Northern Finland 18th to 27th of June 2020

Because of COVID19 the borders were closed and there was no possibility to make traditional summer trip abroad, we had been planning to go to Lapland. But after busy spring we had been too tired to make any plans. When I surprisingly heard that my nephew was having his confirmation parties in Kemijärvi, we decided to go. There was only one problem, I got the information about the parties less than a week before them and I had no holiday asked. Luckily my boss understood that this was a right time to go to Lapland and I got holiday.

Hanna’s sister Elissa had also planned to go to Lapland to see birds, so we asked her to join us to make the trip of course cheaper but also more fun because of Elissa had never been in Lapland in summer so she had several species to see as lifers there.

So in the 18th of June after I had finished at work, we packed our car, drove to Tarvaslampi to pick up “Elli”. Somehow we managed to squeeze her stuff into the car too and started driving towards north.

It was raining and even stormy but anyway we did a stop in Saari Pohjanranta where only a couple of Ruffs were seen. When we got to North Karelia we started to keep trip-tick list. The weather also cleared and in Kitee we saw a Red-backed Shrike and a Barnacle Goose along the road. Then we stopped in Kontiolahti Linnunsuo for an hour and saw a Spotted Redshank, Long-tailed Tits, Yellow Wagtails and so on.

Red-flanked Bluetails

We drove a long way until Sotkamo Talvivaara where we climbed up along a steep track to the top next to a mast and once we parked and got out from the car, we immediately heard a couple of Red-flanked Bluetails singing. So soon we had gathered our ringing-stuff and were putting up a mist-net into the forest. And it didn’t take long when we had a stunning adult male bluetail in the mist-net. As it seemed to be so easy, we soon tried to catch the other bird too but it had stopped singing and we didn’t see or hear it at all anymore. But the bird with a ring kept on singing all the time.

Soon we had the tents up and after we had eaten we were ready to go to sleep. We had lots of sleep debt with Hanna because of a busy spring and we thought there would be more during this trip.

On the 19th of June we woke up before 1 a.m. and both bluetails were already in full song. Soon we had a mist-net up again and in a minute even more beautiful adult male Red-flanked Bluetail on our hands.

Red-flanked BluetailRed-flanked Bluetail

JanneSoon we were walking in Talvivaara forests carrying our ringing-equipment and after some walking we heard again a bluetail. And soon it started to feel that there was always a new bird in every 300 or 400 meters. We tried to catch almost every bluetail we found but only one adult male was hitting the mist-net but escaping. Young males were much more suspicious and they were getting close to the mist-net slowly from the heights so they probably saw the net. We also found one alarming female but after all we couldn’t catch a single bird even though during the whole morning we had heard 13 bluetails.

Other birds we found were 4 Greenish Warblers which 3 of them were singing very close to each others, some Wrens, a Crested Tit, Common Crossbills, Bullfinches and a Green Sandpiper. And there were mosquitoes – enough mosquitoes!

TalvivaaraRed-flanked Bluetail

Once we were back in our camp we slept a few hours and then hit the road again.

In Ristijärvi we saw a Honey Buzzard and once we had decided where to go next, we finally turned to Puolanka Kuirivaara and soon were searching a suitable place for camping.

We couldn’t really see the hill and forests from our camp so we didn’t know what to expect. There were amazing numbers of mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers and only bird we saw in the evening was a Common Buzzard.

Red-flanked BluetailOn the 20th of June we woke up at night again and soon were climbing up towards the forests. It didn’t take long when we heard a familiar song of a Red-flanked Bluetail and soon we were ringing one more adult male.

We walked until the morning was getting too hot to continue and found altogether 9 bluetails and all birds we had seen were young males. And they were really tricky to catch but after all we managed to catch 2 of them.

Kuirivaara behind a bogWe also found a Tree-toed Woodpecker, some Chiffchaffs and Bramblings, a Black Woodpecker, a Wood and a Green Sandpiper and a Treecreeper.

Seeing relatives

After sleeping a few hours again we continued to Pudasjärvi Syöte to my brother Riku’s cottage. It was good to see his family for a long time. So the evening was spent while chatting and eating well. We also went jogging with Riku.

On the 21st of June we went to early morning run with Riku’s wife Pirjo. And surprisingly the first bird we heard while running was a Red-flanked Bluetail in Aurinkokallio. It really seemed that there were more bluetails than ever!

During the day we started driving towards north again and most of Riku’s family followed us with their brand new camper. Finally we were in Kemijärvi and my other brother Pirkka’s home. His younger son Veikka was having his confirmation party. Parties were of course because of the situation quite small-scale but it was maybe even more fun for us as there were almost only close relatives.

During the parties we saw some birds too as a Common Rosefinch was visiting the feeder and in the evening a Woodcock was flying over us while we were putting up the tents to the back-yard.

On the 22nd of June we did a short morning trip with Pirkka in Kemijärvi but in mid-summer there weren’t much to see. Some Red-throated Divers and Red-necked Grebes, a Hen Harrier and a Rough-legged Buzzard were the best birds.

SokanaapaAfter a morning run with Pirkka we started to drive towards north again. The next stop was made in Pelkosenniemi Sokanaapa where some Yellow Wagtails and Waxwings and a Black-throated Diver were seen and then the next stop was made in Sodankylä Ilmakkiaapa where we saw more Yellow Wagtails and an Osprey.

Inari Ivalo Mellanaapa

After a brief stop in Sodankylä Porttipahta we twitched a Grey Wagtail in Inari Laanila. We also saw a Stoat crossing the road and then finally after a long driving day were in Inari Ivalo Mellanaapa. Soon we met Olli Osmonen who had set up a ringing station to wastewater treatment plant. Quite a few ringers have been visiting the site and with fresh ideas the place had became surprisingly working station. Together with Olli we walked around the area to see the mist-net places and as we were the first visitors this year (most ringing is usually done in autumn), there were some work to do with some fallen poles and so on. So after we had seen all the places, Olli left and we began to work. And in hour or so we had all the poles up and mist-nets ready for the next day.

It was already late so soon we had the camp ready and we went to sleep for a couple of hours.

On the 23rd of June we woke up again too early. Soon we had opened the mist-nets with Hanna and as the round to check all nets was very long, we decided that I will check nets around the pools and Hanna and Elli would check nets around the buildings. Then Hanna would ring the birds around the station-building.

Elli had already heard a Jack Snipe into her tent but luckily it was displaying also later during the morning. On the first round we caught some Reed Buntings but the second round was so quiet that we went twitching with Elli. We drove some 10 minutes to Ivalo beach and immediately heard a singing Arctic Warbler from the other side of the river. Surprisingly there was also a 2nd c-y Grey Heron on the beach with a herd of Reindeers. Because of the Arctic Warbler was moving further and it wasn’t easy to hear anymore, we were soon driving back towards Mellanaapa.

Some 400 meters before the gate we stopped and right away heard a Little Bunting singing. We also managed to see the bird briefly on the top of a perch but then it flew further and as there were too many mosquitoes, we decided to keep on going to ringing station. Elli had really had a good morning as in 1.5 hours she had heard her first ever lekking Jack Snipe and got two lifers.

Hanna hadn’t done any rounds so we left to check the nets right away. But as expected it was pretty quiet this time of year. After many round and many walked kilometres I slept an hour or two and finally at midday we closed the mist-nets. We had caught a Yellow and a White Wagtail, 2 Common Redstarts, a Song Thrush, 9+2c Willow Warblers, a Brambling, a Bullfinch and 3r+2c Reed Buntings. We had also heard a Bluethroat, a Broad-billed Sandpiper and seen a Common Ringed Plover, some Waxwings and Common Crossbills and so on. We also had seen a couple of Elks crossing the bog.

Mellanaapa ringing stationYellow WagtailBrambling

After we had slept a few hours we continued towards north again and the next stop was made in Kaamanen 4 tuulen tupa where on the feeder we saw 7 Pine Grosbeaks and also some Tundra Voles. Unfortunately we didn’t see Siberian Jays or Siberian Tits that seemed to visit the feeder more likely in the morning.

Pine GrosbeakTundra Vole

In Ahvenjärvi we saw a male Velvet Scoter and in Basijávri a female Smew. Then in Karigasniemi we visited briefly Piesjänkä just to see if there were any good tenting places but decided to continue to Ailigas to our traditional camping place close to the gate. And soon we were putting up the tents to a place where we had really nice views to Ailigas fell.

Piesjänkä and Ailigas

AiligasOn the 24th day we woke up again at 1 a.m. and after we had seen a Long-tailed Skua flying over our camp we were driving towards Piesjänkä. On the way we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard and soon we were walking towards the big bog-areas.

We found some couples of Long-tailed Skuas right away and on the first pool we saw 16 Red-necked Phalaropes and some more were found later. Also a Temminck’s Stint and a Dunlin were seen by the pool. We walked quite a long way but it was surprisingly quiet. Just some flocks of Common Redpolls were flying over us and at least a couple of them were probably Arctic Redpolls but we didn’t see them well enough. Other passerines were missing and for example not a single Lapland Bunting were seen and only a couple of Bluethroats were found.

Long-tailed SkuaWillow Grouse

We walked until the wet bog where we could scan also a couple of distant lakes with telescope. We found Tufted Ducks and Goldeneyes but also 3 males and a female Long-tailed Duck. As the walking came difficult, we decided to start walking back. We still had plenty of to do during the morning. Luckily Hanna found a female Willow Grouse and a Jack Snipe came to display over us and when we still found a tame Red-necked Phalarope the walk in Piesjänkä had been very good.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope

AiligasSoon we were up at Ailigas and by the gate where we parked the car and soon started to walk up towards the top of the fell. It was a tough climb up to the top but anyway we started immediately to walk around the top and search for birds. But there were only some Golden Plovers – nothing else.

When a couple of Long-tailed Skuas were flying over us, we decided to continue to the next top, Gaskkamusalas. I had briefly seen a Snow Bunting flying against the top, so we wanted to see at least it better.

Snow BuntingSome more climbing was worthy as we found several Snow Buntings including a nest with eggs. But still we found no Ptarmigans or Dotterels. After some more walking around the top, we started to walk towards the road and landed lower down between the tops. And surprisingly there much lower down we first heard a Ptarmigan calling and soon saw it flying towards us. It landed quite close so we managed to see it well and got some pictures too.

PtarmiganPtarmigan

Ptarmigan

We also found a couple of Long-tailed Skuas that were alarming when a Rough-legged Buzzard was flying over their territory. And while walking up and down next to the road back towards our camp we found another Ptarmigan, a flock of 20 Golden Plovers and a singing Bluethroat that was already close to our tents. And then it started to rain, so our timing had been perfect – we could go to sleep.

In the afternoon while driving again we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard in Nuoppiniemi and in Dalvadas we saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull along Teno-river on the Norwegian side of the river. It was pale-backed and huge, so it looked more like a grallsii than heuglini. After all we weren’t far from the Norwegian sea-coast. Also a couple of Ruffs were seen before we continued driving.

Nuvvus Ailigas

Finally we took a small road just before Nuvvus and found a suitable place to camp. We agreed to sleep a little bit later – until 3 a.m.

NuvvusOn the 25th of June we were at 4 a.m. next to Nuvvus Ailigas fell and soon started climbing along Cihkagurra towards the top. It was a tough climb along the steep and rocky hill and there weren’t many birds around. We had seen only a Willow Tit and a Bluethroat until we were already above the tree-line when we finally first heard and then saw a distant Ring Ouzel.

Then we heard strange calls that I thought it was a Dotterel but we never saw the caller. All we found visible were Golden Plovers and Whimbrels. The views were amazing to other fells and to Teno-river. And while we were photographing the views we heard a different kind of call that I didn’t identify but now we saw a Dotterel flying past us.

NuvvusAfter we had been walking a little bit on the top, we started to walk back down. Again we saw the same Ring Ouzel briefly and when we were much lower down 2 more Ring Ouzels flew over us. We were pretty tired when we were back on our car, but still we went to parking place to listen one more Ring Ouzel singing and we also heard a distant Dunnock.

The weather was getting worse while we were driving towards Utsjoki. So the raptors weren’t flying and it wasn’t a surprise that only a single Rough-legged Buzzard was seen on the way. In Utsjoki we visited a shop and after all decided not to drive any more north towards the northernmost village of Finland, Nuorgam, but turned towards south. We had a tight schedule after all…

Self-found Arctic Warblers

Our next stop was made in Skalluvaara where we walked some time in a boggy area and found a Rough-legged Buzzard, 12 Red-necked Phalaropes, a Spotted Redshank, some Bluethroats, a Great Grey Shrike and finally also a single Lapland Bunting which only I saw well enough to get a trip-tick. I wonder were all buntings were as it should be very common bird.

While driving back towards the main road we heard an Arctic Warbler through open windows. We stopped and found out that there were 2 birds singing. We tried to see the closer bird and saw 2 birds briefly. Maybe there was one more bird that wasn’t singing?

Arctic WarblerArctic Warbler

Moving south

We continued towards south and did a couple of stops along rivers close to Kevo and some hills later but saw only a couple of Peregrines that we twitched. Also a Kestrel was seen there and later a Hen Harrier in Inari. Then in 4 Tuulen tupa we saw only a single Pine Grosbeak. When we were driving again we saw a female Smew on the first small pool.

Hawk Owl

We continued until Toivoniemi bird-tower where we put up the tents into the forest and saw briefly a Willow Tit chasing a Siberian Tit. I visited the tower from where were extremely nice views but soon we had to go to sleep. We agreed to sleep a few hours but after all we were sleeping five hours while Elli had awaken a couple of hours earlier. She had been listening weird high calls for some time until from the tower she saw a Hawk Owl and realized that the callers were Hawk Owl fledlings. Finally we woke up too and together we went to search the young owls that 2 of them were quite easy to find while 3 more were heard.

We visited the tower and photographed the views and I heard a Common Redshank calling in distance. And soon we had packed our car again and started driving.

It was already late when we drove through Ivalo where we saw a Woodcock displaying. In Sodankylä Madetkoski we saw a Short-eared Owl and in Ilmakkiaapa I heard a Broad-billed Sandpiper calling shortly.

Buntings

Finally we stopped in Vuojärvi Kantola where an Ortolan Bunting had been for some time. After some waiting it started to sing and it sounded as weird as it had sounded in Olli’s recording that we had listened in Mellanaapa. It sounded more like a Cretzschmar’s Bunting, but unfortunately there had been good pictures of the bird and it was an Ortolan for sure. Also we saw the bird chasing a couple of Yellowhammers and the identification was straightforward. Later we heard that there are Ortolan Buntings singing like this bird in Northern Sweden.

Then we continued to Kemijärvi where had been a very rare summer visitor – a Yellow-browed Warbler on the previous morning. We were there in good time early in the morning but in an hour we couldn’t hear or see it. And after all nobody found it anymore. We did hear a Lesser Whitethroat there.

Kuusamo

While we were driving towards Kuusamo I got an idea to turn to Salla. After some extra driving we stopped in Ruuhijärvi where a long straight track was going along the lake and there were bushy bog on both sides of the road. Immediately we heard a Rustic Bunting singing and soon we had mist-net up again. The bunting wasn’t interested of the tape so Hanna stayed by the net and I walked a little bit more along the track. I soon found a Little Bunting singing but it stopped and disappeared very soon. When I was walking back I noticed that Hanna had changed the tape to play Little Bunting’s song and there was a Little Bunting hanging on the mist-net.

Little BuntingWe stopped about every 200 meters along the road and found several more Little Buntings and managed to ring one more bird. Also one couple was seen. But there were no more Rustic Buntings so after all we turned back and made another try to catch a Rustic Bunting too. After all there were 3 birds flying around but they never came close to the mist-net, maybe because of the wind that was getting quite strong.

Three-toed WoodpeckerWe heard a Merlin calling and several Whimbrels and some other bog-species too but then we started to feel too tired to go on. We drove to a small parking place of Termusjärvi bird-tower and soon had tents up. We still walked to the tower which was quite far. So we didn’t bring our scope with us and that’s why we couldn’t identify any of the distant ducks we saw. A tame Three-toed Woodpecker was seen along the path and I still saw a female Willow Grouse before we went to sleep.

Lady's SlipperGrey Wagtail

We woke up when it was getting too hot in the tents. After we had eaten we started driving towards Kuusamo. It was already midday when we arrived at Oulanka where we first tried to find some orchids. We found some Lady’s Slippers but Fairy Slippers weren’t found, it was probably too late. A couple of Parrot Crossbilles, a Crested Tit and a Chiffchaff were heard. Then we walked to Kiutaköngäs rapid where we photographed the stunning views and also saw 2 males and a female Grey Wagtail. Also a Wren was singing there.

In Käylänkoski we found a young Dipper hiding along a small ditch as the river was flooding. Then we still visited new Oivanki wetland where we heard again a couple of Parrot Crossbills.

Kiutaköngäs

Dipper

Then we started a long drive towards south. I had decided to drive as long as possible to make the last day of our trip easier. We also would have plenty to do on Sunday in Parikkala on my last day of holiday. In Taivalkoski Siltasuo we saw a Short-eared Owl and of course we stopped to see Hiljainen kansa. In Hyrynsalmi Hoikkajärvi a female Capercaillie almost flew against our wind-screen and while Hanna and Elli were sleeping I continued driving. There were lots of Hares along the road! Finally in Sotkamo it seemed that there was very big storm in front of us, so we decided to stop to one parking place to sleep in a car and wait the clouds to move.

I couldn’t sleep at all so after an hour I started driving towards still cloudy south. Luckily we managed to avoid the storms and finally were in Kontiolahti where we turned towards Kolvananuuro which we had decided to be our target-place in the morning. When we had parked, it took some time to find suitable tenting places and once the tents were up, a thunder was coming right over us.

Very good last morning

Ural Owl Anyway we slept very well for several hours and about 8 a.m. we started walking to Kolvananuuro. We soon found a couple of White-backed Woodpeckers and then found passerines alarming in a top of one pine. After some waiting it wasn’t a surprise to see a Pygmy Owl escaping the flock of attacking passerines. And after some more walking we heard Ural Owl youngsters begging for food and soon found one bird visible while 2 more birds were calling around us.

After we had heard a distant Greenish Warbler we started walking down to Kolvananuuro. There we walked along rocky bottom for quite a long time which was very hard because of rocks were still wet and slippery. But there were so many birds around that it really didn’t matter – we heard lots of Wrens, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers and some Chiffchaffs. There were also lots of Phoxinus fish on the pools between the rocks. Finally the track started to climb back up and after hard climbing we started to walk back towards our car.

Beautiful DemoiselleKolvananuuro

Red-flanked Bluetail

We had already walked the whole round when we heard familiar calls which I couldn’t identify first, but then we heard rattling and of course, there was a family of Red-flanked Bluetails, a female and at least 2 fledlings. Hanna managed to get some pictures of a young bird.

Finally we were back at our tents, we packed everything and luckily tents were already dry. And soon we started to drive towards south.

Siberian StonechatOur last stop was made in Kitee Puhos where had been a female Siberian Stonechat for several days. We found it easily and Hanna managed to get very good pictures of it. We also heard some Common Whitethroats and saw a few Linnets that were our last trip-ticks. Altogether we had seen 144 bird-species without really collecting.

Finally after 1800 driven kilometers we were back in Parikkala and in Tarvaslampi where sauna was ready for us. And after sauna we had good food! It was nice to get clean and well fed before we continued home to sleep. On the next morning we woke up at 2:30 a.m. again and went ringing birds. And in the evening we had water-bird counts in Siikalahti – quite a holiday again…

J.A.