Finland - April 4th to 10th 2009

Published by Dave Wright (Wrig361 AT

Participants: Dave Wright, Andy Smith and Peter Neville


11:00p.m. and the sleety drizzle wasn’t welcoming at Tampere airport after leaving behind a glorious spring day in the UK, but we were soon on our way in our brand new Volvo hire car equipped with studded winter tyres. Only one near death experience on the journey and then we were soon enjoying an expensive beer in the Bar Hemingway in downtown Tampere.

Next morning, first birds of the trip were Herring Gulls on the rooftops, quickly followed by Hooded Crow which was to be ubiquitous throughout. Waxwing from the breakfast bar of the hostel was nice, then we hit the road for the 500km journey north to Oulu. Despite frequent short stops little was seen with only Ravens and small numbers of Whooper Swans of any real interest. But the experience of driving though endless snowy forests and frozen lakes under a clear blue sky, gave a wonderful sense of scale to this country.

Monday morning and Harri our Finnature guide met us at 6a.m. on a beautifully crisp, clear morning. Not long after setting off a Black Woodpecker flew over the car, but did not respond to our guides’ tapes, so we moved on. Turning off onto a forest track, we rounded a bend into a clearing and a single bird high atop an exposed birch forced a swift bit of braking. Bins up, and “is that a Hawk Owl?” was said almost unbelievingly. It was, and 4km away from where our guide was planning to take us to see one. It’s only 7a.m., what a start! We moved a short distance and using the car as a hide watched 6 male Black Grouse lekking to a single female. Next stop and a walk into the forest. A Three-toed Woodpecker was heard to drum, but again no response to tape. But our guide, on hearing a call went off alone then shortly beckoned us to follow his tracks through the deep snow and led us to a magnificent Great Grey Owl.

Great Grey Owl

Later we visited an area where a rogue male Capercaillie had been making an amorous nuisance of himself. Alas we saw only its tracks in the snow. Crested Tit, the grey borealis race of Willow Tit, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and Northern Bullfinches (which to my ear have a different call to ours) were a supporting cast. On the drive back a pair of Parrot Crossbills with a pair of Common Crossbills allowed direct comparison and completed a truly memorable day.

Next day we set off for the drive to Kuusamo, further North East. Following advice from Harri we decided to break our journey at Iso-Syote National Park. Whilst walking the trail near the visitor centre a single bird was spotted feeding unobtrusively in a large Silver Birch, and what was to be our one and only Hazel Hen of the trip was enjoyed. The visitor centre feeder had the usual suspects of Common Redpoll, Willow and Great Tit, Bullfinch and Greater-spotted Woodpecker. A short dusk walk from our cabin at the ski resort outside Kuusamo resulted in just a single Waxwing (we were realizing how hard winter birding is in Finland!). We received a rather worrying phone call from Olli, our second Finnature guide that evening, advising us to wear all of our clothes for the ‘morrow!

Common Redpoll

The temperature gauge on the car reached a low of minus 23c as we drove down from the mountain resort to meet Olli in Kuusamo! Our first stop with him was within the confines of the town, where we heard but unfortunately did not see, Willow Grouse. Whilst there we did have great views of Mountain Hare, its black ear tips standing out against the white of its body and the surroundings. We then drove to a Capercaillie lek and had a single male by the roadside, plus five Black Grouse feeding in the tree tops. Back towards Ruka and brief stops at two unfrozen streams resulted in five Black-bellied Dippers. We had hardly got out the car at the next stop when a couple of Siberian Jays came sweeping down to the roadside, obviously associating humans with food. These stunning birds returned repeatedly and were very photogenic.

Siberian Jay

Olli then took us to a feeder located in open, mature Pine forest. Large numbers of Common Redpoll, our first couple of Arctic Redpoll and the usual backup of Willow Tit, Bullfinch and Greenfinch were all busy around the feeder. We were specifically here for the beautiful little Siberian Tit, which Olli assured us would put in an appearance. One and a half hours later and just as we were wondering whether his confidence was misplaced, three Sibe Tits arrived. We had thought this would probably be an easy bird to see once in the right habitat, but (at this time of the year at least) I’m sure we would not have seen one without local knowledge.

Siberian Tit

No birding trip is complete without a visit to a tip, and Olli obliged us with a trip to Kuusamo dump. 100’s of Hooded Crows and 50 plus Ravens were of some interest to us, but our guide was more excited about the 30 Herring Gulls – the first of the year in Kuusamo and to him a harbinger of spring!

Olli left us at 2.00p.m. so there was nothing for it but to drive up to the Arctic Circle at Tuulenpesa. The world’s largest snowman welcomed us into the car park of the café and was an indication of the tack for sale inside, but as we sipped our excellent tea with two Sibe Jays hopping about outside the window life was good. After an evening meal of Reindeer Stew it was out to play Pygmy Owl tapes, but alas still no luck. Still it was a wonderful day and the Jack Daniels flowed once we got back to the cabin – well you do need something to thaw you out!

Out before breakfast to revisit a site for Pine Grosbeak in Kuusammo town. One of us gets flight only views, so all very unsatisfactory. After breakfast and checking out we are back again, when my mobile rings. It’s Olli, who says a friend of his has a pair of Pine Grosbeaks coming to a feeder. Frantic phone calls and a journey back to within spitting distance of our accommodation and we’re watching an obliging pair of Grosbeaks from someone’s porch!

Pine Grosbeak

As we arrived back near Oulu it was noticeable there was less snow and every tiny patch of open ground by the roadside had its own Lapwing. That evening we drove out to Liminka Bay and located five Taiga Bean Geese and two Common Crane.

We awoke on Friday to light snow which persisted most of the day. We retraced our steps to the GGO area, adding Brown Hare to the mammal list on the way. Great-grey Shrike was a trip bird, sitting in the same tree as the (Northern) Hawk Owl had been only days before! Scanning a completely frozen Gulf of Bothnia at Varessakka in a white-out snow storm we see our first Lesser-black Backed Gulls of the dark fuscus race. A few Greylag with further Bean Geese were hard earned finds on our drive back. Our target for the evening was Eagle Owl at Oulu Tip. On the way we spotted two Rooks by the roadside (if you think that’s nothing special, take a look at the distribution map in Collins, a tiny dot on the Liminka Bay area). Some new duck species in Oulu harbour boosted the trip list, then it was onto Oulu Tip, which must be the most depressing place I’ve had the pleasure to bird! To make matters worse an Eagle Owl repeatedly called from nearby woodland, but refused to show itself.

Our last day and we decided to drive down the west coast. It was near Jacobstad before we started to add new species to our trip list, with Collared Dove and Common Buzzard. Two Rough-legged Buzzards near Seinajoki were a nice bonus. As we neared Tampere the temperature reached a balmy 8 degree’s and we found a beautiful little marsh next to the roadside. It was obvious the northern migration was really getting going now, with two Marsh Harrier, more Crane and Bean Geese along with Green Sandpiper our first Common Gulls and thousands of Chaffinches streaming through the valley.


Our last (and 63rd species) of the trip was a White Wagtail at Tampere airport.

I can highly recommend a birding trip to Finland at Easter. It will be quality rather than quantity and you’ll definitely need local knowledge, but it’s wonderful to experience the great freeze that grips huge parts of the northern hemisphere every winter at first hand.

Dave Wright, May 2009