On Saturday 7th of May in the afternoon we left with Hanna towards Lappeenranta. 4 Scottish birders were landing to Helsinki airport in the same time. One of them was my old friend Ken Shaw that I had met in Scillies. We had been in contact and planned that we would guide him and his 3 friends for a week. Their biggest target was a Wolverine, but also Great Grey Owl and Flying Squirrel had been mentioned to be in their wish-list. Then of course everything else was extra and of course I had thought to make them familiar with many Finnish song-birds that were not common or were very rare in Scotland. Anyway, once we got to Lappeenranta we started to check some of the places. First we managed to twitch a Caspian Gull in Joutseno Kivisaari which was a Finnish-tick for Hanna. Then in Kotasaari we saw 4 Slavonian Grebes and heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker and a Great Reed Warbler. Then we checked Vapo-pools where we saw 8 Barnacle Geese, 17 Spotted Redshanks, 5 Ruffs and a Red-necked Phalarope. But then we finally got a message that 2 of Scots hadn’t got their bags, so they were still in the airport and waiting for the next flight which might have their luggage. So we continued to Lappeenranta and as we already knew that we wouldn’t have time to visit many places, we went to check a field that had got lekking Great Snipes. Then we decided to sleep a little as we were extremely tired. Finally we got another message that the group was 50 kilometers from Lappeenranta, so we still made a short stop in Askola pools, before continued to Lauritsala ABC-service where we soon met the group Ken, Keith Morton, Stuart Benn and Chris Rollie.
After we had eaten and done some shopping we continued to Haapajärvi as we still had some time before the Great Snipes would begin. There we saw some common Finnish species, better ones were Little Gulls, 2 Icterine Warblers and a couple of Gadwalls. After 10 p.m. we continued to Lipiälä where we stayed for a couple of hours but only a couple of us heard Great Snipes and a couple of us saw one or two birds very briefly. Of course several Corn Crakes, Thrush Nightingales and Blyth’s Reed Warblers were heard. After all we had to give up and continue to Parikkala. Scots had been travelling more than 24 hours already!
So we drove straight to Pistonniemi where we had arranged a nice cottage along the Lake Simpele. A Long-eared Owl was seen on the garden and soon everyone was ready to go to sleep – we of course at home.
On the 8th of June we slept long and I met the group at 10 a.m. We had planned to start easy and get familiar with common song-birds and birding places nearby. We started in Argusjärvi where we already heard and saw some Blyth’s Reed Warblers and many other song-birds. Then we continued to Siikalahti where a Great Reed Warbler was showing well in dam-road. Many common species like Hobbies, Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and so on where seen and then Ken found a Black Tern flying with Little Gulls on the northern side – a very good bird, only the second this year in Siikalahti. Soon we continued to bird-tower where more common species like Red-necked Grebes were seen, a Garganey was the best one. On the way back some of us saw and heard a Long-tailed Tit.
At 1:30 p.m. I had to go home but Hanna continued with a group. After they had eaten they continued to Saari where many good birding places where visited. Best birds were Ortolan Buntings and a Hen Harrier in Akanvaara Tetrisuo. In the afternoon everyone was very tired again so we let the Scots to relax and enjoy the nice place they were staying.
A bit harder birding
On the 9th of June we met at 3 a.m. A Golden Oriole was singing in Pistonniemi, but soon we drove to Siikalahti. We heard 2 female Little Crakes and a Spotted Crake easily but Savi’s Warbler was quiet, or then we just couldn’t hear it behind numerous Sedge Warblers and a noisy Great Reed Warbler. In Liuharanta we stopped to listen to a Marsh Warbler before we continued to Melkoniemi forests. We walked in the best forests for a couple of hours and found 3 Greenish Warblers, a Red-breasted Flycatcher and many other more common forest-birds. A Black Woodpecker was heard drumming and a Goshawk were seen too. Then we continued to another forest where a female Capercaillie was seen briefly and checked a nest-box where 3 young Pygmy Owls were already so big that they would leave the nest soon. But Siberian Jays weren’t found. After 7 I had to go to work but Hanna still continued with the group and they went to see Black-throated and Red-throated Divers and orchid-bog with butterflies and dragonflies.
After work I had to wake up at 6 p.m. when the lost luggage finally arrived to a bus-station. We of course drove them to the cottage where we also warmed up sauna for Scots. They really enjoyed it!
At 11:30 p.m. we met again and left to a night-trip. Already in Pistonniemi we heard the first River Warbler and soon we were listening to a Tawny Owl family nearby in Kasuri. In Sammallampi we saw a Nightjar and soon we heard another one in Kolmikanta. In Kullinsuo we didn’t hear much but saw 8 Barnacle Geese, 3 Greenshanks, a Green Sandpiper and a Ringed Plover. In Kontiolampi we heard 2 River Warblers, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Marsh Warbler. Of course Blyth’s Reed Warblers, Thrush Nightingales and Corn Crakes had been heard in every place. Also 2 families of Long-eared Owls had been heard. Savi’s Warbler was singing only very shortly so only I heard it, but a Quail was heard in Ristiharju. But then it was time to go to sleep again.
To North Karelia
I was at work during the day but Hanna left with a group towards Lieksa. They drove along the border but hard wind made birding difficult. Anyway many nice places and of course some new common birds were seen. Once they finally arrived to Kitsi there was much to see on the garden and area nearby.
I had also taken the rest of the week off from work so after I had slept a few hours I still went jogging and then left towards Lieksa after 9 p.m. I drove straight to Patvinsuo where I saw a Brown Bear crossing the road! It even stopped to a road-side to watch me but when I opened the window to take a picture, it disappeared into the forest. Soon I stopped in Autiovaara and after I had waited for 30 minutes the sun started to rise and I went to walk around the trek. It was surprisingly quiet. I heard 3 Wrens and a Red-breasted Flycatcher but nothing really good. I had hoped to find a Red-flanked Bluetail. Soon I had to hurry to Kitsi where the others had woke up and at 3 a.m. we left to Hemminvaara for forest-birding. We stopped a couple of times on a good Rustic Bunting habitat, but only I managed to hear one bird ticking as I walked deepest into the bushes. But the bird disappeared too soon. Just a little bit before Hemminvaara we saw 2 Hazel Hens on the road which was very nice as it was a lifer for some of the group.
In Hemminvaara we walked a couple of hours along the roads and then one more hour in the forest and found 4 Greenish Warblers, 3 Red-breasted Buntings, heard at least 2 Black Woodpeckers but otherwise it was again very quiet. There were already lots of mosquitoes, but luckily we had right equipment for them.
We had breakfast in Kitsi at 8 a.m. but I was already sleeping then. We all woke up at mid-day to eat well and soon we were driving towards Erä-Eero which was the main target place of the whole trip. At 2 p.m. we met Eero and after some tea and bread and long chatting we left towards the hides at 4 p.m. We went into the bigger hide and 2 Italian photographers went into the small one.
After Eero had hidden lots of meat to the landscape in front of us we started waiting. In the beginning it was very quiet so we were photographing a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Common Gull, a Herring Gull, a Goldeneye and a strange Mallard family that had a very weird-looking mom and also 3 of the 7 ducklings were darker than normally. When it started to get dark we started to hope the Wolverine arrive soon so we could get some pictures. But then on the best time those stupid Italians started to speak in their hide! After 30 minutes I told them to shut up, but it didn’t help! So it wasn’t a surprise that we didn’t see any mammals when there was any light left.
Finally just before midnight a small Brown Bear arrived in front of us. It really run from the forest so that we could hear its footsteps well. But the Italians started to photograph too soon and the Bear escaped back into the forest. Luckily it soon came back and then it stayed visible for 20 minutes. Once we saw a bigger Bear, maybe its mom visiting it further in the woods but it never came closer. Once the Bears had left we soon saw a Wolverine coming towards us. But it probably got scared of the Bear that was still somewhere near and rushed back to the shadows. I think Italians newer saw the Wolverine at all. But we were delighted as our main target species had been seen!
But after that it came as dark as it gets and when nothing happened we started to sleep so that two of us were all the time awake. But nothing happened before morning when a Red-throated Diver was heard and a Jay and a Lesser Black-backed Gull came in front of us and were of course they were photographed. Finally at 7 a.m. we left towards the Erä-Eero.
After a breakfast we left to visit Patvinsuo bogs. We first checked one hole that unfortunately didn’t have any Tengmalm’s Owls inside anymore. Then we walked some kilometers along Susitaival and saw many bog-species like Whimbrels, Wood Sandpipers, Yellow Wagtails and a flock of geese that had 14 Taiga Bean, 1 Tundra Bean, 1 White-fronted and 2 Barnacle Geese. Also an adult White-tailed Eagle, many butterflies and dragonflies were seen. But soon we had to turn back as we had to get some more sleep as we were still going to stay in the hide for another night.
After some sleeping we ate again and at 4 p.m. left again to the hide. We had chosen to stay in the same hide but now it was only us there. So we knew that now we had better possibilities to get some pictures too. But we were still very tired so soon there was some snoring in our hide. Anyway in the evening we all woke up and tried to be as quiet as possible. So it wasn’t a surprise that at 9:40 p.m. a Wolverine came right in front of us and started to collect meat. And we got really good pictures! It first ate a couple of meats and then took 2 pieces with it and went to a hillside and into one of the holes – it probably took some meat to its family. Soon after that a Brown Bear arrived and really put up an amazing show! It stayed in front of us for almost an hour and it really checked every tree and hollow before it walked back into the forest.
I was absolutely knocked out so I had to start to sleep but anyway I woke up a couple of times when I realized that the Wolverine was back. It visited at least 4 times and we really saw it well! Scots were really happy! Then the morning was very quiet, a Red Fox visited once but after all we all managed to sleep pretty well. Of course at least one of us stayed up all the time. At 8 a.m. we left back to Erä-Eero.
Eero was happy that we had enjoyed our night and after breakfast we were ready to go birding again. After 9 o’clock we met Hannu Lehtoranta with whom we went to check some Great Grey Owl nests. Unfortunately Hannu had already told that in a last visit the nests had been empty. So we walked around in the forests and Hannu even climbed to another of them but no owls were found. Hannu still told us one more place where he had ringed a young Great Grey Owl on the previous day, but it was far in Juuka. Anyway we thought that we might visit the place later on our way back to Parikkala.
After we had said goodbye to Hannu we went to Erä-Eero to sleep some more. At 5 p.m. we said goodbye and thanks to Eero and drove to Lieksa to eat. At 7 p.m. we met Esa Muikku that I had heard first time 3 weeks earlier from my friend and Finnature-guide Antti Vierimaa and now we had managed to get in contact with him by help of Eero. He had found a nest-hole of Flying Squirrels on the previous summer and he had visited the place for many times and even with a couple of groups and he had seen the animals every time. But for some reason he hadn’t got enough groups so he had almost given up with going there. But now he was very happy to get another group and soon we were following him to an open area with a couple of big aspen-trees that had some holes. Soon we knew that the squirrels were living on the closer tree and on the lowest and highest holes. But then we still went to see a nest-box where the squirrels had been staying in winter and to see some droppings of them. Then Esa put up camouflage netting and a roof as it was raining a little. And then we started waiting again.
We hadn’t been there for a long time when I saw a strange looking bird on the sky. I watched it with my binoculars and realized that it was an adult Pomarine Skua! Unfortunately it disappeared behind the aspens before the rest of us saw it. It was migrating towards North-East. Then we waited and waited and waited until finally I saw something moving on the lowest hole. I checked it with my scope and there it was – a Flying Squirrel! It soon climbed out from the hole and disappeared behind the tree and climbed up to the top of the aspen. But soon there was another one coming out, then a third one and then even a fourth one! Two of the Flying Squirrels stopped to the trunk so we managed to get good pictures of them. And one of them was seen flying from the top of the tree into the forest! Amazing! After all we realized from our pictures that there had been a fifth squirrel watching from the highest hole.
Some more ticks in Parikkala
Esa still gave us something to eat and drink and then it was time to say goodbye and thanks and start a long drive. We drove around Lake Pielinen to Juuka and after more than an hour we followed the notes we had got from Hannu and parked to a forest-cut and started to walk to the forest behind it. We soon found the empty nest of a Great Grey Owl, but again there were no adults or young nearby. I walked 200 meters in the forest and finally saw an adult in flight. I called to the rest and soon we found the bird perched in front of us! It was a lifer to all Scots! We soon left the owl and started to drive towards Parikkala where we were finally in Oronmylly at 5 a.m. Group stayed in Myllytupa and we left to home to sleep.
We slept long and after all I met the group at 1 p.m. Hanna had left to Rantasalmi to collect her paintings from an exhibition. But the rest of us, we were soon ringing 8 nestlings of a Pygmy Owl! Then we continued to Melkoniemi forest where we again tried to find Siberian Jays without luck. Well we weren’t completely out of luck as we finally found a Tree-toed Woodpecker. We also put up a fire and had delicious sausages and just enjoyed our time in the forest where weren’t too many insects now as the weather was quite cold and windy.
After all we had to give up and we met Hanna who had managed to get some sleep after coming back from Rantasalmi. Then it was time to say goodbye to our new Scottish friends and they started a long drive to Helsinki. They had really enjoyed Finland and Finnish nature. We hadn’t been very lucky with birds as the summer was too long already and voles and mice had crashed in spring and there were not many owls. But I have always said that it is impossible to see everything in Finland in one or two trips. Anyway we had been extremely lucky with all the most important targets – especially with mammals! And what is most important we had really had fun!