Finland - Owls and Woodpeckers - 20th - 25th May 2018

Published by Tony Moverley (supertony9 AT

Participants: Petri Tamminen, Tony Benton, Keith Cowton, Martin Garwood, Tony Moverley


Day 1 – Sunday 20th May

Arranged by Oriole Birding, this was a 6 day birdwatching trip to northern Finland focused on owls and woodpeckers. We flew from London Heathrow to Oulu, changing at Helsinki. However, a tight 45 minute connection combined with a late arrival in Helsinki meant we missed our ongoing flight and lost a couple of hours. We finally arrived at Oulu airport (where the first bird seen was a Skylark) to be greeted by our Finnature guide Petri who whisked us straight off to our hotel for a shower, some refreshments and much welcome food. A Brown Hare was seen by the roadside but little else of note. With a planned 3:30am start the next day, we took the opportunity for a short stroll down to the bay in the hotel grounds with several Pied Flycatchers singing along the way. Despite the lateness of the hour (10:30pm) it was quite light and there was still lots of activity; birds seen included Whooper and Mute Swan, Black-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper, Common Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Common Redshank and a couple of Stints (identified as Temminck's the next day in better light conditions).

Day 2 – Monday 21st May

The day started well with good views of a male Northern Hawk Owl close by its nest in an old birch stump by the side of the road; a ‘lifer' for a couple of our small group of 4. However, it flew off soon after our arrival and knowing there would be other opportunities later in the week, we decided to move onto a Tengmalm's Owl nest site. On route, we saw about 60 Common Cranes in a roadside field, a couple of Short-eared Owls and 15 Ruff in a stubble field. One particularly productive stop gave us great views of at least 2 Common Rosefinch in full summer plumage. Nearby, a Garden Warbler sang and briefly showed itself and we were treated to the spectacle of a Green Sandpiper sitting on top of a tree – not something UK birdwatchers are normally accustomed to! Once at the owl box, we had tantalising views of a female Tengmalm’s Owl poking its head out of the box while Petri searched diligently around the area for the male bird, unfortunately without success. On the way back to the hotel for breakfast, we stopped for great views of an Ortolan Bunting and later a female Black Grouse posed by the roadside. After such an early start, breakfast at 9am was very welcome and afterwards we managed a few minutes down by the water where, in contrast to the previous evening’s silent reedbed, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were singing away. The hotel grounds also gave us good views of a singing Tree Pipit and a Spotted Flycatcher. The early start finally caught up with us and we retired for a late morning rest before heading out again at 1pm.

We were somewhat surprised to find Petri taking us to a Golf course for lunch but all became clear when we saw the Black Woodpecker nest hole in an Aspen tree in close proximity to the restaurant terrace. A tasty lunch was enjoyed but with zero activity at the hole we decided to move on. Just as we were leaving, the male bird was spotted landing in a nearby tree which then proceeded to give us superb close views before flying off. Well pleased with our luck at waiting an extra few moments, we proceeded to a small lake where a pair of Slavonian Grebes traditionally nest; one showed off to us at close quarters while the other sat tightly on the nest a little distance away; a Tree Sparrow kept us entertained in a waterside bush.

After that, Pallid Harrier hunting was the order of the day but via a potential site for Rough-legged Buzzard. Sure enough and almost on cue, this magnificent raptor soared over the van and was clearly in no rush to leave; we all enjoyed brilliant views before moving on and cruising around likely Harrier habitat. At least 3 Short-eared Owls were scoped at distance before we chanced upon a wonderful male Hen Harrier quartering over the adjacent fields. At our final stop, we were challenged by the sight of a ‘ringtail’ harrier obviously displaying over some distant trees. This was soon joined by another 'ringtail' and the two birds were clearly interacting with each other. We were undecided as to what we had actually witnessed and, as we left the area, a Marsh Harrier was spotted over the fields. Tired but buoyed by the superb start to the trip, we decided to travel back for our evening meal and ‘heads down’ for another 3:30am the next day.

Day 3 - Tuesday 22nd May

The day started a short distance away at the local Oritkari 'snow dump'; historically a good site to see Terek Sandpiper. A Water Vole swam across the drainage ditch as we arrived and set up our scopes to survey the area. We saw Common Redshank, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Meadow Pipit and several Artic Terns but nothing resembling our target bird (which apparently had been seen earlier this year in the bay at our hotel).

Then onto a known occupied Ural owl nestbox; we knew the drill as we stood very quietly well away from the box where the female incubating bird deigned to give us a brief look over while Petri stealthily searched the surrounding area for the male bird; unfortunately without initial success. We were kept busy with tracking down a Crested Tit along with seeing Bullfinch, several Pied Flycatchers and hearing a nearby Black Woodpecker. Moving to a nearby area, we stopped for some welcome coffee and ‘Jammy Dodgers' and even more appreciated views of a Eurasian Wryneck and a Lesser Whitethroat, with the vocal backdrop of drumming Common Snipe, Common Cuckoo and Willow Warbler. Suddenly, one of the group spotted a raptor on top of a tree and managed to call ‘owl' before it flew off and through the area; it looked like it was the male Ural Owl we had been searching for earlier. Driving slowly along a field edge, Petri heard something and we stopped for good views of a singing Wood Warbler and a distant calling Wryneck. On the way to track down the Eurasian Wryneck, we saw at least 3 Whinchat perched up in nearby bushes. At the end of the field, the Eurasian Wryneck gave us all good close views. One of the group whose interests include ferns and their allies was particularly taken with the abundance of Rough Horsetail Equisetum hyemale in all the field ditches. Over 5 hours from starting out, breakfast called and we decided to return to the hotel in preparation for the afternoon's session (but not before squeezing in 10 minutes or so at the water’s edge and seeing 2 Temminck's Stint and 4 Ringed Plover, the latter a new trip bird).

After our late morning rest, we enjoyed a tasty salad lunch at a roadside ABC service station on the way to the well-known Liminka Bay nature reserve. From an elevated platform which gave great views over the bay and over the space of the next 2 hours, we counted at least 7 White-tailed Eagles at various stages of maturity. In addition to the more common species such as Wood Sandpiper, Common Crane, Eurasian Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit, we spotted 3 Marsh Harriers quartering over the distant reedbed, a Greenshank together with many Ruff including some very well dressed lekking males and a fly through Peregrine. A male Garganey was a welcome addition to our list. Some of us had an interesting discussion over Gull taxonomy as we spotted our first Baltic Gull but it soon became clear that not all of our group were 'larophiles’! After a visit to the excellent natural history display at the visitor centre and an ice cream or two, we made our way to a Great Grey Owl nest site, known to be occupied this season. We were somewhat dismayed to find evidence of recent logging activity very close to the massive nest but apparently this had occurred before the arrival of the owls and the loggers were aware of the nest. The female sat tightly on her nest unconcerned by her distant admirers who enjoyed the ponderous way in which she slowly rotated her head to keep track of Petri who searched the immediate area for the male bird.

We had time for another visit to the roadside Northern Hawk Owl site and this time the male bird was much more co-operative, giving the photographers plenty of time to get some lovely shots. We were amused by the way the male bird accessed the small nest hole which was only large enough for its head, leaving wings outstretched and its rear end poking up; all very inelegant for such a fine-looking bird. Next stop was a non-descript area of woodland where Petri soon managed to entice a Eurasian Pygmy Owl to fly in and pose for us - what an extraordinary bird and what a contrast with the Great Grey Owl seen earlier in the day. With time marching on, we decided refreshments and food were required and, on the way back to the hotel, we saw a Short-eared Owl on a wire, a Eurasian Woodcock flying over a nearby wood and a Common Redpoll flying over the hotel car park.

Day 4 – Wednesday 23rd May

After two early starts, we enjoyed the luxury of a relative lie-in and a leisurely breakfast before packing our bags for the drive to Kuusamo, over 200 km away. We started the day with several stops at likely looking Hazel Grouse sites but without success. Petri knew of another Great Grey Owl nest and thought it worth a visit. The huge nest was tucked away in a pine tree near the edge of the track and we admired the incubating female at our usual safe distance as Petri reccied the area. The weather was warm (20C) and we saw many Green Hairstreak butterflies along with 2 species of dragonfly. Close inspection of photographs later that evening revealed these to be Downy Emerald and Northern White-faced Darter. After a few minutes, a discreet whistle told us that Petri had found the male bird nearby. Nothing quite prepared us for the magnificent sight of the male Great Grey owl sitting on a branch close to the trunk; a truly breath-taking moment.

Next stop was at the end of a forest track above a very scenic lake where a pair of Ural Owls had taken up residence. While Petri searched, we enjoyed seeing more dragonflies including Four-spotted Chasers and, again with later inspection of photographs, White-faced Darter and Downy Emerald. Birds included Brambling, Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Wheatear. Although Petri was unable to find the male Ural Owl, he showed us the female incubating in the box with the aid of a mirror on the end of a stick. Coffee and biscuits in a cleared barbeque area was as always most welcome and a wander down to the water’s edge produced 'clouds’ of immature (shiny winged) darters and emerald dragonflies rising up from the vegetation.

On the way to our ABC service station lunch, we saw our first Reindeer by the roadside. Several lake stops during the afternoon’s drive gave us typical wildfowl and waders - Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and our first sighting of Little Gull. All 4 hirundines were seen, including our first Sand Martins. Having commented to Petri over lunch about the lack of sewage farm visits which almost always feature on birdwatching trips, and wishing not to disappoint us, we called in to a lake bordered by piles of unpleasant smelling waste. A nearby roof building had 8 loafing gulls – our first Heuglin's (in Finland, Lesser Black-backed Gull is represented by Baltic Gull and Heuglin's Gull).

We finally arrived at Kuusamo at 18:30 which gave us time for a scan of Lake Toranki. Four ‘yelping’ Little Gulls flew over as we enjoyed seeing at least 8 very smart Red-necked Grebes, one sitting on a nest. A Common Redstart was heard but did not reveal itself and 2 very distant Black-throated Divers patrolled the far side. A Muskrat was seen swimming and then climbing out onto the far bank. We finally got to our hotel in good time for a drink and an enjoyable meal.

Day 5 – Thursday 24th May

A leisurely breakfast and a brief walk down to the lakeside saw us on the road by 7am. A Mountain Hare was seen as we left the hotel grounds for our morning visit to Iivaara. On the way, a lakeside stop produced 4 Black-throated Divers along with Artic Tern, Kestrel, Siskin, Tree Pipit and the ubiquitous Fieldfare and Redwing.

After negotiating the wooden bridge and boardwalk, we gently climbed up the hill through old growth pine/birch forest and soon found our first Red-flanked Bluetail sitting on top of a distant pine. This was a sub adult bird and although fine looking, we all hoped for closer views of a mature bird. Bramblings wheezed from the tree tops and gave us fine views and a Common Crossbill was heard chipping and then seen well. As we approached the summit of Iivaara, we had superb views of a Northern Hawk Owl which posed well for the photographers in our group. As we got to the summit (470m) in sunshine, an adult Red-flanked Bluetail revealed itself atop a nearby tree giving us all prolonged views. The Hawk Owl subsequently joined the party and we were faced with the happy dilemma of which bird to scope at any one time – a very memorable event made all the more special by the backdrop and hilltop views of the Finnish and Russian countryside in sunshine. On the way back, we found another beautifully plumaged adult Bluetail and then heard the very high frequency call of a Hazel Grouse coming from the undergrowth close to the track. However, despite Petri’s best efforts we were unable to persuade it to reveal itself but one of the group did get a brief flyby view across the track in front of us.

Lunch was taken at a log cabin cafe deep in the forest where our hostess produced a sumptuous feast of locally caught pike. One or two of us had had previous experience of pike which was not favourable but this was absolutely delicious...and not a fish bone in sight! With news that a Rustic Bunting might be in the area, we returned to the Iivaara car park and walked down to the wooden bridge where we heard one singing. At one point another Rustic Bunting was heard but despite thorough searching we were unable to locate either bird. A Willow Tit was seen briefly along with Common Crossbill, Reed Bunting and Wood Sandpiper.
On our way to Lake Raapyslampi (about 10km N of Kuusamo), a female Capercaillie posed by the roadside giving all of us good views from inside the van. Once at the lake, we quickly located a pair of Smew on the far side along with 5 Common Scoter sporting bright yellow bills – a feature not usually seen in UK waters.

Petri had heard of a Siberian Tit nesting in a box at a reedbed water filtration site not far away. On arrival, it didn’t take us long to locate the numbered box but despite thorough searching we were unable to locate the birds. 5 Bohemian Waxwings were a welcome sight after a couple of hours of relatively quiet birding. Our final visit of the day was to Valtavaara where some Norfolk based birders had given us information the previous evening about a Three-toed Woodpecker site. We found the ‘stump’ easily enough but the birds were not showing themselves. Attempts at enticing a Hazel Grouse also failed. Back at the van parked up in a lay-by, one final go at bringing in Siberian Jay was also unsuccessful. It was almost 20:00 and we decided to call it a day (via a previously reported 'rogue' Capercaillie site).

Day 6 – Friday 25th May

This was our final day and we decided to make the most of it with a 4am start cruising the area around Kuusamo for grouse. We soon caught up with a male Capercaillie lekking in a clearing and having had such a good start to the day, we quickly moved on to try for Hazel Grouse yet again (which by this time was regarded as almost mythical by some of the more sceptical members of the group). However, Petri’s persistence paid off and we all got great views of a male Hazel Grouse crossing the track in front of the van and then reappearing behind us. Having seen two elusive grouse species in the space of an hour and clearly ‘on a roll', we decided to try our luck back at the Siberian Tit site. Sure enough, after spending some time in the area of the occupied box, three of us were treated to the male bird flying into a nearby tree, calling the female out of the box, then feeding her before she quickly returned to her incubation duties and he disappeared off into the trees. So, after coffee and yet more ‘Jammy Dodgers’, it was all back in the van and onto another site near the previously visited ‘rogue’ Capercaillie location a little East of Nissanvaara. Petri played a drumming Three-toed Woodpecker recording on the side of a tree and almost immediately a male bird flew in and proudly showed off his plumage, alternating between vigorous preening and drumming on a nearby tree. With luck clearly on our side, we returned to the layby north of Valtavaara in the hope rather than expectation of Siberian Jay. Sure enough, a few minutes after our arrival 3 birds flew into trees across the road and two of them then flew over to us by the van. Superb and for one of us, 4 'lifers' in as many hours! We had time to squeeze in a visit for a possible Little Bunting near a lake with two displaying and very noisy Whopper Swans. With time fast approaching our 10am deadline for a hotel breakfast we decided to call it a day, extremely pleased with the birds we had seen.

With just a couple of hours before our flight back to London via Helsinki, we managed a final attempt at seeing a Rustic Bunting. On route, a fine female Capercaillie strutted her stuff by the roadside but on arrival at the site and despite hearing a brief Rustic Bunting song, Petri was unable to tempt one out into the open.

Many thanks to all who made the trip so enjoyable and particularly to our guide Petri who always went that extra mile to find the birds for us.

Species Lists

1. Mute Swan
2. Whooper Swan
3. Greylag Goose
4. Common Shelduck
5. Mallard
6. Northern Pintail
7. Eurasian Wigeon
8. Common Teal
9. Garganey
10. Tufted Duck
11. Common Scoter
12. Common Goldeneye
13. Smew
14. Goosander
15. Red-breasted Merganser
16. Capercaillie
17. Black Grouse
18. Hazel Grouse
19. Black-throated Diver
20. Slavonian Grebe
21. Great-crested Grebe
22. Red-necked Grebe
23. Great Cormorant
24. Great Bittern (heard only)
25. White-tailed Eagle
26. Rough-legged Buzzard
27. Eurasian Sparrowhawk
28. Common Kestrel
29. Peregrine
30. Common Crane
31. European Oystercatcher
32. Ringed Plover
33. Northern Lapwing
34. Temminck’s Stint
35. Wood Sandpiper
36. Green Sandpiper
37. Common Sandpiper
38. Spotted Redshank
39. Common Redshank
40. Black-tailed Godwit
41. Eurasian Curlew
42. Eurasian Woodcock
43. Common Snipe
44. Ruff
45. Arctic (Parasitic) Skua
46. Black-headed Gull
47. Common Gull
48. Herring Gull (the darker mantled race argentatus)
49. Baltic Gull (& Heuglin’s Gull)
50. Little Gull
51. Common Tern
52. Artic Tern
53. Stock Dove
54. Wood Pigeon
55. Collared Dove
56. Common Cuckoo
57. Great Grey Owl
58. Ural Owl
59. Northern Hawk Owl
60. Tengmalm’s Owl
61. Eurasian Pygmy Owl
62. Short-eared Owl
63. Common Swift
64. Black Woodpecker
65. Great Spotted Woodpecker
66. Three-toed Woodpecker
67. Eurasian Wryneck
68. Skylark
69. Sand Martin
70. Barn Swallow
71. House Martin
72. Tree Pipit
73. White Wagtail
74. Bohemian Waxwing
75. Dunnock
76. European Robin
77. Bluethroat (heard only)
78. Red-flanked Bluetail
79. Common Redstart
80. Northern Wheatear
81. Whinchat
82. Song Thrush
83. Redwing
84. Fieldfare
85. Blackbird
86. Garden Warbler
87. Lesser Whitethroat
88. Sedge Warbler
89. Willow Warbler
90. Wood Warbler
91. Common Chiffchaff
92. Goldcrest (heard only)
93. Spotted Flycatcher
94. Pied Flycatcher
95. Great Tit
96. Blue Tit
97. Crested Tit
98. Willow Tit
99. Siberian Tit
100. Common Magpie
101. Eurasian jay
102. Siberian Jay
103. Eurasian Jackdaw
104. Rook
105. Hooded Crow
106. Common Raven
107. Common Starling
108. House Sparrow
109. Tree Sparrow
110. Chaffinch
111. Brambling
112. Common Redpoll
113. Greenfinch
114. Eurasian Siskin
115. Bullfinch
116. Common Crossbill
117. Common Rosefinch
118. Reed Bunting
119. Rustic Bunting (heard only)
120. Yellowhammer
121. Ortolan Bunting


Artic (Mountain) Hare
Brown Hare
Water Vole


Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines
Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi
Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus
Peacock Aglais io
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae
White-faced Darter Leucorrhinia dubia
Northern White-faced Darter Leucorrhinia rubicunda
Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata
Downy Emerald Cordulia aenea


False Morel Gyromitra esculenta


Rough Horsetail Equisetum hyemale
Wood Horsetail Equisetum sylvaticum