Finland and Arctic Norway

Sunday 22nd May – Friday 3rd June 2016

Great Grey Owl - Oulu 2 by Jari Peltomaki
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.

 Targets:  

  • White-billed Diver
  • King Eider
  • Steller's Eider
  • Brünnich’s Guillemot    
  • Capercaillie
  • Willow Grouse
  • Hazel Grouse
  • White-tailed Eagle
  • Gyr Falcon      
  • Great Grey Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl

 

  • Eurasian Pygmy Owl
  • Tengmalm's Owl
  • Ural Owl
  • Eurasian Eagle Owl
  • Long-tailed Skua
  • Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker
  • Northern Red-flanked Bluetail
  • Siberian Jay
  • Siberian Tit          
  • Two-barred Crossbill
  • Pine Grosbeak

 

Day 1     UK - Oulu, Finland   - 22nd May
Following our international flight to Oulu via Helsinki, we will transfer a short distance to a conveniently situated hotel. Oulu is a port on the northeast shore of the Gulf of Bothnia and is THE place for owls in Europe, so once we have checked into our hotel we will have a try for our first owl, the fearless Pygmy Owl in a nearby forest.
 
Days 2 - 3    Oulu Eurasian Pygmy Owl by Jari Peltomaki
The area surrounding Oulu can, in a good vole year, hold eight of Finland’s ten species of owl and our local guide knows where to find them and has an incredible success rate. Although every year is different and owl populations fluctuate according to the presence of rodents each year, we will intiially concentrate on finding the elusive Ural, Tengmalm's and Eurasian Eagle Owls. Most years the wandering-natured Northern Hawk Owl also breeds in the area, Short-eared owls are present and some years also Long-eared Owl can be found in the vast fields that surround Oulu. We will also make a special excursion into the deep taiga forest to a special breeding site of the magnificent Great Grey Owl, which must rank as one of the most sought-after of this family. Just imagine those piercing yellow eyes looking at you from the branches of a nearby dead tree. At the other end of the scale Europe’s smallest owl, the Eurasian Pygmy, can be whistled out of the tree canopy and often provides stunning views.
 
Within these two days we will also visit Liminganlahti, an internationally important wetland that harbours thousands of waders and ducks. Usual sightings here include Whooper Swan, Common Crane, White-tailed Eagle and Marsh Harrier, as well as Garganey and Smew along with few pairs of Black-tailed Godwit, a scarce bird up here. After watching Little & Eurasian Hawk Owl - Finland by Jari PeltomakiBlack-headed Gulls and Common Terns catching insects from the sky we will head to the forests to look for Eurasian Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers. Other possible forest species in the area include Black and Hazel Grouse and Capercaillie. Oulu is also one of the last places in Finland where the rare Terek Sandpiper still breeds and there are only a few pairs breeding in Finland and this is one area where our local guides' knowledge really comes to the fore. Other species we may encounter include Eurasian Wryneck, Fieldfare, Red-backed Shrike, Mealy Redpoll and Ortolan Bunting.

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.

Days 4 - 6   Oulu - Kuusamo 
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.

Siberian Tit by Jari PeltomakiWe 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.

Day 7  Kuusamo - Ivalo  Pine Grosbeak by Jari Peltomaki
We will leave Kuusamo after breakfast and make our way to Ivalo in Lapland. On the way we will stop to scan the beautiful bogs which are home to waders such as Spotted Redshank, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Jack Snipe. After stopping for the customary group photo at the Arctic Circle we continue north, maybe getting better views of species such as Smew and Merlin along the way. Time allowing we may also check some of the higher hills for Rock Ptarmigan and Dotterel before reaching our next hotel. Night in Ivalo. 
 
Day 8  Ivalo - Batsfjord  
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.

Days 9 - 10  Batsfjord - Varanger Fjord - Vardo  
Stellers Eider - Varanger Fjord by Jari PeltomakiThis morning we will drive again over the fjells via the Tena delta and enter the famous Varanger Fjord itself. From our pleasant base at Vardo, which is connected to the mainland by a road tunnel, we will explore coastal and inland tundra, marshes, fjells and birch woodland. Here beside the Barent’s Sea, which is so rich in birdlife, there are several species not found anywhere else in Europe. Amongst this superb scenery we can look for White-billed, Red and Black-throated Divers that are superb in their breeding finery, Taiga Bean Goose, the exquisite Steller's and stunning King Eiders, Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Willow Grouse, Arctic and Long-tailed Skua, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Bluethroat, Arctic Redpoll, Red–throated Pipit, Shore Lark and Snow Bunting. The butterfly display of Temminck’s Stint and the Ruff’s pantomime show are also worth seeing here, while Red-necked Phalaropes entertain us by spinning around in small fjell lakes. In this peaceful wilderness, majestic White-tailed and Golden Eagles thrive, as do the smaller Rough-legged Buzzard, Merlin and Short-eared Owl. We also have a good chance to find Glaucous and Iceland Gulls roosting on the beaches, whilst scanning the sea could reveal a good passage of skuas, with Arctic and Pomarine usually passing in good numbers.

To the north and east the scenery beyond the fishing port of Vardö is more dramatic and wilder and theKing Eider by Jari Peltomaki
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.

Day 11  Vardo - Tana Bru  
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.
 
Day 12  Tana Bru - Ivalo   
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.
 
Day 13   Ivalo - UK - End of Tour  - 3rd June
Morning transfer to Ivalo Airport and return flights to the UK and end of the tour.
 
 
  
Leaders:  Zoothera Leader and Local GuideSmew - Finland by Jari Peltomaki

Ground Price:  £3150.00 - Oulu/Ivalo
 
Airfare: £250.00 - £350.00 (Approx) - UK/UK

Zoothera tour prices explained

Single supplement: £325.00
 
Deposit: £500.00

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.Black Grouse by Jari Peltomaki
 

 

Finland and Arctic Norway Photo gallery - click here.

 

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Ural Owl by Jari Peltomaki 

 

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