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FINLAND TOUR     2nd June - 8th June 2001

LEADERS:                            Steve Bird, Marco

Day 1   2nd June

After two excellent flights we arrived at Oulu and were soon met by our finnature guide, Marco.  A short drive in our two minibuses and we arrived at our hotel beside a large lake, an evening meal was already arranged after which we were to have an evening excursion. In the car park Pied Flycatchers were easily seen while Garden Warbler and Siskin also put in an appearance and the song of Redwing could be heard all around. A singing Icterine Warbler however, failed to show itself from the nearby wood. 

After lunch we set off for what turned out to be a long drive. Fieldfare were by far the most obvious bird from our travelling vehicle and Curlews and Lapwing seemed to be a common field bird. We stopped to look at a one particular wet field and added Golden Plovers and Whimbrel to our list. Further on, a brief view was had of a female Common Rosefinch beside the road. Continuing on we then stopped in the forest when a Waxwing was spotted sat right on the top of a tree. This bird showed particularly well and on occasions could be heard singing. We moved to another area of the wood where after a short walk we set ourselves up looking towards a tall dead tree. From a hole in the tree we could see the tail of an adult Ural Owl sticking out. Over the next hour or so we quietly watched and waited to get better views of the bird. Eventually it shuffled round and raised its head so we could get a reasonable view of its face. We then left and headed back towards our hotel. As we drove back we saw quite a few Woodcock roding over the forests and we even saw five of six Elk feeding close to the road verges.

Day 2   3rd June

After breakfast we set off to a nearby area that looked just like everywhere else we had passed. In a small area of trees we set up our scopes on a hole in a tree and in only a few minutes were treated to the sight of a pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers changing over nest duties. A little later we got excellent views again as the male stuck his head out and looked around. Marco our guide then called us over because he heard a male Rustic Bunting singing from a treetop. We soon found it and set up our scopes, where we had some very good views, we then left the area and drove to the coast of Liminka Bay. A walk down to the lake side and then across a muddy track through the reeds, it was not long before we found our target bird, a Terek Sandpiper. Good views were had before it moved further away and was joined by another bird. Also present here were Little Ringed Plover, and a group of Caspian Terns. We then found a couple of Marsh Harriers, Little Gulls, Arctic Tern and three Little Terns, while a Common Crane flew lazily over the top of the woods. Leaving here we stopped briefly beside a fenced compound where Artic Terns could be seen nesting on the gravel floor. Just a bit further along a non descript area of scattered weeds and dirt found us at least one Temmincks Stint, the bird giving short display flights for everyone to enjoy.

After our lunch we made our way to a small ferry or floating platform which took us to a small island, we had fun as everyone had a go at pulling the ferry across using wooden oars on a metal cable. On the island we took a short walk before visiting an old Black Woodpecker nest hole, where through our scopes we could see three Tengmalm's Owl chicks looking out at us. Thrilled by these lovely birds we then returned back to the hotel for a break. Some of the group went for a walk alongside the lake overlooked by our hotel and saw a few species including Smew, Goldeneye, Lesser Whitethroat, Graylag Goose and Whooper Swans.

After our evening meal we visited some nearby arable fields. It wasn't long before we found a Short-eared Owl quartering, and in a roadside tree two Ortolan Buntings sat long enough for the scopes to be set on them. We then drove to a large area of marsh, here we enjoyed seeing and hearing lots of Common Snipe drumming. From here our next port of call was the local rubbish dump and once here we walked to a high vantage point to overlook the surrounding woodlands. The usual scavenging gulls were all around and a few Oystercatchers were spotted, but the real highlight was a superb Eagle Owl that I found sat in some distant trees. Our guide expected at least 2 hours of searching rather than just 2 minutes! So we were all delighted by this and by the views. Leaving here we decided to try the marsh once again where this time we were treated to the sound of a singing Spotted Crake. It was now late so we returned back to our hotel.

Day3    4th June

After breakfast we headed south. A brief stop was made en-route for a Common Crane which was spotted feeding in a muddy field. Arriving at our coastal site we then walked the short distance through some woodland to an area of sand dune overlooking the sea. Here we soon found several Goosander amongst the many Red Breasted Mergansers, there were also Goldeneye and Black Throated Divers further out.  Four Barnacle Geese were then spotted on the sea while behind us a brief call of a Wryneck led us to see the bird proclaiming its territory. A Pomarine Skua was then spotted by a few of the group flying out at sea, this being a really good bird for Finland. Turnstone, and close male Goosander were also seen. As we returned through the woodland we spotted Willow Tit, and a group of Common Crossbills moving quickly through, some of the group in front were fortunate enough to see two Parrot Crossbills amongst them. Moving on from here a short stop was made overlooking a field which had around a hundred Common Cranes feeding in it. We then drove to Liminka where we were to have our lunch at the visitors centre. A look from the tower hide towards the marshes and open water produced a male Hen Harrier sat on a post, while behind we could see lots of distant Wildfowl and many Whooper Swans. 

After lunch we took a walk out to one of the marshland hides. From here we found amongst the more common Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Red Breasted Mergansers, up to 15 Smew, some Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon and Garganey. A few summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits were also seen feeding in the grassy fields. After finding just about every bird possible out there we returned to the vans and went back to the hotel. 

After our evening meal most of the group decided to go for a walk in the near vicinity, we went with our wellies on straight out into the reed bed area, Ruff flew up as well as two Black Tailed Godwits, Greenshanks, Common Sandpiper and Teal. Fun was had as we trekked through the wetland but little else was found. At the far point, however, we did find more duck including a couple of nice Smew, there was also a Marsh Harrier and even a Pheasant. We then returned seeing a male hen Harrier flying fast behind the roadside trees.

Day 4   5th June

Siberian Tit
Siberian Tit

We had an early breakfast so that we could get going on the to drive to Kuusamo. About half way a stop was made for coffee and a few people wandered around and found a singing Redstart. Continuing on we made our way to a forested hill, stopping briefly along the way to look at a couple of Waxwings. The second minibus were lucky when they spotted a Hobby fly past. At the hill we found it was rather chilly to start with, Bramblings sang from the treetops and our first White-winged Crossbill was heard and then seen on top of a spruce. Parrot Crossbills then appeared with a couple being scoped briefly before flying off. We walked into the wood and it was obvious that it was an easy place to get lost. More Parrot and White-winged Crossbills were spotted but a singing Red-flanked Bluetail then became our target for attention. After a short while it was found still singing on the very top of a birch tree. We scoped it until everyone got, back, side and front views of this special bird. Leaving this area we then made our way to our hotel in Kuusamo.

We were situated once again beside a huge lake where elegant Little Gulls were a common sight. After our lunch we set off for the afternoon. We drove to an area of woodland and as we slowly made our way along a dirt road, two Black Grouse were spotted in front of the vehicles. As they made their way up a mossy bank we all got very good views, albeit from the minibus windows! Eventually we arrived at a dead end in a coniferous forest. Here, after some time searching, several of the group found a bird box in the wood, and unbelievably, it was being used by a pair of Siberian Tits.

Over the next hour we had fabulous views of these delightful birds, another speciality under our belts! We had to drive much further to reach our second area, which consisted of more open land with large bare trees scattered around. Before we even stopped I had spotted the obvious silhouette of a distant Hawk Owl backed by a clear blue sky. We all jumped out of the vehicles and excitedly set up our telescopes. This superb bird gave us wonderful views as it sat motionless with piercing yellow eyes trained on all that moved. After spending a long time watching this bird we then drove a short distance up the road to an area of thicker forest. Here we searched amongst many dead and rotten trees. After coming out into a clearing we found that we could view the Hawk Owl again,  but the light was now better. The bird was now heard calling and occasionally seen making short flights. While engrossed in this bird it was a while before a small fluffy white ball sat on a tree stump was noticed, and subsequently turned out to be one of the owls chicks. We were much too far away to be of any concern. The scene here was idyllic and just when we thought it couldn't get any better a huge Black Woodpecker flew in and started drumming in full view on a dead tree. Fantastic!! It was now getting late so we headed back to our hotel and a welcome evening meal.

In the late evening it was decided to take a short drive to an area where a Great Grey Owl had recently been seen hunting. Arriving here we waited and watched. A Short-eared Owl put in an appearance but unfortunately, according to several locals it seemed as though the Great Grey had moved on. This was particularly disappointing as it was a poor vole year and no nest sites of this spectacular owl had been found, meaning that this was probably going to be our only chance this year. We eventually left and returned to the hotel for a good nights sleep. 

Day 5   6th June

Hawk Owl
Hawk Owl
Tengmalm’s Owl
Tengmalm's Owl

After breakfast we headed to a nearby area of willow scrub which was very wet and marshy underfoot. Our search was nicely interrupted by four Bean Geese flying over, but soon after we could hear the song of a fairly distant Little Bunting. Approaching the song closer, the bird was eventually found singing from the top of a willow. Through our telescopes we all enjoyed good views of this bird, showing it's rich chestnut face patch and distinctive bill shape. Leaving here we moved on to a broad-leaved forest with a thick under-story of mosses. We tried to attract the resident Siberian Jays out of the wood with some sandwich scraps, but it looked as though this was not their day to play! The group then took a slow stroll through the forest. As we quietly waited in one area we were all eventually treated to several very close flight views of a male Hazelhen, and some of the group even managed to see it perched for a short while in a tree. This can be a very difficult bird, so we were indeed fortunate.  En-route to our afternoon site we stopped along an old logging track and made our way a few yards into the woodland. Stood with scopes and binoculars aimed at a hole in a dead tree we were soon looking at an adult Tengmalm's Owl with it's head stuck out of the hole looking at us. Continuing on we then arrived at a picturesque lake nestled under some densely forested hills. Here we sat in the sun and enjoyed our picnic lunches. On the lake we saw lots of Little Gulls and some superb Arctic Terns, as well as White-winged Scoters and Slavonian Grebe. Half way through our sandwiches two Golden Eagles appeared over the woodland and gave us some excellent views before lazily drifting higher on a thermal and then disappearing into a cloud. Returning back to the lake near the hotel in the late afternoon we checked an area where up to nine Red-necked Grebes were seen, with some on nests, and all in their glorious breeding plumage. After our evening meal we tried again to see if the Great Grey Owl was around, but almost expected, it was not!   

Day 6   7th June

Today saw us up early to drive a route nicknamed "the grouse run". One of our first stops was beside a small patch of wood where after a bit of searching we all got close views of a pair of Siberian Jays, playing around and being very elusive at times in amongst the thicker trees. A group of White-winged Crossbills were heard flying around we never got very good views of them. Many miles further on we stopped and watched as several male Black Grouse displayed in the middle of the road. Another male looked stunning as it posed from the top of a small fir tree and behind them the constant call of Wryneck eventually led us to see the bird. Another roadside stop had some of the group spot a male Capercaillie, with several other species being seen including Common Rosefinch, Short-eared Owls and Hen Harrier. We had lunch at a lovely nature park, where Willow Tits and Great Spotted Woodpecker fed outside the café. On the nearby river we watched several Dipper and took photo's of the wonderful scenery. Because we were up so early we then decided to return to the hotel for a rest. After our evening meal we drove to a private wetland reserve and here we stayed until late evening. On the small lakes and surrounding pools we saw numerous ducks and water-birds, but one of the highlights was surely the group's of Red-necked Phalaropes spinning and dancing only a few feet in front of us. Waders were plentiful and we saw Green and Wood Sandpipers, but only heard the trilling song of a Broad-billed Sandpiper. We also saw Spotted Redshank and both Greenshank and Wood Sandpipers were seen in display flights. There were many Common Snipe drumming, and even one or two Jack Snipe. The atmosphere here was magical, as the light faded slightly and birds became more intensive in their singing and displaying. Even though it was late at night no one really wanted to leave. Eventually we did, but not before spotting a Rough-legged Buzzard sat on a dead tree.

Siberian Jay
Siberian Jay
Wader in the twilight

Day 7   8th June

Our last day found us leaving early to head back towards Helsinki. Along the way birds of note included a Hen Harrier and a Honey Buzzard. We arrived back at Liminka and our first hotel where we had chance to freshen up. Next stop beside the sea was where a Yellow-breasted Bunting had been seen the day before. We searched but it looked as though it had gone. We then searched several other suitable sites nearby, finding displaying Ruff was a bonus. On the sea we spotted White-winged Scoter and nearby a Bittern could be heard booming. News was then phoned through that another Yellow-breasted Bunting was singing about 30 minutes from where we were. This got everyone excited so we headed to the site. A fast walk found us on a small platform overlooking the area. The birders already here had not seen the bunting for quite a while. We then went to a tower hide and while hear the song of a Yellow-breasted Bunting could be heard in front of us. After careful searching we found it and everyone got to see this now very rare bird for Finland. The bird was later seen feeding on the ground and if this was not a fitting end to the tour then the sight by a few of us of a Rose-coloured Starling flying by surely was!

Back at the hotel we packed and got ready for our flight home. We said our goodbyes to Marco, this being the very last tour he was to lead, owing to his other job as a journalist.

I thank everyone who attended this tour making it such a pleasure to lead.

Steve Bird 

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