<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Avian Adventures Tour reports
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Finland & Norway, 29th May to 12th June 2004

Day 1: Saturday 29th May

Heathrow - Helsinki - Espoo (Finno Nature Reserve)

Our early morning flight from London Heathrow to Helsinki departed on time and without incident.  On arrival we were met by our Finnature guide Mika Brun, collected our vehicles and drove to our hotel at Espoo. 

After settling in and freshening up we were given our first opportunity to experience the bird life of Southern Finland.  This was at an area known as Finno, a power station nature reserve, which, at first glance, did not seem to have many birds on offer.  However, our period there eventually produced a fine selection of species: Slavonian Grebes were soon observed, with at least three birds on nests, followed by a fine selection of ducks, including Common Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Goldeneyes with young.  Common & Arctic Terns quartered the ponds in constant search of food, while Great Reed Warblers were obvious by their rasping song, occasionally perching in full view.

Our pleasant walk around the reserve rewarded us with other highlights: outstanding amongst these were a Honey Buzzard passing overhead, a Common Rosefinch which sang above our heads, and then prolonged telescope views of a Thrush Nightingale - normally a shy and secretive species.  This was an excellent first experience of birding in southern Finland.
Day 2: Sunday 30th May

Nuuksio, Porkkala, Soukka and Laajalahti

It was a damp, cold morning and pre-breakfast birding at Nuuksio was a little slow to start with.  Amongst a sprinkling of birds were Crested & Coal Tits and Pied Flycatcher.  Later, however, we were delighted to have two Wrynecks in full view at very close quarters.  A walk through mixed woodland enabled us to encounter several species which we are familiar with in the UK, namely Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Pied Flycatcher, Blackcap and Garden Warbler. 

After a short distance we found that the woodland path was linked to a boardwalk, which passed through a small bog and marshy area.  It was here that we observed the display flight of a Green Sandpiper.  Soon afterwards the star bird - a Greenish Warbler - was discovered, allowing us simply marvellous views and continuing to sing overhead for some time; an extremely close encounter!
During the late morning and the afternoon we visited and birded a number of sites including a coastal area, with rain setting in for the later part of the day.  At Soukka, an area of damp woodland scrub, a Blyth's Reed Warbler was seen, but only briefly by a few of the party.  However, wonderful views of Thrush Nightingale and Icterine Warbler were experienced.  Later we drove to a coastal area at Nedergard and during the journey we observed a Black Woodpecker in flight and also Wood Warbler. 
Walking through the forest at Nedergard we eventually reached a coastal bay, where the birdwatching was very good: Arctic Terns, Common Eiders, Brent, Barnacle & Greylag Geese were all present, and a Hobby in flight was also a good sighting.  At Villa Elfvik, Reed & Sedge Warblers were plentiful and Reed Buntings were also seen.

Day 3: Monday 31st May

Helsinki (Nikki Vik & Riista Polku) to Oulu (Hietasaari Tower)

Although this was a day of travelling between Helsinki and Oulu, a great deal of birdwatching was achieved.  After breakfast at 7.00 a.m. we drove to the north of Helsinki to visit two sites, the first of which was a super wetland reserve at Nikki Vik.

Although the weather was cold and dull, reducing our chances of seeing several key species, there was a good variety of birds present.  We observed many Common Rosefinches and Sedge Warblers, and had marvellous views of Thrush Nightingale and Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Yellow Wagtail.  Before driving to the airport we stopped off at Riistapolku, an area of mixed woodland and scrub, where we were very pleased to see Blyth's Reed Warbler and Marsh Warbler. 

Our short flight to Oulu was on schedule, and on arrival we were met by Olli Karhu, our Finnature Guide.  We drove first to our nearby hotel, but were soon heading off to the Bay of Liminka for our first taste of birdwatching in this superb wetland.  From the Hietasaari Tower there were a number of avian delights on show, not least of all Terek Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Caspian & Little Tern. 

Next on the agenda was a small lake - Eaeinjarvi - which held good numbers of Common Scoter.  One of the hoped-for highlights was Tengmalm's Owl, but this proved somewhat more difficult than expected, despite visits to two sites.  It was a case of third time lucky, for at the third site an adult bird was observed bringing a vole to the nest - a great ending to the day!

Day 4: Tuesday 1st June

Sanginjoki - Varjakka - Liminganlahti Centre - Hrivineva

Another 'owl treat' was in store for us this morning.  Driving to Sanginjoki after breakfast, we were privileged to be shown Eurasian Pygmy Owls at a nest site.  Stunning views of a calling adult at close range were a real bonus.  On our way to the superb wetland site of Liminganlahti at Liminka we stopped off to birdwatch along a delightful woodland track at Varjakka.  A fine selection of species was present, including Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Robin, Willow Warbler, a strange-sounding Lesser Whitethroat and our first Yellowhammer. 

At Liminganlahti Centre a stunning male Ortolan Bunting posed on overhead cables and a small flock of Common Cranes flew past, while a group of Ruff were lekking in an adjacent field.  The reserve's boardwalk and hides presented us with many highlights, amongst which were elegant Little Gulls, a large raft of Smew, a group of dabbling ducks of different species - Pintail, Shoveler and Garganey - a feeding flock of Common Cranes, good numbers of Marsh Harriers and finally a group of beautiful Black-tailed Godwits.  The godwits were attempting to warn off a Hooded Crow, which was attempting to locate one of their nests; godwit eggs would make a tasty meal!

We ended the day watching a Black Woodpecker's nest in the hope of seeing one of these splendid creatures bringing food to its young family, but alas, no luck.  We did see the young birds in the nest hole, and a Wryneck nearby.

Day 5: Wednesday 2nd June

Hummasti, Tauvo Tower Hide, Vaala & Nurmes Lehdontie

The mention of Three-toed Woodpecker and Goshawk as possibilities at the same location certainly gets the adrenalin going, and these were our first targets of the day.  After leaving the main road and driving along a forest track as we had done on several previous occasions, we walked a short distance into the forest.  As we did so, a female Goshawk was circling around, giving alarm calls, and we enjoyed good views.  The Three-toed Woodpecker site, however, was not so productive and we did not see either the male or female bird.

Our next location was Tauvo Tower Hide at Liminganlahti, from which we observed Arctic Skua, Velvet Scoter and several species of duck.  It was on the return to the vehicles that we located a pair of Red-backed Shrikes, a real bonus for it is not a common species in this part of Finland.

A longish journey was now necessary in our quest for Ural Owl because, as with other owl species, breeding birds are scarce.  The Ural Owl pair in the Vaala area had chosen a very open nest site - a dead tree in a cleared forestry area.  An adult bird was seen well by some of the group, but others only caught a brief view.  Our last venue required a shorter drive to see Three-toed Woodpecker.  This made a highly successful finale to the day, for even before we began our search for the woodpecker we were successful in locating Whinchat and Wryneck.  The male Three-toed Woodpecker was most obliging, delighting us with superb views at point-blank range. 

Day 6: Thursday 3rd June

Oulu to Kuusamo: - Koitila - Viipus - Iivaara

Although this was mainly a day of travelling, we did manage some excellent birding.  En route to Kuusamo we visited first an Osprey site at Koitila, where a bird was seen sitting on the nest, although some distance off.  The next site, however, left everyone elated.  We were able to experience a Northern Hawk Owl perched at very close range and later also flying.  This species of owl is truly a delightful and exotic creature, and to see it in a typical pose at the top of a tree was a marvellous experience.  As if this excitement were not enough, at our next port of call, near Kuusamo, we visited a lake with willow-clad marshy fringes where many birds were present: several pairs of Red-necked Grebes in full breeding plumage, dainty Temminck's Stints flitting to and fro, and elegant Little Gulls busily feeding.  However, the top spot went to the pair of Little Buntings that appeared and stayed in full view for quite some time.

We were still enjoying the many highs of birding by being taken to a viewpoint to look at an Eagle Owl's nest, but only the young birds were on show.  An attempt was made to see Red-flanked Bluetail, but the weather was against us and our efforts were cut short.  We did, however, see Black Grouse and Capercaillie on the roadside.

Day 7: Friday 4th June

Iivaara, Kuusamo Rubbish Tip, Valtavara & Viipus

This morning we returned to Iivaara for a second attempt at the Red-flanked Bluetail; however, it proved to be one of the few lows of our birding, as again we 'dipped out' after a long walk uphill.  There was some consolation in the wonderful views we had of four Waxwings, which flew in and perched at the top of nearby spruce trees.

Refuse tips and sewage ponds appear to be the 'in' places for birds, the former particularly so for gulls.  We therefore visited Kuusamo rubbish tip in the hope of seeing Heuglin's (Siberian) Gull, and successfully located several birds. 

We visited Valtavara bird feeding station before setting off for Oulanka National Park.  A very tasty lunch of fresh salmon followed by cloudberry pie and cream was enjoyed at a delightful family-run restaurant near the Russian border.  The birding was also excellent: in the garden we watched Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tits, Common Rosefinches and several other species visiting the bird table.
As we drove around the forest tracks of Oulanka we stopped to scan a lake that had a number of wildfowl of several different species, including Goldeneye, Velvet Scoter and Smew.  The nests of Golden Eagle and Black Woodpecker were observed, but without seeing the adult birds.

A further attempt was then made to locate Siberian Jay at Valtavara parking area, as we knew that the birds came regularly to the feeders there.  We were out of luck, seeing only Eurasian Jay and a number of superb male Bullfinches.

Dinner was eaten earlier than usual, allowing us to do some birding afterwards.  We were rewarded with superb observations of an adult Eagle Owl at the nest, allowing an excellent study of this enormous and very impressive raptor.  A drive along the network of forest roads enabled us to see Capercaillie and a superb show of lekking Blackcock.

Day 8: Saturday 5th June

Kuusamo to Ivalo (Ilmakkijarvi - Koilliskaira - Kaunispaa)

Another day with a fairly long drive, heading in a northwesterly direction from Kuusamo to Ivalo.  As is normally the case, several stops for birdwatching were made en route.  Our first stop was on the Arctic Circle to take photographs, buy souvenirs and drink a toast to the occasion.

Much of the habitat of this region, typical of Northern Finland, consists of forests and bogs (taiga).  Our efforts centred on locating some of the area's breeding waders, which include Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Whimbrel, Jack Snipe and Broad-billed Sandpiper. 

It was at Ilmakkijarvi Marsh boardwalk that we saw Broad-billed Sandpiper, be it all too briefly.  Ruff, on the other hand, were very obliging – a small group was seen lekking at very close quarters.  A delightful Spotted Redshank in full breeding plumage was present, with a supporting cast of Yellow Wagtails, Fieldfares, Willow Warblers and Curlews. 

Driving ever northwards, we now entered an area of low-lying fjells, called Kaunispaa.  Here we were in for a real treat - Dotterel!  The bird (a female) came closer and closer, which is typical of the species; it ventured almost too close for binoculars, but it was great for photographers!  Another inhabitant of this upland environment is Ptarmigan.  It often proves difficult to locate because of its cryptic plumage, but we did observe it, along with Golden Plover.

We completed the day's birding activities at Koilliskaira Nature Centre in the Tankavara National Park, where the steady rainfall was a great disadvantage.  The birds were few, but included Capercaillie and Brambling.

Day 9: Sunday 6th June

Ivalo to Batsfjord

A pre-breakfast drive for Hazel Grouse went unrewarded, and we returned for breakfast at around 7.15 a.m.  An attempt was then made to see Jack Snipe and Broad-billed Sandpiper at Kopello Bog.  We enjoyed success with the snipe, which displayed overhead for a brief period, but not so the sandpiper.  Waxwing and Brambling were present in the area, and they are always a pleasure to see.  At this more northerly point, Bramblings were far more common than Chaffinches.

It was now time to press on northwards to Norway and the famed Varanger Peninsula.  There were, of course, scheduled stops en route for birding and lunch.  The first major interlude was at a small roadside cafe, which not only provided a pleasurable coffee and pastry break, but also birding 'par excellence'!  The cafe's bird feeders were attracting a host of birds - mainly Bramblings (probably over 100, and mainly males), but also a few Redpolls and a superb pair of Pine Grosbeaks.  After this delightful stop, we continued our journey, interrupted only by stops for lunch and a little shopping at Utsjoki.  We eventually arrived at Varanger near to Tana Bru - unfortunately, in the rain. 

As we drove west-northwest and followed the Tana River, our next target species was Gyr Falcon - one that certainly sets the pulse racing.  An adult bird was eventually located, perching near to its eyrie adjacent to the roadside.  The cold, wet climatic conditions prevailing at the time did not deter us from enjoying prolonged telescope views of this magnificent species.

Holholmen inlet is always worth a visit, and it reaped rewards for us: not only did we see a number of shorebird species including several Temminck's Stints, but also a superb drake King Eider was busily feeding with a raft of Common Eiders close inshore.  Journeying on beyond the tree line, we entered a magical environment of upland tundra - a 'winter wonderland'.  The snow-clad landscape held a magnetic attraction to the visiting birdwatcher.  Ice-clad lakes and patches of snow-free tundra held numbers of birds.  Driving slowly, we made frequent stops and discovered many avian gems including Willow Grouse, Pomarine Skuas (3), Long-tailed Skuas, Long-tailed Ducks, Ruff, Shore Larks and Snow Buntings.  Snow had been falling for the whole trip through this wonderful wilderness called Kongsfjell, and was still falling on our arrival in Batsfjord, our base for two nights.

Day 10: Monday 7th June

Batsfjord Harbour, Kongsfjell and Berlevag

After breakfast we did a little birdwatching around Batsfjord Harbour, where a flock of shorebirds and a drake Steller's Eider had been seen that morning.  While enjoying superb views of the eider, we discovered a Glaucous Gull and also found the flock of shorebirds that proved to be Purple Sandpipers (about 300).  Leaving the town and driving onto the Kongsfjell, we came in for a little surprise for the snow here had obviously continued through the night and snowploughs were in operation; however, this did not delay our progress.

Our day of birdwatching and travelling through this Arctic environment of tundra, lakes and snowfields was enthralling.  We encountered and enjoyed superb views of Red-throated & Black-throated Divers, Long-tailed Duck, Scaup, Willow Grouse, Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Golden Plover, Long-tailed Skuas, Red-throated Pipit, Shore Lark, Wheatears and Lapland & Snow Buntings.  Near to Berlevag we discovered a Common Tern colony, (the commoner species in these more northern climes is Arctic Tern).  At Berlevag we observed a good number of Glaucous Gulls, and out of about ten birds present there were age groups ranging from first year to full adult.

After a relaxed coffee break and then lunch we drove back to Batsfjord, again with many stops en route for birding.  Amongst the highlights on our return trip were a very obliging male Bluethroat and a Dipper, both at the same location near to Batsfjord.  An invigorating and superb birdwatching day in a fantastic environment.

Day 11: Tuesday 8th June

Batsfjord to Vardo, visiting Nesseby, Vadso and Ekkeroy

There had been no further snowfall as we set off for Vardo, which is situated in the southeastern part of the Varanger Peninsula.  In fact, there had been a thaw, as several new snow-free areas were visible.  Many Kongsfjell birds were still showing well and we observed many of the species seen over the course of the previous two days: divers, ducks, shorebirds and skuas. 

After leaving the upland tundra scene of Kongsfjell behind, we stopped briefly at Hoyholmen, where we added Sanderling and Little Stint to the list.  Once again we paused to view the Gyr Falcon site and were immediately rewarded with fantastic sightings of an adult bird in flight and also perching.

Nesseby Pool, with its adjacent quaint church, is always worth a look, but there was nothing on it today.  However, the bay shoreline held Shelduck, Ringed Plovers, Turnstone and Dunlin.  The small islet and channel beyond the bay held Greylag Geese, Velvet Scoters, four Steller's Eiders and many Common Eiders.  Vadso Island (not really an island) is a tiny spit of land, reached only by a road bridge, but boasts a delightful nature reserve with a small pool that normally has good numbers of Red-necked Phalaropes - today there were 77, along with Wigeon and Tufted Ducks.

The southerly shoreline of Ekkeroy Island is dominated mainly by sheer cliffs and is a haven for 25,000 pairs of Kittiwakes, good numbers of Black Guillemots and a few Razorbills and Common Guillemots.  We had a most enjoyable time here, experiencing and photographing the birds 'eyeball to eyeball'.

On the last leg of the journey, and near to Skallev, we had great views of a White-tailed Eagle in flight, and just a few miles further on a nest was discovered, with an adult bird perching alongside.

Day 12: Wednesday 9th June

Hornoya, Persfjord towards Hamningberg

Hornoya and its marvellous seabird colony is a wonderful place to visit and our trip there this morning was a super experience.  Departing from Vadso on the Harbour Master's launch, we travelled through the sound for about 20 minutes before reaching Hornoya's jetty.  On the final approach to this island nature reserve, vast rafts of seabirds were encountered on the inshore waters, Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins being the most numerous.  Stepping ashore, however, it was the deafening chorus of the Kittiwakes that greeted us - an enormous colony.

Our morning was spent walking around and enjoying simply fantastic close encounters with all of the species: comical-looking Puffins, delightful Black Guillemots and aggressive Shags, all at almost touching distance. 

One of the prized species here is Brünnich's Guillemot and although in good numbers, they breed somewhat higher on Hornoya's cliffs.  There is also a high density of Razorbills and numerous Herring & Greater Black-backed Gulls, which frequently terrorise the seabird colonies.

After this fantastic morning we returned to Vadso and then enjoyed a gourmet lunch at a local fish restaurant.  The choice and food quality here was certainly 'five star'. 

Our afternoon was spent driving along the coast road eastwards towards Hamningberg.  Much of our time was spent scanning Persfjord and its large inlet and it was here that we were fortunate enough to find a White-billed Diver.
On our return journey there were other good sightings, namely Whooper Swans, Black-throated Divers and five Common Cranes.  Our last day on Varanger, as with all the others, had been quite superb.

Day 13: Thursday 10th June

Vardo to Ivalo

Sadly we were leaving the Varanger Peninsula and its marvellous bird life behind, heading southwards to Ivalo in Finland.  There were, of course, many stops en route, even some on Varanger.  At Kiberg a group of King Eiders were discovered, and at Nesseby once again we found Steller's Eiders and Velvet Scoters.

Our return to Finland produced a number of highlights with one new species: on a stretch of highway, a raptor perching in a roadside tree brought the vehicles to a sudden halt.  This was our first Rough-legged Buzzard of the tour, just proving how much in short supply their prey items were.

The next avian encounter merited a 'five star' ranking.  Toni, our Finnature guide, had made earlier enquiries with other Finnature leaders regarding Siberian Jay.  We then drove off the main road and along a forest track at Kankiniemi, eventually stopping at a fork in the track. 

Within a few minutes of alighting from the vehicles we located a Siberian Jay, which was soon joined by a second bird.  We enjoyed a lengthy period of observation, as the birds posed on a variety of perches and even came down to the ground.  Local Bramblings must have had a nest nearby, for they continually harassed the Siberian Jays.  This was a high note on which to end what should have been our last full tour day.

Day 14: Friday 11th June

Ivalo - Rovaniemi – Helsinki

After an early breakfast we departed Ivalo for Rovaniemi, having a last look for Hazel Grouse before getting under way.  We stopped briefly at Ilmakkijarvi boardwalk, recording the species seen on previous occasions - Ruff, Curlew and Yellow Wagtail.  As mentioned, this should have been our last day, but after arriving and checking in at Rovaniemi Airport we learned that our flight was delayed.  In the end, there was a delay of seven hours, meaning that we missed our connection to London from Helsinki.  Finnair arranged our overnight stay at a Helsinki Airport hotel.

Day 15: Saturday 12th June

Helsinki - London

We departed on the morning flight from Helsinki to London, but even then there was a two-hour delay.  Once we got under way we had an otherwise uneventful flight back to Heathrow.

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