On Tuesday the 4th of June I had started my holiday but we were still in Parikkala. We had still been birding on the previous night with my old friend Harri Orenius and heard Great Snipes and Savi’s Warbler. So we had slept late and then started to pack ready for the next 2 weeks.
Finally at 1 p.m. we left towards Helsinki and drove straight to Vihti Nummela car-service where I left my car and then my father drove us to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. But this time we weren’t going anywhere, we were there to meet our old friend Paul French and his friend Tim Sykes. We were about to start 8 days tour in Eastern Finland.
Paul and Tim came in time and soon we were on Sixt office where we got our rental car Toyota Prius hybrid soon. And soon we were ready to hit the road and start driving towards east. It was good to see Paul again, it was the second time we were birding with him in Finland, but Tim had never been in Scandinavia at all, but once in Estonia.
We ate on a service and then drove until Hamina Kirkkojärvi where we had planned to do some easy evening birding. On the first bushes there were a couple of Blyth’s Reed Warblers, Thrush Nightingales and Common Rosefinches were singing and a Red-backed Shrike was perched on the top of a tree. From the bird-tower we heard a 2 singing Great Reed Warblers and saw one more. When we were walking back towards the parking place we heard a couple of Pheasants, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew over us and next to the car we heard 2 Icterine Warblers singing.
We continued to Virolahti where we stopped at Lintulahti where a Spotted Crake was calling, 7 Spotted Redshanks were flying around (they were already on their autumn migration!) and also 4 Green Sandpipers were seen. We still drove to Hurppu where I told about how the arctic migration was usually seen there. Of course the season was already over but anyway even though it was very late evening we still saw a couple of flocks of Brent Geese migrating towards Vyborg. In Leerviikki we still stopped briefly to watch an island with a Caspian Tern colony – there were at least 30 birds present.
Finally we continued towards Lappeenranta and there we turned to Toikansuo where I had never tried to see an Eagle Owl in summer (it was usually seen in winter there) but surprisingly we found it perched on a tree pretty far from the road. The owl started calling too and even flew a little bit closer so we saw it pretty well after all. Tim got a lifer and it was his 50th owl-species in the world. We also heard lots of Blyth’s Reed Warblers and Thrush Nightingales, a Grasshopped Warbler and 2 Marsh Warblers. We also met a local birder Totti Toiskallio who told us the next place where to stop. So we drove a couple of kilometers towards Hanhijärvi, stopped along the road and soon heard a Common Quail calling from the field.
Then we continued to Joutseno. On Tuohimäki we heard some Black Grouses and a Spotted Crake calling from the canal and in Kivisaari we heard 2 River Warblers. From Konnunsuo bird-tower we heard again a River Warbler and along the field-road one more. It was wrong time for Booted Warblers so we didn’t really try to see them. This pair was already breeding so the male wasn’t singing either. So soon we continued along the smaller roads where we made a couple of stops to listen to owls but without luck and drove over the River Vuoksi in Imatra and continued towards Parikkala. We still heard one more River Warbler in Rautjärvi, Simpele Kankaanpellot, but finally we made the last stop in Parikkala Siikalahti dam-road where we heard a couple of Spotted Crakes and 3 Water Rails – but the Savi’s Warbler had disappeared. Then we dropped Paul and Tim to the information center where they were going to live for the next couple of days.
We slept long and finally in the mid-day left to pick up Paul and Tim from Siikalahti. We visited the bird-tower briefly but only a couple of Marsh Harriers and Ospreys were seen. A Golden Oriole was singing on the parking place when we packed our car again. We stopped in Parikkala for morning coffees and twitched a Brent Goose that was present in the harbor. Then we left to Melkoniemi forests.
We drove straight to one of the furthermost owl nest-boxes we have. There had been a Tengmalm’s Owl hatching a couple of weeks ago so there should have been nestlings ready to get ringed, but unfortunately for some reason the nest-box was completely empty. Maybe a Pine Marten had been visiting there?
We continued to famous Siberian Jay forests and walked straight to a Pygmy Owl nest-box. It looked promising as there was lots of shit outside the nest-box. And I heard weak bill clicking when I started to open the roof. I was expecting to find big nestlings but surprisingly there was still adult female in the nest-box. I saw some tiny nestling under it and of course I wanted to see if there were still many eggs as there had been even 9 eggs earlier. So I took the female out and saw 3 small nestling and 3 eggs. We took some photographs and then I released the female and it landed to a branch close to us. So of course we took some more pictures before we continued to walk into the forest. Pygmy Owl was a lifer to both Paul and Tim.
We knew that early afternoon wasn’t the best time to try to find Siberian Jays but the forest was perfect for many other species too. We heard 2 Greenish Warblers, 2 Winter Wrens, but didn’t find any grouses or Siberian Jays. But when we were already returning towards our car we found a male Three-toed Woodpecker which was a lifer for Tim.
Next we continued towards Rautalahti area where we soon walked to a much bigger nest-box. I took ladders and climbed to open the roof while Hanna was under me giving instructions if the mom would attack. Paul and Tim stayed a little bit further just in case, but surprisingly we only once saw a big bird flying far behind the trunks and landing somewhere to the top of the trees. But in the nest-box there were 3 medium sized nestlings which I took out and down. Then we put rings for them and when the mom owl was still not attacking we told Paul and Tim to come to see the youngsters of Ural Owl too. We took some pictures and then I climbed the nestling back to their big apartment. But we really wanted to see the adult too. So we walked a little but in the forest around the nest-box but couldn’t find it at all. But when we were leaving we saw it flying closer to the nest-box and landing to a branch so it was visible. We got some pictures of it and were happy to eave soon. It was again a lifer owl for our friends.
Then we continued to Saari where we knew a nest for a White-backed Woodpecker. This nest had been easy to watch even straight from the car and we had still 2 days earlier checked that the nestlings were in, but now the nest was empty – the youngsters had left. And once White-backed Woodpeckers leave their nest they are usually impossible to find anymore. They are really difficult to see in summer. Luckily we knew another nest nearby and walked to see it. Once we found it we already saw a bill from the nest but this nestling was a Black Woodpecker. After some waiting we saw an adult visiting the nest and so we got some pictures of it.
It was already late afternoon when we were back in Siikalahti where we left Paul and Tim and soon we were sleeping at home.
After a short sleep we met again at 10:35 p.m. and after a brief stop on the dam-road we continued to Kullinsuo fields. We had hardly got out from the car when Hanna heard the first calls of a Great Snipe. Birds weren’t very active but after some searching we could see a bird displaying far on the field. We stayed there for some time even though there were plenty of mosquitos and heard at least 2 Great Snipes.
On the way to Lahdensuo fields we heard several Nightjars and even saw one of them pretty well. It was singing on a branch and making some attacks to catch some insects but returned to the same branch again. And even though it was midnight we heard 3 Hazel Hens calling from one spruce-forest but we couldn’t see them at all. We also saw an owl that flew across the road briefly – actually only I and Tim saw it – and even though I was sure it was a Tengmalm’s Owl, it wasn’t seen well enough to make it a lifer for Tim. We really needed to see it better later. In the middle of the fields we saw a Short-eared Owl well and of course heard Corn Crakes, Blyth’s Reed Warblers and Thrush Nightingales which were heard almost in every stop during the night.
We continued along the Russian border towards north and heard a Canada Goose calling from Lake Tyrjä. In Haukkavaara we heard again a couple of Nightjars. Then we tried to twitch a Tengmalm’s Owl that my friends had heard on the previous night but didn’t hear a thing. In Jyrkilä we heard a Grasshopper Warbler and saw a lek of 10 male Black Grouses. It was very quiet in Pohjanranta and in Pohjasuo we didn’t hear a Booted Warbler that had been singing there for a couple of nights – only a Marsh Warbler was heard. We were in Akavaara Tetrisuo when the sun was rising and there we heard 3 Ortolan Buntings which one of them we managed to see well but very briefly.
Then we hurried to Melkoniemi forests again and straight to Siberian Jay place. We walked around the forest for some time before the small family of three Siberian Jays came to see us. They followed us for some minutes and then disappeared back to the forest again. We also heard 4 Winter Wrens, a new Greenish Warbler, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Treecreeper. Soon we continued to the Punkaharju side of the border to a small pond where a Red-throated Diver was breeding, but the nest was so well hidden in the middle of the small artificial island that the bird was hardly visible at all. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were seen there too but soon we drove back to Parikkala.
We had morning coffees in Parikkala and then drove to Rautjärvi, Simpele and soon walked to a tree with a hole again. We waited for an hour and saw nothing. I was already sure that these woodpeckers had left their home too so I called to my friend who knew the woodpeckers better, but he told that the nestling should still be pretty small. So we thought that some predator might have eaten them, so I walked under the hole, scratched a little bit of the trunk and held my ear against the trunk to hear if there was anything calling. And surprisingly I heard some weak calling from the nest! They were still there! So we just had to wait more. Finally after another hour the adult male Grey-headed Woodpecker came and landed to the trunk but it was too shy to go to the nest-hole. We waited for a couple of minutes and then decided to leave so the nestling would finally get something to eat. But it had been another lifer for Tim. (I must say that both Tim and Paul had seen White-backed Woodpeckers earlier so we didn’t really try to see them. We would have found them but it could have taken much time.) We were absolutely knocked when we were back in Parikkala. Boys dropped us to our home and continued to Siikalahti. Soon we were all sleeping…
At 6 p.m. boys came to our home, we ate well and just relaxed until 9 p.m. when it was time to say goodbye to Hanna who was leaving to Britain and funnily to Paul’s home-town to Wolverhampton to participate a 4 days painting school. And we left to North Karelia.
We drove straight to Joensuu and stopped in Pilkonniityt where I knew we were in a wrong time again, so after we had listened for a couple of minutes and heard nothing we continued towards Polvijärvi. We would return to Joensuu anyway so we could make another stop in Pilkonniityt later and in better time. So we drove to Solanlahti and stopped to the northern end of the bay and walked to a small field where we could hear the reed-bed well. First it was quiet and all we saw were a couple of Hobbies chasing some night-insects over the bay. But soon we heard a familiar kverrr –call once the female Little Crake started calling.
We still were not in a hurry so we tried to find a bird-tower from the southern end of the bay but we couldn’t find it. But on the way we saw several Woodcocks that were perched either on the road or somewhere near it and Paul and Tim managed to get pretty good pictures of them even though it was the darkest hour of the night. Then we continued some 20 kilometers to a forest next to some bogs and managed to find a place where we were supposed to leave our car. We had got good instructions from one kind local ringer. It was still pretty dark but we decided to try to find the nest that was only some hundreds of meters from us. We walked to the forest but we had to walk a little bit more than we had expected to find an artificial nest made from branches from one tree. And there we saw 3 small grey Great Grey Owl nestling staring at us. And almost immediately an adult owl came to the nest with a prey and it was really spectacular way to get a lifer for Paul and Tim! We watched the adult dropping the prey to the youngsters and soon the adult flew to a branch to next tree and started staring us. We walked a bit further from the nest but the adult decided to stay there. The sun was rising so I gave one walkie-talkie to Paul and took another with me and left to complete a mission that the local ringer had given to us. Paul and Tim stayed with the nest and photographed the adult while I walked some hundreds of meters to a small bog where I soon found one more Great Grey Owl that was much more aggressive than the first one. This one was attacking and calling when I walked towards the tree where I could soon see another Great Grey Owl nest. But this nest was already empty and I could hear a fledling or a “climbling” begging for food from the trees behind the nest. Anyway I decided to stay there and try to find out if there was one or 2 birds visiting the youngsters while Paul and Tim were doing the same on the other nest. Soon a male owl came to see me and started calling! It was a dream come true to hear a Great Grey Owl calling so close! I managed to get recordings.of it too. Usually the female was first squeezing a little and then a male answered with seep calls. I stayed there for some time when finally Paul called me that they also had 2 owls there! So there were different males for the nests!
Soon we continued back to Joensuu and to Pilkonniityt where we were right on the best time for a Booted Warbler. We got out from the car and immediately heard a Booted Warbler singing. Soon we found it from a willow and managed to get some pictures and also recordings of it.
Then we continued to Joensuu, Kiihtelysvaara, Keskijärvi, where a local birder had seen a Tengmalm’s Owl that had been staring out from a nest-box next to his garden. I was thinking that it might be difficult to see the owl if it was inside the nest-box but once we parked to the parking place a king neighbor helped us to find the right place (even though it was 5:30 a.m.) and soon Tim found the right next-box and there was a Tengmalm’s Owl watching us from the hole. The owls looked very angry and tired – not just stupid as Tengmalm’s Owls usually do. We of course took some pictures and video of it but soon the owl backed inside the nest-box and we could continue to the next place. It had been the 4th and last possible lifer (all owl-lifers) for Paul. But we still had plenty to do, and we weren’t still done with owls either – we still had something for Tim!
So we drove to Joensuu, Tuupovaara where my good friend Jari ”Jassi” Kiljunen had been orienteering last day and he had called me that: “Do you have Hawk Owl on your target list?”. Of course we had, even though I had already before the trip told to Paul and Tim that this year was very bad for owls in almost every part of Finland but I might be able to find out places for all other owl except Hawk Owl which wasn’t breeding anywhere in the country this summer. (And of course a Snowy Owl is not breeding in Finland on most of the years so it wasn’t on the list either – I have never seen it on the breeding grounds.) But now we had a map where I got good instructions to a place where Jassi had seen very aggressive pair of Hawk Owls!
So even though the last small track was missing from the map and I had somehow managed to write the coordinates a little bit wrong, the instructions that Jassi had given were so good that soon we knew we had found the right place. We got out from the car and soon found an adult Hawk Owl perched from a dead tree on the almost clear open area. Soon we found another adult and then heard that the fledlings were calling nearer to that second adult. So we decided to get closer to the first one and walked around it to see it and photograph it on the better light. After some time this bird called a long very high series of calls and flew high to the sky and left as far as we could follow. It left to hunt and wanted his wife to know he’s leaving…
We had now seen 7 owl-species in a couple of days and of course our British friends didn’t need to see Tawny or Long-eared Owls that would have been the other possible owls to see. So we were really happy to start our long way towards north. We still stopped in Tuupovaara to coffee and in Eno we bought something to eat and drink for the next 2 days that we would stay in the middle of nowhere. Then we drove a few hours and saw lots of Arctic and European Hares (which we had seen a lot also earlier), a couple of Elks, a Red Fox, a Hedgehog, a Red Squirrel but almost no birds.
Finally we parked to Patvinsuo Natural Park camping place in Suomu and put up our tents and went to sleep a long day-sleep.
We slept long and woke up about at 6 p.m. to prepare something to eat which was easy because of there are good structure in Suomu. Then we packed our tents and at 9 p.m. we were driving to Teretti. We parked to the parking place and started to walk to the 3.6 kilometers long wooden path through the bogs towards the bird-tower. There weren’t many birds around but the landscape was beautiful as the whole bog was white of flowering tussock cottongrass. 8 Taiga Bean Geese, some Golden Plovers, Whimbrels and Yellow Wagtails were seen before we finally climbed to the high bird-tower. From the tower we had a good view to wet bog around us, but there weren’t many birds either. Just a Spotted Redshank, a Wood Sandpiper, a Greenshank, 2 pairs of Smews and a Short-eared Owl were seen. We were expecting to see and hear something more, but we weren’t lucky. Someone had seen even a Brown Bear only 2 days earlier. So after some time we started to feel cold and we decided to walk back and on the way back we didn’t see anything at all.
It was again the darkest hour of the short night so it wasn’t clever to go to Autiovaara yet. So we drove along the small roads for some time to find grouses but we only heard some distant Black Grouses. Finally we parked to Autiovaara parking place and decided to sleep a little. We woke up an hour or so later and went to walk around this short track, which took anyway more than 2 hours because of the forest is very beautiful and there is lots of climbing. I was expecting to find Hazel Hens but again we had no luck. Anyway 3 Red-breasted Flycatchers, 2 Treecreepers, a Crested Tit and a Goshawk were heard and I saw briefly a Three-toed Woodpecker.
Finally we hurried back to our car and drove 15 minutes to Kitsi where we had booked an old school apartment for us for the ”night”. Soon we were in deep sleep.
We woke up at mid-day and soon were having great meal that old housekeeper had prepared. Then we packed our luggage again and drove to Erä-Eero Wildlife Lodge. We met Eero and his relative boys and they offered us some coffee and pies. Soon, about at 4 p.m. we were driving towards the hide. Once we had walked the last hundreds of meters to the hide we managed to get an own room for us three. There were also 4 German photographers that got their own room. The Finnish tourists were going to the bigger hide which was for watching, not photographing the Wolverines. Then Eero hid meat to many places in front of the hide and soon he left and we started waiting something to happen.
First visitors were 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Common, a Herring and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Ravens were suspicious but they also visited a couple of times nearer. We tried to stay as quiet as possible and I am sure we were quiet enough even though Tim had got some cold and was coughing quite a lot. But anyway he managed to stay very quiet even though it must have been difficult. But nothing else really happened! At 7 p.m. I told that last time I had been there the Wolverines had arrived at this time, but not this time. At midnight we were still staring outside very keen but still nothing happened. Finally at 1:50 a.m. a Wolverine came from the bigger hide and walked for some 30 seconds in front of us but then ran to the forest and never came back. Then at 2:30 a.m. another Wolverine came and took a couple of pieces of meat and we could watch it for maybe 5 minutes altogether before it also disappeared to the forest. Of course it had been too dark to get any pictures. Then it was quiet again.
Only thing we heard were some male and female Cuckoos and at 4 a.m. I started to feel too tired to go on. So I went to sleep and Tim had been already sleeping for some time. Paul still tried to stay awake. Finally I woke up at 7:50 a.m. when I heard someone whispering and there were 2 Wolverines together very close to us. Finally there was light to get some pictures too and I also had Hanna’s old camera with me so I managed to get some pictures even though the light wasn’t very good. The worst thing was that we had only 10 minutes left before Eero was picking us up. Anyway we decided to photograph the animals as long as they stay, and they finally left to the forest at 8 a.m. Only 10 minutes later Eero came and we were ready to leave.
When we were walking back to our car one of the Germans told us that there had been a Capercaillie in front of the hide at 5 a.m. We had made the biggest mistake and we had all three been sleeping then. Anyway I got 4 more reasons to hate Germans as they hadn’t waken us up even though I was sleeping only a couple of meters from them. They had also seen a Red-throated Diver on the pond while we all had been sleeping for an hour. Anyway we were extremely happy that we had seen the main target Wolverines and even managed to get some good pictures of them! But I had never expected them to be so difficult! Every time we had been there earlier, we had seen them already in the afternoon.
So when we were back in Wildlife Lodge I asked Eero if we could sleep somewhere as we hadn’t been sleeping as much as I had thought we could sleep. I had been sure that we could all have been sleep more in the darkest hours but now we hadn’t seen the Wolverines at all before 1:50 so we really couldn’t have slept. Eero offered us coffee again and a tepee where to sleep as long as we needed and we got them very cheap so soon we were sleeping in a comfortable dark and cool tepee.
We really slept as long as we needed and once we woke up Eero was waiting for the next group to come. But some local hunters newer came – one more reason to hate hunters. Well we got some profit from hunters’ stupidity and had their coffee packed lunch to eat. We talked with Eero and his relatives for a long time before at 6 p.m. we really had to start our long way towards north again.
On the way north there were no plans to stop at all, but we did stop because of the first Reindeers. The weather changed dramatically cold and rainy so we continued straight towards Kuusamo. I called to my contact and tried to plan the next days. I was planning to book some kind of cottage for us because of the weather was going to be too bad for tenting but then I had a king-idea! I called to my good friend Kalle Larsson if their Kuusamo bird-race team was already in Kuusamo and if they had a big enough cottage for us too. And we were lucky – Kalle’s team had a row house apartment for 6 persons but only 2 members of their team were there yet. Kalle had also just arrived. He promised us to stay there if we help them on their preparations for the race – so no other payment! Well, actually I had already helped Kalle to get my good friend Harry Nyström into their team and I was sure he was going to help them a lot in the race. But now we had a place to stay in Kuusamo for the next days which h were actually going to be the last days of our trip.
We stopped to one service to eat but the kitchen had been closed 5 minutes earlier. But luckily we found something small to eat. Finally we were in Kuusamo about at midnight and we made one stop near Helilampi when I saw some branch that looked a little bit like a Willow Grouse. Anyway the stop wasn’t bad as Paul found a nice leucistic Black-headed Gull from the flock of gulls. Finally we parked to our apartment which was behind Kuusamo Tropiikki hotel and Kalle was there to take us in. We had planned to go to sleep but once we checked the weather forecast we realized that it was going to rain from early morning until the afternoon. It meant that we had to go birding at night! Luckily we had been sleeping enough but Kalle wasn’t and Mika Korkki who had already stayed in Kuusamo for a couple of days had been sleeping only for a couple of hours. Anyway Kalle woke Mika up and they decided to go birding too. Mika gave us some instructions how he wanted us to prepare Valtavaara which was the place where we were going to do birding anyway. So it was our time to pay our staying and we left towards north at 1:30 a.m.
I thought it was too early to go to Valtavaara, so we drove to Ruka downhill skiing resort where we twitched a 2nd calendar year male Black Redstart that was singing on the roofs of the hostels. The bird was singing very simply and we really needed to see the bird to make sure it was the right bird. Luckily it showed well. Then we drove to Konttainen parking place and started climbing up to Valtavaara.
We climbed up towards the first tops following the eastern border of the sanctuary. The birds were still very quiet but some Bramblings were singing their simply song from the tops of trees. Soon willow Warblers woke up and started to sing so we knew we weren’t too early. Many flocks of Common Crossbills were moving and we heard a lonely Two-barred Crossbill flying over us, Paul managed to see the bird too. Also some small flocks of Common Redpolls were heard. Once we were on the first top we heard the first Red-flanked Bluetail. We followed the song and soon managed to see the bird singing on the top of one spruce. It was a stunning adult male! Even I had never seen an adult male so well so soon we were taking pictures and videos.
Soon we heard a Three-toed Woodpecker drumming and as we were also preparing Kalle’s team’s bird-race, we tried to find the drummer but it stopped drumming and we never found it. Once we continued walking we soon heard 3 more Red-flanked Bluetails and again managed to see and photograph an adult male pretty well. Then we walked to the western ridge and turned walking back and soon came to Suolampi pool where we heard and soon saw a Greenish Warbler that was singing on the top of a tree there. We managed to get some pictures and videos of it too before we went to rest for some 15 minutes to the tepee to the shore of the pool. Then we started climbing down the steep western ridge which was very difficult because of the slippery ground. Anyway we managed to get closer to Lake Konttainen and continued towards the road but even though the place looked perfect for Hazel Hens, we couldn’t find any. Only better bird we saw was a Honey Buzzard. Finally we managed to get to the road and climbed up to the parking place. We were really tired and sweating like pigs when we got there.
At Konttainen parking place there were 6 other cars – many other bird-race teams had come to prepare there too. We met a couple of teams and another was my friends Jussi, Arttu and Perttu Valonen. We talked for some time and while talking we saw a Black Woodpecker, 2 Siberian Jays and a couple of other good species for the race. Jussi also gave us instructions for our next twitch.
So soon we were following Jussi’s instructions but somehow we managed to get to a completely wrong place. So I needed to find the instructions from the internet and after 20 minutes we finally found to the right place. There were a couple of other twitchers too but they hadn’t seen the bird yet. Soon we heard an interesting Whinchat-like song from the fields but we couldn’t find the singer. Then it came quiet again, but after some waiting we heard the song just over our head from the trees. We couldn’t see the singer but Paul was situated better and saw it was the bird we had been searching for – a Siberian Stonechat. Soon the bird flew to the back of the field and landed to a top of a perch to sing and we all could see it pretty well. Then after some time watching the Siberian Stonechat we started to feel extremely tires so even though the rain had never came and it was already 9 a.m., we decided to drive to our apartment to sleep.
We slept until the evening and finally we were planning some kind of short evening-trip, when my friend Antti Peuna, who is originally from Kuusamo and is leading Finnature groups every summer called me that he had joined to a bird-race team again and he was going to prepare the race on the next morning when we had planned to do some birding together. So we decided to meet now and soon we were picking him up. We drove first to twitch Siberian Tits that were breeding in a nest-box. It was already 7 p.m. but luckily the parents were still feeding their nestlings. These tits were just too fast to photograph and while Paul and Tim were trying to get some pictures, we were looking at Kuusamo map and planning a good trip for us for the next morning. Finally boys gave up and we continued to check a Three-toed Woodpecker nest that was nearby. There was no movement on the nest-hole but we heard a pair of goshawks that were breeding nearby. These Goshawks were the reason why we couldn’t tell to Kalle’s team about this woodpecker nest. Goshawks are very shy on their nests and it was better not too many people knew the place. Anyway we planned to visit the woodpeckers again on the next day in better time of the day.
We made one stop to see some couples of Velvet Scoters on one lake and then continued to search for urban willow Grouses. These grouses were really living close to people. But we couldn’t find any. Antti showed us a place for a Little Bunting too and we planned to visit these places again on the next morning. Finally we went to a local grill to get something to eat. Then we dropped Antti to his parents and drove to our apartment. Now I had got cold and I really needed to get some sleep.
On the 11th of June we woke up before 3 a.m. again and soon we were birding again. The weather was extremely cold – it was only 4 degrees! We tried to find the same Willow Grouses again but without luck. The Little Bunting was singing and we could see it well too but unfortunately briefly. In Säynäjäperä we couldn’t find any more buntings but a Short-eared Owl and Garden Warbler which is normally quite rare this north were observed.
Then we continued to the northern side of Kuusamo where Matolampi was almost empty and one good place for Hazel Hens wasn’t productive either even though we played the tape for some time there. From Antinperä bird-tower we saw mostly just Reindeers so soon we continued to Heikkilä where we met a couple of teams that were preparing their race (there was still 3 days to Kuusamo bird-race). One of the team members was biking and it really looked cold to do so! We heard a Little Bunting shortly and Paul saw a female Hen Harrier very briefly.
Then we drove a long way to a place where Antti had been with his groups almost every day to see a crazy Capercaillie. This bird had really been crazy, it had been tackling moving cars and tried once to get into the moving car from the open window!
So once we got there I finally had high hopes that my fame as the worst grouse finder in a World wasn’t going to grow any bigger. But when we got out from the car there was no-one attacking us! We walked around the road and then in the forest but couldn’t find anything. I called Antti and made sure that we were in the right place but nothing was found. Finally I heard something coughing in the forest and walked towards the voice and found a male Capercaillie displaying behind some trees. We all walked there and started photographing the bird. It was not at all aggressive until I went a little bit too close. It attacked me for a minute and I had to use a stick to keep some distance to it but when I got far enough from it, it started to display again. I called to Antti that the bird wasn’t that aggressive anymore so they knew about its changed behavior. And it wasn’t a surprise that I later heard that the next group hadn’t found the bird anymore.
We were happy when we started driving back to Kuusamo where we were an hour later. There we stopped in Kuusamo spoonbait shop to have a coffee (Paul and Tim) and a morning ice-cream (Janne). After all it was an expensive stop as I bought a very good polo-shirt. It had been raining all the time we were having coffee, but once we got out the weather was ok again (well extremely cold and windy but not rainy). So we drove to see the Siberian Tits again and finally we managed to get some kind of pictures of them too. Then we continued to see the Three-toed Woodpecker nest and there was a female watching out from the nest. We waited for some time it to come out or a male to show up, but after all we were happy to the head-pictures of a female. We were feeling very cold when we finally drove to our apartment to sleep.
We woke up at 6 p.m. again and soon walked to an Irish sport-bar to eat. There was a World cup qualification football game Belarus-Finland on TV, so it was good to watch it while eating. Soon we were back in our apartment where I watched the rest of the game until it sad end (a draw) before I went to sleep for an hour. Tim also slept about an hour and Paul a little bit longer, before we woke up again at midnight. We packed our car and started an extremely long drive towards Helsinki. We had hardly started when I got an idea to stop once more in the Willow Grouse places. The birds were still not there but when we left towards south again and we had been driving maybe 2 kilometers Tim saw a bird running over a walkway. Paul stopped the car and there it still was – finally a Willow Grouse!
We bought gas and soon started to drive towards Kajaani. Just before the Kuusamo border we saw a Capercaillie – I had a feeling that our luck with grouses had turned! In Paltamo we saw a Short-eared Owl and we continued towards Nurmes. In Juuka we bought gas again and in Joensuu we turned towards Liperi. In Liperi we turned to Lautasuo and there we parked to a small beach. On the parking place we met a group of twitchers that were already leaving. We met my good old friend Andreas Lindén which we had also met on our previous trip in Finland with Paul. Andy told us to hurry to the reedbed where a Paddyfield Warbler had been singing for a couple of nights already but it had been singing only shortly for the last half an hour. So we hurried there and of course heard nothing! I had been twitching 4 times this year to get a new Finnish tick and I had been unlucky every time. Anyway we decide to wait a little bit longer and finally after 20 minutes we heard a promising song from the reedbed on the other side of the small harbor. We almost ran there and luckily it was a Paddyfield Warbler! We listened to it for some time but it was in a thick reedbed where it was impossible to see. Anyway I managed to get some recording and luckily in Finland we can count a lifer from the calls and song too. The bird wasn’t active anymore even though it was still only 5:30 a.m., so soon we had to continue towards Helsinki.
We stopped to have some breakfast in Liperi and soon continued towards Varkaus. From Varkaus we continued towards Mikkeli and then I realized that we might have 30 minutes extra-time, so I made one phone call and managed to plan one more stop which was on the way. So after Mikkeli we turned towards Otava and soon I asked Paul (who was still driving) to park next to a red van. Miika “Potu” Suojarinne had been working at his home and he was more than happy to come to see us. He had been with me on my last Foula trip, so he and Paul were old friends. Soon we followed Potu to a beautiful Haanmäki forest where we had planned to make the last try to find Hazel Hens, which we still hadn’t seen – only heard (and it was a lifer species for Tim). So we walked around the forest in line for 30 minutes but all we found were a female Red-breasted Flycatcher, 2 Wood Warblers, a Treecreeper and a Crested Tit. Finally we had to give up and say goodbye to Potu and start the last 200 kilometers drive to Helsinki.
We were already a little bit late but the road was very fast now and Paul managed to drive even a little bit faster so after all we were in Helsinki-Vantaa airport and filling the tank an hour and 45 minutes before Paul and Tim’s flight. I carried my luggage to my father’s car, he was again helping me and then it was time to say goodbye to Paul and Tim. Boys continued to return the car we left towards Vihti to get my car from service. But soon I realized, in the same second that Paul called me, that I had still forgotten my tent, sleeping bag and mattress to our rental car. So we had to turn back and once we got there to garage, I still managed to say another goodbye to Paul and Tim who now had to hurry to catch their flight. Then we drove to Vihti where I got my car and we drove to Kirkkonummi where we had pizza and then I really had to go to sleep right away, I was absolutely knocked!
So a hard but successful trip was over! We had seen 163 bird-species, even though we had hardly seen sea at all – only at one midnight for some minutes. We hadn’t visited many good places to see many species but we had been mostly in forests and other habitats where weren’t that many species but the quality is good. And we had been birding almost only at nights and early mornings, so not many raptors had been seen. But our main target had been owls and we had managed to see all the important 7 species! Paul had got 4 and Tim 6 owl-lifers! The second most important target had been Wolverines and after all we had seen them well too. But then we had had some problems to find some extra-lifers for Tim, and especially grouses had proven to be extremely difficult in this time of the year. We had seen a Capercaillie, Willow Grouse and of course Black Grouses, but Hazel Hen had been only heard. Anyway we had seen Siberian Jays, Siberian Tits, Three-toed Woodpeckers, a Grey-headed Woodpecker and some other rare species like Red-flanked Bluetails, Greenish Warblers, a Siberian Stonechat, Little Buntings and a Black Redstart and heard many interesting singers like Red-breasted Flycatchers, River Warbler, a Paddyfield Warbler and many other night-singers and callers. We had also seen plenty of mammals: lots of Arctic and European Hares, 6 Elks, Reindeers, 2 Red Foxes, Musk Rats, a Red Squirrel, a Hedgehog and some smaller or unidentified animals too. But the most important thing was that we had really had good time and many my Finnish friends help had really made this trip unforgettable!