FINLAND & ARCTIC NORWAY BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 1 Our tour starts this morning at Helsinki airport, from where we will head northwest to the Hämeenlinna area, situated in the south of the vast Finnish lake district, for a two nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 2 For every visitor to Finland it is, of course, those northern forest owls that most excite, and we shall start off our journey with a bang as, thanks to our superb local contacts, we have excellent chances of having wonderful views of breeding Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Ural Owl, Boreal (or Tengmalm’s) Owl and the delightful but fierce little Eurasian Pygmy Owl during our stay in this fine area. This region of Finland is one of the best in the country for the magnificent Great Grey Owl, which we also have an excellent chance of seeing. The sight of this saturnine owl staring down at one like a huge cat from its perch deep in the forest is a sight one never forgets!
This is also a good area for Red-necked Grebe, the unobtrusive Hazel Grouse, Eurasian Woodcock, the nominate form of the Lesser Black-backed Gull, the impressive Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Thrush Nightingale, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Crested Tit. With a bit of luck, we will also encounter the rare White-backed Woodpecker and Spotted Nutcracker.
Other species that we are likely to come across during our visit include Great Crested Grebe, Mute and Whooper Swans, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, European Honey Buzzard, Common (or Ring-necked) Pheasant, Eurasian Coot, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls, Common and Arctic Terns, Common Wood Pigeon, Common Swift, Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Tree Pipit, White Wagtail, Eurasian Wren, Dunnock, Whinchat, Fieldfare, Redwing, Icterine Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Wood and Willow Warblers, Common Chiffchaff, European Pied Flycatcher, Blue and Great Tits, Eurasian Treecreeper, Red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch and Yellowhammer.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 3 After some more birding in the Hämeenlinna area we will travel northwards to Oulu, a city situated near the head of the Gulf of Bothnia and close to some interesting wetland and forest habitats.
Oulu is another good area for owls, particularly Great Grey Owl, so we will have a second chance in this region if any of the key species proved troublesome further south.
Here are some of the best coastal marshes in Finland and such species as Greylag Goose, Western Marsh Harrier, Black-tailed Godwit, the extraordinary Ruff and Caspian Tern breed in the area, while non-breeding Common Cranes spend an easy summer amongst these rich feeding grounds and Rooks reach their northernmost limits in Eurasia. Ortolan Buntings breed here at the northern edge of their range, while more widespread species include Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser (or Goosander), Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Northern Wheatear, Common Blackbird, Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Eurasian Siskin.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 4 After some final birding in the Oulu area we will head northeastwards to Kuusamo, at the southern edge of Finnish Lapland, for a three nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Days 5-6 The country around Kuusamo and in the nearby Oulanka National Park consists of rugged uplands covered in vast coniferous and mixed forests, dotted with numerous lakes and bogs. In places the rivers have cut deep valleys, further adding to the attractiveness of the scenery.
The prime attractions here are three much-wanted species: Siberian Tit (or Grey-headed Chickadee), Siberian Jay and the semi-nomadic Parrot Crossbill (a ‘Western Palearctic’ endemic), all of which we should find.
The many other specialities of the Kuusamo region include Black-throated (or Arctic) Loon, Taiga Bean Goose, the handsome Smew, the huge Western Capercaillie, the striking Black Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan, Hazel Grouse, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, the attractive but unobtrusive Pine Grosbeak, Rustic Bunting and Little Bunting (a species right at the western limits of its range).
At this time of year we should also find Red-flanked Bluetail in the Kuusamo area, although the species is yet another that is right on the edge of its range in Finland and so numbers vary greatly from one year to the next, and also Greenish Warbler, which gives its jangling song from the tops of tall spruces.
We will also have an opportunity to look for the superb Northern Hawk-Owl, a species often first spotted perching on the top of a tall spruce quietly surveying its domain, although the chances for this species are higher further north.
Other species of particular interest include the lovely Bohemian Waxwing, the noisy Brambling (now in its summer finery and a much more colourful bird than in mid-winter) and Common Rosefinch.
At this season the higher lakes and bogs of northern Finland may still be frozen, forcing ducks and waders (shorebirds) to linger at lower levels. Those bogs that have already thawed are enlivened by the sights and sounds of waders setting up their territories before the onset of the all too short Arctic summer. Likely species include Whimbrel, Common Snipe, the beautiful Spotted Redshank (in its dark breeding dress), Common Greenshank and Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers.
More widespread species include Golden Eagle, Western Osprey, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Little Gull, Grey-headed Wagtail, European Robin, Common Redstart, Song and Mistle Thrushes, Goldcrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Tit, Northern (or Common) Raven, Eurasian Siskin, Common Redpoll, Red (or Common) Crossbill, Eurasian Bullfinch and Common Reed Bunting.
On one evening there will be an optional opportunity (at an extra charge) to watch Brown Bears from a hide (blind) in the forest. There is a high chance of seeing one or more bears, but of course, nature is never entirely predictable.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 7 Today we will travel northwards across the classic ‘forest and bog’ country of northern Finland to the town of Ivalo, situated far to the north of the Arctic Circle, for a two nights stay. As we travel towards this remote region of Finland we will feel as if we have gone backwards in time, for here the spring is just beginning – the buds are just starting to open and snow still lies on the hills. We shall stop for some birding en route, to break up the long journey.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 8 Not far from Ivalo is Lake Inari, the largest lake in Lapland. Inari’s countless wooded islands have the effect of turning one vast lake into many smaller ones, making its scenery endlessly varied. We are now close to the northern limits of the forest and the rather open pine and birch woods give way to rolling expanses of moorland punctuated by high, snow-spattered fells.
Here in the ‘forest-tundra’ zone, we should see Rough-legged Buzzard, Jack Snipe, Broad-billed Sandpiper (and many other Arctic shorebirds), Short-eared Owl and the dazzling Bluethroat. The Ivalo region is also very good for Northern Hawk-Owl, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit (or Grey-headed Chickadee) and Little Bunting.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 9 From Ivalo we head north to the Norwegian border, where we follow the great Tana River for a short distance and then cross into Norway itself before reaching the waters of the Arctic Ocean at the head of Varangerfjord. There will be much to see as we make our way eastwards along the northern shoreline, so it will be difficult to drag ourselves away from such ornithological riches and continue to Vardö at the eastern end of the fjord for a three nights stay.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Days 10-11 Varangerfjord lies at over 70 degrees north and is a truly Arctic region, only slightly affected by the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Here in the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’, where the sun does not set for months at a time in spring and summer, we may be enjoying warm sunshine on one day at the head of the fjord and seeking shelter from a biting cold wind off the Barent’s Sea at Hamningberg the next, so great is the climatic contrast as one moves from southwest to northeast along the northern coastline of the fjord.
This is a place of shallow bays, small villages of brightly painted wooden houses, occasional tiny fields, intertidal mudflats, birch and willow scrub, high fells and snow banks, small islands, bogs and dramatic, jagged sea cliffs.
Birding in this beautiful area is definitely some of the most exciting in Europe! Wildfowl are numerous and we should find such species as Common Shelduck, Greater Scaup, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoters, and large flocks of smart Common Mergansers (or Goosanders). Best of all are the groups of attractive King Eiders and Steller’s Eiders that can usually be found along the shallow but rocky sections of the coast. (However, both eiders have become less common in recent times and occasionally they leave Varangerfjord as early as mid-May, perhaps owing to global warming.)
Loons (or divers) are common and, in addition to the many Red-throated and Black-throated (or Arctic) Loons, a few Yellow-billed (or White-billed) Loons and sometimes the occasional Common (or Great Northern) Loon summer in the area.
The chance to see waders (shorebirds) in their full breeding plumage is one of the joys of Arctic birding. Temminck’s Stints hover and trill from the roadsides, Red-necked Phalaropes gather in flocks on the small pools, pirouetting in their constant quest for tiny aquatic insects, and Ruffs of many different colours dance at their leks in the meadows, whilst along the shoreline, or around marshy pools are Eurasian Oystercatchers, Common Ringed Plovers, Red Knots, Sanderlings, Dunlins, Little Stints, Purple Sandpipers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshanks and gaudy Ruddy Turnstones.
Parasitic Jaegers (or Arctic Skuas) and sometimes Pomarine Jaegers (or Pomarine Skuas), harry the Black-legged Kittiwakes and Arctic Terns offshore, while Northern Fulmars, Northern Gannets, Great Cormorants, European Shags and lines of auks (or alcids) pass by the headlands. Many Great Black-backed and a few Glaucous Gulls can be found around the harbours.
A boat trip across to the small island of Hornøya off Vardö will provide a wonderful opportunity to see its spectacular seabird colony close up. Amongst the Common Murres (or Common Guillemots) and Black Guillemots, Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins are many Thick-billed Murres (or Brünnich’s Guillemots), which are right on the southern fringe of their range here at Varangerfjord.
The enormous bulk of the White-tailed Eagle is also a regular sight along these coasts, especially in the wild, ‘edge of the world’ landscape near Hamningberg, whilst inland the moors hold immaculate European Golden Plovers and delicate Long-tailed Jaegers (or Long-tailed Skuas). Passerines are distinctly thin on the ground but include Meadow, Red-throated and Rock Pipits, Arctic (or Hoary) Redpoll, Lapland Longspur (or Lapland Bunting) and Snow Bunting. We have even seen Snowy Owl in the Varanger region on rare occasions, but the occurrence of this scarce and nomadic species is very unpredictable.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 12 Today we will visit some high fells and the edge of a deep fjord as we travel still further north to Båtsfjord for an overnight stay. We will be searching for the beautiful Eurasian Dotterel, Rock Ptarmigan, Horned (or Shore) Lark and Ring Ouzel. We also have another chance for Snowy Owl, albeit slim. There is also a good chance for the magnificent but declining Gyrfalcon in this region.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 13 We will return to Ivalo for an overnight stay, stopping for more birding along the way.
Finland & Arctic Norway: Day 14 After some final birding, our tour ends this afternoon at Ivalo airport.