestbook in finnish! Running away from our groupie we headed to our last destination, but the old Sat Nav shinnanigans came into play, when I programmed it earlier I had got the wrong place, same name but some 40km from the where we wanted to be and we were almost there when we realised-doh! Now running late we changed plan, stopping for a roadside roe deer we headed towards Turku and started to ring hotels - a major festival in town all hotels booked-doh! So change of plan again and we headed for Pargas our original destination. We stumbled across a hotel sign on the way and found a place which indeed had a bed for us but it was a sort of outdoor pursuits centre rather than hotel but it was cheap and had all we needed, and there were signs up warning us about the animal which was our last target so hopefully we were in the right area for them.
Saturday 11th June
The last day of wildlife watching and after stocking up on provisions and cash we were off and were quickly onto a ferry to Nauvo in search of our last target and for those that know me can guess it was an introduced species, the white tailed deer apparently common on these islands and the mainland nearby. We stopped off for cold drinks and brunch at Nauvo before searching proper and although we added mute swan we had no deer. So we caught another ferry to the next island Korpo here we did find another roe deer and later on another, ice creams at a small harbour broke up the search. After a siesta in the oppressive heat we were off again looking and had yet more roe deer. Time was getting on when we took a rough side track and had yet more roe deer and then a moose which we were very pleased with and finally a white tailed deer that showed very well for us. Job done we could head back to the mainland, we drove slowly back looking at things stopping occasionally heading to the ferry when out of nowhere came a white tailed deer I slammed on the brakes but managed to hit the deer, fortunately it was very slow collision, the deer was unharmed and ran off into the woods, the car was undamaged but the deer had brushed off some of the dirt showing what we had done to the car on our epic journey. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we managed to find an overpriced hotel that was rubbish and some fish and chips in Pargas.
Sunday 12th June
After a leisurely breakfast we headed to Helsinki for a touristy day in the still oppressive heat, some feral barnacle geese of note, but we could not locate the eagle owls which had bread in the city centre, and we headed home after an excellent trip.
For the full species list click here