Friday, July 8, 2016

Trip to Finland...

Just after coming back from Greece, I went on a two weeks trip to Finland and Varanger (Norway) with Bernat Ferrer, Emil Lundahl and Erik Sjögren. We had very nice and succesful days!!
I will split the trip in two posts, Finland, where we spend most of the days, and the visit in Norway -mainly in Varangerfjord-, in another blogpost.

Thanks to Bernat Garcia, Miquel Àngel Garcia and Àlex Mascarell, among others, for the information provided to prepare the trip. Special thanks to Roni Väisänen for all his tips, and also for the very nice ringing which we could join, together with Petteri Lehikoinen and Jarkko Santaharju.

In total we drove more than 6000 km along the two countries, what allowed us to enjoy very different habitats and places, and to see a lot of species! When planning the trip is it worth taking in mind that some species are more or less easy depending on the year's breeding success, such as Owls and Grouses. Indeed, we missed most of the species in these two species, except for one Owl species...
It is also worth taking in mind the dates, since some species are late migrants arriving in late June (i.e. Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis), but on those dates other species are stopping singing and are harder to detect (i.e. Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus).
Typical road views, surrounded by forests, until you reach the
Most of the country, especially the South, Central and several regions in the North, are forests, usually a mixture of Pines (Pinus sp.), Firs (Abies sp.) and Birch trees (Betula pendula) and several other deciduous forest trees.
Forest birding in Finland can be quite hard sometimes, as usually there are very low densities and not many species... Anyway, you will find Redwings (Turdus iliacus), Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) as common species of some interest for South European birdwatchers.
It is also very nice with the breeding waders in all sort of wet places. I was quite excited to see the waders in the breeding grounds, and especially curious to see them singing from the top of a tree -like the Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) below-, or doing the display flights.

But of course, Red-flanked Bluetails (Tarsiger cyanurus) are the star species in the old spruce Finnish forests, sometimes also find with Greenish Warblers (Phylloscopus trochiloides). Iivaara mountain was one of the best forests we visited, including some Bluetails still singing at night time.
Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides)
Views from Iivaara mountain.
Taiga forest at dusk.
Iivaara summit, where we enjoyed almost a complete sunset.
That was after one week with midnight sun, so the darkest day
so far...
We could join Roni, who is doing a great job with Bluetails!, Petteri and Jarkko during the ringing of an adult male Bluetail. So far one of the highlights of the trip!
As long as you drive North, road singposts on crossing Reindeers (Rangifer tarandus) become more common. And indeed, Reindeers are found everywhere and usually are quite easy to spot from the road.

And usually IN the road as well...

Also Moose (Alces alces) crossing is usually singposted, and although it took a few days -and a lot of kms!-, we finally saw some. They are huge!
Variable Hare (Lepus timidus) is also a common mammal usually seen from the road, and although it is not signposted, take care when driving to don't crash with any! The one below it's quite young, adults are quite big!!
While crossing the Arctic Circle at Rovaniemi, actually in Santa's resort by the road, I was not expecting a colony of Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) in a buolding under construction. Maybe they also help Santa for Christmas! :)
Already in Lapland, the landscape started to change to more open areas, and finally only tundra. On our way North we visited several places that can be found on most of the reports, such as Kiilopää mountain, where we could find a male Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) taking care of his chicks. As it happens with Phalaropes, males and females have the breeding roles exchanged, and females have brighter plumages and leave males alone taking care of the breeding.
It is nice to see the amount of water everywhere, finding meadows, lakes and marshes everywhere in the whole country; and most of them have routes to walk in. Indeed, most of forests are very wet as well. That makes the perfect scenario for many many mosquitoes to breed... but also for some nice species such as Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava). It was interesting to find, even north of the polar cercle, both flava and thunbergi subspecies breeding, usually at the same areas, and being the latter the commonest.
Motacilla flava thunbergi
Motacilla flava flava
Just after those Wagtails we were lucky to see a flock of Parrot Crossbills (Loxia pytyopsittacus) that were eating pine cones at close range.
Boreal specialities took a bit more of time, but we ended up having quite great views of Siberian Tit (Poecile cinctus) and Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus).
Neljan Tuulen Tupa café's feeders were mentioned in several places as a reliable place for Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), and we actually saw them very well there. From the inside of the café, we saw one eating just 1 metre or less from the window...

Not the best light ever for this picture, but still very nice!!
We met a group of Dutch birders with who we exchanged information sometimes, and thanks to them we saw our first (out of no least than 20) Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula).
On the road to Utsjoki, in the Norwegian border, Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) is rather easy to see even from the road. Several lakes are also good for species such as Smew (Mergellus albellus), Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) and Scaup (Aythya marila).
One of the numerous lakes in the area. Picture taken at midnight.
After that we spent some days in Norway, that will be summarised in another blogpost.

We checked several places on the way North to Norway looking for Rustic Bunting (Emberiza rustica), without success, but we managed to see the species in Eastern Finland, on the way south to Helsinki. Seemingly they are declining quite fast...

The ringing morning was actually on the way south, when we caught the Bluetail, but also another exciting bird... a Booted Warbler (Iduna caligata)! We actually had seen that individual on the field the day before, and then we had the chance to have it in our hands and study it properly. Very nice!

We also passed though Wild Brown Bear Centre, in Kuhmo region, where we had booked a night on one of the Bear hides. The whole experience was very nice, seeing two Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) and one Wolverine (Gulo gulo) at very close range!! Sadly bad pictures of the Wolverine due to bad light, but the observation was very good. The whole place was very nice and very worth visiting.

After that we kept heading South, to Värtsilä area. The weather was a bit rainy, but still we manage to see target species like River Warbler (Locustella fluviatilis) and Corncrake (Crex crex), both very well seen.
Tohmajärvi lake was our place for Blyth's Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum), a species that I was longing for! And they have a lovely song!

Blyth's Reed Warbler habitat.
One of the last places we visited was Siikalahti National Park. When you arrive there you'll find a signpost saying, literally, 'the best bird lake in Finland'. The weather was not very nice, but still we saw a family of Grey-headed Woodpeckers (Picus canus) just by the parking site. The whole area at night is crazy for Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola), as most of Eastern Finland.

I bet not many time will pass until we come back to this country...!
The Team and a Finnish guy that insisted to be in the picture...

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