This is an account of a trip made by myself (Julian Thomas) and John Bishop to Finland. We flew with Easyjet, hired a car in Helsinki and toured up as far as Karigasniemi on the Norwegian border. It was a cheapo trip because we camped. Photos can be viewed at www.flickr.com/photos/neiljulianthomas/sets.
29th May. With a flight delay we did not leave Helsinki Airport until 10.30, driving through the gathering gloom to find a campsite north of the city. In the half light our introduction to Finnish birds took the form of a roding Woodcock, while at the campsite a pulsating chorus of Thrush Nightingales generally drowned out Reed and Sedge Warblers.
30th May. By 4.00 am it was fully light (although at this latitude it never became totally dark) and we had a brief walk round the margins of the lake. The night singers continued their activity into daylight and with persistence we had great views of a Thrush Nightingale as it poured out its extraordinarily powerful song. Other birds included Pied Flycatchers, Common Tern, (Nordic) Jackdaws, Fieldfares and White Wagtail.
We then discovered the deficiencies in ‘Where to watch birds in Scandiavia’ asa resource as we struggled to find Viikki Vanhankaupunginlahti, a shallow marsh fringed bay to the North-East of Helsinki. After several wrong turns we finally accessed the site, with its lake, shallow pools, reed-beds and patches of forest and the morning passed very quickly.
Wildfowl were represented by a few Shoveler, Wigeon and Teal, with three Barnacle Geese flying past being evidence of the spring migration of arctic breeding wildfowl. The only waders were breeding lapwing and Redshank. A pair of Hobbies sliced through the air, causing consternation among the many hirundines and swifts, and better still a male Goshawk came past with a Hooded Crow flying behind, mobbing it with far more caution than how they molest Sparrowhawks. Several Caspian Terns fished over the lagoons, drawing attention with their heron like calls, and there was the opportunity to refresh the mind of the differences between Common and Arctic Terns.
Great Reed Warblers showed well at the edges of reed fringed pools, the bright orange interior showing as they uttered their powerful song. In the woodlands we found singing Icterine Warblers, Thrush-Nightingales, Wryneck, and Pied Flycatcher, while in more open areas of scrub we found Whinchat, Garden Warblers, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Cuckoos and Willow Warblers. We then went to the attractive peninsula of Porkkala, to the SW of Helsinki, as on the large scale map it appeared to offer an ideal sea-watching point for wildfowl migration, but the road petered out well short of the Baltic and we had to content ourselves with views of Arctic terns, Common Eider, Red-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Buzzard. Some anglers had caught some rather small pike, proof positive these freshwater species swim alongside marine species in the Baltic. A second site listed in the Aulen guide was finally located as we reached Espoo Laajalahti. Patches of old growth forest gave way to reedbeds, scrub and lagoons. A Bittern boomed periodically from the former, and a Marsh Harrier drifted past – I might have been back in Norfolk, apart from the backdrop of Thrush-Nightingale song!
In late afternoon we headed north to Sarrijarvi. It must be admitted there is a lack of variety in the Finnish landscape. Basically we travelled through commercial forest (there is only a small proportion of old growth forest remaining, although the mixture of trees, including much birch and rowan must increase the wildlife value of the plantations), interspersed with lakes. Whooper Swans were commonly seen, with fewer Cranes and the odd Buzzard. The best sighting was a flock of nine Black-throated Divers. At the campsite Woodcock were roding, with Green Sandpiper and Goldeneye on the pools, and Redstart and Tree Pipit singing from the pines. Conveniently we discovered Finnish campsites have a kitchen, which largely rendered my tiny stove redundant, and even better in every case we had the campsite to ourselves. As ‘hell is other people’ usually applies forcefully to campsites this was unexpected bliss.
31st May. At 05.30 we drove a short distance to Pyha Hakki NP, an area of old growth forest, interspersed with forest bogs and pools. We spent five hours wandering in this beautiful area, but saw very few birds, such as Spotted Flycatcher, Common Crossbill and Great-spotted Woodpecker, although Black Woodpecker was heard calling.
Continuing to Oulu a stop by a lake just north of Pyha Hakki gave views of Black-throated Divers, and numbers of delightful Little Gulls were breeding here, and although the main concentration was on the far side several came overhead, picking insects from the air as they circled round. A stop by a fast flowing river gave close views and the chance to photograph Goosander and Goldeneye, while occasional Red-necked grebes, numerous Whooper Swans, and a beautiful male Hen Harrier enlivened the rest of the journey to Oulu.
1st June. At 02.30 it was already light and the day started with two Short-eared Owls sparring over the grasslands around ABC Tupos, the meeting point for our Finnature excursion. These trips were eye-wateringly expensive but without our guide Pritta knowing the stake-outs for the owls we would have had virtually no chance of seeing these birds. A short distance from Oulu we reached a small patch of forest with singing Redwings and Common Rosefinches and a nest box which held a Tengmalm’s Owl. By scratching on the trunk to simulate the arrival of a nest predator such as a Pine Marten the owl was persuaded to appear at the nest entrance, and for ten minutes the female Tengmalm’s Owl surveyed us from all angles before retiring.
Next on the shopping list was the Pygmy Owl. Here the male was lured in by a tape of its call, and we had fantastic views of this tiny but fierce predator just a few feet above our heads. As we watched the owl Hazel Grouse was heard calling, as well as Black Grouse, but only the latter was seen, with just a single bird lekking.
A long drive then followed and after endless forest tracks we arrived at a site for Northern Hawk Owl. After a short wait the male arrived with a kill (a vole), and the female then joined him, relieved him of his catch which she then consumed in a rather messy style. He disappeared off to hunt again, while the female called intermittently. The nest site was in a shattered pine stump, and held 4 chicks. We left these superb birds to search for the ultimate owl, the Great Grey. A massive round head peered over the edge of the nest, and a view with the scope revealed the small yellow eyes of the female Great Grey. Even better the male was located nearby, giving crippling views at very close range. Northern Bullfinch, Brambling, Whinchat and surprisingly Lesser Whitethroat frequented the bushes in this area, and a small flock of Taiga Bean Geese flew over.
Returning to a site close to Oulu we searched for Ural Owl in scattered tall spruces. We had virtually given up on this bird when G spotted it flying around the canopy, and it subsequently gave good views as it stared down at us. It is probable the young had left the nest and the female returned as we moved in the direction of the chicks. I viewed it with a certain amount of caution, as this species is notorious for launching attacks on potential threats to its chicks. Treecreeper was also seen here before we returned to Oulu.
We then spent a relaxing hour at the WWF centre at Liminganlahti with its sate of the art boardwalks and tower overlooking a windswept area of reeds, lagoons and meadows. Common Rosefinch, Little Gull, Pintail, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Greylag Goose and a female Hen Harrier were amongst the birds seen here.
We then headed north of the Arctic Circle, stopping in the small town of Sodankyla. With lush spring greenery and Swallows, Sand and House Martins overhead it did not feel very mush like the Arctic, but as the sun lowered to the horizon between midnight and 01.00 am a severe frost ensued.
2nd June. A flawless day of brilliant sunshine and light winds was perfect for exploring the Arctic environments around Lake Inari. The first stop was at a roadside marsh and lake south of Ivalo. A Crane stalked the boggy pools while overhead Temminck’s Stints and Snipe displayed. Ruff were on view in their breeding finery, but unfortunately not lekking. On the lake 2 Common Scoter and 3 drake Smew were present with the more numerous Goldeneye and Tufted Duck. The only Osprey of the trip came glding past at this site. Passerines included Arctic Redpoll and Yellow Wagtails.
A brief walk in the spruce forests south of Ivalo gave views of Brambling, Siskins and Common Crossbills, but generally birds were hard to find amongst the gloomy but atmospheric spruces with their festooning black lichen.
Beyond Inari the taiga begins to peter out, although there is no abrupt tree line as seen when ascending a mountain, and along the road to Karigasniemi birch scrub comes to dominate at low altitudes, with trees giving way to stunted tundra vegetation on the hills such as Ailigas (barely qualifying as a mountain at 620m).
A short distance along this road we found a bull and two cow Moose browsing in willow scrub. Unfortunately they were very wary and stopping the car at 100m distance precipitated their rapid departure. At this latitude the Arctic Hares were still largely white. A Fox was seen, but sadly not Arctic, but it was an exceptionally fine specimen of Vulpes vulpes, with short ears and a thick and luxuriant coat. A nice selection of arctic species enlivened our lunch stop along a river surrounded by birch forest – a Rough-legged Buzzard hovered in the distance, Waxwings launched aerial sorties after insects, and Redwings, Bramblings, Arctic Redpolls, and thunbergei Yellow Wagtails were also on view.
A gravel track 5km SE of Karigasniemi allowed access to Ailigas. As we climbed the hill we had seen little until a Raven appeared to the annoyance of a pair of Whimbrel, and those most elegant of seabirds, the Long-tailed Skua, which were then seen hovering over the tundra, although sadly never close enough for the classic image I hoped for. We failed to find Dotterel, but there were many Wheatear and Golden Plover, the latter mostly immaculate birds in the plumage of the northern race. An equally striking bird, a male Lapland Bunting singing both in flight and from a hummock seemed far removed from the well camouflaged birds seen scurrying about in Norfolk stubble fields. On descending to the birch forest the rich and varied song of Bluethroat could be heard and several were seen. Great-Grey Shrike and Rustic Bunting seen along the road as we headed for a campsite proved far harder to relocate.
We pitched the tent 10km along the road to Karigasniemi, a perfect end to the day provided by the midnight sun, and a sound picture from Wood Sandpipers, Snipe, Redwings, redstarts, Pied flycatchers, Willow Warblers and Bluethroats.
3rd June. Another perfect day in the arctic, with light winds and brilliant sunshine started at 3.00 am. I spent some time trying and failing to photograph Arctic Redpolls around the campsite, and was mildly astonished to find a Wryneck calling from the top of a pine – not a species I would normally have associated with the Arctic. We then headed north along the road to Utsjoki, where we were soon stopping to view marshes and their associated waders. Brilliant female Red-necked Phalaropes swam on pools, while in the margins we could view Ruff, Golden Plover, Spotted Redshank, Crane, Ringed Plover, with displaying Wood sandpipers and Snipe overhead, and Arctic Terns fishing over lakes. Bluethroats were commonly heard singing in the birch scrub surrounding the pools. As he headed south a large raptor coming straight towards us swung round to reveal the unmistakeable silhouette of a White-tailed Eagle, the juvenile circling overhead before heading off north-east with lazy flaps of its massive wings. A second fox was seen, again Vulpes vulpes as well as three Arctic Hares.
We then headed south to Kusamo, stopping briefly at the marsh south of Ivalo, where we saw Lapland Bunting, gradually noting the signs of spring advance as we headed south. Even in Inari the birches were virtually in full leaf, and Swallows and House Martins began to appear. A lake close to Kusamo held 87 Whooper Swans, presumably non-breeding birds.
4th June. The day started early with another ‘Finnature’ day, at 3.00am. Our guide was Ante, and I was nice to meet up again with G and L, and also meet D & L Gosney, who are touring Europe, filming and researching for their guides and DVDs – a pity they hadn’t completed the Finnish one earlier! Unfortunately our luck with the weather expired overnight and the day was overcast with drizzle and intermittent rain, although the very heavy rain mercifully held off until afternoon.
We started off driving along tracks through boggy forest, and quickly encountered a species that had previously eluded me, the subtly but beautifully marked Hazel Grouse, with a pair perched in trees and feeding in a garden! Willow Grouse were only seen in flight, but a bend in the road. A more obliging bird was the female Capercaillie found standing in the road, allowing a close approach, before flying off with bustard like wingbeats. Two Moose were seen, one close to the road allowed photographs – a far less wary animal than the ones seen two days ago, while another clattered across the road in front of us, demonstrating the potential for a disastrous collision.
We searched boggy forest in this area, and soon picked out the fluting song of Rustic Bunting, and the less musical notes of Little Bunting. Both species might normally sing from a prominent perch, but in the wet conditions they were hard to locate, but eventually I had views of the singing Little Bunting, and of a female Rustic Bunting moving through the scattered trees.
From here we climbed into the mist that shrouded Valtavarra Ridge, very atmospheric with scattered old spruces, soon hearing the songs of 3 Red-flanked Bluetails and 2 Greenish Warblers. A very obliging Bluetail was located singing for several minutes in the top of a spruce, but it was a 1st Summer bird, rather than a sparkling adult, while Greenish Warblers proved harder to track down, and only brief views were obtained of these hyperactive sprites. Large numbers of Common Crossbills, Willow Tit and Green Sandpiper were also seen here. We then stopped by a Black Woodpecker's nest hole. There were 3 chicks in the nest that looked to be on the point of fledging, and they became very animated when wild yelping calls announced the arrival of the female, who eventually and cautiously eased round the trunk to feed the chicks. Unfortunately DG demonstrated even professionals can slip up by failing to film the sequence!
We then made a determined effort to locate Siberian Jay, and at the fourth site tried the tape lure brought out a party of 4 birds, initially perching in distant spruces, but then coming very close, looking perhaps like giant tits as they acrobatically worked through the branches. We then visited two nest boxes occupied by Tengmalm’s Owl. At the first the bird refused to perform, but at the second the females head popped into view as if by magic – one of the few birds whose appearance is so comical it provoked spontaneous laughter.
Our final stop with Ante gave views of a female Siberian Tit at one nest box, and a pair of these birds were seen at another box, noisily voicing their objections to us disturbing them. Before leaving Kusamo we drove to a lake just north of the town, where Velvet Scoters were breeding, and I had what were probably my best ever views of this rather striking species. The only Red-throated Divers and Greenshank of the trip were seen in flight.
5th June. We camped by a lake north of Jyvaskyla, viewing Whooper Swan, Great-crested Grebes, Arctic terns, Common Rosefinch, 20 Crossbill, redwings and Fieldfares before we departed.
Arriving early in Helsinki we made a return visit to Espoo Laajalahti. A Wood Warbler was singing in the old growth forest around the visitors centre, giving great photo opportunities as it was illuminated by a shaft of sunlight on a low branch. A Red Squirrel, although an remarkably scarce species ( the fact that the only other one seen was trying to cross a motorway might explain why!) was equally obliging. From the bird tower we could view a pirouetting male Red-necked Phalarope, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and Arctic Terns. It was then time to pack away the bins- always a sad moment – and make our way to the airport.
This was an excellent trip, in spite of not having particularly high quality or recent information about sites, and the inevitable long drives. It was a real pleasure to view arctic birds in wild landscapes, but the undoubted highlight were the six species of owl.
Birds seen in Finland.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor. Two seen at Viiki Vanhakaupunginlahti (VVP) on 30th May. Certainly not the common swan of Finland.
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus. The Aulen guide suggests there are over 1000 pairs in the country – on the evidence we saw the population is likely to be close to or above 5 figures. Most lakes throughout the country held breeding birds, and large aggregations of non-breeding birds (up to 87) were seen in fields or on lakes. This would suggest the population is at capacity across most of its range.
Bean Goose Anser fabilis. Seven flew over the taiga north of Oulu on 1st June.
Greylag Goose Anser anser. Two seen at Liminganlahti on 1st June.
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis. Three flew over VVP on 30th May. Had we been able to view the Baltic we might have seen substantial passage of this and other arctic breeding waterfowl.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. A fairly common species across the country, seen daily except in far north.
Pintail Anas acuta. Just a pair seen at Liminganlahti on 1st June.
Shoveler Anas clypeata. Small numbers seen at VVP and Espoo Laajalahti (ELJ)on 30th May.
Wigeon Anas penelope. Small numbers seen in marshes and bogs through the country, such as at VPP, ELJ and Liminganlahti.
Teal Anas crecca. Probably the most numerous dabbling duck, seen on wetlands throughout the country.
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula. Fairly common on lakes throughout the country.
Eider Somateria mollissima. Six birds seen at Porkkala Marina on 30th May.
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra. A pair seen on the lake adjacent to the roadside marsh south of Ivalo on 2nd June.
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca. Two males were seen on a lake 10km north of Kusamo, a known breeding site for this smart duck.
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula. A characteristic species of lakes forest lakes throughout the country, also often seen on fast flowing rivers.
Goosander Mergus merganser. This handsome fish eater was fairly common on rivers with some reasonable photos of pairs and males taken on 31st May.
Smew Mergellus albellus. Three birds, including a beautiful drake were seen on he lake adjoining the marsh south of Ivalo on 2nd June.
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator. Much less common than Goosander, with just one bird at Porkkala and a second on a lake on 31st May.
Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus. We only had brief views of birds in flight in scattered forest near Kusamo on 4th June.
Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus. A female was found standing in the road near Kusamo in the early morning of 2nd June. She allowed a close approach although photos taken through the windscreen can only be rated ‘poor’.
Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix. Crooning was heard in the early hours near Oulu, and we found a single bird, which went through all the motions of display, although there was no female or other males in view.
Hazel Grouse Tetrastes bonasia. This was a hoped for species and we were not disappointed with superb views of a pair near Kusamo. A male was seen on a track, he then flew into a birch, giving superb views as we walked along branches, before fluttering down to join the female. A neat and very smartly marked bird.
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus. One seen near Helsinki.
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica. This stunningly beautiful bird was reasonably common on forest lakes in central Finland. On the 30th May a flock of nine summer plumaged birds was a superb sight, while two pairs were seen on both the 31st May and 1st June.
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata. Only one seen, in flight near Kusamo on 4th June.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus. A handful of birds seen on various lakes in the south of the country.
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena. Singles seen at Porkkala marina on 30th May, and others on forest lakes on 31st May and 3rd June.
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. Five seen at Porkkala marina on May 31st.
Bittern Botaurus stellaris. One booming from reedbeds at Espoo Laajalahti on 30th May.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea. There was a fairly large heronry at Viikki Vanhakaupunginlahti.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. One was seen in flight over birch forest along the road to Utsjoki on 3rd June. Always an impressive bird, in spite of it heavy vulturine profile, this bird was a first summer individual.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus. In Sweden this species was an ever present on lakes, so I was surprised to only see one – at the roadside marsh south of Ivalo on 2nd June. Perhaps the density of suitably sized prey (eg. Pike) is fairly low in Finnish lakes.
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus. A female seen at Espoo Laajalahti on 30th May was the only one seen.
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus. A beautiful male, and a ringtail seen over farmland near Oulu on 31st may and 1st June.
Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus. Raptors in general were thin on the ground (or in the air!) in Finland, and only three were seen; one at Porkkala, and two on the journey to Oulu. In Finland the Steppe Buzzard replaces B.b.buteo.
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus. Only one seen, hovering and soaring over the birch forest along the road to Karigasniemi. I had expected to encounter this species reasonably regularly in the arctic.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. One flew across the road on 1st June.
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. One seen at VP on 30th May. Its presence was revealed by a Hooded Crows alarm calls as it trailed the bird, noteworthy perhaps that it mobbed the Goshawk with vastly less aggression than how they treat Sparrowhawks!
Hobby Falco subuteo. A pair seen hunting over the copses and reedbeds at VP on 30th May were the only falcon species seen.
Coot Fulica atra. A few birds seen at VP and Espoo Laaajalahti.
Crane Grus grus. Two seen along the road to Oulu on 31st May, singles seen on Lapland marshes on 2nd and 3rd June, the latter bird giving nice flight shots as it obliged with a fly past, and a flock of 30 were seen along the road to Helsinki on 5th June.
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus.A few birds seen at Porkkala, and odd birds seen nesting in fields in the south of the country.
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula. A pair seen along the roadside north of Inari on 3rd June.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius. One seen at Espoo Laajalahti on 5th June.
Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria. We failed to find Dotterel at Ailigas in spite of extensive searching but immaculate birds of the northern race of this species, with their jet-black underparts and spangled upperparts offered some compensation. Perhaps 20 birds were seen.
Lapwing Vanellu vanellus. A fairly common bird up to the arctic circle, with birds often seen nesting in ploughed fields.
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii. On its breeding grounds in Lapland rather more exhibitionistic than the furtive passage birds seen in Britain, as it gave display flight, uttering a cricket like reeling call.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. A fairly common wader on forest bogs and tundra pools in the north of the country. Frequently seen and heard giving the beautiful display flight, the bird hovering high, while giving wild yodelling calls. Took some nice pictures of three birds in a stream.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus. Less common than the preceding species, with singles seen at our campsite on 31st June, and at Valtavarra ridge on 4th June.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. Small numbers seen along rocky streams and lakeshores on most days.
Redshank Tringa totanus. A few birds seen at VP and Espoo Laajalahti.
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus. A few birds, in the handsome breeding plumage, were seen on marshes along the road to Utsjoki on 3rd June.
Greenshank Tringa nebularia. I thought this species would be common on forest bogs, but in fact we only saw one, near Oulu on 1st June.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. A few birds seen from the tower at the WWF centre at Liminganlahti on 1st June.
Curlew Numenius arquata. A fairly common wader in farmland throughout most of the country.
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus. Birds were obviously nesting on the tundra of Ailigas, as pairs mobbed ravens with great determination and vigour.
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola. Roding birds seen on 30th May, and around our campsite on 31st May, with other odd birds seen, rather incongruously along roadside verges in the early morning.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Quite common in bogs and marshes in Lapland, with the drumming a characteristic backdrop to other bird song. A pity not to hear the ‘galloping horse’ display of Jack Snipe.
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. Four examples of this jewel of a bird were seen on pools along the road to Utsjoki. As always an incredibly active bird, unfortunately none obliged by pitching in front of me and all the pictures I took against the light were disappointing. A male was seen at Espoo Laajalahti on 5th June.
Ruff Philomachus pugnax. Males in their breeding finery were seen at Espoo Laajahlahti, at Liminganlahti, and on marshes north and south of Ivalo. Most had rufous or ginger capes. Sadly we did not actually get to see lekking behaviour.
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus. This supremely elegant bird was seen over the tundra at Ailigas, soaring up high or hovering in search of prey, unfortunately never close enough to give the classic image I coveted. Probably just one pair located.
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus. A common breeding bird on lakes south of the arctic circle.
Common Gull Larus canus. A fairly common species throughout the country.
Herring Gull Larus argentatus. A few birds seen along the coast at Porkkala.
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus. One seen at VP.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus. Seen at VP, along the coast and at Liminganlahti.
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutes. A flock of c80 hawking insects over a reed-bed and lake on the road to Oulu was a fine sight. Most were fairly distant but a few birds drifted overhead, giving good opportunities to take some nice flight shots of this dainty bird.
Common Tern Sterna hirundo. A few birds seen over the lagoons at VVP, but certainly far less common that Arctic over most of the country.
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisea. The vast majority of terns throughout the country were of this species, and it was fairly common, particularly over marshes and lakes north of the Arctic Circle.
Caspian Tern Hydoprogne caspia. Four examples of this species were seen at VVP, either roosting or fishing over the lagoons, some coming close enough to get nice flight shots of this impressive bird.
Stock Dove Columba oenas. A few birds seen in farmland around VVP.
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus. A fairly common species in the south of the country.
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. The populations of this species are obviously faring much better than those in most of Britain, and it was heard or seen daily, even in the arctic regions close to the Norwegian border.
Great Grey Owl Strix nebulosa. The species was certainly in my ‘world 10 most wanted’ list and we were not disappointed. To reach the site necessitated a long drive from Oulu. The nest site was in scattered spruces, disconcertingly close to forestry operations, but the owls were unperturbed. The female was seen first, just the top of her head and the surprisingly small yellow eyes peering down at us from the nest, but she was largely forgotten with the discovery of the male perched nearby, and we had crippling views at very close range.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis. This species had nested in a box in some mature spruces close to Oulu. We spent a considerable time searching around the nest site for the adults, but without success and were in fact leaving when the female flew in and stared down at us from the tops of spruces. Pritta suggested the young might have fledged and it was because we were moving in the direction of the chicks that the female appeared. Fortunately she did not demonstrate this species’ notorious aggression to humans at nest sites.
Northern Hawk Owl Surnia ulula. The site for this bird was conveniently close to the GGO site, with four chicks getting close to fledging in a shattered pine stump. We waited by the relatively open area with scattered large trees that the owl likes to hunt over and the male duly appeared with a vole, that was quickly surrendered to the female, who consumed it rather messily with what appeared to be a fair degree of wastage. The male left fairly quickly, but the female remained, calling plaintively from trees and flying around, certainly resembling a heavily built accipiter.
Tengmalm’s Owl Aegolius funereus. We visited four known nest sites for this species, three in nest boxes, one in a Black Woodpecker hole, but the birds only obliged at two sites. Scratching on the tree below the nest simulates a nest predator and both at Oulu and Kusamo the female popped into view as a result of this stimulus, viewing us from all angles before retreating. I did wonder how the owl supported itself in the box to do this – I suppose it must dig its claws into the wood of the box.
Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum. We went to a nest site for this species near Oulu, and waited close to the nest box while Pritta played a tape. This quickly brought in the male Pygmy Owl, who gave terrific views perched on a low spruce branch just above our heads.
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus. At least we found one species of owl by ourselves! At ABC Tupos as we waited to begin the Finnature Oulu day we watched two Short-eared Owls patrolling the grasslands, and sparring with each other in the air, always showing an astonishing degree of agility and manoeuvrability.
Swift Apus apus. Large numbers (hundreds) seen over VVP, but regularly seen over towns right up to the arctic circle.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius. This species was calling and drumming at Pyha Hakki, but not seen. However at Kusamo we visited an occupied nest in an aspen. The chicks were obviously on the point of fledging, and spent much time peering out from the hole, becoming more excited as noisy calls that heralded the approach of the female who then fed them at the nest site.
Great-spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major. Fairly common in forests throughout the country – seen or heard daily. We tried to locate Three-toed near Kusamo without success, but I had seen that species in Alaska.
Wryneck Jynx torquilla. Noisily calling birds at VVP refused to reveal themselves, but one was seen as called from the top of a spruce at our campsite at 69’ N on the 3rd June. I was mildly astonished to encounter this species so far north. Having found it breeding in Mediterranean maquis and now at the tree line in the arctic one wonders how Britain became so inhospitable to this species it became extinct!?
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. A common species across the country although sightings petered out north of Inari.
House Martin Delichon urbica. Less widespread than Swallow, but common around towns, and like that species penetrating as far north as Inari.
Sand Martin Riparia riparia. Seen in small numbers well north of the Arctic circle, and certainly seen north of Inari. I had never considered hirundines as arctic birds!
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis. Certainly less common than Tree Pipit, although seen in open areas such as Ailigas.
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis. Commonly seen along forest edge and in open woodland – clearly Finnish populations have not been subject to the massive declines seen over much of Britain.
White Wagtail Moticilla alba. A very common species in villages and open country in all areas visited. One wonders why the adaptable Grey Wagtail does not include Finland in its huge range.
Yellow Wagtail Moticilla flava. This species was fairly common around forest bogs, marshes and rivers in Lapland. The sub-species here is the grey headed thunbergi.
Waxwing Bombycilla garrulous. In a location far removed from a super-market car park we could watch five of these birds fly-catching in birch forest near Karigasniemi.
Dunnock Prunella modularis. Seen at Kusamo.
Robin Erithacus rubecula. Fairly common in woodland right up to 69’N.
Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia. Several birds were pumping out their powerful song during the short night at our campsite north of Helsinki. Perhaps less richly beautiful than Rufous Nightingale but remarkable for its power. Birds continued to sing into the day, and we had great views of one singing bird. Also singing at Espoo Laajalahti.
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica. This species was fairly common in upland birch forest and in willows along the edges of marshes in Lapland. The singing males were really exhibitionistic and not at all shy, allowing really good photo opportunities of what I always consider a really stunning species.
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus. Three birds were heard singing at Valtavarra ridge on 3rd April, and one was tracked down, giving good views through the scope as sang for several minutes from the top of a spruce. It was, however, a 1st summer male, not a sparkling full adult.
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Fairly common in open forest and woodland throughout the country, particularly in old growth forest.
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe. Several birds seen in rocky areas around the slopes of Ailigas on 2nd June.
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra. Birds were seen at VVP and north of Oulu, at the Hawk Owl site.
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos. Rather surprisingly this species seemed to only encountered in old growth forest, its place as a garden bird being usurped by the northern thrushes.
Redwing Turdus iliacus. Redwings became increasingly common to the north of the country, being a characteristic species of birch forest near Inari, but also common in woodland further south. The simple song does not compare with the Song Thrush but is still atmospheric as part of a midnight sun chorus in the arctic.
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus. As with Song Thrush, far from being a garden bird this species seemed associated with old growth forest, such as Valtavarra Ridge near Kusamo.
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris. This species was the common garden thrush in most of the country, although it appeared to become scarcer north of the arctic circle. Loose colonies often seen noisily mobbing Hooded Crows.
Blackbird Turdus merula. Common around Helsinki, and in the south of Finland.
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin. Quite common in woodland in the south of Finland, e.g several were seen at Espoo Laajalahti.
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla. Possibly less common than Garden Warbler, but several still seen in woodlands in the south of Finland.
Whitethroat Sylvia communis. Quite a common species in open areas and forest edge in the south of the country.
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca. Given that this species has only limited northerly penetration in Britain I was surprised to find this species in young conifers at the Hawk Owl site on 1st June.
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. Commonly heard singing and seen around the reedy margins of lakes right up to 69’N
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus. Several singing at VPP and Espoo Laajalahti, but not seen as far north as Sedge Warbler.
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus. A few examples of this hefty warbler gave their strident and far carrying songs from the reedbeds of VPP, and one gave scope views as it worked its way up a reed stem into view.
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina. One was heard singing in woodland at VPP, and eventually gave good views as it sang from several perches in the sub-canopy.
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus. A common species across the country, but particularly in the upland birch forest north of Inari.
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix One was heard singing at Espoo Laajalahti on 5th June. Had good views of it on a low branch illuminated by a shaft of sunlight, and took some nice photos.
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides Two birds were singing from tall spruces at valtavarra ridge near Kusamo. They were very active and good views were at a premium and I only had glimpses of these sprites.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus. Just one seen at VPP.
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes. A few birds heard singing in various locations, but not a particularly common species.
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata. A fairly common species in open forest, although certainly less numerous than Pied.
Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Certainly one of the more common summer migrants to Finland, this species was encountered in all areas visited, up to the edge of the taiga. The simple song seemed quite variable from location to location.
Great Tit Parus major. A common species right up to the tree line – several were seen near Karigasniemi at 69’N.
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus. This was another common and widespread species. It was very surprising not to find a single Coal Tit.
Siberian Tit Poecile cinctus. Two pairs were seen that were using nest boxes in spruce forest close to Kusamo. I did feel uneasy that a forester evicted the sitting bird in order for us to view them, but after noisy objections the bird quickly returned to its clutch.
Willow Tit Poecile montanus. Only one seen, in open forest close to Kusamo.
Treecreeper Certhia familiaris. One was seen with a beak-full of aphids at the Ural Owl site near Kusamo.
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor. Not easy to locate, with one flying across the road in the edge of the taiga at 69’N near Karigasniemi, and another on roadside wires south of Kusamo on 4th June.
Magpie Pica pica. A common species in much of Finland. Its abundance here made me wonder why this species does not occur in Scotland.
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius. One flew across the road as we drove to Helsinki.
Siberian Jay Perisoreus infaustus. Locating this species proved to be quite a challenge. We attempted to tape lure them at several locations around Kusamo, before we were successful, with 4-5 birds coming to investigate the source of the noise. They didn’t call themselves, but investigated the area thoroughly, perching boldly oon the tops of pines, or exploring the branches, rather like a giant tit.
Jackdaw Corvus monedula. Common around towns and villages. Most birds showed the clear whitish collar of soemmerringii.
Rook Corvus frugilegus. Only seen at Oulu, where an isolated but thriving population are summer migrants.
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix. Fairly common over most of the country, large numbers seen around VPP.
Raven Corvus corax. Seen in small numbers on most days, from Porkkala in the south to Ailigas in the far north.
Starling Sturnus vulgaris. Fairly common around towns and villages in the south of the country.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Fairly common around towns and villages in the south of the country.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. One of the most common birds in Finland, although largely replaced by Brambling in the far north.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla. This species became progressively more common as we headed north, being a characteristic species of the birch forest that develops as the taiga thins out. I thought I was familiar with Brambling calls, but on the breeding grounds several unfamiliar notes were heard, including the song, which must rate at one of the least inspired of all bird songs.
Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea. Small numbers seen most days, particularly around Kusamo.
Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni. Seen in the scattered birch forest between Inari and Karigasniemi. Although several were seen well around the campsite they were so volatile I failed to get any pictures of these frosted little birds.
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis.Five were seen at VPP on 30th May.
Greenfinch Chloris chloris. Small numbers seen most days, and populations reach quite northerly latitudes, with birds seen north of Inari on 2nd and 3rd June.
Siskin Carduelis spinus. As one would expect fairly common in coniferous forest over most of the country, small numbers seen daily.
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula. Several examples seen in forest edge around Oulu and Kusamo. Although plumage differences from British Bullfinches were not striking the call of these birds was totally different, the soft indrawn whistle giving way to a nasal toy trumpet like note.
Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra. Birds were seen in small numbers at Pyha Hakki, around Oulu, and rather more numerous at Kusamo, where flocks of 50-80 were seen. All those scrutinised with the scope had the narrow secateurs of Common Crossbill, rather than the bulbous beak of Parrot Crossbill.
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus. The short but pleasantly flute-like song of this species was seen at VPP, Lininganlahti, and Espoo Laajalahti. Deciduous scrub adjoining reeds and marsh would seem to be the preferred habitat.
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus. A common species along the edges of lakes and in marshes over most of the country, including at 69’N.
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla. This is a fairly scarce bird in Finland and only one was heard singing from scattered spruces in a very boggy forest. After much searching the bird was finally located – had it been less appalling weather at the time it might have sung from a prominent perch, rather than deep in cover.
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica. One was seen in the road between Karigasniemi!, but it flitted off into willow scrub and could not be relocated. Birds seen Kusamo in swampy forest were also quite difficult to see – perhaps three were giving the pleasantly melodic song, but eventually one appeared giving reasonable views through the drizzle.
Yellowhammer Emberiza citronella. A fairly common bird in farmland in most areas of Finland we visited.
Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus. I have always regarded this as a very attractive species in a subtle way, but the breeding males in Lapland were really quite stunning, particularly when giving the song flight. Pairs were seen at Ailigas on 2nd June, and in the roadside marsh south of Ivalo on the 3rd June.
Mammals seen in Finland.
Brown Hare Lepus europaeus. Three examples seen in the south of the country.
Mountain Hare Lepus timidus. These were referred to as Arctic Hares by the Finnature guides, but apparently that species is restricted to eastern Canada and Greenland, so these would appear to be same species as found in upland Britain. Several were seen in taiga and birch forest, the most northerly animals still having largely white coats.
Red Squirrel Scirus vulgaris. Amazingly scarce considering the abundance of habitat. One was seen trying to cross a motorway near Helsinki, and another fairly tame individual gave really good views and the chance for several photos at Espoo Laajalahti.
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes. Two were seen along the road to Karigasniemi on 2nd and 3rd June. Very beautiful animals with extremely luxuriant coats, although I was a little disappointed they were not Arctic Foxes, as opposed to foxes in the arctic.
Moose Alces alces. Always an awesome animal, which is certainly in the mega-fauna category. Three (two cows and a bull) were seen feeding in birch and willow scrub along the road to Karigasniemi on June 2nd. Unfortunately they were very wary, and reversing the car back to view them precipitated a rapid departure, even though we were c100m distant. One at Kusamo was more obliging and I took some photos in spite of the poor light, while another clattered across the road, demonstrating why one in two fatal road accidents in Sweden involves collision with a moose.