Is it possible to see the spring Finnish and Lapland specialties in July, as well as the 3 late arrival species (Arctic, Booted and Lanceolated Warblers)? As far as we had been told, it certainly looked like an impossible task, especially bearing in mind that we weren’t going to use the services of a birding guide and that by July many of the target species had stopped singing, but with the right contacts and information and, above all, lots of effort and time spent in the field, we discovered that the answer to that question was Yes. The trip was a great success; we saw 212 species, including nearly everything we had planned, and even saw a couple of rarities: Surf Scoter, Great Snipe and Rose-coloured Starling. I saw 23 out of 24 possible lifers (the big miss being Great Grey Owl). So, for those people like us - students who unfortunately don’t have 3 free weeks in May/June and therefore can make long trips only in summer - this report will hopefully help them prepare a successful summer trip to a very nice part of the continent.
Without the help of many people, this trip wouldn´t have been possible. Special thanks to Jukka Rokkanen, who helped us in various ways: giving us maps and lots of information about the best places for several species; putting us in contact with some very useful contacts; taking us to see some of the best birds of the trip, such as Lanceolated Warbler, Rustic Bunting & Three-toed Woodpecker; sending us messages with the latest rarity news and above all and letting us sleep and rest after 3 intensive weeks in his cottage by the lake near Tampere, which was absolutely great.
We are very grateful to Janne and Hanna Aalto, and Paul French, who were doing the same trip at the same time, and shared all the information and sightings with us. They were great company and thanks to them & their tape recorder we finally saw the Booted Warbler!
Andreas Uppstu was of great help, too, guiding us for free all day long around his local area near Helsinki and showing us some really good birds that we thought were impossible in summer, like Pygmy and Ural Owls. His birding skills were impressive.
We also want to thank Petri Salo for coming with us gulling at Tampere dump and helping us with the identification of the difficult gull taxa there! We learned a lot from him.
Olli Lamminsalo shared with us all his knowledge of the birds in Kuusamo, making it easier for us to find some of the specialties.
A birder we met at the Lanceolated Warbler site (I’m sorry, I forgot his name ) was really kind, too, providing us with some interesting information and helping us find the warbler. Another local birder from Ekkeroy was kind enough to invite us to his house for dinner, and gave us also lots of advice for birding in the area.
Pierre-André Crochet and Alex Lees helped us a lot as well, telling us the best spots for several species, as they both had been there just some days before us. Many thanks to them.
We met Lutz Lücker in Varanger and were delighted to talk to him as we had all of his previous year’s reports from the area in the car. He and his reports were very helpful.
Talking about the trip with several Spanish friends was very useful, too, specially with Rafa Armada, Jose Luis Copete, Ricard Gutierrez, Óscar Llama, Paco Chiclana, Pablo Fernandez García and Oriol Clarabuch .
José Ardaiz gave us invaluable information on all aspects of the trip, as he had been at the same places just a month ago. We are very grateful to him.
Stephen Menzie was kind enough to improve and correct the English of the report.
We drove an amazing 9,000 km from Helsinki.
We spent the first 3 days in the South-East, birding around Kouvola, Imatra, Vartsila and Parikkala, getting used to the calls and songs of common Finnish birds like Woodcock, Fieldfare, Whinchat, Corncrake or Willow Warbler… and looking for the specialties of the area: Blyth’s Reed, Booted, River and Lanceolated Warblers, as well as adding Broad-billed and Marsh Sandpipers, Three-toed Woodpecker and Rustic Bunting to our list. We then moved to the north, spending one night in Lieksa, where we went to see a Great Snipe lek, discovered just a few days before our arrival: an unexpected bonus for us, and one of the highlights of our trip!
Kuusamo was our next destination. We stayed there for 2 days, looking mainly for the Red-flanked Bluetail. Birding in Kuusamo forests was extremely tough. Endless hours of long walks in the forest, without seeing or hearing any kind of birds! If you think the woods there are empty and bird-less in spring, go in summer to see what’s the definition of those words! We had to work really hard for every single species we saw, though the effort was really worth it (especially for the Bluetail). Other interesting species we saw included Arctic Warbler, Waxwing, Parrot Crossbill, Hazelhen, Black Grouse, Capercaillie and Siberian Jay.
We spent several hours at the dump watching gulls and getting to know the different ages and plumages of the local Baltic Gulls and picking out a single Heuglin’s. We also had our first sightings of common species further north like Black-throated Diver, White-tailed Eagle, and Arctic Tern…
After Kuusamo, we drove north via Iivalo and Inari. Making several stops at suitable habitat produced really good views of a singing Arctic Warbler, as well as several Siberian Tits. We waited for a few hours at the usual spot for the Pine Grosbeaks, but no birds came. We arrived in Varangerfjord the next day. It was undoubtedly the best birding area of the trip, so we spent 5 days in the south/east of the peninsula (Nesseby, Vadso, Ekkeroy, Vardo and Hammingberg) and one day in the north, near Berlevag and Batsfjord. The visit to Hornoya Island was a magical experience; with several thousand birds around, it was difficult to decide which bird to look at. We enjoyed our time there more than anywhere on the trip.
All target species (except Snowy Owl, with no sightings that I am aware of this season) were located in Varangerfjord, including White-billed Diver, Steller’s and King Eiders, Gyrfalcon, Long-tailed Skua, Glaucous Gull, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Red-throated Pipit, Lapland and Snow Buntings, Shorelark, Arctic Redpoll, Twite and more… Birds like Red-breasted Mergansers, Goosanders, Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, Arctic Skuas, Kittiwakes, Common Redshanks, Oystercatchers, alcids or Redpolls, to name a few, were common everywhere.
Once we had covered all of the peninsula, we decided to spend a day in Lakselv (Porsanger), where we saw a nice male Surf Scoter. On the way south, via Utsjoki, we tried, successfully, for the Pine Grosbeaks at another different place, and we also added Ptarmigan and Dotterel in a nearby mountain called Kiilopää. We decided to spend another 2 days in Kuusamo, as we had missed Little Bunting on the way up. Unfortunately, we searched in vain at 5 different well-known places, playing the song with the recorder and spending many hours at each place, but with no luck. By July all males have stopped singing and many juveniles have already flown, thus getting really hard to locate. We also went one night to a bear feeder near the Russian border - an unforgettable experience, having close up views of up to 20 bears. Several Black Kites and White-tailed Eagles came to feed on the salmons. Then, we spent 2 days around Oulu, where we found a Steller’s Eider (rarity in the summer in Finland), and one full day in Tampere dump, where we found a Rose-coloured Starling amongst thousands of Baltic, Herring and Lesser Black-backed/Heuglin’s Gulls. After so many days camping in the field, we decided to relax for a day at a friend’s house in the forest, having a sauna and sleeping and eating more than any time before on the trip. A real pleasure!
Our last 2 days were spent in the Helsinki area, which gave us some of the best birds of the trip, including Ural and Pygmy Owls, Citrine Wagtail, Greenish and Marsh Warblers, Thrush Nightingale and Red-breasted Flycatcher.
Target species seen
White-billed Diver – 2 1st summers off Store Ekkeroy . Supposed to be tough in summer, and all of the birders we asked about it during our stay hadn’t seen it, though I think constant scanning of the sea (when calm) and checking every distant diver should end up producing the species, even in July.
Steller’s Eider –Bad summer for the species in Varanger, the only group seen being that of 13 birds in Vadso harbour. Also, an unexpected individual in Tauvo, near Oulu
King Eider - 8 birds seen (4 1st summer males and 4 females) on the road Vardo-Hammingberg. Checking all eider flocks is that area is the best way of seeing the species in summer.
Surf Scoter - A nice adult male on Lakselv (Porsanger), mixed in a flock of Velvet Scoters
Gyrfalcon - 8 birds (4 adults and 4 juvs) in the Varanger area.
Rough-legged Buzzard - very common north of Utsjoki, with no less than 40 birds seen.
White-tailed Eagle - Quite common in the Varanger area, with up to 20 birds seen, including 8 together near Hornoya. Also, one bird near Kuusamo.
Hazelhen - A family (female and 2 chicks) was seen in Juntilantie, on the small road that goes parallel to the lake, about 1 km from intersection with the main road. Another family (female and 5 chicks) was seen near Västilä (Tampere).
Willow Grouse - A couple of birds seen on the road from Vardo to Vadso.
Ptarmigan - 3 birds in the summit of mount Kiilopää. Easily seen from the boardwalk. Make sure you’re the first one to climb the mountain if you want to guarantee the species. They usually get flushed by hikers and become very hard to see.
Black Grouse - Surprisingly scarce in summer, with only one female with a small chick seen on a small track near Kuusamo.
Capercaillie -3 males in Ivaara, another one near Kuusamo, with 1 female also present, and another female near Oulu .
Dotterel - 1 adult with a small chick on Raggocaerro (road from Tanabru to Berlevag after crossing to Bastfjord). Another family in Kiilopää.
Broad-billed Sandpiper - We didn’t look for it at Petkula as we had already had good views of a bird at Konnunsuo lagoons (lapeen-ranta).
Marsh Sandpiper - 1 juvenile in Konnunsuo. A pair successfully bred there this year.
Great Snipe - 3 birds in the first lek of the species on many years in Finland, near Lieksa.
Heuglin´s Gull – Much scarcer in summer than in spring, the best spot being Tampere dump. We were lucky to see 1 bird (2º summer) in Kuusamo dump, and another bird (adult) in Tampere dump. Several graellsii types were also seen at both dumps.
Brünnich’s Guillemot - Several hundred pairs on Hornoya, giving very good views. Also seen flying and fishing with other alcids from a small headland north of Vardo, looking towards Hornoya.
Northern Hawk Owl - A very nice adult seen on the Tana bru road near the 12km sign.
Pygmy Owl – A singing bird at 5 am near Nuuksionpää on our last day, an hour after the Ural Owl! Gave excellent views.
Ural Owl - A female seen near Nuuksionpää at 4 am. Came to tape.
Three-toed Woodpecker - 1 juvenile seen well in a forest near Savero (Kouvola). Really hard to see in summer; took us several hours to find it, and the place was small!
Citrine Wagtail - 2 birds (1 adult female and 1 juvenile) seen at the usual place in Vikki after some time of searching on a very windy day.
Thrush Nightingale - Very hard to see in summer as nearly all birds have stopped singing and become very shy, but after much effort we located a bird in Vermo.
Red-flanked Bluetail - 2007 was a very good year for the species, but by July many males have stopped singing and thus get very difficult to locate. We searched for 8 hours at the usual spots on Valtaavara without success. We decided to go to Ivaara for another try, and after 4 hours, we were just going to give up when suddenly we heard a bird singing on top of the hill. We actually ran cross-country up the hill until we located our prized bird, which gave very good views as it sang from top of the spruces.
Lanceolated Warbler - Probably the bird of the trip. A singing male was seen extremely well near Joutseno.
Booted Warbler – One very shy singing male showed for a few seconds on its breeding territory near Vartsila.
River Warbler - A singing bird in Kuusankoski. Hard to get so late in the season.
Blyth’s Reed Warbler - First seen at the Lanceolated Warbler place, then found it to be quite common around Vartsila, with at least 5 pairs with juveniles in a small area with good habitat in the outskirts of the town.
Marsh Warbler - A family with 2 adults and 4 juveniles seen at Vermo.
Greenish Warbler - One bird heard in Pitkäkoski, near Helsinki. Many of the males had stopped singing a few weeks before our arrival.
Arctic Warbler - One of the highlights of the trip: one in Vuokatin (Kuusamo) and a singing male seen extremely well at km 6,3 on the road from Ivalo to Koppelo (Koppelontie) The latter place seems to be one of the most reliable ones in the country for the species. Having seen them so well, we didn´t stop at the usual place near Neiden.
Red-breasted Flycatcher - One juvenile seen in Vikki.
Siberian Tit - Common in suitable habitat north of Ivalo.
Siberian Jay - The usual group of very tame birds gave good views in Kontainen, where hand-feeding is possible if you spend enough time. Other small groups in Ivaara, a camping 3km N of Kuusamo, and at the bear place.
Rose-coloured Starling - A nice find while watching gulls in Tampere dump: 2nd for Tampere area. Many local birders came to see this nice adult.
Twite - Easily seen in Hornoya, especially on the wires to the left of the track that goes to the lighthouse. Another small group north of Vardo.
Arctic Redpoll – Seen well at several places with suitable habitat in Varanger.
Parrot Crossbill - A few groups seen well and heard, especially around Kuusamo.
Pine Grosbeak - We failed to locate any birds at the usual spot of Neeljan Tulen Tupa, where they usually come to the feeders. After 5 hours we gave up. On the way back we tried at another place with feeders - Pohjan Tulli Hotel (8.5km S of Utsjoki), where we had good views of 2 immature males.
Rustic Bunting – A nice male seen very well at Pitkäranta . Not seen again, despite looking hard for it at usual places likes Valtavaara, Ivaara..
Target species missed
Terek Sandpiper – We have already seen it as a vagrant in Spain, but anyway we were interested in seeing it breeding, so we spent several hours searching for it near Oulu. The good area is quite difficult to reach, and I think we didn´t even look at the right spot, so we failed to locate any birds.
Great Grey Owl – I bet you have more chances of seeing an Unicorn in the forest rather than finding one of these scarce owls in summer on your own! We didn´t know (nor any of the birders we asked) any reliable places for the species where we could spend some time looking for it, so we really didn´t expect to see one.
Snowy Owl – There were no sightings that we were aware of this spring/summer in Varanger, so, as expected, none were seen during our stay.
Boreal Owl – Not a real target, as we have seen it in the Pyrenees, so we didn’t spend any time looking for it.
Nutcracker – We had already seen it last summer in Romania, so we didn´t look much for it. We didn´t stop at the usual place North of Parikkala (where some friends of us had good views in June), and we couldn´t locate any in the city of Nokia, where it breeds.
Two-barred Crossbill – Very difficult to get in summer, as there are no reliable places known for this nomadic species. We tried in Oulanka National Park (North of Kuusamo), where there had been a couple of sightings in early summer, but the place is huge, and we were unsuccesful.
Little Bunting – Probably the main miss of the trip, as we all thought it would be an easy one. We tried hard for many hours, using the tape too, at several places where it had been seen in spring (Ivaara, Juntilla…), but with no luck.
Published by Daniel López Velasco
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