Finland and Arctic Norway
Sunday 22nd May – Friday 3rd June 2016
The wild and unspoilt countryside of Finland and Norway are home to some of Europe’s rarest birds, and if you have ever dreamed of seeing the northern specialities then this tour is a must. We begin at the "owl mecca" of Oulu, which is home to arguably the most sought-after species, with the magnificent Great Grey, Ural, Hawk, Eagle, Tengmalm’s and Pygmy Owls all exceedingly possible. Moving on to Kuusamo and the vast taiga forests of central Finland we have further chances of finding owls, as well as other sought-after specialities which are easier to find here than anywhere else in Europe such as Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Three-toed Woodpecker, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Pine Grosbeak, Northern Red-flanked Bluetail, and both Little and Rustic Buntings. Then we head north into the Arctic Circle and Lapland, before moving on to the great wilderness of the Varanger peninsula, where the landscape of barren treeless tundra echoes to the sound of breeding waders, and where spectacular mountain peaks, steep fjord bottoms and glaciers can provide us with White-tailed Eagle, Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Red-necked Phalarope, and we can always hope for a Snowy Owl or Gyr Falcon. The towering sea cliffs of Hornoya Island are home to numerous seabirds including the sublime Brünnich’s Guillemot, while the rocky coast and Barent’s Sea play host to White-billed Diver, King and Steller’s Eiders, Long-tailed Skua and huge White-tailed Eagles. With our expert local guide we will be in safe hands as we visit secret sites well off the beaten track in search of some of the Western Palearctic's most wanted species.
Although lying on the threshold of Lapland, some ‘night singers’ are found in the Oulu area in most years and there might be a chance to find Thrush Nightingale or a Blyth’s Reed Warbler – and perhaps even Corncrake, whilst both River and Marsh Warblers are not entirely excluded either. As it hardly gets dark at this time of year we can listen to the song of Redwings as they proclaim their territories, even at midnight! Nights in Oulu.
From Oulu the journey continues north and then east to Kuusamo. Along the way we will stop to scan some of the extensive forest bogs and lakes where Black-throated and Red-throated Divers, Red-necked Grebe, Velvet Scoter, Smew, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Jack Snipe breed. The real draw of the huge taiga forests surrounding Kuusamo are the exhilarating list of eastern and northern species present such as Northern Red-flanked Bluetail, Arctic and Greenish Warblers, Siberian Tit, Dipper, Siberian Jay and Rustic Bunting. Other species might include Bohemian Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Red-necked Grebe, Common Rosefinch and Parrot Crossbill. The climb up to Valtavaara Hill for Northern Red-flanked Bluetail is steep and the birds are never guaranteed to be singing, though the view is magnificent. The terrain is mostly easy to walk but will involve one or two steep uphill climbs, so a reasonable level of fitness is required for this excursion.
We will also spend quite some time driving and exploring the vast forests surrounding Kuusamo in the early mornings to look for Capercaillie and both Black and Willow Grouse. A moderate walk in the beautiful old forest area of Oulanka National Park might give us sightings of the elusive Hazel Grouse. This natural preserve adjoining the Paanajärvi National Park on the Russian side of the border, Oulanka is the westernmost extreme of the taiga or boreal coniferous forest zone. In addition to the spruce forests with beard lichen and thick moss, lichenous upland pine forests, wild river valleys and watery aapa mires, Oulanka also preserves a wide selection of birds and animals. Its river valley flora and fauna is a distinctive mix of northern, eastern and southern species and is where the narrow shouldered Siberian spruce forests is home to Brown Bears, Golden Eagles, Siberian Jays, Two-barred Crossbill and Dippers, creating a strong sense of the boreal riverine wilds. Other species present around Kuusamo include Goldeneye, Rough-legged Buzzard, Wood Sandpiper, Heuglin’s Gull, Bohemian Waxwing, Brambling and Little Bunting. Nights in Kuusamo.
We will leave Ivalo and drive until the forests give way to the vast open arctic landscape which is characterized by fjells. Before leaving the forested hills we will make a special effort to find the quiet and elusive Pine Grosbeak, which can sometimes be found at feeding stations along our route. The bogs and lakesides provide excellent birding sites with Lapland Longspurs, Black-throated Divers, Common Scoters, Purple Sandpipers and Bluethroats. Meanwhile, Rough-legged Buzzards can be seen soaring over the vast landscape, while Eurasian Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank all show themselves in glorious summer plumages. We will then drive alongside the River Tana and cross the border into Arctic Norway, visiting a delta area that is famous for its moulting Goosanders and breeding waders, as well as a colony of Arctic Terns and we also have fair chances to see some seals as well. If our luck is in, then we may well be able to scope a majestic Gyr Falcon at a traditional breeding site on some nearby rocks!
From the delta we will continue over the high altitude tundra to Båtsfjord, a small harbour town on the northern edge of Varanger peninsula. The tundra is home to Ptarmigan and Long-tailed Skua, whilst Dotterel are often seen just by the roadside. And, with a little bit of luck, the magnificent Snowy Owl is sometimes present on the more remote fjells. Near the town is an excellent seawatching site offering good changes to see Glaucous and Iceland Gulls – just to name a few. Depending on the snow cover we will venture onto the barren fjells where there are further opportunities to see Dotterel, Long-tailed Skua, Lapland Bunting and Whimbrel. Night in Båtsfjord.
To the north and east the scenery beyond the fishing port of Vardö is more dramatic and wilder and the
landscape is dominated by stark sea-cliffs, stony fjells and fast flowing rivers. A major highlight of our time here will be a boat trip from Vardö to the famous seabird colony on the small island of Hörnoya (weather-permitting). The Hörnoya Nature Reserve is the easternmost of the protected bird colonies in Norway and is home to a breeding colony of Common, Black and Brünnich’s Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Shags. With very close up views of all of these birds, the overwhelming noise and clamour of the active breeding cliffs offering superb photographic opportunities we are sure to have an unforgettable visit! Nights in Vardo.
We will spend the day searching for any species still needed for our list, as we head back south towards Finland. Night in Tana Bru.
Heading back into the Taiga Forest we have one last chance to see Northern Hawk Owk, Siberian Jay, Bohemian Waxwing or maybe even a singing Arctic Warbler! Or just simply to enjoy our last day's birding in the beautiful Finnish Forests. Night Ivalo.
Morning transfer to Ivalo Airport and return flights to the UK and end of the tour.
Ground Price: £3150.00 - Oulu/Ivalo
Zoothera tour prices explained
Single supplement: £325.00
Group size: Minimum of 5 and maximum 11.
Included in cost: Accommodation in twin en-suite rooms, all meals, ground transport throughout, entrance fees to national parks, and services of expert local guide.
Not included: International airfare, insurance, drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: The hotels used during this tour are all of a good standard, with en-suite facilities.
Tour Code: This is a standard birding tour with regular birding walks along roads and well marked trails. Although quite often certain owl sites require walking over uneven ground, or fallen trees so a reasonable level of fitness is required. The weather at this time of year is variable so you will need both warm and waterproof clothing.
Finland and Arctic Norway Photo gallery - click here.
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