Planning a trip
Already in summer of 2001 we started to plan a trip to Varanger with Ilkka. We were thinking to go next Eastern. It would be right time to see a lot of birds and also good time for us because in late April we would have to start our work again as a guide in Siikalahti. Ilkka’s parents had a caravan so it would be easy to go there with that.
We were planning a trip a lot but finally Ilkka wasn’t able to leave because he had a skiing Finnish Championships competition just in Eastern. But we didn’t forget the idea. At next winter (2003) we started to plan the trip again. Finally in spring we were sure that we can make the trip! We found also some friends to go with us.
Finland is a long country!
Our “team” was me and Hanna, my brother Pirkka, Ilkka and Kalle Larsson and Johanna Kolu. Ilkka’s trip started already at Thursday 3.20 a.m. because he was still in Jyväskylä (Middle of Finland) where he is studying. He arrived by train to Imatra about 10 a.m. He packed the caravan and started his way to Parikkala about at midday.
In Parikkala I jumped in after little biking between Health Centre and still messy home (we just moved our stuff from Oulu). My bike also broke so I had to run last two kilometres from Heath Centre to my home. But finally we started our trip to North.
Our next stop was in Joensuu, where Kalle and Johanna jumped in to a caravan. Again we spent an hour too much but we had to fool dogs that they wouldn’t understand that Kalle and Johanna were leaving. In Joensuu we made also a lot of shopping for the trip because it was an Eastern and in Norway there is nothing open then. (I have been in Alta once with Pirkka and my parents in Eastern.) Finally we could continue and Ilkka might rest a little while I started to drive.
At midnight we arrived at Rovaniemi, where Hanna was already waiting. She came there by train from Oulu where she was still doing some studies. In Rovaniemi we ate something too before we continued to drive to real Lapland.
Kalle (and Johanna) had to drive pretty much before the next happening, Pirkka jumped in at Kaamanen about 2 a.m. (On the way Kalle and Johanna saw a Capercaillie and two Willow Grouses). Pirkka had driven to Kaamanen from Enontekiö and he had been sleeping an hour in a car before we arrived there.
We reached Nuorgam (most Northern place of Finland) in early morning and I started to drive again because I wasn’t able to sleep on that curvy roads.
Birds – A LOT!
Right away after Norwegian border we started to make a list of birds we saw. First species was a Whooper Swan which we saw from Finland but the bird was in Norway. In Norway we saw first just normal birds: Magpies, Hooded Crows, Ravens, Redpolls, Great Tits and House Sparrows. Soon we saw also Greenfinches and only Brambling on the whole trip. And even we hadn’t seen any Fulmars yet, we decided not to turn back!
In early morning we arrived at Varanger and we could start real birding. It was quite amazing – In Varangerbotn there was a lot of birds! Eiders, Steller’s Eiders, King Eiders, Velvet Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers. Also only Goosander of the trip, a lot of Herring, Common and Black-backed Gulls, some Cormorants, Shelducks and Oystercatchers were seen.
We continued doing some short stops (one Dipper, a Fox and a lot of all kind of Eiders) to Nesseby church, where we cooked the first real lunch. Close the church we were be able to photograph very well too: on the beach there were tens of Purple Sandpipers, which didn’t care at all of Hanna which was trying to get closer and me which tried to get further (birds were too close for digiscoping!). There were also nine Shellducks, two Lapwings and a Curlew. On the sea there were first Black Guillemots.
Soon we could continue forward. Before Vestre Jakobselv we found first Puffins with some Common Guillemots. In Vadsö we saw first two Black-headed Gulls and soon a beautiful old Iceland Gull. King Eider and Steller’s Eider flocks were everywhere!
In Vadsö we photographed a lot too. We got also good photos of brave Hooded Crow which is very difficult bird to photograph normally.
Eckerö Kittiwake mountain
When we arrived at Eckerö it started to rain. Kittiwakes were just sitting on the cliffs. They hadn’t started to breed yet. There were also few nice Shags. One pair of Shags started to play but light was too bad for digiscoping. Of course I took a lot of pictures of Kittiwakes which were very easy to photograph.
From Eckerö we drove stopping for a while to Vardö. On the way we saw some Common Scoters and White-tailed Eagles, two Rough-legged Buzzards, Red-throated Divers, a couple of Willow Grouses which started to laugh when they saw Ilkka’s hat.
At Vardö we arrived when it was getting dark. One Snow Finch was flying; Kittiwakes, Puffins, Guillemots, Purple Sandpipers, Cormorants and Shags were flying over the birdmountains. At the end we were too tired to do more birdwatching – also the weather has turned almost stormy – so we started to search a good place to stay overnight.
Finally we spent the night at the backyard of Vardö-hotell. We had the electric wire so it should be warm inside the car. Good Friday, in Finnish so called long Friday, had been very long!
Wind and good humour
When we woke up we noticed we hadn’t got electricity at all. So we went to ask our money back from the hotel. We also asked phone numbers if somebody could take us to birdislands by boat later. It was still 6 a.m. so we didn’t start calling for anyone, but decided to start birding.
We saw pretty northern Rock Pigeons, also we found first Glauscous Gulls of the trip, I saw some Brunnich’s Guillemots, but all other were having breakfast then. It was still stormy wind so we decided to move on to Hamningberg. Luckily the road was in very good shape, which it’s not always in this time of year.
While the views were getting more desolate and rocky all the time, we were stopping to watch to the sea for a while. There was several White-tailed Eagles, Willow Grouses, still a lot of all Eiders. But most surprising was the amount of Glauscous Gulls. There were flocks of tens, just Glauscous Gulls. They were all ages of them and it was nice to photograph them too. It was so stormy wind that digiscoping was very difficult. While I and Hanna were photographing others were just loaning against the wind. Johanna was very good in that.
When we the road climbed to high place in Persfjorden we saw our first Gannets. They were flying beautifully easily on the heavy wind. Again some of us could celebrate a new World lifer.
After thin and curvy road was getting again up to the mountains we stopped to do some seawatching. We found a biggest sausage on the World! (Possible it was some kind of soft thing that a boat has on it’s side) but we had some fun with it. Kalle went to lie down over the “sausage” and Ilkka started to jump over another head of it. It was maybe the best Disneyland of whole Varanger!
Soon we arrived at Hamningberg. It’s the place where the World ends (at least the road ended). Hamningberg must be one of the most exciting places in the world to watch birds. So we were pretty fast watching the sea for the seabirds. Soon we saw tens of Gannets. On the rocky hill there was some passerine singing but we couldn’t recognize it directly. So we tried to see it, but it wasn’t easy in that rough terrain. Because we couldn’t find the bird so we spread to the area to do what ever we wanted. Hanna went to photograph Gannets. With Ilkka I started to find that bird what ever it took. At last we were too tired and I started to watch the sea and Ilkka started to sleep over the rocks laying down on his back.
Fulmars – it was about the time
Even Ilkka had been talking about Fulmars the whole trip he didn’t wake up when I shouted: Fulmars! When I shouted third time Ilkka woke up. But the sprint was pretty good when Ilkka rushed to telescope to get this lifer. At same time I shouted for others about the Fulmars so loud that all two Norwegians which were there home in Eastern got scared.
Somehow Kalle couldn’t find the Fulmars even there were about thirty of them very far on the sea. Kalle decided to go to eat his fresh pasta at least little fresh and when he came back there were no Fulmars anymore. Soon Kalle found a big Diver – Yellow-billed. And now Pirkka had problems to find the right bird. Soon we realized that Pirkka was looking for right bird, at least right species, just the bird was another Yellow-billed Diver. First bird was 2 c-y bird and another adult in winter plumage. When watching Divers there landed one Brunnich’s Guillemot quite close the Divers. So almost all of us got at least one lifer some got even two.
But still everyone wasn’t happy! Kalle had still Fulmar lacking. Kalle was decided to show himself a Fulmar what ever it costs. I tried to help Kalle, but Fulmars were maybe somewhere where was still more stormy. Finally Kalle saw it – Fulmar flew pretty close filling almost whole scope! Kalle was very happy (You should have seen him celebrating!) Soon there came more Fulmars gliding up and down over the waves.
Again different kind of Diver
When watching Fulmars Kalle found again another Diver. Soon I saw the bird too and (Yeah – finally a lifer for me too) it was Great Northern Diver – old bird in winter plumage. We couldn’t see others so first I tried to shout and then call them but phone weren’t working there. So I had to go to find others. I found Hanna soon but surprisingly I found Ilkka and Pirkka inside the caravan.
They were making the Kinder toys! Points for them! I really think that is the second best thing to do when you are in Hamningberg (where is all the time good new birds) in Eastern! Pirkka told he had been telling Ilkka that: “I feel, that now we will miss something”. Luckily we could still see the Diver; even it was diving amazingly long distances. Kalle had seen the Great Northern Diver once with those Yellow-billed Divers together in same picture!
No we were all happy! We had seen everything possible in Hamningberg. That one singing passerine was also seen, it was only Snow Finch. It’s always same thing when you hear a singing Snow Finch. Also we saw one Red-necked Diver ant three migrating Greylag Geese. After all we had to begin our way back.
Closer by boat
Now we started our trip back. The way from Hamningberg to Vardö seemed even more dangerous when coming back. Edges seemed to be even closer the road then.
20 kilometres before Vardö we started to call for the boat to Hornöya birdisland. Ilkka was speaking Swedish on the phone – even thinking of that sounds funny) but he could arrange us a boat for the same evening!
Soon we were sitting on the boat and going fast towards the islands. On the way we saw Black Guillemots and Shags. But even there weren’t a lot of birds on the cliffs, the experience was something new for us all! Common and Brunnich’s Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills, Common Guillemots, Shags and Kittiwakes… were A LOT! All of us learned how to make a difference between Guillemots and it was great to see these birds closer than ever. Of course it was a disappointment that we couldn’t land the island because it’s forbidden before the summer. The weather can change so fast that it’s possible that you can’t get away from island.
When back in harbour, all our group was very happy. Nobody expected anything like this to happen on this trip. Whole day had amazing!
After little wondering we decided to drive a little more. Finally we stopped to have some sleep to one kind of parking place between Vardö and Vadsö. And it really wasn’t difficult to fall in sleep.
Eastern day was again very windy, and surprisingly we had to watch almost empty sea. There were some Common Scoters and Red-throated Divers but almost no Eiders at all. They had started to go to breeding areas.
This time we climbed up to the Eckerö Kittiwake mountain. Kittiwakes weren’t sitting on the cliffs but swimming down on the sea. Even I have started to afraid of highs I managed to digiscope some sitting Kittiwakes. I was already coming down with Pirkka when rest of us where just climbing up. Hanna photographed flying White-tailed Eagles, while other were playing with their lives on the edge.
We found a singing Pipit down near the caravan. A Rock Pipit of course. I called Ilkka which came very fast down climbing more dangerous ways than Hanna, Kalle and Johanna. But it was a lifer for Ilkka (again). Pipit was sitting on the rocks and for a while it started to sing while flying. Ilkka and Kalle told that they had already seen one possible Rock Pipit up there but now they hadn’t have to worry about that anymore. Soon we had to move on again, we had still a lot to do for the rest of the day!
To Gyrfalcon edge
From Vadsö we found the same Iceland Gull again. Soon we found another Iceland Gull flying close this first bird, this time 3 cy bird. They were so nice if you compare to Glauscous Gulls which are pretty ugly. I managed to get some pictures of both birds. We saw also maybe the same two Black-headed Gulls again.
At Nesseby church there was just Eastern church ending, and it was funny to see people coming out of that beautiful church wearing those traditional Sami (Lappish)-dresses. We tried to see the church inside but there was still christening going on and after that the pastor was too hurry to christening parties so he locked the door just in front of us. Twite which was sitting on the wire just close the church made us happy again. But it left too fast so I couldn’t take any photos of it.
Next we went to try to find Gyrfalcons from the cliff that Finnature had told us. On the way we saw a Hawk Owl sitting on the wire. It was very nice to digiscope because of the perfect light! The Owl had something interesting on the snow under it because it was listening under it very hard. We couldn’t find a Gyr which was disappointment for us all. We tried very hard and had our necks hurt. But the place was very nice even without Falcons. We heard later that the Gyrfalcons were breeding there, somehow we just couldn’t find them.
We visited still in Teno rivers delta. There was quite a lot of Long-tailed Ducks, more than in any place earlier. The place itself was also something amazing! I’m sure there can be a lot of birds at least in autumn when waders are migrating.
On the way back home
Then started a long way back home! Ilkka had been driving all the time in Norway and continued still driving. In Teno river in Finland there was some Common and Herring Gulls but no more Kittiwakes (of course). Almost nothing happened on our way for long time. Someone was just saying every hour how good trip we had had!
It was already late night when we dropped Pirkka to Kaamanen. Rest of us continued still driving more South. We stayed overnight on the top of Kaunispää fell.
After a good and pretty long night we walked little over Kaunispää, but there was foggy and rainy so we couldn`t see anything better. Others went back to sleep, but I started to drive and Hanna came to keep me awake. On the way we saw three Siberian Jays and one male Capercaillie in Sodankylä. On Porttipahta dam we saw Black-backed Gulls, which is rare there. Then we drove directly to Rovaniemi.
At Rovaniemi Hanna missed her train for 10 minutes, so we decided to cook something to eat. Out cooking place was Rovaniemi city’s bus station and we were cooking some sausages!
We continued driving pretty fast. Only happenings were some sort of lunch in Valtimo and a ticket that police gave to Kalle for speeding somewhere in Juuka. SHIT! That was the only kickback for the trip. We wouldn’t have needed any.
In Joensuu we cleaned our caravan together. It was pretty messy! And of course we dropped Kalle and Johanna back home. Ilkka wanted to visit at her ex-girlfriend too. I think he just said: “Hello, guess where I’m coming from? See you!” At least it didn’t take long. Then we bought some hamburgers from McDonalds (BIG Big Macs) and continued our way.
Our final stop was surprise, surprise – Siikalahti, where we tried to hear the first Crakes for the year and eat some mämmi (traditional Finnish Eastern food which looks like shit but tastes good). Well, we couldn’t do either of them: there was no Crakes (Siikalahti was still totally frozen) and mämmi was also frozen (some idiot had put it to freezer). So we went to eat some mämmi to our home. Then Ilkka had still 50km to drive to Imatra. In the end there was 3300km on the meter. We had amazing trip! That’s all I can say!