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Day 1 Sunday 1st June
Everyone met at 8am in preparation for our flight to Finland. We had a really quick changeover in Helsinki and an hour later, arrived in Oulu. Our guide Ari was there to meet us and we placed our luggage on board our two minibuses and drove just a few minutes to the hotel. Waiting for us were the rest of our party; Dick, Jan and Helen who had arrived the day before.
Everyone was keen and eager to do a little birding before our evening meal so we drove to a nearby bay and saw Pintail, Common Tern, Common Crane, and Black-tailed Godwits in their fine breeding dress, lots of Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes. We drove to a small lake where we saw quite a lot of Common Scoters, before heading off to a local farmhouse for dinner. On arrival we were greeted by our hostess who told us about the history and culture of the area and even sang us a song. I think we were all amazed by the friendliness and kind hospitality shown to us. It was a lovely evening and the buffet dinner was much appreciated by all. On leaving here we drove along some quiet lanes and found a couple of Short-eared Owls quartering the fields. Whilst watching one of these birds, a Brown Hare was seen running across one of the fields. We did try to locate a Thrush Nightingale that had been heard singing the day before, but it must have moved through to its breeding grounds. We eventually made our way across the flat agricultural landscape to our hotel by 11pm, and in broad daylight! This was to be a topic of conversation for the entire trip and was something we never entirely got used to! A Redwing was singing from the top of a pine tree on our arrival and continued to sing throughout the night!
Day 2 Monday 2nd June
After breakfast we drove across the city of Oulu to the Gulf of Bothnia and a tower hide overlooking a shallow bay. We walked along a path through a dense Birch forest, hearing Wood and Willow Warblers along the way. From the top of the tower we had a great view and scanned the muddy edges and out across the calm waters, seeing 4 Little Terns, many Whooper Swans, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goosander and some fine summer plumaged Dunlins. This is meant to be the place to come to see Terek Sandpiper, but this bird was going to give us no joy over the next few days - in fact we named it `Terekless Tower', much to everyone's (especially Jan's?) amusement. The surrounding scrub held a few birds, including Common Redpoll, Common Redstart and a singing Reed Bunting.
From here we drove to another area bordering the bay, where some of the group donned wellingtons and waded out into the marsh where they had views of 3 Citrine Wagtails. It proved quite an experience for those brave souls, whilst the rest of the group came with me as we explored the surrounding area. A fine male Hen Harrier drifted over, whilst a pair of Marsh Harriers showed well over a nearby reed bed and both a Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler were seen singing from their respective perches. After an hour or so we all met up again and drove down to Liminganlahti Bay, where we walked out to an excellent hide overlooking the marshes. Birds were everywhere and we didn't know where to look first. A close male Garganey was the first of at least three we found here, whilst a pair of summer plumaged Little Gulls were very pleasing as they hawked over the water and occasionally dipped down to the waters' surface. A distant Ruff lek was found, whilst both Peregrine and Osprey flew overhead. Possibly everyone's favourite bird was the superb White-tailed Eagle that was seen flying in the distance.
By now our stomachs were rumbling so we walked back to the car park and deposited our scopes in the buses before having lunch in the Visitor Centre. Just then an Ortolan Bunting was heard singing and was seen perched on some telegraph wires over a nearby field. It promptly disappeared before all the group could get on to it, but it was time to eat. After lunch the Ortolan had resumed singing and we all got good views of it. Just a few miles further along the road we stopped to view a close Ortolan Bunting singing right beside the road and we had the most fantastic views as it sang right next to us. From here we drove a short distance to another tower hide where we saw several hundred Common Cranes, several more Little Gulls, had 2 Grey Plovers flying over the water and heard a Great Bittern `booming'.
It had been a pretty good day so far, but things were about to get really interesting! As we drove along a road bordered by fields and small pine plantations, Ari stopped and we all got out. A few hundred yards away perched on a telegraph wire was a stunning Hawk Owl.
This was a simply amazing sighting and we were all rather speechless for a short time. So we walked closer and stood in a line along the edge of a farmer's field. This bird was perched right next to a large house and stood sentinel over a well grown chick that was partially hidden in a tree. We had the most excellent views as the adult just sat there, not even moving when a tractor drove directly underneath it. Eventually, Ari said it was time to leave and we reluctantly pulled ourselves away.
From here we drove through a forest and pulled in at the side of the track. Ari went into the dense forest alone, whilst we all waited anxiously by the buses. Minutes ticked by, an eternity in fact before he appeared and beckoned us to follow him. Just a hundred yards or so into the forest and there, sat in a tall pine tree, was a fantastic Great Grey Owl. There are not enough superlatives to describe our elation at seeing this `king of the owls'. It just sat there looking down on us, totally unperturbed by our presence. As we all soaked up the sheer majesty of this fantastic bird, cameras clicked, scopes were pointed and time stood still. Even the annoying mosquitos seemed to pale into the background for a short time! The adult was guarding a nest with 3 chicks, so was pretty bold. At one stage a large shape ghosting through the trees betrayed the presence of the other adult and `our' bird began calling to its mate: a sound that will live long in our memories. A few of the group had returned to the buses and were privileged to have seen a Honey Buzzard and male Hen Harrier. In a ploughed field we had somewhat distant views of several Yellow Wagtails of the Thunbergi race.
From here we drove just 5 minutes away and had a pair of Hawk Owls alongside the road. They were nesting in an old Black Woodpeckers hole and were quite territorial. We had exceptional views of them as they flew around and at times, perched incredibly close to the road. We didn't linger too long, but still found a nice male Red-backed Shrike as well. Well, what a great end to fantastic days birding. On arrival at our hotel, we were greeting by a singing Pied Flycatcher, whilst Redwing and Fieldfare were seen in the trees surrounding our hotel.
Day 3 Tuesday 3rd June
We were all ready and raring to go by 7.45am this morning, after a hearty buffet breakfast. We drove towards the coast, stopping at a partially built-upon piece of waste ground with scattered bushes, reeds and a few small pools. Here we eventually located a pair of Marsh Sandpipers that had taken up residence in this rather inhospitable landscape. As we looked through our telescopes at these rather scarce Finnish breeders, huge bulldozers and diggers went to work not far away. A Common Rosefinch was heard singing and we found a 1st summer male perched on a low bush. Also in this area were Reed Bunting, a Willow Warbler building a nest and a pair of Whinchat. As we were preparing to leave, a Crested Lark began singing from the vicinity of all the diggers, but we decided not to walk over to the building site to find them! From here we visited the tower hide again, seeing much the same as yesterday, plus Common Shelduck and a pair of distant Temminck's Stints. As it was pretty quiet we didn't hang around and headed off inland. We drove along a forest track through mature pine forest and parked off the road. We followed Ari along a track through stunted pine trees, where the floor was carpeted with white lichen and the surrounding landscape had a vague similarity to a recent snowfall! Once we had got to a wide clearing we could view a huge nest halfway up a large beech tree, but unfortunately it was empty. Our quarry was the local Ural Owls, but unfortunately they had fledged. Ari went off to try to locate them whilst we all waited patiently. There were a few Common Crossbills flying around and calling and a Camberwell Beauty appeared briefly. Then Ari beckoned us over. The ground was littered with branches of recently felled trees and the going was a little tricky. All seemed fine until we came across a rather deep trench with water at the bottom. It was just about passable with a little jump, but rather impossible for some of the group. With a little quick thinking I managed to drag two big tree trunks over the trench and made an impromptu bridge! So we were all safely across and Ari asked us to wait once again as he could hear some small birds mobbing what was probably the owls. As he disappeared into the forest once again, Julie picked up a young Ural Owl perched on a low branch. Soon after Ari returned saying he had found an adult and that we would need to be quiet as they can be quite aggressive when the young are just recently fledged. I don't know how he managed to find it, but sure enough there was an adult Ural Owl partially hidden quite high up in a pine tree.We were some 150 yards away and watched the bird for a good half an hour, all the while keeping quiet and just enjoying the privilege (once again) of watching a simply beautiful bird in its natural environment. Wow! Leaving here as quietly as we came in, seeing the chick on exactly the same perch, we paused in the clearing when an Adder was found. And at the same time a Camberwell Beauty landed right beside us allowing excellent views of this truly sublime butterfly.
After lunch we drove to another tract of forest to check out a recently used Tengmalm's Owl nest box, but the young had fledged. So we left and paused at an open area of heath where we heard a Woodlark singing before heading off to the coast once again. In the marshes we found more Ruffs in their breeding dress, as well as Goldeneye, Osprey, Green Sandpiper and loads of Whooper Swans. As we headed back towards Oulu, a huge Elk was seen briefly at the edge of the forest. A short way along the same stretch of road, the front minibus stopped when Julie (again) spotted a Hazel Grouse perched on a tree stump right by the road! Unfortunately it flew away before everyone could get on it, but most of the group got glimpses of the bird as it flew over the road before disappearing into the dense forest. Leaving here we made one more stop for a close Ortolan Bunting perched in a roadside bush before heading back to our hotel for dinner.
However, the day was not over yet! At 8.30pm we met in the car park, seeing a Woodcock fly overhead, before driving just thirty minutes to a pine forest where we tried in vain for Pygmy Owl. We then drove through various other forests to another site and parked up. A short walk along a path into a mature pine forest and we were confronted with a largish nest box - within which, Ari assured us, was home to our quarry. Sure enough, within a few seconds, a superb Pygmy Owl flew low in over our heads and just perched right out in the open. It gave incredible views and we all just looked at each other, totally in awe at how lucky we were. After some time, we left the bird in peace and carried on to another site where we parked at the edge of a huge ploughed field. It was now really quite gloomy, but it was well past midnight. As we skirted around the edge of the forest we saw another nestbox. When everyone had a good view and we were all in position, right on cue, a lovely Tengmalm's Owl poked his head out of the hole. Although a little obscured, we all had pretty great views of this shy owl.
From here we headed to yet another area of woodland, but failed to locate an Eagle Owl, but heard an Icterine Warbler singing. We were all a little tired from our night time excursion, but very happy indeed.
Day 4 Wednesday 4th June
We had a late breakfast before making our way for the final time to the tower hide. It was pretty quiet here again, only a few Little Terns and a Lesser Black-backed Gull were noteworthy. So we started the drive to Kuusamo. As we drove through an open piece of woodland, Helen spotted a bird flying up onto the top a pine tree. We stopped and found a pair of Parrot Crossbills feeding rather actively on the pine cones. Whilst watching them, a Wryneck called from somewhere in the distance. A few minutes further along the same road, we pulled in by a small lake. Almost immediately we had a superb Black Woodpecker fly in and land near its nest hole, giving brilliant views in the crisp, bright sunlight before flying right over our heads and disappearing into the forest. Then, we walked 100 yards through some small bushes to a line of birch trees where a female Three-toed Woodpecker was poking its head out of a nest hole just a few feet up from the ground. A few minutes later, we were exceedingly privileged to witness the male fly in and do a changeover at the nest - how lucky can you be! The female flew onto a nearby tree and gave us all great views as it clambered about the moss encrusted trunk. We walked back to the minibuses, and then heard a Wryneck calling. It promptly flew straight into the tree right by us, and once again we were treated to incredible views - a feature that continued to repeat itself with most of our target birds the entire holiday. The Wryneck stayed in the area for ages and another one was seen and heard calling a little later on. But we were not finished; the Black Woodpecker flew in again and was seen feeding one of its young at the entrance to the nest hole before flying off.
After all this excitement it was hard to tear ourselves away, but we had to as many miles lay between us and our next hotel. As we headed north the scenery changed and the forests thinned out to reveal vast bogs. We pulled into a rest area which had a boardwalk that led to a tower hide right out in one of these bogs. It looked really promising, but was generally rather quiet. We had our only Hobby of the trip, a Peregrine and a distant Honey Buzzard. David picked up a Yellow Wagtail of the race Thunbergi, perched on top of a pine tree. The walk back to the rest area produced a pair of obliging and rather frosty-looking Willow Tits. By now it was rather warm so we all took advantage of the local ice-creams and relaxed for a while. Moving on, we stopped to have a look at our first Reindeer alongside the road. All of a sudden the scenery changed once again and we were confronted with hills - a real contrast to the totally flat landscape around Oulu. We drove up to a scenic overlook where we could see mile upon mile of rolling pine forests disappearing into the distance, before stopping for our second Elk. It was right beside the road and we took a side road to gain better views of him. Whilst looking at this rather impressive beast, a Waxwing flew over and landed at the top of a pine tree - and gave good views through the scopes.
Continuing on, we drove past a small lake that held a few adult Little Gulls before arriving at our impressive hotel in Kuusamo. We had a nice meal before doing our evening checklist. We retired to our beds around 11.30am - in broad daylight!
Day 5 Thursday 5th June
Our first stop this morning was to a large lake a few minutes drive away from the hotel. It was very cold this morning and we all donned whatever warm clothing we could as we watched our first Little Bunting singing from a small pine tree. We located another one near the lake and everyone obtained pretty good views. Out on the water we saw a distant Black-throated Diver, an adult Red-necked Grebe and a couple Wood Sandpipers.
Our next stop found us parking up in another large pine forest and we crossed the road and followed a track down a small hill. Here we were confronted with a very bold and quite aggressive male Capercaillie. He `strutted his stuff' just 20 yards from us, making some clicking and popping noises as he strode around what was clearly his territory. It was amazing to see and, for anyone who had struggled to see this species in Scotland, was a welcome sight indeed. Then we drove to a small lay-by near Valtavaara, where some feeders were attracting a good variety of birds. We saw several smart Bramblings, a pair of Willow Tits and lots of Siskins.
From here we went to Oulanka National Park and followed the river down to a waterfall and small gorge. It was very scenic along here and made a welcome change from the endless miles of pine forest. We saw a close Dipper, several Common Crossbills and found a few Calypso Orchids. It was now late morning and we needed to be at our lunch stop at a certain time so we followed a forest track which took us alongside a large lake. A few Waxwings were seen perched on top of a dead tree and so we stopped to admire them, before pulling in at an open area to view the water. There were good numbers of Velvet Scoters scattered around in small flocks, 12 Smew (including 9 fine drakes), lots more Goldeneye and a close Arctic Tern perched on a boat. Just around the corner we again stopped, this time to admire the scenery and view the Russian border just a few miles away. But lunch was calling and we eventually pulled in at a renovated old schoolhouse that now caters for tourist. They served us a wonderful Reindeer stew and delicious berry pie - which, I'm sure Bob appreciated more than most! The bird feeders in the garden were laden with an assortment of seeds, thus attracting lots of birds. There were several Bullfinches, Siskin and Brambling, but pride of place went to the two pairs of Common Rosefinches.
We returned to the lay-by we had visited earlier, seeing nothing new before heading off to check out a site for another much wanted speciality - Siberian Tit. A short walk from the road led us to the nest box and sure enough we were treated to good views of the pair of Siberian Tits as they fed near their nest. It was now time for dinner, so we returned to the hotel for a lovely buffet meal. But we went out again for a little late evening birding, stopping at a nearby lake where we saw 3 Red-necked Grebes, Great Created Grebe, Pintail, loads of Little Gulls and a Muskrat. We then drove around the edge of Kuusamo, seeing a Mountain Hare before pulling off the road by a small patch of moorland and watching our first Willow Grouse fly right in next to us.
Day 6 Friday 6th June
This morning we headed off through another forest, stopping to remove a small stone that had embedded itself in the brakes of Ari's vehicle and which made the most incredible ear-shattering screech as he drove along. As the wheel was inspected, an Osprey flew over. After this short unscheduled stop we drove a little way on before parking up and walking down to a boardwalk over a small stream and bog. Here we had a Rustic Bunting perched in a nearby pine tree, before starting the walk up quite a steep hill. About halfway up we walked off the path and went just a few yards before we heard a Red-flanked Bluetail singing. After a little searching we found the bird perched right on top of a tall pine tree. Through the scopes we could get reasonable views of a 1st summer male as it proclaimed its territory. This was a major bird and we all felt privileged to see this true taiga breeder on its nesting territory.
We drove back to the hotel for lunch and a rest, before having another look at the feeders near Valtavaara. We waited over an hour and were thinking about leaving when I tried a little `squeeking': the sight of me kissing my hand raised a few comments, until a fantastic Siberian Jay flew in and landed right in front of us! It was a little cautious at first, but the sight of some bread we had put down earlier proved irresistible and it would fly down and take a piece before disappearing up into the forest to hide it, returning a minute later for more. Eventually, the only bread left was on the floor of the lay-by and sure enough, it came down and gave the most incredible views. Needless to say, we were all elated at this. So we drove up the road and stopped at another lake where we saw more Velvet Scoters, 10+ Smew, several Red-breasted Mergansers and a Wood Sandpiper. Further up the road we pulled in to observe the largest Sand Martin colony in Finland: it wasn't in a sandbank but a huge pile of sawdust! Leaving here we made a quick attempt at Hazel Grouse, without success before returning to the hotel for dinner.
Day 7 Saturday 7th June
This morning we made a quick excursion for Hazel Grouse on the outskirts of the town, once again without any joy. It was becoming apparent that we had already had pretty good views of this true skulker. So, after breakfast we took Helen to the local airport and said our goodbyes, before starting the drive north towards Ivalo. We stopped at the border to the Arctic Circle and toasted our arrival. There was a little restaurant which made excellent coffee and we made the most of it! Just a few kilometres further on, we stopped to have a look at a flock of Common Crossbills.
We pressed on along the long straight road, stopping once for yet another Hawk Owl that Mike spotted perched on a dead tree near the road. But we couldn't linger long as there was nowhere to pull off the road and we wanted to get to our lunch stop on time. It was a lovely little restaurant and there were some bird feeders we could look at whilst eating. There were the usual Siskin, Brambling and Bullfinch on view, whilst a Pied Flycatcher was visiting a nearby nestbox.
After we were fully refreshed, we drove back down the road a few kilometres to a huge bog. As we got out of the buses, I spotted a very distant Hawk Owl - our 6th of the holiday! We followed a rickety boardwalk out to a tower hide. The view was very nice, overlooking a large lake where we saw Velvet Scoter, Yellow Wagtail and a Wood Sandpiper that flew onto the top of a pine tree right next to us. Ari picked up a distant Rough-legged Buzzard, but we decided to call it quits and carry on north. We stopped our journey for a walk through a huge pine forest where we found three more Siberian Jays, lots of Brambling and heard a Common Redstart singing in the distance. A little further on we went up onto a moorland covered hill and found four Dotterel. They gave crippling views and the scenery was also quite spectacular. The drive down gave us a Willow Grouse beside the road - our last good bird of the day.
That evening we met Colin and Joyce, who would be joining us for the rest of the tour.
Day 8 Sunday 8th June
After a hearty breakfast we left Ivalo on our journey up into Norway. We made a brief stop on the edge of town where we heard a Bluethroat singing, before stopping beside a huge lake. There was a stunning Black-throated Diver in full breeding plumage swimming close in, with another one sat on its nest on an island. Our next stop was for an awesome adult White-tailed Eagle that flew over the roadside trees and gave spectacular views. We watched as a Hooded Crow mobbed it and the size difference was enormous. A little further on we stopped for coffee at a roadside café, which also gave us the opportunity to have a look at the bird feeders. There were all the usual commoner birds present including several Common Redpolls, and after a good 10 minutes I picked up a Pine Grosbeak perched in a very close tree.
To say it was close is an understatement, the tree in question being just about 2 feet from the window we were looking through! It was an immature/1st year male bird and was simply stunning! I'm sure the cry of "grosbeak on the feeder" will live long in the memory!! This mega was in view for probably five minutes before flying away, allowing our nerves to settle and hands to stop shaking before we composed ourselves and carried on towards Norway. Just outside the café we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard fly over.
The scenery changed yet again as we drove north, with it becoming a little flatter and more open bogs with scattered trees for a while. One such bog had a displaying Spotted Redshank and a few Arctic Terns flying around. We crossed the border into Norway and followed a wide river to an area of high cliffs. Within a few minutes we had a male Gyrfalcon fly over and perch on a ledge high above us. How lucky can you get? It stayed there for the whole time we were there and through the scopes we had excellent views. The surrounding scenery was every bit as dramatic as this true arctic bird, with the distant mountain tops covered in snow. We had our packed lunch here and were able to soak up the sheer majesty of this perfect setting. The female also flew over a little while later but carried on up through the valley. It was a good move staying here as we had a few Common (Mealy) Redpolls flying around, before an Arctic Redpoll flew in and landed on the trees right next to us. There were, in fact, several present but they were very restless and never seemed to stay on the same perch for very long. Still, most of us gained some sort of view and we could also hear a subtle difference in their call compared to the other Common Redpolls.
We drove up onto the Varanger Fjord, stopping for a Rough-legged Buzzard perched on some telegraph wires near the road. A short distance along the road we pulled in by an old church, which gave a good vantage point along the shoreline. Within a few minutes, David picked up five Steller's Eiders flying into a small bay some distance away. They seemed to disappear for a while amongst the seaweed covered rocks and only showed a few times, which was very frustrating. Also here we found a pair of Taiga Bean Geese, Arctic Skua, a close Long-tailed Skua flew over, 2 White-tailed Eagles, Black Guillemots, Kittiwake, Common Eider and several Bar-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage. It was bitterly cold here, so we decided to carry on to our hotel. The drive along the coast was truly spectacular and we saw more Arctic Skuas and 3 Red-necked Phalaropes before getting to Vardo via a 3km long tunnel that went under the sea. After getting settled in a few of us had a look in the harbour behind the hotel where we saw several Purple Sandpipers in full breeding dress. What a day!
Day 9 Monday 9th June
This morning we went down to a nearby harbour. As we drove along the road, we spotted a small flock of Snow Buntings feeding at the edge of a patch of snow. As we got to the harbour, it began to drizzle but we still found 5 Steller's Eiders on the far side. There was a cracking drake present so we drove round to get better views. As we pulled up they were feeding just offshore and we had pretty good views despite the weather. Also in the harbour were up to 30 Long-tailed Ducks present, as well as lots of Common Eiders. Now, today we had planned to visit Hornoya Island and the gods were obviously on our side for as we drove back to the harbour at Vardo, the rain stopped and the sun came out! We had to split into two groups as our little boat was only allowed to take a maximum of 6 passengers. Ari went with the first group and as we watched them sail out of the harbour, we found a couple of distant drake King Eiders.
The boat soon returned for the rest of us. It was a bit choppy on the open water but not too bad, and as we neared the island we passed lots of auks and Kittiwakes settled on the sea. What a great time we all had on this little island. The high cliffs were literally jam packed with nesting birds and I wish the photos taken could capture the majesty, excitement and grandeur of this spectacular seabird colony. Above us on ledges were huge numbers of breeding Guillemots, including the `bridled' form, as well as big numbers of Razorbills. But the bird we wanted to see was Brunnich's Guillemot, and we managed to pick out quite a few of these arctic birds on the ledges, in amongst the other auks. The white gape stripe was very obvious, as was the short, stout bill, the clean white flanks (no streaks as Common Guillemot) and the white breast which forms a point rather than being rounded as on its more common cousin. We all became quite good at picking them up using these good features! There were Puffins everywhere on the grassy slopes below the other auks and we were treated to such good views as they sat a few feet away from us. At times they whizzed so low over our heads that we had to duck to avoid them! On the rocks at the waters edge were a few Black Guillemots sunning themselves and they too were quite confiding. With the sun shining down, we could see a distinct metallic green sheen on their otherwise black mantle.
Following the path around, a red-spotted Bluethroat was seen well. Scanning the sea from the top of the path produced several `blue' Fulmars, whilst a couple of Rock Pipits flew around us. Below us were more Kittiwakes nesting and even more Puffins. The path back to the seabird cliffs gave us yet more views of all the same birds as before, but we were possibly more appreciative of the stunningly close views of everything, and we had several close Shags on nests, whilst there was now a pair of Bluethroats that continued to perform for all! Below us in the little bay and further out were huge rafts of auks. Scanning through them enabled us to pick out more Brunnich's Guillemots and it was nice to be able to look down on them. We had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and just watch the `hustle and bustle' as birds came `to and fro' their nests. It was just magic!
But all too soon we had to leave this brilliant little island and return to the mainland for lunch, which today was in a local fish restaurant. There was a good selection of other meats available for those of us not partaking in the local specialties, and this was one of the best meals of the entire holiday. After lunch we drove back along the coast, stopping to view a Bluethroat singing from the telegraph wires. We then found Lapland Bunting and a Red-throated Pipit on the same patch of moorland, both in breeding plumage. Further on, we stopped when a pair of totally awesome White-tailed Eagles were spotted perched on a hillside not too far from the road. This was our best views to date and we marvelled at the sheer power and presence of these brilliant raptors. Nearby a rather elegant summer-plumaged Long-tailed Skua flew over our heads, whilst some Ruff were lekking on a patch of seaweed on the beach. The birds just kept coming and we were having a fantastic day! There were Arctic Skuas everywhere and we tried to count them but it was impossible! But we did count 3 Red-necked Phalaropes at a small roadside pool that were extremely showy.
We stopped to scan the sea at one point and found our first summer-plumaged White-billed Diver quite close in, which opened a little debate as it did not have the classic white bill, but was a little duller than normal. However, it was a cracking bird and much appreciated by all. Also out at sea were loads of Red-breasted Mergansers and Goosanders close in, hundreds of Common Eiders and a distant drake King Eider. Possibly the star birds here were two distant auks that Nick (H) initially picked up and through the zoom scope turned out to be a pair of Little Auks, a very scarce bird here and a lifer for our friend and guide, Ari. Whilst scanning the sea, a few Arctic Redpolls were calling and flying around. At this point, Ari got a phone call with some `hot' news, so we doubled back down the road a few kilometres and were soon watching a European Bee-eater perched on a telegraph wire - a real rarity for Norway. So here we were, watching a Mediterranean bird up in the Arctic - very bizarre! After a few minutes it took flight and went up high into the clouds and seemed to head south - never to be seen again. Whilst here, a pair of Shorelarks fed on the ground in front of us and gave us good views. But it was getting cold again, so we decided to drive back to the hotel for dinner.
After dinner, we went out for some more birding and saw a pair of Snow Buntings, but the wind chill was quite intense and we called it quits. However, a Willow Grouse was seen by one of the buses, and being a new bird for Colin and Joyce, some intrepid souls ventured back out later to try and relocate the bird. They were unsuccessful, but David did find a huge Reindeer antler that he was determined to bring back home with him! This caused quite a bit of amusement over the next few days and we were all interested to see what the local customs officer at the airport would make of it!
Day 10 Tuesday 10th June
This morning we drove the other way along the coast towards Hamningberg. Stopping at the first bay to view some waders, revealed Sanderling in breeding plumage, complete with red throats, as well as Dunlin, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and 2 brief Red Knot. Behind us a Short-eared Owl hunted over a meadow, whilst a Lapland Bunting was found perched on a grassy tussock. However, the star bird was the drake Steller's Eider seen feeding at the waters edge. He was exceedingly confiding and we all had the most superb views as he fed amongst the seaweed covered rocks. Wow! A little further on we walked up a low hill and found a pair of Ptarmigan and watched them fly right by us. Lower down a Willow Grouse was found as well, whilst a superb Pomarine Skua flew low overhead, showing off his `spoons'.
We drove by some lakes and decided to give them a quick scan. Here we found a pair of Long-tailed Duck, a drake Greater Scaup and a distant pair of Red-throated Divers. The road passed through some stunning scenery. The hills here had more snow on them and the rocky countryside seemed very wild, barren and rather desolate. The birds were still coming and we saw loads more Arctic Skuas flying around, as well as another Red-necked Phalarope. We stopped to do a little sea watching and had a good passage of Pomarine Skuas with as many as 35+ birds being seen, as well as Arctic Terns, Black Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills and Common Guillemots all flying by.
We stopped for lunch in an area of low willows bordering a river. It was nice and sheltered here from the cold wind and we spent quite a time relaxing and walking around the area. A pair of Red-necked Phalaropes were feeding underneath the bridge and gave superb close views and were totally unconcerned by our presence. There were several Arctic Redpolls around, but were as flighty as ever, whilst a pair of Snow Buntings, a Red-throated Pipit and a nice, close Temminck's Stint all showed very well. Amongst the trees a Bluethroat popped up and began singing, whilst a Rough-legged Buzzard flew over and a Common Snipe was seen. Leaving here we drove on to the small village of Hamningberg. On the far side of the village we found a flock of 24 immature male and female King Eiders and an adult Glaucous Gull perched on the rocks. Out to sea, we saw a Grey Seal and more Pomarine Skuas passing by. We took a side track to a large bay and Ari picked up a Beluga Whale that a few of the group managed to get on! Also here was another drake King Eider and lots of the commoner birds.
By now it was getting quite late and we headed back to the hotel. On the way Joyce spotted a superb Otter running along the river bank and a little later on we had another White-billed Diver, but this time it was rather distant. A close Mountain Hare was also seen by the roadside as we drove back towards Vardo. But our last stop was at the same bay we saw the Steller's Eider in this morning, but this time was full of gulls with at least 1 adult and a first year Glaucous Gull.
Day 11 Wednesday 11th June
We set off back to Ivalo after breakfast and drove through the 3km long tunnel for the last time, stopping at a nearby harbour where we found a female Steller's Eider close in to shore and a couple of Twite. Driving along the coast, we took a track inland, but only saw a few Arctic Skuas. It was rather cold here, so we decided to drive back along the coast road. Stopping at various points along road we saw a Stoat, Red Knot, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper and a distant Great Skua that Mike picked up. We saw 6 White-tailed Eagles, with one pair in particular very close and at least 6 Rough-legged Buzzards. Our route back into Finland followed the Tena River and just over the border we stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking a large lake. Sitting beside the large windows, we had a good view of the surrounding countryside and the bird feeders just below us. All the usual birds were present including Common Redpolls and a few Bullfinches, whilst we had our delicious lunch. We were just about to leave when an absolutely stunning male Pine Grosbeak flew in and landed on a very close bush. It was in full breeding plumage and looked just amazing as it sat a few yards away from us. Wow! It was on view for a full quarter of an hour as it fed on the seeds below the feeders. For a while there was sheer panic, followed by elation once everyone had seen it. Once it had flown off, we drove on in sheer ecstasy and went to a bog where we had a few Garganey and Wood Sandpipers, before carrying on to a mature pine forest. It seemed pretty quiet here, but after a short walk along the path we struck gold once again, when we found three more Siberian Jays. They gave fantastically close views, much to Colin and Joyce's great relief. In fact these birds were so bold that they came down to feed on a jam sandwich just a few feet away from us. It was a real treat to watch them as they took chunks of food away into the forest to store for later.
From here it was a short drive to our hotel in Ivalo, where we did our last checklist of the trip - an extremely poignant moment!
Day 12 Thursday 12th June
We had a few hours before our flight back home, so went to a nearby bog, but it was very quiet with only a singing Brambling to keep us company. We then went to a forest and had a walk, but once again it was quiet with just a few Common Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers being seen. So we drove up to the top of the large hill that we had visited a week before and saw a close Dotterel once again near the restaurant. After a coffee and cake we headed to the airport and said goodbye to our guide and good friend, Ari.
The flight home was uneventful with a quick change of planes at Helsinki and on to London Heathrow, where we said our goodbyes. The final note to this trip is that David got his antlers back to England - can you believe it?!!