Often referred to as the ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’, Finland is one of Europe’s most wild and unspoilt countries. This tour will take you far north of Britain, up to the westernmost part of the vast Siberian taiga forests and only a short distance south of the Arctic Circle itself. In mid-April, the Arctic wilderness starts to awake after a very long and harsh winter; now the days are getting longer, the weather slightly warmer, and the birds and mammals are beginning to prepare for the short and hectic breeding season ahead. This is a very rewarding and spectacular time to visit Finland. All the resident species such as owls, woodpeckers, grouse, crossbills and both Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit are present and active, and the earliest of the spring migrants will be making their way north. The weather is usually clear and fine, the sun shines and there is ample time for birdwatching. In the evening, as dusk starts to fall, the mixed and coniferous forests play host to displaying owls and after dark there is even the chance of catching sight of the spectacular Aurora Borealis or ‘Northern Lights’, the natural light phenomenon which is at its best during the dark winter and early spring nights!
Finland is the seventh largest country in Europe, yet is home to only five million people. A staggering 70% of the land area is carpeted in forest and 10% of that remaining is covered by lakes and ponds. This tour focuses on central Finland’s vast and unspoilt taiga forests and is unusual in the fact that it departs relatively early in the year. For, whilst at this season some of the breeding birds are unlikely to be seen, this shortfall is more than compensated for by those ‘special birds’ that are present, and by the breath-taking snow-covered landscape, a spectacle that later tours miss!
Our holiday begins with a flight from London to Helsinki and then on to Oulu, a town on the north-east shore of the Gulf of Bothnia. The town is surrounded by extensive boreal forests in which live many of the high Arctic bird species most sought after by British birdwatchers, in particular the owls. The Great Grey Owl must surely be the highlight of any trip to northern Finland, but alongside this magnificent species live Ural and Eagle Owls, plus Tengmalm’s and Pygmy Owls, their more diminutive cousins. Hawk Owls are occasionally found sitting atop tall conifers, whilst Snowy Owls visit the more open coastal areas from time to time. Along with the owls, the forests hold Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Parrot Crossbill, Waxwing, Capercaillie and the elusive Hazel Grouse. On the coast, migrating wildfowl will be tracking their way north, and in the sheltered bays and estuaries Whooper Swans and Goosander will be starting to gather, alongside fields holding flocks of Snow Bunting. A sudden flurry of wings may indicate a passing raptor which, for the very fortunate, may turn out to be a Gyr Falcon, a truly magnificent falcon and one that often winters along the Finnish coast.
From Oulu we will head north-east through a snow-covered landscape of forests and frozen lakes to Kuusamo, a small town close to the Russian border. Kuusamo is approximately four hours from Oulu and is surrounded by some of Finland’s finest wilderness scenery. Here, amongst the old growth taiga forests, bogs and lakes, we will look for such sought-after species as Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit, Two-barred and Parrot Crossbills, Pine Grosbeak and of course more owls!
Kuusamo lies amongst a vast expanse of taiga forest, containing a wonderfully diverse range of habitats that includes deep river valleys, magnificent waterfalls, bogs and meadows, together encompassing an area of hundreds of square kilometres. Spring will have just touched this pristine wilderness and, although much of the land will be covered in snow, the birds should be actively setting up territory. Whilst in Kuusamo we will look for such species as Waxwing, Capercaillie, Golden Eagle, Common, Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills, Pine Grosbeak, Arctic Redpoll, Black-bellied Dipper and, once again, possibly a few more owls. Reindeer are a fairly common sight and, with luck, some of the other mammals that frequent the area such as Elk (Moose), Arctic Hare and Red Squirrel may be seen.
From Oulanka we will have to transfer by road back to Oulu to catch our return flight to Helsinki and from there our connecting flight home.
This was a really good trip. The group all fitted together well and Tom is a superb leader.
The two leaders were excellent, very knowledgeable, very hard working and had obviously done some excellent preparation.
Hari and Jan were exceptional.
Trip leader - couldn't have been better.
Our guides deserve special praise. As a keen birder I found their knowledge and enthusiasm for birds outstanding.
I cannot recommend the local leaders too highly for their competence, organisation, ornithological skills and amiability.
Excellent trip. Very well led by Jari and Hari.
I would also like to thank Naturetrek for the opportunity to observe some magnificent birds in magnificent scenery. (Also) the local guides were absolutely excellent!
Great holiday! Thank you so much.