Part one: Finland
As the nights get longer across Europe, we look back to some almost endless summer days in the land of the midnight sun with birding guides Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, famed for their world record breaking ‘Biggest Twitch’ world tour. As their diary shows, more daylight hours certainly allows for more bird sightings!
We flew from Manchester to Helsinki and met our expert local guide at the airport. Soon we were enjoying some local birding including great looks at a pair of hawfinch. On the way to our hotel in the forests of Hauho we stopped to watch a grey-headed woodpecker. There were lots of birds around the hotel including pied flycatcher, wood warbler, a nesting pair of wrynecks and black-throated divers on the lake below – a lovely place.
The forests around the hotel are full of great birds and we spent the day exploring the area. The pair of wrynecks again showed off for us and we watched pied flycatchers from our breakfast table. It was an amazing day packed with superb birds but the highlight was being allowed to join a local bird ringer, Pertti, as he ringed two Ural owl chicks. What a privilege to witness the oh-so-cute youngsters having their jewellery fitted.
There was nothing cute about the adult female, however, who repeatedly struck poor Pertti as he brought the young birds down to ring. He was a lovely man to meet who has studied Ural owls for over 30 years and we could have listened to his tales all day long. Later we were taken by another local expert to see a European pygmy owl nest – amazing. A few of the other highlights included grey-headed woodpecker again, black woodpecker, common crane, osprey, little gull, red-necked and Slavonian grebes, thrush nightingale, river warbler, Blyth’s reed warbler, red-backed shrike, common rosefinch and hobby! What a day! We had great views of all these birds through our Ultravid HD-Plus 8×32 and 8×42 binoculars and had plenty of time to enjoy them.
Today we moved north from Hauho to Oulu so a good bit of driving but this didn’t stop us enjoying lots of great birds. Our guide showed us Ortolan buntings in an area where he is conducting a long-term study of this declining bird. We stopped in a wonderful forest where we watched greenish warblers and red-breasted flycatchers singing and displaying, grateful for the perfect contrasts and natural colours offered by the Ultravids. Our first views of hazel grouse was also here and it’s always a thrill to see this elusive bird.
At Oulu we saw a real target bird: one of Finland’s few Terek sandpipers. Again we were thrilled to see its display. We also had our first good looks at breeding plumaged Ruff here too, which was an amazing sight. Thanks to the presence of many wood sandpipers and a few Temminck’s stints, we added to our wader list as well.
We had some wonderful birding around Oulu in the morning, seeing many common cranes and our first of many white-tailed eagles. We also had great sightings of broad-billed sandpiper, displaying short-eared owl, plenty of Garganey and lots of waders, their fine breeding plumage brilliantly defined through the Ultravids’ HD glass.
We watched a pair of lesser spotted woodpeckers and a ghostly male Pallid harrier quartering some old fields – wow! But the highlight was seeing a magnificent great grey owl. This is one of our favourite birds in the whole world and it simply has to be seen. It’s an incredible thrill to see watch this huge owl in the sunshine. As we soaked up the views of the owl, a pair of crested tits showed off above us. Moving on to Kuusamo we were soon enjoying great forest birding including our first Waxwings of the trip, along with black woodpecker and woodcock.
We spent the day birding around Kuusamo and were treated to some very special birds indeed! Our first stop was to look for hawk owl at a spot where we had found a pair last year. There was no sign this time round but we did very well for raptors. A black kite, rarely seen this far north, circled over the forest followed by golden eagle and goshawk. A parrot crossbill was next to show itself, sitting on a dead tree – very nice it was too. We were thinking of giving up, when Alan and our guide simultaneously said: “There it is!” Sure enough, the Ultravid HD-Plus showed that the hawk owl was in a dead tree – and it was well worth the wait.
Just along the road, we had a lovely encounter with a pair of Siberian jays which came down extremely close to see us, even taking some fruit from Alan’s hand. What an amazing day this was turning into and it was still early morning.
Sightings included honey buzzard, black and hazel grouse, red-necked phalarope, smew, little gull and more. We visited a site for Tengmalm’s owl and were thrilled to see this lovely bird at close range. We walked through a stunning forest to look for red-flanked bluetail.
Sadly, we had no luck with this particular bird, but we did find a huge male capercaillie, or, more accurately, he found us as he charged out of the trees to attack our guide! Next he chased Alan through the forest and Ruth took some great photos of the pursuit! It was a truly unforgettable encounter with this monster grouse; to see a capercaillie this close was just fantastic.
After more lovely looks at Siberian Jays, we also watched our first Siberian tits. To round off the day, in the evening we found both rustic and little Buntings: another amazing day.
We visited another site for red-flanked bluetail. After some searching we were rewarded with the sight of a bird building a nest at close range and also a male singing high in a pine above us.
These were soon eclipsed, however, by an amazing encounter with a European pygmy owl. This tiny owl came and mobbed us! Not much bigger than a sparrow, he knew no fear and even dive-bombed us – wow! We were able to watch this lovely little chap for ages as he sat just above our heads in the sunshine.
We went back for more hawk owl views and also enjoyed another honey buzzard, more black woodpeckers and wood sandpipers. We again enjoyed great observation opportunities and our Ultravid HD-Plus were rarely out of our hands, with little bunting, garganey, velvet scoters and smew at a picturesque lake.
We headed north to Ivalo. This involved a pretty long drive but we saw plenty of birds along the way. We took a long walk up onto an area of fell above the tree line. Here we had great views of Dotterel and the vista from the top was just stunning. A breathtakingly huge landscape of forests lay spread out below us.
The slopes of the fell gave us our first bluethroats, Arctic redpolls and willow grouse, while whimbrel displayed overhead. It was a truly magical place. Roadside birding produced a self-found hawk owl, broad-billed sandpipers, displaying ruff, white-tailed eagles and more.
In the evening we visited a sewage farm, no birding trip is complete without one! We were able to watch short-eared owls displaying in the sunshine right overhead with no glare thanks to our Ultravid HD Plus binoculars. Temminck’s stints and wood sandpipers were also present, along with plenty of wildfowl. It was a great end to another super day.
We birded north of Ivalo today and we enjoyed a lot of great birds. Our first stop was to watch waxwings, quickly followed by a singing Wryneck. As we watched the wryneck, we caught sight of a pair of smew was on a small lake behind us and a pair of Siberian jays arrived to check us out.
Next we visited a charming café with well-stocked feeders. Here, a Siberian tit soon arrived to join lots of colourful Brambling. Red squirrels also entertained us, leaping onto the bird tables from the birch trees above. Then the stars of the show arrived: a pair of huge colourful pine grosbeaks! These monster finches showed off for us and our Leica V-Lux camera went into overdrive!
A little further along the road we found another hawk owl and jumped out to enjoy some stunning views in the sunshine. From there, we moved on to a large bog that was so alive with birds we didn’t know where to look first! Ruff were displaying, golden plover fed next to bar-tailed godwits and Temminck’s stints, as two taiga bean geese flew in. Lapland Buntings sang above us and Jack snipe displayed giving their galloping horse calls: we were in heaven! The highlight birds here were a pair of gorgeous long-tailed skuas nesting right by the track. We had the most amazing time watching these wonderful birds before dragging ourselves away to return to Ivalo.
See whether the second leg of Alan and Ruth’s trip – birding in Norway – went, and whether it lived up to the spectacular Finnish start in a few weeks here on the Leica Birding Blog.
For more information about birdwatching trips across the globe with Alan and Ruth, visit www.birdwatchingtrips.co.uk.