|Finland 2010 Tour Report 24th- 29th May|
The day finally dawned for the inaugural Gone Birding tour to Finland to depart. Much biting of nails had occurred the previous week as a certain volcano (Eyjafjallajokull) many miles away in Iceland had continued to erupt and spew ash high into the atmosphere, grounding most of the airlines in northern Europe. Luckily the volcano had settled down slightly, but more importantly SW winds were blowing the ash away, although up to the last minute we were unsure if we would be delayed or have our flight canceled. A long day today as the group of 11 gathered in the early morning. Our minibus taxi took us to Heathrow to catch our Finnair flight. We arrived late in Helsinki which meant we only had 15 mins to catch our connecting flight to Oulu, our base for the first few days. Most of the group made it. Unfortunately having been split up not everyone was accounted for and we departed for Oulu shy one of the party!
Arriving in Oulu we found out our missing member was on the the next flight, due in an hour, so in the meantime we sorted out the hire vehicles. Our missing member was a welcome sight as were the 4-5 missing suitcases which failed to find their way on to our flight, although one remained lost. Loading up our vehicles we drove the short distance around Liminka Bay to the south side and Liminganlahti Visitor Centre, our accommodation for the first few nights. Ari our guide from Finnature was waiting for us, ensuring we had a prompt start in the morning. Most of the party grabbed their bins to take full advantage of the long daylight hours and the immediate location of our base on the shores of the bay and grabbed some birding before heading out for a meal to a local supermarket. 4 Cranes flew over with Black- throated Diver and Curlew in the bay. Fieldfare were singing. 2 m Garganey differed from the norm, as did Jack Snipe and 2 Marsh Harrier over the marsh. Other notable birds included 3 Pintail, a small group of 10 Ruff, Shoveler and 7 Whooper Swan with a chorus of 12 Snipe drumming overhead. In the immediate grounds of the centre a m Pied Flycatcher sang. We returned from our quick evening meal, completed the short log and headed for our spacious rooms in the timber built centre, with views over the bay. An exciting day in more ways than one. Common Crane was Bird Of The Day.
An early start ensured most had some birding before/ after breakfast- even during, as breakfast was taken in the cafeteria of the centre with panoramic views. Scarlet Rosefinch were evident, including a couple of red males, plus Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher. After breakfast out first stop was the airport to see if the missing bag had arrived, although we went via the back roads, birding as we went. South of the airport we came across a field with 150 Cranes feeding amid 250 Whooper Swan. At the rear were 5 Bean Geese. Stopping by a bridge we heard Thrush Nightingale singing away. With no sign of the luggage we continued further north to a couple of sites for owls, although a stop on the coast just outside Oulu was a magical moment. Stopping by the north bay we stopped and scanned, Temminck's Stint were seen as was a Black Tern. A very unpromising dump came alive when Terek Sandpiper flew in, landed and began to call away, an amazing site and pretty close. We drove further north and off the beaten track into a large area of woodland that was worryingly being cleared. Pulling up a lone remaining thin trunked tree, some 50 feet high, had a lump perched at the top. This lump turned out to be a male Hawk Owl, a bird we had hoped to see, but more was to come. Just down the road local birders had located a nest where a female was sat. We experienced amazing views of both birds at the nest and at fairly close proximity, with Terek Sandpiper in the morning, could our day get any better? Well yes- a little further down the road we walked a few hundred metres into the woodland and were confronted by another truly awesome bird- a male Great Grey Owl! nearby we had a female on a nest. What an amazing few hours it had been. Later in the day, we visited an area of farmland in flood. A month or so previously a Pallid Harrier had been seen, although with no recent records we weren't optimistic. We had Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper, then at low level within a few metres a quite stunning adult male Pallid Harrier quartered the field by us giving awesome views, if it wasn't for the owls, this would have been the best bird of the day. We also had Honey Buzzard over. We returned to our base and continued further on, after a slightly hurried meal. Ari took us to a woodland. Here was a nest box, with a gentle tap an adult Tengmalms Owl flew out and perched not too far away, another enigmatic species which reflected the quality of the birding in this area. Other birds, today, not quite in the same league included Raven, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Woodcock and Grey-headed Wagtail, It was a tough decision for Bird Of The Day, but Great Grey Owl pipped the Hawk Owl. We returned to the centre and went to bed well past midnight!
Another early breakfast and start, although some made an effort to have quick walk around, notching up vocal waders such as Snipe, plus the usual Scarlet Rosefinch, Chaffinch and Siskin. Today we head east towards Kuusamo, birding as we go. Another visit to the airport and we were still missing a suitcase, although the Terek Sandpiper gave good views again. About 20km east of Oulu we pulled off the main road and into another woodland. Here we met two other groups who were here for the same thing.... We played a Pygmy Owl call and sure enough, albeit distantly, a bird replied, with Green Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper also singing away in the background. We hung around for about 30 mins, hoping it would come nearer, but alas it didn't. We had a fair way to go, so pressed on. Our second port of call was a hyper market, so our party member who's case was missing, had the opportunity to purchase some clean/ warm clothing!. After our brief stop, we pressed on. The countryside undulates under the relentless cover of conifers. We had never seen so many trees. About two thirds of the way to Kuusamo we pulled off at a rest area, which conveniently had a boardwalk and an observation tower over looking an impressive looking open boggy area with small patches of open water. However we knew we were near the Arctic Circle- it was bitterly cold, as well as dull and misty with biting NE wind. We did have Whooper Swan and Crane here. We pressed on towards Kuusamo, another stop by one of the myriad of lakes revealed Smew and Black-throated Diver. Driving and walking into a woodland we had 2 Brambling singing away, as well as Hazelhen, which were surprisingly easy to see. Here typical woodland birds such as Siskin and Redstart were in good number. A trek up hill, grounding the cars!! was worth the effort as we added Wryneck to our growing list. Passing through Kuusamo we arrived at our accommodation. A superbly appointed large wooden lodge capable of housing our group, with another large building nearby,where we had an amazing Finnish feast- the table was in the shape of boat. The lodge was situated in a wood, with a lake just 100m away which yielded Crested Tit and Crossbill and birds such as Goldeneye. Terek Sandpiper was Bird Of The Day.
A full day scouring the woodlands and lakes north of Kuusamo today. Following breakfast we headed out and began looking for Capercaillie at a local site. We weren't disappointed and had a female by the roadside. Our next few stops involved visits to several known sites as it was still early in the season. Our quarry was Siberian Tit. Our first two stops drew blanks, save for good views of Waxwing, but third time lucky, a small clearing containing several nest boxes included at least one occupied box with one pair showing well. A good walk through an extensive woodland along a well marked path proved to be well worth the effort. Brambling were singing from the tree tops, but something slightly scarcer was required. Red-flanked Bluetail have been steadily moving westwards and now found in eastern Finland. The undulating woodland had open areas, in such a glade we had excellent views of Hazelhen, with several birds perched above and flying over us. And we had at least 2 Red-flanked Bluetail here, perched and singing away. A stop in a layby, where Siberian Jay had been seen, proved disappointing in the cool dull weather, however 3 Crossbill were singing away. Further along this road and several stops later produced very brief Rustic Bunting, Spotted Flycatcher and lots of Siskin. A lunchtime stop by a large lake produced many Common Tern and a what were probably a group of 5 White-winged Black Tern, seen by some of the group, although very rare here. Some very smart Mealy Redpoll were also seen, noting the differences in plumage and size with our Lesser Redpoll. In the afternoon and a lake on the edge of town produced Garganey, quite a few Little Gull and 3 Red- necked Grebe. Nearby a private drive produced tantalisingly brief Rustic Bunting, although a very obliging Willow Grouse was much photographed. During the day we had a total of 35 Goldeneye, 18 Smew, 27 Velvet Scoter. We returned to our base for another excellent meal and the arrival of our missing suitcase. An early night for the drivers for our journey back to Oulu tomorrow. Siberian Tit was Bird Of The Day.
Our final morning in eastern Finland, not wasting any time we went back to the Siberian Jay site, this again proved fruitless, it was damp and cool, not ideal conditions. Further down the road we revisited a Rustic Bunting site, which yield a single bird, but a single Siberian Jay perched at the top of tall conifer was just reward for the effort of the previous day in searching for it. The drive seemed so long back to Oulu, although several breaks were welcomed by the drivers. Back towards Oulu and a return visit to the Pygmy Owl site was well worth the perseverance. Our group stood by Ari who called in the bird, like a missile an adult shot through the woodland at high speed and perched above the group, glaring at us. After a few minutes it flew off as quickly as it arrived. Unseen by some, we lured it back for a second look and like a bullet it shot through the woodland hitting out trusty leader (Andy Hirst) squarely on the forehead, between the eyes, luckily he was wearing a hat which protected his eyes. Looking most indignant, the adult perched on a low-level branch, glaring at us, before again shooting off- an amazing experience, especially for our leader. Further down the road towards Oulu and an immaculate cemetery edged by woodland, produced a breeding pair of Black Woodpecker, although vocal, insisted on perching on the far side of the every tree they landed on and out of view. Eventually we all had excellent view of this massive woodpecker. Approaching Liminganlahti Visitor Centre a Short- eared Owl put on a great show by the roadside. Other birds today included 2 Caspian Tern, 50 Goldeneye and 3 Woodcock. Our last meal and visit to a local restaurant for a welcome meal and our thanks to Ari for his great guiding and perseverance in getting us all the target species. Pygmy Owl was awarded Bird Of the Day, as well as an A.S.B.O!
Our final day in Finland saw the group stay close to the centre for the morning, before our early afternoon flights back to Heathrow. This proved an excellent mornings birding in the bay, from the tower hide and surrounding area. 57 Crane flew over. Our first Gadwall, 10 Great Crested Grebe, 3m Garganey. 4 Marsh Harrier were recorded, although the highlight were 4 White- tailed Eagle which dwarfed almost everything else. Other wildfowl included 12 Pintail, 9 Smew, 14 Whooper Swan and an impressive single flock of 135 divers high over, which were presumed to be Red- throated Diver. A Short- eared Owl put on a great show in front of the centre. We packed up and made the short journey back to Oulu airport. At check in we reflected on the 6 day trip, during which we packed in about two weeks worth of birding given the long hours of daylight. The uneventful flights back to Heathrow and the long drive back up the M1 saw the tour come to a close, for what was to all a memorable tour. My personal highlight was the first full morning which produced Terek Sandpiper, Hawk Owl and Great Grey Owl- awesome.
We have been a little vague with a lot of sites here as these are sites worked by local guides who wish to control access and protect their interests.
All images © Mick Clay, Geoff & Lyn Facer, Andy Hirst, George & Irene Shentall