Category Archives: Norway

Northern Finland and Norway Varanger 6th to 21st of June 2023

On the 6th of June my holiday finally started. On my lunch-hour I had already packed our car ready and once I got from work we were ready to start driving towards north. Like always, we started to keep trip-list when we got out from Parikkala.

We kept on driving and saw some ordinary birds and in the beginning the only bird to mention was a Goldfinch in Kitee Puhos. Then in Juuka we saw a male Capercaillie that was walking on the main-road. But still we didn’t stop at all – we just kept on driving.

Twitching

We started to get close to Kajaani when we decided to go first to Sotkamo to twitch a Sociable Lapwing that my brother Pirkka had found already when he was driving north after our bird-tower competition a month earlier. But then we got information that there had been birders searching for this bird for a couple of hours without finding it, so we decided to keep on going to Kajaani. And after all our timing was perfect, as we found out that our friend Allan Hamari was just arriving to Kajaani railway-station. So we picked up “Allu” and continued straight to Koutaniemi where we immediately saw some birders in one garden and soon saw a stunning Blue-cheeked Bee-eater that had been in this garden for a couple of days.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was flying a couple of times and catching some wasps and finally landed to a better place so we could get some pretty nice pictures of this beautiful bird. We could have spent much more time photographing this bird but once we got a message that the Sociable Lapwing had been found again, we decided to go to try to see it too.

Arohyyppä

Right before the border of Kajaani and Sotkamo we saw a Great Grey Owl catching some prey from the side of the road. Unfortunately the owl disappeared to the forest too soon so we couldn’t get any pictures. Soon we were in Huuskonniemi where were any birders but soon we found the Sociable Lapwing in flight. It landed behind the field invisible but soon it was flying again. It landed to the road but too far and I couldn’t get close enough for better pictures before it was flying again.

Pretty soon we decided to keep on going as we still had a long drive. And after all it was about 1:30 a.m. at night when we finally arrived to Kemi and parked to Allu’s garden. And soon we were ready to go to sleep.

In Kemi and Tornio

On the 7th of June we woke up before 7 a.m. and soon were ready for birding. We started the trip well when we heard a Terek Sandpiper song from one closed factory area. Then we continued to Tuhka-allas where we saw several earthmovers destroying this great birding plce, We passed the machines and continued to an area that was still untouched and soon found some Little Ringed Plovers, Oystercatcher, Arctic Terns, 20 Gadwalls, some Shovelers and after some searching we found a male Citrine Wagtail too. We also found some late migrants that were just arriving to Lapland like Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Common Rosefinch.

Citrine WagtailPunavarpunen

We continued to Rytikari where was saw immediately a Caspian Tern flying over the sea. Then in a short raptor-watch in Holstinharju we saw a couple of White-tailed Eagles and then a visit in border of Simo in Matinaapa bog we saw a surprise a Black Kite! While walking on the bog I found out that my wellington was leaking so next we visited Hankkija-shop in Keminmaa and bought new pairs of boots with Hanna.

In Tornio we headed first to dump where we saw both Baltic and Heuglin’s Gulls and some Greater Black-backed Gulls. In Ala-Raumo we saw a couple of Rough-legged Buzzards and heard Greylag Geese, in Oravaisensaari we saw a White-tailed Eagle and in Kaupunginlahti a Coot, some Great Crested Grebes and a Canada Goose. Then around the golf course we saw plenty of more Canada Geese and a single Barnacle Goose but unfortunately the famous Bar-headed Goose was missing.

Then we crossed the border to Sweden and visited a huge candy-store before headed back to Tornio where we still managed to get one more Lapland-tick in Kiviranta where we saw a Collared Dove briefly in flight. Then it was time to head back to Allu’s home to eat, have sauna and catch an early sleep.

Towards north

On the 8th of June we left at 7 a.m. to drive towards Kemijärvi. We did a stop in Rovaniemi Paavalniemi where we twitched an Icterine Warbler which is extremely rare in this north. We also heard a couple of Chiffchaffs.

Finally we arrived to Pirkka’s apartment and our Lapland bird-race team was now together. Pretty soon we had packed all our stuff to Pirkka’s car and kept on driving towards north.

In Pelkosenniemi Sokanaapa we climbed to a bird-tower that was in very weak condition and actually closed but anyway we managed to find a breeding Taiga Bean Goose and hear a singing Rustic Bunting. In Sodankylä we checked Moskujärvi where we saw a few Velvet Scoters, a couple of White-tailed Eagles and Golden Plovers and so on and then in Sompiojärvi 4 White-tailed Eagles and a couple of Willow Grouses along the long road there. Then in Ilmakkiaapa we saw Common Scoters and a Great Grey Shrike and in Porttipahta a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls. But after all we hadn’t found many interesting birds for the coming race.

We still had a long way to go but of course we had to stop in Kaunispää where we found quite easily a Dotterel. We also met our old friend Juha Tuomaala there and he had just seen another Dotterel behind on the top. So it seemed that Dotterel might be quite easy in the race.

Keräkurmitsa

Taviokuurna

Finally we were in Inari Kaamanen and Neljän tuulen tupa where we had booked a couple of cottages. There we met several bird-ringers that were on their Lapland ringing-trip and of course we saw some Pine Grosbeaks that were visiting the feeders. But pretty soon we had to go to sleep as on the next day we still were going more north. I think any other team would have used the last day before the race checking places that they were going to visit but not us – we were going to do birding to places that were north from the area where we were going to race. We just wanted to see more bird!

Preparing to race

Willow Grouse

But on the 9th of June the weather was really awful. It was very windy and also raining a lot. Anyway we started birding quite early and already in Kaamanen we found a Siberian Tit and then in Kenespahta we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard in nest. Then we headed to Skalluvaara where a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes, 5 Long-tailed Skuas and some Bluethroats were seen. But the weather was so bad that soon we kept on driving.

On the top of Utsjoki Ailigas we tried to find Ptarmigans but the only grouse we found was suprisingly a Willow Grouse. Also a White-tailed Eagle and a couple of Long-tailed Skuas were seen.

We stopped several times along Teno-river but saw only some Rough-legged Buzzard and Common Kestrels and then a single Merlin. But then we found a nice Hawk Owl and stopped to see that there was already a big young Golden Eagle in nest.

But after all the weather was so poor that we didn’t much else and finally we were in Utsjoki Karigasniemi where we went to familiar hotel.

While we were having dinner we planned our race a little but after all there wasn’t much to plan as it was going to be very similar as it has been already for years for Pirkka and Allu. We would be birding from almost the northernmost until southernmost Lapland and see lots of nice bird on the way!

Lapland bird-race

On the 10th of June we slept long and woke up to have breakfast at 8 a.m. Soon we had packe our car again and then still went shopping at 9 a.m. Then we were ready to drive to Piesjänkä and on the way we saw a Smew in Basijärvi.

In Piesjänkä we agreed that Hanna would stay near the reindeer round-up as she had been in bronchitis and it was going to be a tough walk to start the race.

We walked more than an hour towards our starting point that was on the shore of Lake Ailigas. We didn’t see many birds while walking on the border of the bog-area but luckily there were many birds on the lake and on the surroundings.

Tunturikihu

We started our race at 10:49 a.m. when we saw a flock of 10 Bean Geese and a flying Rough-legged Buzzard. Then it was easy to tick all the birds that we had already found like Velvet and Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Red-necked Phalarope, Ruff, Long-tailed Skua (25 birds), Bluethroat, Lapland Bunting, Yellow Wagtail and so on. Then I found a distant 2nd year Golden Eagle and a Jack Snipe was lekkiing over us so the start had been good!

We walked back toward our car though the wet parts of the bog but found nothing really. When we finally got to Hanna, there were Temminck’s Stints, Common Ringed Plovers and after some waiting also a Dunlin but unfortunately a Willow Grouse and a Bar-tailed Godwit had already disappeared a long time ago. But we knew we were going to struggle with our schedule so we had to keep on going.

A couple of stops along the road produced more Red-necked phalaropes, a Spotted Redshank and finally after a hard work also a Broad-billed Sandpiper. Or actually Allu made the hard work as he is the toughest 71 years old man alive. He put his orientation trousers and shoes on and ran to the wettest bog. After about 10 minutes of running finally the bird was found.

We crossed the border to Inari and soon saw a Smew, Black-throated Divers, a Hen Harrier, Pine Grosbeaks, a Waxwing and so on. A Siberian Tit was twitched from next to a nest-box that we had got GPS-points, Thanks Juha! Surprisingly we saw a female Capercaillie flushed behind the nest-box. Then in Lake Inari we saw Red-throated Divers, a Cormorant and a Heuglin’s Gull (our only Lesser Black-backed Gull).

In Ivalo Pikku-Petsamo we weren’t lucky and also in the city we saw only a Rock Dove and a Blue Tit. And then the worst was still to come as there was no Dotterel to be found in Kaunispää – only new species was a Whimbrel. But luckily in Laanila we saw a Dipper easily.

We hadn’t planned to go to Kiilopää but as we hadn’t been able to go to Karigasniemi Ailigas and we still missed all mountain-top birds and we had saved quite a lot of time passing some places that had been empty a couple of days earlier, we decided to go climbing.

Riekko

Again Hanna stayed searching for anything while we started climbing up towards the top of Kiilopää. It was a tough climb but right after the last steps we found a Ptarmigan! It was my 270th species I have seen in a bird-race in Finland. Then on the top I found a couple of Snow Buntings. I found them when I put my thermal camera on and just looked through it and there were a couple of bright spots right in front of me. These birds were hiding in the middle of rocks so well that we might have missed them without my camera. Then we walked around the top for some time and still managed to find a Dotterel! So the climb had really been worthy!

We jogged all the way down to Hanna and again she had seen a few Willow Grouses but again they had disappeared.

We knew that we had lost time in Kiilopää but anyway we made a decision to go to Sompiojärvi. A couple of days ago there had been a road roller fixing the road so it was faster to get there, but anyway it was a long drive. But we thought that at least White-tailed Eagles would be there and maybe something else too as now the weather was perfect! But there were no eagles to be found or nothing else either! Luckily on the way back I finally found a Willow Grouse and also another Capercaillie.

In Ilmakkiaapa we saw a Black Grouse on the road and in Korteaapa finally some Common Cranes. In Porttipahta there were no gulls at all but soon we managed to hear a Siberian Jay calling.

The day changed while we were arriving to Sodankylä-city where the only new tick was a Jackdaw. A long and tired drive continued through Pelkosenniemi where we finally saw a Short-eared Owl and then in Kairala some Curlews, a Woodcock and a Whinchat. When we were driving again we saw a Blackbird flying across the road – we had clearly arrived to an area where more southern species were.

Rallissa

In Kemijärvi we were in early hours and in sewage-pools we found a Gadwall, a Shoveler, Pintails, a Sedge Warbler, a Chaffinch and a Common Rosefinch. Then we checked some more places in Kemijärvi and found a Little Ringed Plover, a Garden Warbler, a Skylark, a Tree Pipit, Common Crossbills, Tree Sparrows and a Northern Wheatear. But Red-necked Grebes that Pirkka had been prepared for us from at least 4 different places were completely missing.

Then we had again a long drive to Rovaniemi. In Vikaköngäs we heard Parrot Crossbills and in Viirikangas we found surprisingly a Garganey swimming in a tiny pool and twitched a Wood Warbler in the cemetery. In Harjulampi we ticked Great Crested Grebes and a Lesser Whitethroat, in Niskanperä a Common Whitethroat, in Paavalniemi the same Icterine Warbler, in Hirvas a Dunnock and a Chiffchaff and then in Matkajänkä a Little Bunting.

Then we hurried to Muurola beach where Allu used his scope and found a Canada Goose extremely far from the opposite side of the lake. In Suksiaapa we spent some time as it really is a good spot. And we found several Slavonian Grebes, a Honey Buzzard, a Black Woodpecker, a Common Redshank and saw also a Garganey and a Shoveler. But we knew we were really late on our schedule so we really had to keep on going.

Pohjansirkku

We still had the craziest part of our race to go which was Posio Korouoma. It meant that we had to drive south for more than an hour to get there and we counted that we might have less than 30 minutes left when we get there.

Once we finally got to Korouoma we had to almost run towards the bottom of the gorge. But anyway we were in one of the best forest-areas in whole Lapland so quite easily we found new species like Goldcrests, a Sparrowhawk, a Willow Tit, some Wrens and then a couple of pairs of Rustic Buntings. We couldn’t make it until the tipi-like hut before the race-time was full.

We were tired but happy when we rested a little bit and ate some cookies while Hanna was photographing Rustic Buntings. Allu had been keeping the species-list and he thought that we had managed to break the race-record by one species! But once we were back at our car and driving towards Kemijärvi I checked the list again and immediately found that the count was wrong. I also noticed that Allu had checked one too good extra-species, Surf Scoter, but then forgot Little Bunting. But anyway I managed to count 129 species and we had broken the record by 5 species. But later Allu still noticed that Slavonian Grebe hadn’t been counted so we had managed to reach Allu’s dream-result – 130 species!

Towards north again

After a long drive we were in Kemijärvi and Pirkka’s wife Anitta had prepared perfect lunch for us all. Then we were ready to go to sleep to our tent that we had put up to their garden. And once we woke up Allu had already left to Kemi by train. In the evening we spent time with Pirkka’s family but quite early we were ready to go to sleep again.

On the 12th of June we slept long but then started the next part of our holiday and started driving towards north again. Ion Pelkosenniemi I saw a Great Grey Owl flying across the road and then in Inari we stopped to photograph the same nesting Siberian Tit. We saw a fat Goshawk flushing from the ground so maybe it had eaten the female Capercaillie?

In Neljän tuulen tupa we saw familiar faces and Pine Grosbeaks again but soon we were on the road again. In Silmänkaivamanjänkä we saw a Willow Grouse and once we got more north, we started to see some Rough-legged Buzzards. We didn’t have any exact plan what to do but after we had been on the top of extremely windy Njallavaara and seen only a single Dotterel, we decided to continue towards Pulmanginjärvi. Along the road we saw some Golden Plovers, Long-tailed Skuas and a Dunlin.

Pulmankijärvi

In Pulmankijärvi we continued to the southern side of the lake but there along the river there were already so many mosquitoes that we decided to drive back towards the lake to find a place for camping. We stopped a couple of times along the lake and found some Black and Red-throated Divers and a Short-eared owl and so on. Finally we put up our tent to a sandy beach and soon we were asleep.

On the 13th of June we slept long and after a good breakfast we still checked the lake but saw nothing new and then headed towards north again.

Varanger

Before the Norwegian border we saw a Willow Tit but then in Norway we of course started new tick-list. Nothing better was seen until we got to Varangerbotn where we stopped in Nyborg where a Surf Scoter had been seen for about 10 days.

From the sea we found ordinary species like Black and Red-throated Divers, Common Shelducks, Bar-tailed Godwits, Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes and then after some scanning I found a very distant flock of Common Scoters and we could see that there was at least probably some white on one birds head. We had to drive closer and soon we parked to a local health centers parking place and found a good shelter behind the buildings and there we could see the Surf Scoter a little bit better. We also saw a male Greater Scaup and heard a Common Redstart.

Our next stop was in Nesseby church but the wind was so awful that it was impossible to do any birding. We tried to get some pictures but soon decided to give up. We saw some Arctic Skuas, Greylag Geese, Wigeons, Dunlins, Common Eiders and Red-necked Phalaropes.

Vesipääsky

In Vadsö we first checked a flock of Eiders but they were all Common Eiders. Then we walked to the pool where we spent some quality time with Red-necked Phalaropes. We took too many pictures and saw also some Red-throated Pipits, Ruffs and so on.

In Eckerö we checked the Kittiwake colony and of course took some pictures but saw also a couple of Razorbills and a flock of 10 Sanderlings that flushed from the beach along the road.

Suosirrejä

The first better self-found observation was a female Steller’s Eider that we found in Skallelv village. It was with a flock of Common Eiders and Goosanders and of course the latter ones were too shy and flushed immediately and then all eiders followed them and the Steller’s Eider wasn’t found anymore. In Skallelv spit we met our old friend Jukka Könönen who told that there were some photographable waders on the shore but unfortunately it was low tide so birds were getting further all the time. But after some trying we managed to get some pretty good pictures of Bar-tailed Godwits, Turnstones, Sanderlings, Dunlins and Little Stints. We also saw the first Gannet of the trip.

We still tried to follow a road inland in Komakväer but after some kilometers I thought the road was in too bad condition so we turned back and tried to find a place for our camp somewhere along the main road. And after some searching we found a good spot.

On the 14th of June we saw a Common Ringed Plover that had been lekking nearby all night but also a Long-tailed Skua and a Rough-legged Buzzard from our camp. Soon we had packed everything again and continued to Vardö. In the harbor Hanna went to collect the tickets to a boat to Hornöya and then also make sure that our booking to Hornöya lighthouse was OK. We had tried for a couple of days to book a room from the lighthouse by calling but when Hanna had reserved the tickets to the boat she had been told that the room had to be booked by email. Luckily we had got the response to our email in a couple of hours so we had been able to stay in our ordinary schedule.

Hornöya

At 9 a.m. we left with about 10 other ”tourists” towards Hornöya. And soon we were in this famous bird-island! Immediately we could find out that there were nowadays Shags everywhere on the lower part of the island. They were in the buildings, under the rocks and one was pecking our ankles under the stairs. It seemed that they had moved lower because there were nowadays so many White-tailed Eagles soaring over the top of the island. Here Shags managed to breed safer.

KarimetsoArctic Puffin

There were amazing numbers of Common Guillemots both in flight, on the sea and on the ledge. It was far more difficult to find any Brünnich’s Guillemots than it had been on our previous visits 15 and 20 years ago. Puffins seemed to be just beginning to choose where to nest so they weren’t very numerous. We also tried to find a nest of Fulmar that we had found on our previous visits but it seemed that the ledge had been collapsed and it wasn’t there anymore. We knew there was still a couple breeding somewhere but it is not easy to find as there are amazing numbers of birds on the ledges.

First we stayed on the lower part of the island and got an opportunity to follow a couple of local scientists while they caught a few Shags and put rings which another one had a transmitter. After a year they would try to catch the same bird and get lots of information what the bird had been doing. We also saw some Rock Pipits and a couple of Twites.

When other tourists had spread around and most of them had climbed up to the lighthouse, we started to get more pictures of alcids. I tried to get flight-shots while Hanna took all kind of pictures.

Atlantic PuffinCommon Guillemot

Pohjankiisla

Pretty soon I found out that if I wanted to get any decent picture of Brünnich’s Guillemots I had to climb higher as the few Brünnich’s Guillemots, that were flying in the middle of thousands of Common Guillemots and hundreds of Razorbills and Puffins, were flying higher as they also had their nests quite high on the ledge. It wasn’t an easy project as the wind was very hard and it was very difficult to stay still at all. And then I still had to identify a lonely Brünnich’s far enough to be ready to take pictures of it when it passes me very quickly. And if I missed, which happened quite a few times, I had to wait and wait to get another opportunity.

I got plenty of pretty good pictures of Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins and finally managed to get some OK pictures of Brünnich’s Guillemots too but of course I wasn’t happy yet. But anyway we were already so covered with bird-shit and our arms were so tired that we decided to get our bags from the harbor and carry them up to the lighthouse.

We were sweating badly once we reached the lighthouse and got in to lighthouse keepers building. There we met the scientists who showed us our room. Unfortunately we also found out that there was so little water in the island that we couldn’t get our long-awaited shower.

After we had relaxed a bit, we headed back down to get more pictures. All tourists were soon gone and probably because of the wind there were no more boats coming in the afternoon. So we could concentrate to take pictures by ourselves. And we really took lots of pictures and stayed photographing until the evening.

The night in the lighthouse keeper’s house was unforgettable. The building had been fixed up recently and rooms and kitchen were like new. We slept extremely well in our comfortable beds and woke up quite late and after heavy breakfast we were our again.

There was now storm outside and it was really difficult to stand in windy places. Anyway we first tried to photograph Puffins on the cliffs from the top but soon walked back to the lower parts to get flight-pictures and nice posing pictures of alcids.

I still wanted to get a better picture of a Brünnich’s Guillemot but now they were even fewer than on the previous day. Wind made photographing very difficult and soon the light started to get worse too.

Ruokki

We stayed on the lower part and I walked quite a lot around and tried to find something new like the Fulmar nest. There was nobody else on the lower part at all as the scientists were having the day off because of the safety reasons – the wind was too dangerous. So we could stay together with birds and some of them came very tame. While I was once sitting down on the oath and photographing perched alcids, one Razorbill and one Puffin came to stand right next to me – there they got some shelter from the wind. I scratched the neck of the Razorbill a couple of times and I can’t say if it enjoyed it or not but still it kept on standing next to me. It started to be a problem that several birds were too close to photograph.

After a few ours photographing we started to climb up as we planned to have some breakfast. Then along the trail we flushed a Grey Wagtail that soon flew down to the other side of the valley. On the upper parts of the island we saw again some coupled of Red-throated Pipits.

Etelänkiisla

After the breakfast we took our bags and carried them to the mid-part of the island where it was still shelter and then headed back to the wind to get more pictures. While I was again taking flight-shots I noticed a completely white Common Guillemot and somehow I managed both to shout to Hanna where it was and to get some pictures of it even though it was quite distant. From the picture we could tell that it was an albino bird with red eyes.

In the afternoon I walked around the lower part again and surprisingly found a female-plumaged Black Redstart but unfortunately a Northern Wehatear was chasing it away and they both disappeared before I managed to get any pictures of it. I also saw a couple of Twites and Rock Pipits and White-tailed Eagles seemed to enjoy playing with the wind.

Finally we carried our bags to the harbor but still we had time to get the last photographs. I climbed higher to get the last flight-shots in quite different light but soon I saw Hanna waving and pointing that the boat was already coming. I had to hurry to harbor and after all the boat had arrived 30 minutes early. And soon we were back at Vardö harbor again.

Hamningberg

When we were packing our car we met a surprise friend again – we knew that Sampsa Cairenius had been ticking year-ticks in Lapland but he had continued to Varanger too and there he was asking if we were going to continue towards Hamningberg. That was our plan and after we had visited a shop that was once again difficult to find in Vardö, we soon drove out from the city.

We soon stopped in Svartnes where in harbor-pool there had been a tame White-billed Diver still a few days ago and on the shore there had been a Pectoral Sandpiper in the beginning of June. We tried to find both but weren’t lucky. All we found were a couple of Purple Sandpipers, a Sanderling, a Long-tailed Skua and some more common species.

Soon we started driving towards Hamningberg. On the way we stopped only a couple of times but soon continued driving in the middle of moon-kind of landscape. Finally we were in the end of the road where we planned to do some seawatching Sampsa hadn’t got enough clothes but he managed to use his scope quite well while sitting in his car. With Hanna we were wearing almost all our clothes so we had no problems at all.

Because of the windy weather there were lots of birds on the sea and soon we found more Fulmars that we had ever seen in Hamningberg. Also lots of Kittiwakes, flocks Common Guillemots with quite a few Brünnich’s Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Gannets and so on were seen. After short time Sampsa found a stunning White-billed Diver that seemed to be migrating towards east. And soon I found 2 female King Eiders going to the same direction while all the other birds were going towards west.

After about an hour seawatching Sampsa decided to leave back towards Finland and we started to put up our camp and pretty soon were were ready to go to sleep.

On the 16th of June the wind was still very strong. We seawatched for a half an hour or so but there were less birds on the sea. Still there were quite a few Fulmars and so on but only better observation was a leucistic Razorbill.

On the opposite side of the fjord we could see Syltefjorden cliffs and even the Gannet-colony was found. We had visited this Gannet-colony 20 years ago and as we were now so close to it, we decided to go there again. But even though it was close, it meant that we had to drive 350 kilometers and walk a very long and hard walk to get there – but we were ready!

Long drive around

So soon we were driving through rocky landscape again. Wind was so strong that there was no point to make almost any stops and no interesting birds were seen.

In Barvikmyran we stopped to check a lake that was high on the mountain-area. There was one of those funny shelters that were made for birdwatchers. From the lake we found a few Greater Scaups, Long-tailed Ducks, a couple of Red-throated Divers, Dunlins and a Pink-footed Goose that soon flushed and flew towards Vardö.

In Svartnes we checked the waders again but saw nothing new and while we were driving again we saw a Long-tailed Skua. After Domen viewpoint we saw a Shore Lark flying across the road and stopped and followed it to a meadow and soon found two couples of Shore Larks. We managed to get pretty good pictures of one of them before they all moved further. And once we were driving again we saw a Willow Grouse and a Rough-legged Buzzard.

Tunturikiuru

In Skallelv we found a flock of Common Eiders with a male and a female King Eiders. Then I decided to sleep a little while Hanna went to photograph waders. There weren’t many waders after all so soon Hanna was back and we kept on driving and soon saw a Short-eared Owl.

Pilkkaniska

The next stop was in Nesseby but still the wind was too bad so soon we continued to Nyberg. There was a roadwork going on so we couldn’t stop until we were on the other side of the village and from there we could see that the flock of Common Scoters with a Surf Scoter was swimming right in front of the health center. We walked there but the flock had moved a little bit further but anyway we managed to get some kind of flock-pictures. There were some other birders too and we also showed the scoters to a Finnish nurse that was working on the center and she told that the health center have always open doors for everyone, including birdwatchers.

After we had been driving a while inland we turned towards Teno river delta. In Harrelv we saw a Hawk Owl which felt like a déjà vu as we had seen one there 20 years ago on our first trip to Varanger too.

Lapinsirri

In Teno delta we enjoyed the views but also managed to get pictures of a Common Shelduck family and displaying Temminck’s Stints. But soon we were driving high up to mountains where the road stayed for some time. Long-tailed Skuas, Red-throated Divers, Golden Plovers, an Arctic Redpoll, Ruffs, a Snow Bunting, Temminck’s Stints and so on were seen before we were finally in Syltefjorden where we parked our car to the end of the road.

Syltefjorden

We had planned to eat and then camp near the parking place but as we still felt so strong, we decided to pack our big backpack for me and Hanna’s camera-back for Hanna and start walking. We knew that we were going to walk mostly in very rocky and hard landscape so it was good to start walking as soon as possible. It was also good to walk at night as the weather was nice and cool and wind also was keeping us cool. We decided to walk as long as we just could and then put up the camp.

RoutePtarmigan

Right away we had to climb up to the top of the mountain and then continue up and down in very rocky landscape. We remembered that we should follow sticks in the beginning and later rock-piles but soon we realized that after winter and snow most of the sticks were broken or just disappeared. So we just kept on trying to find the shortest and easiest way by ourselves.

There seemed to be Ptarmigans on every top and they were displaying a lot but they didn’t let us get very close. But then the second couple of Bar-tailed Godwits were posing well and I managed to get some nice photos. We also saw lots of Arctic Skuas, some Red-throated divers, Golden Plovers, a few Common Eiders that were swimming on a lake that was up on the mountains, some Long-tailed Ducks, Whimbrels, an Arctic Redpoll and a few Snow Buntings.

Finally we landed down to old Ytre Syltefjorden village that was reachable only by feet or by boat. We crossed the bridge and then we were so tired that we just put up the tent and soon were asleep – it was already more than 3 a.m.

Kiiruna

On the 17th of June after 4 hours sleep, we ate well and I had got an idea that we would leave our camp here and pack just everything we needed to take pictures and some food and drinks with us and kept on walking the last part lighter.

Sepelrastas

Soon we were trying to follow rock-piles but again we found out that tourists had been piling up stones to every top so after all kept on walking as straight as possible towards the colony. Pretty soon we straightened our way by keeping distance to one bay and kept on walking a bit further from the cliffs. We checked the map and we were quite sure that we could identify the colony-islet and kept on walking towards it. Some Ptarmigans were seen again but much less that at night when they seemed to be active, also a couple of Ring Ouzels were found and they really were living in rugged landscape.

Syltevuono

We had been walking for a long time and we started to feel very tired when we finally reached the top where we thought that we could see the colony under us, but it was shock! The colony wasn’t there! Hanna stayed there trying to get an idea where the colony was on a map and even found some GPS-coordinates while the internet was working a short time but it was easy to see that those coordinates were wrong. I decided to walk more than a kilometer more to see if the right place was still further but after all I saw only more amazing cliffs but no colony! It also seemed that there were only some thousands of Kittiwakes on the cliffs as 20 years ago there had been more than 100 000 of them. So I walked back to Hanna and then walked a kilometer backwards until I finally saw the colony far in front of me – it had been right on that bay we had been skipping on the way! I saw some Snow Buntings and Twites but they really didn’t make me any happier. I had to walk back to Hanna again and then we had to walk at least 2 kilometers up and down in the worst possible rocky terrain to finally see the colony under us.

Route down

When we finally saw the colony under us, we started to wonder how on Earth we could’ve gone down 20 years ago! The cliffs were extremely high and steep and there was no way down to be seen. We had to walk some hundreds of meters more and then it still took some time to find a very narrow gap in the rocks that looked familiar.

Now 20 years and kilos later the gap looked extremely dangerous! But it had been so long drive and awful walk to get until this point that we couldn’t back up anymore. So I just took my camera and spare-battery and landed to the gap and started to get down. The hillside was extremely steep and in some points I had to walk on stones and I really had a feeling that I could start a landslide in any second.

Slowly I managed to get down to the same level with the bottom of the colony-pillar. I remembered that 20 years earlier we had been thinking that there might have been a way to continued to the same level with the colony by climbing along a narrow ledge. But then we hadn’t got so good cameras that we would have taken the risk. But now we had so soon I started to get up along the grassy edge towards the colony.

Hanna was just starting to get down when I started my way to the ledge. It was extremely dangerous to get to the end of the ledge but somehow I managed to push myself against the wall and take one step at time to get there. And once I got there I could see the colony right in front of me.

Unfortunately my legs were extremely tired and I felt that I was shaking. Maybe the main reason was that I was on a narrow ledge and I really hate high and dangerous places. But of course I started to get pictures of the Gannets that were flying around the colony. It seemed that Gannets were very bad in landing so they flew several times around the pillar and some of them came pretty close but I soon found out that they were extremely difficult birds to photograph because of their shape and color as they flew all the time against different back-ground – sky, sea or cliffs.

Suula

I took pictures for about 20 minutes and when Hanna had managed to get under the ledge I decided that it was her turn. The ledge was too narrow for two photographers. So I slowly got down and getting down was even more difficult and dangerous. But if I had been horrified to get up and down to the ledge by myself, it was much more difficult to follow Hanna doing the same. One slip and she would drop down to death.

Hanna was carrying a huge camera-back on her back and she started first to crawl up along the ledge but the most narrow part was too narrow and she had to get up. I couldn’t watch but very slowly she managed to get up and soon she was taking pictures. And as Hanna is much more experienced photographer and also has better lens than I, she managed to get much better pictures too. Probably she wasn’t shaking either up there?

Suulat

But I started to think that we still had to get back up safely and then we still had a long rocky walk back to our camp, so I didn’t give Hanna too much time and after half an hour or so Hanna started her way back from the ledge. I felt like it took ages for Hanna to get through the most narrow point and also after that but she survived. Then I got some kind of adrenaline-burst and started climbing up and I remembered that it had taken 30 minutes to get up 20 years ago but now I made it up in 10 minutes. Then I had to wait for a long time before Hanna was up too. And once Hanna was almost in safe, just under the last steep part, we heard a Dotterel calling somewhere close to us.

Finally Hanna was safe too and after we had rested a bit, we decided to cook a meal right there above the colony. The view was still gorgeous but I really couldn’t enjoy less as I was really tired – and we still had a long way t o go.

But the walk to our camp was surprisingly easy and quick. We managed to optimize the route perfectly (route marked in the map. Blue spot is the colony and single red spot is a suitable camp site with water). And soon we were ready to get some well deserved sleep while sun was warming our tent a little bit too much.

Reitti kolonialle

Punakuiri

On the 18th of June after we had awaken we cooked again and then started our way back towards Syltefjorden. It was the first warm day of our trip so we were wearing far too much clothes! On the ay we saw some Ptarmigans, Long-tailed Ducks, Arctic Skuas, Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels and also some Red-necked Phalaropes and Turnstones and so on. We ate once more between a couple of lakes and rested before the last push over the mountain. Finally we landed down along the steep rocky cliff to our car where it was nice to find something to eat and drink.

Finnish-ticks again

But we didn’t rest for long before we started driving. On the way the best bird was a Purple Sandpiper that flew over the road together with a Temminck’s Stint. Then we followed Teno on the road on Norwegian side of the border until we crossed the border in Utsjoki. There we stopped to eat in Annukka’s Grill where we had excellent reindeer-burger and reindeer-kebap.

Hiiripöllö

We didn’t have any exact plan what to do next but I started to dream about waking up to Ring ouzel song which meant that we started driving along Teno towards Nuvvus Ailigas. We made a couple of stops and saw again just some Rough-legged Buzzards and Common Kestrels. We accidently saw the same Hawk Owl again and once we stopped we could hear at least two young owls begging for food. After some searching Hanna managed to find another youngster and of course we ringed it. Then we waited for a half an hour for the other youngster to call again and reveal its exact place but it kept quiet.

The same young Golden Eagle was of course still on nest and somewhere we saw a Siberian Jay flying across the road. Finally we were in Nuvvus Ailigas where a Dunnock was singing loudly. We stopped under the familiar gorge where we had seen and heard Ring Ouzels several times but the time of the day was bad as it was late afternoon. We walked along the road a little and suddenly heard a Ring Ouzel singing shortly. And then another bird started to sing well. As we had managed to get this species to our Finnish year-list already, we had one more change to our plans.

Surprisingly we got information that Hanna’s mother Helka and sister Elissa weren’t in western Lapland anymore but they were also in Utsjoki now. And they were going to twitch a Yellow-browed Warbler that had been found a few days earlier in Piesjoki. We checked where this place was and found out that we had only 30 kilometers to get there. Hanna called to Elissa and found out that they were already close to Piesjoki but they agreed to wait for us so we could go for the bird together.

In Piesjoki we had a funny family-meeting and we finally managed to change lighter clothes. Then we started to walk along a buggy-trail and after about a kilometer we followed a narrow path for some hundreds of meters before turned towards the small river. And even though it was the worst possible time of the day, we soon heard a Yellow-browed Warbler singing and also calling very actively.

Taigauunilintu

We had a feeling that there was even two birds but soon found out that it was only one hyper-active bird that was even chasing Willow Warbler away from its territory. The bird was so fast on its movements that we hardly got any poor pictures before it suddenly got quiet. But it was nice to tick this bird that we had earlier observed in Finland only in autumn. Actually we had tried to twitch one with Hanna and Elissa on our previous trip to Lapland in Kemijärvi a couple of years earlier without success – the bird had then moved on.

It was already late evening when we walked back to our car and saw a Hawk Owl flying over us. Elissa and Helka were in hurry to their cottage that they had in Kaamanen but we agreed to meet in Piesjänkä early in the next morning. We decided to drive to reindeer round-up where we put up our camp. We still checked the pool nearby but saw only some Red-necked Phalaropes and Temminck’s Stints. Also some Long-tailed Skuas were seen in flight and a Whimbrel was calling but soon we were ready to get some sleep.

Mustaviklo

On the 19th of June we were up early and at 5 a.m. we had already visited the closest pool and eaten breakfast when Elissa and Helka arrived. Soon we started to walk along the bog towards the same place where we had started the bird-race. We photographed a Long-tailed Skua couple that were on their territory on the fence-posts and saw some Golden Plovers and a flock of 5 Bean Geese before I decided to keep on walking in the middle of the bog. It was a clever move as soon I found a Spotted Redshank, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a couple of Broad-billed Sandpipers and managed to get some kind of pictures of all of them. Meanwhile a Jack Snipe was also displaying so we had a good time as also others managed to observe all the species.

Broad-billed SandpiperLong-tailed Skua

Morning was getting warm early but after we had seen a Short-eared Owl couple we finally arrived to the shore of Lake Ailigas. There we saw again Long-tailed Ducks, Common Scoters, this time a female Velvet Scoter, Red-necked Phalaropes, Ruffs and again Long-tailed Skuas flying around. A Bluethroat and a Lapland Bunting were singing and more of them were seen. Ii was hard to believe that my mother-in-law Helka was 77 years as she easily followed us in this bog.

When we walked back, we were both in the middle of the bog with Hanna and we managed to get some more pictures of the Spotted Sandpiper. We also managed to see a few Arctic Redpolls. But later we also followed the edge of the bog where it was much easier to walk but there were no more new birds. Pretty soon we were back at our cars.

Next we decided to go to eat to Muotkanruoktu where we had excellent reindeer and mashed potatoes. Of course we saw some Pine Grosbeaks too. Then it was time to say goodbye to Helka and Elissa and start driving towards south.

After some driving we parked to Neljän tuulen tupa where we had booked the same cottage again. It felt pretty good to have shower – after 8 days!

In the evening we were talking with ringers and there was our old friend Sebastian Andrejeff too. Hanna also changed position of some branches next to the feeder and at 9 p.m. we had sauna. It was refreshing to go to swim too.

On the 20th of June Hanna woke up an hour earlier and photographed Pine Grosbeaks – of course she got some excellent pictures. But then we packed our car and were hitting the road again.

Lapintiainen

On the way we visited the same Siberian Tits again and nestlings were so big that they were shouting happily when they heard us coming. In Inari Törmänen we twitched an Arctic Warbler that was singing along the airport-road. In Sodankylä Porttipahta we stopped to check gulls again and this time there was a flock on the lake and there were 2 Heuglin’s and 1 Greater Black-backed Gull with Herring Gulls.

On a short stop in Pelkosenniemi we found out that there were really lots of mosquitoes! So soon we continued to Kemijärvi to see Pirkka’s family again. Now there was the whole family present so we spent some time there.Then we still went to eat pizza with Pirkka before continued driving again.

In Kuusamo Ruka we saw a Peregrine Falcon and then we went to see Julma Ölkky canyon where we heard a Wren and a Wood Warbler. Then we decided to continue to a one hill close to the border in Suomussalmi Varpavaara which e thought might be a good place to find some interesting birds for ongoing bird-atlas. And once we parked there and opened the car-doors, we heard a Red-flanked Bluetail singing.

In the evening we tried to catch this bluetail but we weren’t lucky. Then we put up our camp but this time we were going to sleep in hammocks.

Varpavaara

Sinipyrstö

On the 21st of June we had slept like babies and woke up to Red-flanked Bluetail song. It had been singing whole night. Then we managed to catch the bird after some trying and ringed this nice adult male. We heard also another bluetail but it was so far that we didn’t go to try to catch it. A Greenish Warbler was singing close but it stopped very soon and didn’t respond to playback at all.

We did some birding along the road and found one more Red-flanked Bluetail in Pieni Housuvaara and heard both Common and Parrot Crossbills and so on. But pretty soon we were driving again.

In Ala-Vuokki we stopped to a small shop and there was a Blyth’s Reed Wabler singing on the closest bushes. Then we stopped in Kuhmo Rytijärvi bird-tower that was in very bad shape.

In a hide

Finally we turned to a stony road and then parked pretty soon to sleep some more in hammocks. After a couple of hours sleep we continued last kilometers to Kuikka cottage. In the garden we met famous wildlife photographer Lassi Rautiainen whose hide we had booked for the next night.

We spent time, ate and just waited until 5 p.m. we were ready to go to our hide. But for some reason nobody else was ready yet. And then it started to rain. After 30 minutes Lassi came to tell us that they had decided to leave after 30 minutes which we understand that it was already another delay. And finally at 6 p.m. we left towards the hides driving in a queue.

We had booked a hide from the bog and we got so called luxury-hide. Only one other photographer stayed on the bog and he had an own hide. When we had everything ready, we still had to wait for some time until Lassi came to put food for animals.

Finally everything was ready and we almost immediately saw a Black Kite in flight a couple of times but then it started to rain again. It was raining whole evening and only Common Gulls, a couple of Ravens and Hooded Crows came to eat. Also a Whimbrel, a couple of Lapwings, a Wood Sandpiper, a couple of Greenshanks and a singing Red-flanked Bluetail were observed.

It was soon clear that there wasn’t going to be much to photograph so I decided to sleep a little while Hanna stayed awake. After a couple of hours I woke up to a strange voice and I saw Hanna hurrying towards the door and toilet. She was holding hands in front of her mouth feeling ill.

I was fully awake immediately as I was worried how my wife who is allergic to almost everything was. Luckily she felt a little bit better soon so we though she was just having some kind of food poisoning. We had been eating different canned foods and I was feeling normal.

Susi

At night Hanna tried to sleep but after some time she woke up feeling sik again. And while she was in the toilet, I saw a Wolf coming towards the hide. Luckily Hanna managed to come to photograph the Wolf too, but we had been so out of focus that we both had still teleconverters on.

The Wolf was feeding only shortly but then walked around nicely in front of us so we could get some OK pictures even though it was the darkest hour of the night. Then it disappeared to the forest and didn’t come back.

Wolverine

Early in the morning Hanna was feeling better and I could also get some sleep while Hanna was awake and waiting for something to happen. Finally at 6 a.m. a Wolverine arrived but it was very foggy so we didn’t get any good pictures of it.

Already at 7 a.m. we were leaving because some foreigners were in a hurry to get to the airport. The schedule was OK for us as Hanna felt still very bad and we were ready to start driving home. And soon we were driving along bad and narrow roads towards south.

We didn’t see any birds on 4 hours drive to Parikkala. Finally I dropped Hanna to home to rest but I still had my holiday and I didn’t want to go to home yet. So I continued immediately to Imatra to twitch a Short-toed Eagle that had been seen there on a couple of previous days. But this is already another story.

Afterwords

Our 2 weeks holiday had been good even though it had been all cold, hot, windy and rainy but mostly a good weather. Altogether we had seen 189 bird-species which one of them had been a Finnish-tick for Hanna, a couple of them had been my second ever in Finland, we had seen many species that we had never seen in Lapland before, a few Norway-ticks, month-ticks and in the end we had seen a couple of very nice mammals too!

J.A.

Spitsbergen 9th to 15th of June 2009

Spitsbergen 9th to 15th fd June 2009

In winter there were emails about a bird-trip to Spitsbergen in Tringa (Helsinki -area bird association) -list. We started to plan to join the trip. First we had to become members of Tringa because of the trip was only for members.

I had been for a week in Kuusamo in a bird-race and on Sunday I drove to Kirkkonummi to my parents, so I could rest and wash clothes. Hanna had a group of birders still on Monday (8th of June) so she arrived at Kirkkonummi at Tuesday night at 1 a.m.

To trip

On Tuesday on the 9th of June we had an alarm at 4.15 a.m. and at 5 a.m. we were on our way to the airport. An hour later we were in a hall with the tour-leader Jukka Hintikka and Antero Lindholm, Annika Forstén, Gustaf Nordenswan and Inga-Lill and Eero Jaakkola. Soon also the rest of participants Aarne Hirvonen and Ari Sandstedt and Päivi Gustafsson arrived. Jukka had already checked us in via internet so after we’d got our tickets we put our luggage to go and went to do some last shopping.

Our Blue1 -plane left on time at 7.25 a.m. and after a short flight we landed to Oslo. We had to check in our luggage again and after a couple of hours wait at 9.55. a.m. of Norwegian time our SAS flight left. We stopped once more in Troms where we had to go to see the airport before we continued again by same plane.

Longyearbyen

We landed to Spitsbergen to the main island of Svalbard and city of Longyearbyen at 1.55 p.m. While landing we saw beautiful Isfjorden. At the airport, while waiting for our luggage we could see the first Polar Bear, of course a stuffed one. But from the window we could already see lots of Eiders and a couple of flocks of King Eiders, Snow Buntings and Kittiwakes.

We got our luggage quickly and soon we were in a bus driving towards the city of Longyearbyen and our hotel Spitsbergen. We got our fine room and decided almost immediately to go to see some birds down to the coast of small inner-fjord Adventfjorden. Longyearbyen seemed to be pretty healthy city with 2000 people. On the streets there were lots of tourists but between them also some Barnacle Geese and first Svalbard Reindeers.

From the coast we found right away Arctic Terns, Glauscous Gulls and Purple Sandpipers and in next 3 hours also saw 100 Fulmars, 150 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 70 Black Guillemots and other observations during the evening were a Red-throated Diver, 10 Pink-footed Geese, 60 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Teals, 5 Long-tailed Ducks, a Dunlin and 7 Arctic Skuas. Some sums of the birds that I had mentioned already were 100 Eiders, 130 King Eiders, 25 Purple Sandpipers, 50 Glauscous Gulls, 300 Kittiwakes, 20 Snow Buntings and 500 Little Auks. In the bottom of the fjord we saw almost no Little Auks on the sea but only in the sky and on the top of closest peaks where they were breeding in big colonies. Jukka had also seen a Grey Phalarope.

Arctic species, an Arctic Fox and a rarity

On the 10th of June we woke up at 4.30 a.m. and were soon again down in a coast of Adventfjorden. On the way we recorded some singing Snow Buntings. Antero and Annika had woken up earlier and had already seen an Arctic Fox and some birds. We watched to the sea until 6.30 and saw 3 Sanderlings, a Ringed Plover and a Grey Phalarope. Now there were much more Arctic Terns and less King Eiders – normal spring movements.

We had a good breakfast a t the hotel and after a short rest we took 2 taxis and at 8.00 a.m. left to do birding to Hotellneset pools near the airport. There were only some twenty kilometres of roads in the island but the taxis were working well and useful, it was not aloud to go outside the villages without a gun and now to have a gun a Norwegian shooting licence was needed. So the easiest was to have a car nearby if a Polar Bear comes.

We found some Long-tailed Ducks to photograph, Eiders with some King Eiders and then an Arctic Fox! This funny fox was changing its fur and seemed to have brown swimming trousers. We were following this animal with our scopes as it was walking on the shore until it went behind the rocky coastline. Soon it came visible again and it had managed to catch a female Eider. The prey was so big that we realized that we could follow it easily and try to get much closer to photograph it. And we made it and could get good pictures of this beautiful Arctic Fox eating its prey. After all it got bored and ran under the airport fence.

Meanwhile we were watching the Arctic Fox we saw a flock of 5 teals landing to the pool. I told Hanna to: “Check these Teals carefully because there might be a Green-winged Teal”, and Hanna answered: “Yeas, there is!” So we had there in same time the first ever Arctic Fox and the second ever Green-winged Teal to Spitsbergen in same time! Great! I must say that the Arctic Fox was more interesting as I had seen several Green-winged Teals in a short time.

Other good birds during the trip were 2 Red-throated Divers, 3 Ringed Plovers, a Sanderling and a flock of 30 White Whales that were passing us pretty close. Of course plenty of Eiders, King Eiders, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Little Auks were seen too. As we were now closer to the open sea we could now see lots of Little Auks on the sea too.

Afer a lunch we climped up from Nybyen to the cliffs to listen and record Little Auks. These birds had an amazing call! They were like insects against the sky. We tried to climb close to the colonies but the cliff was too dangerous as there were too many moving stones. On the edges and peaks there were plenty of Glauscous Gulls that were the biggest predators for the colony but also Barnacle Geese that were really breeding up there. We also saw another Arctic Fox that was much more in summer plumage. It was also after a Little Auk or a Ptarmigan snack.

When we walked back to our hotel it was already late. A White Wagtail flew over us and was the second passerine of the trip. After a long day we went to sleep at 11 p.m.

Some sums of the birds were 1000 Fulmars, 40 Pink-footed Geese, 200 Barnacle Geese, 25 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 400 Eiders, 200 King Eiders, 10 Long-tailed Ducks, 35 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Dunlins, 10 Arctic Skuas, 70 Glauscous Gulls, 1000 Kittiwakes, 300 Arctic Terns, 200 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 100 Black Guillemots, 3000 Little Auks and 50 Snow Buntings.

A lifer and other good birds!

On the 11th of June we woke up at 5 a.m. and soon were climbing up to the closest mountain. We climbed for an hour and reached the first top which looked perfect for a Ptarmigan. We were already pretty tired of climbing and were just discussing how much we’d be able to continue when we heard a familiar call of a Ptarmigan right over us. A male Ptarmigan was flying around us and calling a couple of times and then flew around and around and then landed down very close to our hotel!

Getting down back to hotel was easy when we realized that the snow was perfect to run! It wasn’t too hard or soft so we really could run down to hotel in 10 minutes! Then on the backyard of the hotel we heard another Ptarmigan and saw it flying from mountain to another. Ptarmigans in Spitsbergen are own subspecies.

After a breakfast we took a big taxi to the bottom of Adventfjorden to Adventdalen. When we were out from the city we came to a kennel where we found 2 absolutely beautiful Ivory Gulls feeding on a box full of some kind of dog-food. These birds were very tame and easy to photograph. The only wp-tick that we had expected was true! Near the kennel there were lots of Eiders breeding, dogs kept the Arctic Foxes away.

Another good observation was a flock of 22 Teals that passed us quickly. Unfortunately they were all just Teals – we could check them all pretty well from a picture.
We passed Isdammen where locals got their tap-water and where some Red-throated Divers and Long-tailed Ducks were swimming. Soon we reached a Lomdammen pools where we knew some Swedish had seen some Grey Phalaropes. These Swedish had been in Longyearbyen for a week and now on their last day they finally saw their first Ivory Gulls, when we called them to come to a kennel. First we found 6 more Teals, 2 locally rare Goldeneyes, lots of Purple Sandpipers and Dunlins and Pink-footed Geese before we finally found 2 Grey Phalaropes. It was amazing how well these red birds disappeared to the reddish vegetation on the coast of these pools.

Of course we checked a local rubbish tip, but there were only a couple of Glauscous Gulls. On the tundra nearby there were a couple of flocks of Pink-footed Geese and a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese and of course lots of Svalbard Reindeers. On the way back we got a better opportunity to photograph Grey Phalaropes when they had flew to the pool next to the road. The Ivory Gulls weren’t in the kennel anymore, but later the Swedish guys had seen 2 ringed birds – so altogether 4 birds there.

At 10 a.m. we were back at the hotel and an hour later we had to assign our rooms and carry our luggage to a luggage-room to wait for the evening. We had a quick walk in Nybyen but couldn’t find anything new. Little Auks were pretty quiet but Barnacle Geese were noisy. At 1 p.m. we ate again.

At 2 p.m. we packed our luggage to a bus when most of our group-members joined a tourist-tour in Longyearbyen. We and Jukka instead took a taxi to kennel again.
A couple of escaped huskies were running around and scaring all the Eider females away from their eggs, but luckily soon some of the locals that had passed by car called the owner to come and catch the dogs. The dogs weren’t really trying to catch any Eiders but they were panicking anyway. Slowly we walked to our traditional seawatching place where we could twitch a Common Scoter that Jukka and others had found in the morning. Also 6 Red-throated Divers were seen before Jukka found an amazing adult Sabine’s Gull flying low just a couple of metres from the sea. Soon the bird rose up and turned towards us and flew over us before it joined 2 Kittiwakes, rose really high and flew towards the inland. Even though we called to the others and tried to explain where the bird was going the rest of our group couldn’t find the bird – it was flying too high.

To a boat

Soon we continued walking to the harbour. We were there too early but the nice Filipino staff let us to get our cabins and get on the deck of a ship. Expedition was an old Viking Line -ferry (that worked between Finland and Sweden) and so it was pretty familiar. Soon the buses arrived and we could go to get our luggage carried to our cabin.

Already on the harbour I climbed to an upper deck to watch birds but at 6 p.m. we all had to get to inside to listen to safety lecture. We also had a funny test where all of us, 11 Finnish and about 90 other tourists and 50 staff-members, had to go to own cabin and get a lifejacket and go to listen for more instructions and so on.

And to the sea

Soon we were free to climb to the deck again and we saw the first Great Skua of the trip. On the sea we saw of course lots of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Glauscous Gulls, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Little Auks and later also Puffins and the only young Great Black-backed Gull of the trip.

After a lunch at 9 p.m. we anchored to a harbour of a Russian settlement Barentsburg. Most of the tourists went to see this 600 inhabitant’s city but we preferred to go to sleep than go to see this ugly little Russian city. Anyway we could go to Russia whenever we’ like to, if we’d like to.

During the long day we had seen altogether 30 species of birds! Some of the sums were 3000 Fulmars, 32 Teals, 800 Eiders, 100 King Eiders (numbers still getting down), 170 Purple Sandpipers, 10 Arctic Skuas, Glauscous Gulls, 7000 Kittiwakes, 1000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 150 Black Guillemots, 15 Puffins, 15000 Little Auks and so on.

Living on a boat

On the 12th of June we slept very well until 5.30 a.m. and had a couple of hour seawatching before the good breakfast. The weather was rainy and foggy and the birds were all the time pretty much the same, auks and Kittiwakes and Fulmars.

After the breakfast we had a short visit to the deck before safety info where we were given instructions for the next visit on the land. We were told how to act in a zodiac and again warned about Polar Bears. Then we went by zodiacs to a small Gravneset that was situated in a beautiful Magdalenefjorden.

Magdalenefjorden was a beautiful place and we were told that the surrounding mountain peaks were those that had been the first ones to be discovered by William Barents and because of them the islands had got its name Spitsbergen. But this Gravneset was just a small graveyard of whale-hunters and even the graveyeard was under a thick snow-layer, so we really couldn’t see anything interesting. And we’d have seen more birds from the deck, but of course it was great to go to walk to a deep snow with 90 German tourists… The craziest tourists even went to swim…

To really north

Luckily soon we continue to north again and soon there started to be small ice-rafts on the sea, and soon bigger. Then we knew it started to be the right habitat for Polar Bears and started to do icewatching even keener than seawatching earlier. Pretty soon we were on the deck somehow only together with Antero and then I spotted big reddish-grey mammals laying on the ice-raft – 3 Walruses! Soon we found one more Walrus swimming very close to the boat and this animal was seen by the rest of our group from the restaurant window too. So they ran to the deck and were able to see the laying Walruses too. These animals were more south than normally.

We passed Amsterdamöyan and Dansköyan islands and turned to follow the northern coast of the Spitsbergens main-island Svalbard. In these waters the whale-hunters killed too many whales in past. In one of the outermost islands cliffs we saw a huge colony of Little Auks – they were like mosquitoes in Lapland!

Icy

In the afternoon at 5 p.m. we were already surrounded by ice-drifts. Then Hanna found it, a Polar Bear was walking far on the ice! It was surprisingly yellow against the white snow and bluish-grey ice. Even though it was far, maybe 2 kilometres from us, we could see it very well with scopes. We managed to watch it walking for maybe a minute before it went to swim behind ice-drifts. Again all of us hadn’t been on the deck so we ran to tell to staff about a bear as they had told us to do so, if something interesting can be found. The staff had told that they’d make an alarm from loudspeakers and the boat could stop, but now when we asked they weren’t interested at all. They just told that we are in a hurry and we can’t stop. Maybe they didn’t even believe us at all? So we let it be and went to find the rest of our group from their cabins. Luckily it is easy to see far on the sea and luckily we were just zigzagging the ice-drifts while we’re trying to get to the 80th degrees. So soon we were going straight towards the bear again and we found it again! At least I was completely lost because of we were zigzagging so much but somehow we were able to keep the bear in our scopes and find it again when we had lost it and finally all of us had seen it and got the most important lifer of the trip!

While we were still following the Polar Bear we finally managed to zigzag through the ice-drifts to 80th degrees. Then the boat was stopped and champagne was offered. Unfortunately then the bear was so far that it was impossible to show to the tourists. I think a couple of staff-members were able to see it through our scopes but soon we were moving again. We really had a reason to have our glassfuls!

We zigzagged again towards south and soon again we found the same Polar Bear! After all we found and lost this amazing animal 5 times during an hour zigzagging. But again there were nobody else on the deck and of course the bear was all the time getting further and further and finally we lost it.

At 7 p.m. we ate again and after that we were out on the sea in the middle of big ices, so we decided to go to cabin to rest for a while. But soon we heard a call from the loudspeakers that we were getting close to Moffen, a small island where Walruses used to lay down on the sand. But soon we saw that the island was completely surrounded and covered by ice, so there were no Walruses at all. Moffen was also one of the only places where Sabine’s Gulls were breeding in an Arctic Tern colony, but we weren’t able to go that close to the island that we could have identified all the gulls and terns from the island. Because of the ice we had to go around the island far from north.

Soon we found some Walruses from the ice-rifts and swimming. When we had passed Moffen we were so out on the sea that we decided to go to sleep about at 10 p.m.

After all we found out the reason why we’re in a hurry – we were going to try to rescue some skiers that had been waiting for a rescue for some days already on the northernmost top of Svalbard. Ice-drifts had been pushed to the fjords so it had been impossible to go and get them. If the rumours that the skiers were out of food and there were 4 Polar Bears near their tents were true we understand why we weren’t able to stop for a Polar Bear but this doesn’t explain why we still went north to the 80th degrees to celebrate. Anyway we’re going to be whole next day more north than 80th degrees!

Some sums of the birds from the first whole sea-day: 1000 Fulmars, 2 Pink-footed Geese, 50 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 250 Eiders, 2 King Eiders, 6 Arctic Skuas, 6 Great Skuas, 70 Glauscous Gulls, 750 Kittiwakes, 40 Arctic Terns, 30 Puffins, 5000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 500 Black Guillemots and 50000 Little Auks. We saw a couple of huge colonies of Little Auks during the day! Mammals this north were 6 Svalbard Reindeers, 11 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 23 Walruses and a Polar Bear.

Still zigzagging ice-drifts

On the 13th of June we woke up several times during the very early morning and were checking the ice-situation from the cabin window, but always we saw only open sea. Finally at 5.30 a.m. we saw ice-drifts again, so we wore some 5 to 6 layers of clothes again and climbed up to the deck. Anteros GPS and “gusse” who had been awake late at night could tell us that we had been zigzagging very far in north-east but had never found a place to go even close to the shore and finally turned around and started to go back to west. So we knew already that we hadn’t been able to pick up the skiers.

Right away we saw several Great Skuas and after 45 minutes searching I found a Polar Bear! This bear wasn’t too far so we ran again to tell to captains that we could stop and easily show this bear to the rest of tourists. But the answer that Hanna got was: “So what? Should we shoot it?” So we let it be again and just enjoyed this animal by ourselves. It was walking on ice-drift and then swimming to the next one. The bear always shake the water away from its fur.

If the staff had been co-operative we could have gone closet to this Polar Bear because of there was a straight open water line towards it and it was on our side of a big ice-drift. But now we had maybe a kilometre so I really couldn’t get any good pictures of it. And it was till only 6.45 a.m. so the rest of the tourists were still on their cabins, so again there were only us Finns seeing the bear.

After a long and slowly zigzagging we were back near Moffen again. We had a short Zodiac-cruise to see ice-drifts closer. I think everyone would have been more interested to see Walruses or Polar Bear instead of ice, but it was nice anyway. Luckily we didn’t get wet even though the sea wasn’t very calm. Jaakkolas stayed on the deck and of course when the rest of us were in Zodiacs they managed to see a Sabine’s Gull.

When we were back on the deck Hanna found a flock of 3 Grey Phalaropes that were flying over Moffen and when we started to move again I found an Ivory Gull that was feeding something on the ice with a flock of Kittiwakes and Fulmars. And soon Antero found the third Polar Bear of the trip! But this one was so far that we were sure there was no hope to show it to the rest of tourists.

Hard northern wind had pushed much more ice to our route and it really seemed that we might be stuck but carefully (maybe even too carefully) the captain zigzagged the ice-rifts trying to avoid to push through them even though these kind of Finnish ships were really made to this kind of conditions. Finally it seemed that the staff had realized that there might be a possibility that most of the tourists might never see a Polar Bear and they suddenly became very interested to the surrounding wildlife. The loudspeakers called that watch out for Polar Bears and Walruses – what the hell they thought that we had been already doing for 2 days? We hadn’t been sitting inside the restaurants and drinking bear like average German tourist… We were already pretty sure that all the Polar Bears of the trip had already been found – they had all been very north because of the ice-situation. All the fjords were completely full of ice so the best whale-hunting places were far on the sea. Well so on the crew was announcing all the lumps that were laying on the ice-drifts as Walruses what ever they were, Walruses or Ringed Seals – and tourists were running around the deck. All they saw about Polar Bear were pretty fresh footprints – wow!

After we had seen the first Long-tailed Skua of the trip and a couple of more Ivory Gulls I felt myself too tired to go on and went down to cabin to try to sleep. And then of course I missed the only important announcing call of the whole trip – there were a couple of Minke Whales just in front of the boat. After all Hanna woke me up with our radiophones but it was already too late. We were then in the middle of huge ice-drifts and we were really moving slowly! But maybe because of the ice we soon managed to more whales! Soon we also identified the first Bearded Seals of the trip.

We stayed up on the deck until midnight when the sea finally opened and we were free. The nice and sunny weather (even at midnight the sun was very high) had changed to windy and foggy and on the horizon we saw huge storm-clouds and a thick fog was coming towards us. So we decided to go to sleep.
Observations on the second full day at sea were: 4 Red-throated Divers, 400 Fulmars, 6 Barnacle Geese, 12 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 40 Eiders, 5 Arctic Skuas, a Long-tailed Skua, 16 Great Skuas, 100 Glauscous Gulls, a Sabine’s Gull, 3 Ivory Gulls, 150 Arctic Terns, 500 Kittiwakes, a Purple Sandpiper, 3 Grey Phalaropes, 15 Puffins, 3000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 150 Black Guillemots, 1500 Little Auks, 38 Walruses, 4 Bearded Seals, 8 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 2 Polar Bears, 10 White Whales and 6 Minke Whales.

I must say that after we had been celebrating the crossing of 80th degrees and left in a hurry to try to rescue the skiers, we were after all more than a day more north than 80th degrees. The most northern point we had in GPS was 80.19 degrees and on the northeaster most point we were “gusse” could already the mountains of Nordaustlandet.

Ny Ålesund and already getting a little bit easier

On the 14th of June we woke up again a couple of times to look out but the weather was still foggy. Somehow we managed to go under the storm so the sea was still pretty calm. Finally we woke up at 6.30 a.m. and after we had packed our luggage went to have breakfast. During the night we had arrived at Kongsfjorden. After the breakfast we anchored to Blomstrandhalvöya, where a couple of staff-members were left to put up tents for the summer-cruises. We went to the deck to look at a stunning views, the fjord was surrounded by many glaciers.

At 9.30 a.m. we got again some instructions and at 10 a.m. we anchored to Ny Ålesund. Already at harbour we saw an Ivory Gull that flew somewhere to this small village of 40 to 100 reseachers village. After we had been listening some stories about the village we had about an hour free time to wonder around it. From the small pools we found some tame Long-tailed Ducks and Snow Buntings were singing on the roofs of houses. There was of course a souvenir-shop in this most northern commune of the world, and there were pretty good products, but our shopping was intercepted by a call that there was a tame Arctic Fox on the back-yard. This ear-marked female fox was living under one house and I got pretty good pictures of it. Of course then the staff started to hurry us back to the boat! They really managed to spoil every single situation that had something to do with animals! Luckily I managed to get good enough pictures before we had to walk to the boat to wait for the rest of staff and tourists that came much after us.

The last Zodiac-cruise was as boring as the previous ones. We went to see some old hunting-hut called Camp Zoë. The only interesting thing was a Ptarmigan that was perched on a big rock on the top of one mountain.

Soon we left to continue towards south again. We tried to rest a bit again but right then the staff started a long loudspeaker marathon. They really wanted to get all the drinks paid. After the dinner it was time for a farewell ceremony where a captain had the nerve to claim that he was sorry that we never saw any Polar Bears – I was pretty close to go and show him a picture and ask a couple of well chosen questions…

We still had a long way back to Longyearbyen but at 11 p.m. we went to sleep. Some of our group stayed still a couple of hours either on the deck or tin the Polar Bear restaurant. But we had an early wake up again. So we missed a couple of Killer Whales that some of our group saw at night.
During the last sea-day we saw 10 Red-throated Divers, 300 Fulmars, 15 Pink-footed Geese, 100 Barnacle Geese, 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 6 King Eiders, 500 Eiders, 4 Long-tailed Ducks, a Ptarmigan, 30 Purple Sandpipers, a Dunlin, 15 Arctic Skuas, 5 Great Skuas, 250 Glauscous Gulls, an Ivory Gull, 1000 Kittiwakes, 200 Arctic Terns, 5000 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 80 Puffins, 80 Black Guillemots, 8000 Little Auks, 15 Snow Buntings, an Arctic Fox, 70 Svalbard Reindeers, 9 Walruses, 3 Bearded Seals, 30 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 50 White Whales, a Minke Whale and 2 Killer Whales.

I must still say that even though I have given critique to a staff of the boat, the only bad persons were in officers and also local guides that couldn’t turn the officers’ heads. The Filipino crew that were servants and cleaners and so on were amazing nice and helpful! And of course I must say that after all the whole boat-trip was amazing and it is really must to any person who goes to Spitsbergen – people just can’t affort that any animals will be shown to them – they must prepare to work to see them!

Some last day birding in a stormy weather

On the 15th of June we woke before 4 a.m. The boat was already on the harbour of Longyearbyen. We packed our luggage and carried together with Annika and Antero them out. With Antero we went to try to find a car that we had rent. It was told to be in the harbour but it wasn’t. After some half an hour searching we found it in front of the car-rental. Luckily we knew what kind of car we were supposed to have because of the Swedish guys had had the same car.

Luckily our Toyota Yaris had keys (or some kind of button-thing) inside and we could drive back to harbour. Even though my previous experiences of Yaris weren’t very good (check our Madeira trip), we were soon driving with a car full of luggage to our hotel. We left our luggage to a luggage-room and went back to pick up Hanna and Annika and left birding.

We passed the airport and the pools and drove to Björndalen. We knew somewhere there was a Little Auk colony where it was possible to get closer to them. First we walked as far to the valley as it was possible and managed to get close to the edges but there were only Brunnich’s Guillemots and too far. So then we drove back a little bit and found a less steep mountain where were lot of Little Auk flying around and some also perched on the rocks. So we decided to start climbing. Antero went to the other side and me, Hanna and Annika started to climb on the snow up to the mountain. There were lots of loose stones so it was important to know where the rest of us were climbing because of a little stone can cause a big landfall.

The first Little Auks were reached easily and Hanna and Annika stopped there to get pictures. I hoped to get higher and closer to the colony to get some recordings. I managed to get pretty high but there was very windy. Also the Little Auks weren’t calling enough just one here and one there. I did manage to get some kind of recordings and also from high calls of Black Guillemot. I also saw an Arctic Fox and heard a Ptarmigan. Again it was very easy to go back to the car – we were just running or sliding on the snow.

After we had photographed a Pale-bellied Brent Goose that was next to the road we continued to city and went shopping when the shops opened at 10 a.m. Soon we continued to another side of the city, passed the kennel and continued until Grey Phalarope pools. The wind has started to blow very strong and it was also raining so getting out of the car wasn’t very clever. But luckily we managed to find good birds to photograph from the car! First we found 2 couples of King Eiders that were very close the road. Then we found a Long-tailed Skua that was unfortunately gone with the wind soon. And then Hanna and Annika got a good opportunity to photograph a male Long-tailed Duck swimming in icy water.

Near the rubbish tip we saw again Pink-footed Geese, but we continued as long as the road was going, which was not far. The road that was leading to a mine climbed and climbed up to a mountain but it went soon so bad that it was impossible to continue. Annika and Hanna were brave enough to go to get some pictures of a view to the Adventdalen but the storm was so hard that it was almost impossible! On the way back to the city we still got an opportunity to photograph Grey Phalaropes.
At 12 a.m. we went to a restaurant Kroa where the rest of our group already where. The restaurant was made from the wood that the sea had brought. The portions were huge and food was good!

At 1 p.m. we dropped Hanna and Annika to a airport, went with Antero to get our luggage and then left our car to airport parking. Then we still had to pack everything again.

Our plane left in time at 2.45 p.m. and again our first stop was in Troms. And again we had to re-check-in everything even though we soon continued by same plane to Oslo. At 6.50 p.m. we landed to Oslo where we spent a couple of hours before we continued to Stockholm. Somewhere we had time to count our last days birds too and what we got were: 9 Red-throated Divers, 500 Fulmars, 40 Pink-footed Geese, 150 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Teals, 600 Eiders, 100 King Eiders, 15 Long-tailed Ducks, a Ptarmigan, 100 Purple Sandpipers, 10 Dunlins, 4 Ringed Plovers, 3 Grey Phalaropes, 15 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas, a Long-tailed Skua, 140 Glauscous Gulls, 700 Kittiwakes, 350 Arctic Terns, 200 Brunnich’s Guillemots, 4 Puffins, 60 Black Guillemots, 500 Little Auks, 30 Snow Buntings and a White Wagtail that the rest of our group had seen near a kennel.

Finally at 1 a.m. we landed to Helsinki and the luggage were found quickly. We said goodbye to our incredible group and left to different directions – some drove just half an hour at home, some had a longer way and somebody was so crazy that he left straight to Kalajoki to twitch a White’s Thrush… But after all we had had a great trip again!

Still some information about what we saw in Spitsbergen:

Altogether we saw 33 bird and 9 mammal species.

Normally there are about 30 species breeding in Spitsbergen, but altogether in the whole archipelago there has been at least 203 species seen. Some species that we didn’t see but normally are found there were Turnstone, Pintail, Golden Plover, Iceland Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Pomarine Skua. In Longyearbyen we saw 32 species. Some birds that we saw only in Longyearbyen were Teal (40), of course the 2nd ever Green-winged Teal of Spitsbergen. A Common Scoter was seen near a harbour in one day and 2 Goldeneyes in Lomdammen. Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers were seen maybe six individuals and a White Wagtail was seen twice. From the boat we saw 26 birdspecies. Only species that we saw only from the boat was a Great Black-backed Gull. Also only Great Skua of Longyearbyen was seen from boat. Only one Puffin was seen near Longyearbyen. Sabine’s Gulls were seen once from Longyearbyen and once from the boat near Moffen and also Long-tailed Skua was seen once in sea and once in land. One Ptarmigan was seen on a boat-trip – it was found when we were in land but it was seen also from the boat.

The mammals we saw in Longyearbyen were mostly just Svalbard Reindeers, but also some Arctic Foxes and a flock of 30 White Whales in mouth of Adventfjorden. From the ship we saw 3 Polar Bears, 70 Walruses, 49 Ringed Seals (including unidentified seals), 7 Bearded Seals, 7 Minke Whales, 2 Killer Whales and 60 White Whales and of course more Svalbard Reindeers and an Arctic Fox in Ny Ålesund.
And more info about the birds we saw:

Red-throated Diver: (about 20 in Longyearbyen and 17 from the ship) the number of breeding pairs of Spitsbergen in not well known but some kind of estimate is from 500 to 1000 pairs.

Fulmar: (about 2000 from Longyearbyen and 4100 from the ship) Most of the Fulmars this north are darkish form but there is all kind of colour-morphs. 125 colonies have been registered in the area, but the number of individuals is not known.

Pink-footed Goose: (a bit more than 100 in Longyearbyen and 17 from the ship) the number had been estimated to be about 52000 individuals. The counts have been done in the wintering grounds Denmark, Nederland and Belgium in late autumn 2005.

Barnacle Goose: (about 400 in Longyearbyen and 256 from the ship) The number of birds has increased very much also in Svalbard. The estimate was about 27000 individuals on counts that were made in wintering grounds in Britain in winter 2005.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose: (about 60 in Longyearbyen and 17 on the ship-trip) In Spitsbergen there is a sub-species of Brent Goose is hrota (Pale-bellied). The number of breeding birds is pretty small and in winter 2005 in wintering grounds was counted only from 7000 to 7500 birds. The number has been dramatically declining, still in the beginning of 20th century there were estimated to be about 50000 pairs.

Teal: (about 40 in Longyearbyen) there are only some records of breeding Teals in Spitsbergen.

Green-winged Teal: (1 male with 3 male and 1 female Teal) had been seen only once before in Spitsbergen.

Eider: (about 500 in Longyearbyen and 1470 from the ship) is the most numerous duck in Spitsbergen. The total breeding population is estimated to be somewhere between 13500 and 27500 pairs and the late summer population can number 80000-140000 individuals.

King Eider: (some hundreds in Longyearbyen and 8 on the boat-trip) Estimated number of autumn population is from 2500 to 5000 birds.

Long-tailed Duck: (about 30 in Longyearbyen and 4 in Ny Ålesund) the number of breeding pairs in Svalbard is not more than 1000 pairs. In warm winters Long-tailed Ducks can be seen in area.

Common Scoter: (1 male in Longyearbyen) is not very rare visitor in Spitsbergen, maybe even a breeding bird – at least in Björnöya.

Goldeneye: (2 in Lomdammen, another 2 c-y male and another in female plumage) has been seen in Spitsbergen less than 20 times. There are no trees with holes around for breeding.

Svalbard Ptarmigan: (13 in Longyearbyen and 1 from the ship) is the only bird that stays around the year in Spitsbergen! The sub-species is endemic hyperborea. There are no good population estimates of the number of Ptarmigans, but the species can be found everywhere apart from the north-easternmost parts, Björnöya and most icy areas. In area where Ptarmigans have been studied there has been from 3 to 5 pairs in square kilometre.

Ringed Plover: (Less than 10 in Longyearbyen) number of the birds is not well known but has been estimated to be between 300 and 600 pairs.

Sanderling: (about 5 in Longyearbyen) The breeding population is thought to be very small, perhaps 20-100 pairs.

Purple Sandpiper: (a couple of hundreds in Longyearbyen and 31 on the ship-trip) is the most common wader of the area. There has been estimated to be between 2000 to 10000 pairs.

Dunlin: (about 20 in Longyearbyen and 1 in Ny Ålesund) is breeding in Spitsbergen only with 100 to 200 pairs, but the number is increasing.

Grey Phalarope: (from 5 to 8 in Longyearbyen and 3 from the ship in Moffen) Number of breeding pairs is from 200 to 1000 pairs. The whole European breeding population is estimated to be about 390-1700 pairs.

Arctic Skua: (more than 20 in Longyearbyen and 34 on the boat-trip) is breeding in Spitsbergen with 1000-2000 pairs.

Long-tailed Skua: (1 in Lomdammen and 1 from the ship) the breeding has only been observed a few times, in these islands that don’t have any lemmings or voles.

Great Skua: (30 from the boat) has been getting more common quickly. The first breeding birds were found in 1970 in Björnöya, and now there are estimated to be from 300 to 500 pairs in Spitsbergen, 150 pairs of them in Björnöya.


Sabine’s Gull: (1 in Longyearbyen and 1 in Moffen) in Moffen there are yearly from 1 to 5 pairs breeding. On other parts of Spitsbergen there are only some breeding pairs found. Observations in recent years are indicating that there might be breeding birds somewhere near Longyearbyenen on Isfjorden. Sabine’s Gulls are breeding in

Arctic Tern colonies and there are plenty of them in the western coast.

Glauscous Gull: (a couple of hundreds in Longyearbyen and 700 from the ship) is the worst raptor for other birds in Spitsbergen. The number of breeding pairs is between 4000 and 10000 pairs.

Great Black-backed Gull: (1 2nd c-y from the ship) is a rare breeder in islands with 150 to 200 pairs. The species was found first breeding on Björnöya in 1921 and on Spitsbergen in 1930.

Kittiwake (a couple of thousands in Longyearbyen and 16750 from the ship) is the most common gull and estimation of the breeding pairs is 270000.

Ivory Gull: (2 in kennel in Longyearbyen plus a ringed bird that Annika and Antero saw plus another ringed bird that only Swedish birders saw, 1 in Ny Ålesund and 3 on the sea) estimated number of breeding pairs is 270 pairs and another estimate is from 200 to 750 pairs. The whole world population is about 14000 pairs.

Arctic Tern: (about 300 in Longyearbyen and 440 on the ship-trip) it has been difficult to estimate the numbers of breeding birds because of the colonies are changing locations, but it is less than 10000 pairs.

Brunnich’s Guillemot: (a couple of hundreds from Longyearbyen and 13900 from the ship) colonies are known to be 142 in Spitsbergen and in biggest colonies there are more than 10000 pairs! Breeding population is estimated to be about 850000 pairs.

Black Guillemot: (about 100 in Longyearbyen and 880 from the ship) stays better near to colonies around the year and can be wintering in Spitsbergen in warm winters. The estimation of breeding pairs is roughly 20000.

Little Auk: (a couple of thousands in Longyearbyen and 70000 from the ship) is the most numerous breeding bird in Spitsbergen, more than a million pairs! The estimation of number of breeding pairs in the whole world is 15 million pairs, so it is probably the most numerous seabird of the world.

Puffin: (only 1 in Hotellneset and 144 from the ship) estimated number of breeding pairs is about 10000.

White Wagtail: (1 male flew over our hotel and later maybe the same was found from a kennel) is very rare breedin species or just a rare visitor in Spitsbergen.

Snow Bunting: (about 60 in Longyearbyen and 15 on the ship-trip) is a common bird near villages and is like a House Sparrow there, breeding on the houses and coming to feeders. It is also spread all around the tundra. Snow Bunting is the only passerine regurarly breeding in Spitsbergen! The population is estimated to be somewhere between 1000 and 10000 pairs.

Mammals:

Polar Bear: (3 from the ship but all pretty far) On Sea Barents (from Spitsbergen to Franz Josef Land) there were estimated to be about 3000 Polar Bears in counts in August of 2004. Half of them are using Spitsbergen during their mate. Because of Polar Bears it is not aloud to go out from the villages with out a gun and nowadays to have a gun a Norwegian shooting licence is needed.

Bearded Seal: (7 on the western sea) the estimation of population in Spitsbergen is some thousands of individuals.

Ringed Seal: (49 including unidentified seals – mostly on western coast) is the most common seal on Spitsbergen: there are at least 100000 individuals.

Walrus: (70 from the ship – almost all very north) The Svalbard population is thought to include 2000 individuals but he number is slowly increasing.

Minke Whale: (7 on the western sea) is the most common rorqual whale in Spitsbergen, the estimated number of individuals in north-eastern Atlantic stock is numbering well over 100000 animals.

Killer Whale: (2 on the western sea) the estimated number of individuals in the world is around 100000. It is not an easy species to sea in Spitsbergen – only some of our group saw it now.

White Whale: (90 – 30 near mouth of Adventdalen and 60 from the ship on the western sea) There is no good estimation, but it is the most common whale in the area. The estimated number in the world is 200000 individuals.

Svalbard Reindeer: (more than 200 in Longyearbyen and 76 on the ship-trip) This short-legged big-headed platyrhynchos (sub)species is nowadays known to be a closer relative to eastern deers than Skandinavian reindeers. There is no good estimation of the population but it is stable and the species is common everywhere except in the biggest glaciers.

Arctic Fox: (4 in Longyearbyen and 1 in Ny Ålesund) the population is stable in Spitsbergen, but there is no good estimation of the numbers. Between Adventdalen and Sassadalen (ca. 900km2 area) there are estimated to be about 1 to 1.5 Arctic Foxes in 10 km2. It is known that some of these foxes are carrying rabies.

J.A.

Eastern Finland – Varanger 6.-22.7. 2007

We meet again

On the 6th of July we drove to Helsinki with Hanna and his little-brother Miika. After some shopping we continued to Kirkkonummi to my parents.

On the 7th of July Hanna went to Helsinki to do some more shopping but we woke up late with Miika. At 9.30 a.m. we drove to Espoo Finno to do some birding. We saw amazing 64 Gadwalls and 26 Moorhens. It was also nice to see some other birds that Miika had never seen before like Pintail, Shoveler, Teals, Goldfinches and so on. In Nuottalahti we saw an Eider.

At 11 a.m. we drove to Helsinki-Vantaa airport where our good British friend Paul French was arriving. Once we finally found a good parking place was Hanna also already there. Soon we found also Paul, it was good to see again! Then we continued directly to eat and to do shopping.

Paul had come to do birding with us for a couple of weeks. We had planned to see everything on the way from Helsinki to Varanger. Paul of course had plenty of target species – about 20 lifers and 20 other species that he wanted to see again. Of course we knew the time of the year wasn’t optimal for many species, so we knew we wouldn’t get all the species from the list. But we had decided to do our best.

Our first birding place was Helsinki Viikki where we went first to Pornaistenniemi bird-tower. But then it started to rain and very hard, so we had to wait for it to stop under the tower. One of our first trip-ticks was a Thrush Nightingale and once the rain stopped we saw much more from the tower: Barnacle Goose, Caspian Tern, Stock Dove and so on. Next we walked to Lammassaari tower and on the way we found a flock of Bearded Reedlings and heard some Water Rails. From Lammassaari we found an Icterine Warbler but then it started to rain again. Again we were under the bird-tower for a long time before the rain stopped. Pretty soon we found the first female Citrine Wagtail and soon we saw also a young fledling. Also more Caspian Terns, Mute Swans, Grey Herons and so on were seen before we continued to Etu-Viikki to twitch a Lesser Grey Shrike that had been staying there for some days. The bird was found quickly and we decided to continue still to Espoo Laajalahti to see if the rain had dropped some better waders there.

But unfortunately most of the waders had left Laajalahti when the rain had stopped. We met several birders there and also some birds were seen: a Spotted Redshank, Ruffs, a couple of Temminck’s Stints, a Little Ringed Plover, Canada Geese, Yellow Wagtails and so on.

Then we continued driving towards the east and had our next stop after a couple of hours in Hamina Lupinlahti, where a Great Reed Warbler was singing shortly and an another Caspian Tern was seen. After we had eaten again we continued to Hamina Kirkkojärvi, it was already 10 p.m. Unfortunately we didn’t hear a Little Crake even though we tried until midnight. Several Spotted Crakes were heard, also Cranes were shouting and Reed and Great Reed Warblers were singing.

Many good species

On the 8th of July after midnight we continued inland to Savitaipale Jäkälänjärvi where a Savi’s Warbler was singing continuously. Again also a Spotted Crake was heard. We kept on going to Lappeenranta Mentula, where a Booted Warbler had been earlier but it had left or was just silent. Several Corn Crakes were heard. And once we were in Joutseno we heard plenty of Corn Crakes more. In Korvenkylä a Lanceolated Warbler was still singing continuously but it was now as dark as it gets in Finnish summer-night so we decided to come back in the morning so we can photograph it better.

The next couple of hour we tried to find different kind of nightsingers around Konnunsuo but most of the birds were already silent, most of the species had already been breeding for a long time. Luckily in Pikku-Läykkä we found a Black Grouse, a Grasshopper Warbler and also a River Warbler. So in a few hours we had observed 4 species of Locustella-warblers!

In Kotasaari we twitched Marsh Sandpipers; a female and the only young that had survived were still there. Also 3 Temminck’s Stints, 2 Little Stints and several Little Ringed Plovers were found. In Perä-Ahola we twitched a common bird for Paul but not for us a singing Turtle Dove and of course Miika got another lifer. We also met our good friend Andreas Lindén who was coming back from North-Karelia where had been twitching a Long-billed Dowitcher. A Chiffchaff and a Wren were singing.

After we had been photographing the Lanceolated Warbler in morning light we continued our wasy to north. In Ruokolahti we saw a migrating flock of 60 Common Scoters but we continued to Rautjärvi Punasvaara old forest, but there we couldn’t find any grouses, just a couple of Chiffchaffs and Wrens. Somewhere there we found a Goshawk.

It was already a morning when we were in Parikkala. After we had dropped Miika home we went to our place to sleep.

But we slept only a few hours because we didn’t have too much time to waste. In the afternoon we went to Siikalahti where a female Smew, some Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes and a couple of Grey Herons were the best observations. In Kaukola we finally found the first Blyth’s Reed Warbler singing. We also went to try if our Ural Owl family would have still been bear their nest-box but they had moved somewhere to the deeper forest nearby. A flock of Long-tailed Tits and a Common Buzzard were found.

Parikkala-species in a hurry

On the 9th of July we slept again a couple of hours and went to try to find nightsingers to Saari. In Akanvaara Tetrisuo we saw a female Hen Harrier and in Akonpohja we found a singing Blyth’s Reed Warbler, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Marsh Warbler – and of course Corn Crakes like in almost every field. We decided to put up the mist-net and soon we had both a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler ringed

So we had already found all the nightsinger species and we decided to drive back to Parikkala to try to find the first lifers to Paul. On the way we still stopped in Pohjanranta where we surprisingly heard a Quail calling!

In Argusjärvi I whistled only a couple of times before a Grey-headed Woodpecker already flew over us – it was the 1st lifer for Paul! After all we found at least an adult and 3 young Grey-headed Woodpeckers and they all were calling actively. Unfortunately they were a little bit too active because of we couldn’t get any pictures. Also a River Warbler and a Blackcap were singing.

In Siikalahti we didn’t need many minutes to find a White-backed Woodpecker and Paul got his second lifer. But also this couple was moving too quickly to get any photographs. But anyway we were lucky to find this species so easily because of it is normally very difficult in summer.

Next we went to forests to see the famous couple of Siberian Jays. But after an hour waiting we still hadn’t found them so we decided to try to find some grouses. But also grouses were totally missing but when we had almost lost our nerves surprisingly the Siberian Jays came to save our day. Paul was happy to get an opportunity to feed these beautiful birds from his hand. Also some Crested Tits, Treecreepers, a Coal Tit, a couple of Red-backed Shrikes, Wrens and Chiffchaffs were found.

Then we continued to a small lake where a Red-throated Diver was breeding. We enjoyed the family of divers for an hour before we felt too tired to continue and we drove back home to sleep.

In the evening we packed our luggage to our car and started our long trip to north. The first stop was made in Tohmajärvi Niirala where we were at midnight.

Some rarities again

On the 10th of June we slept about 4 hours in a car before it was the otimal time to try to hear a Booted Warbler. We met also Jukka Rokkanen and a group of young Spanish birders. These guys had been in contact with me several times before their trip and we had planned to do some birding together as they were also heading to Kuusamo and Varanger. They had already tried to find the Booted Warbler for several hours without success. Well I was sure that if we can’t find the bird until 4 a.m. the it’s not there or then it’s just quiet. It was exactly 4 a.m. when the bird started to sing in a middle of a field! Most of us managed too see the bird also briefly while also a Blyth’s Reed Warbler was singing behind it.

We continued to Kontiolahti to one old forest where we had notes to a nest of a Pygmy Owl. On the way we found a beautiful male Capercaillie. But the nest of a Pygmy Owl was already empty and when we were whistling for it the only bird that came to see us was a nervous Three-toed Woodpecker! The third woodpecker lifer for Paul! A Goshawk family was calling and several flocks of Common Crossbills were around too.

About in the mid-day we drove to Lieksa Patvinsuo where we walked altogether 8 kilometres to Tereti bird-tower and back. The bog-views were once again amazing, but we hadn’t many birds there! A Whimbrel, some Golden Plovers, Cranes, a Black Grouse, a Red-backed Shrike and 3 Rustic Buntings were found. In the afternoon we went to Suomu camping where we put up the tent and slept until the late evening.

At 11 p.m. we continued to Lieksa Sorsala where we met Jukka and the Spanish again. Soon we found what we were searching for – in the middle of a wet field there was a Great Snipe feeding, and soon there were 2 birds singing and jumping on the field! There were altogether 3 birds but we heard at least 2 of them. This was really something that I hadn’t thought to hear for a long time in Finland!

Bears – a lot of bears – and close!

On the 11th of July we woke up a little in the middle of Jamali fields where I tried to twitch a Corn Bunting while Hanna and Paul were sleeping a little bit longer. A Red-throated Diver was flying around and calling but the bunting was quiet.

Next time we slept in Sotkamo Vuokatti skiing resort, on the top of the hill. All the birds in the nice spruce-forests had been quiet. Almost in the city of Sotkamo we saw a Rustic Bunting before at 11 a.m. we met Ilkka Jarva and went to eat. We had fun and we could have been talking and talking for hours but Ilkka had to go to work and we had to keep on going because of we had to be in Suomussalmi Martinselkonen at 3 p.m.

So we had only one stop before Martinselkonen when we found 3 young Great Grey Shrikes fighting in one felling. At 3 p.m. we parked to Martinselkonen where we were because of the bears! After 45 minutes we and 7 other tourists and a guide started our way towards the bear-hides. First we drove a little bit and then walked a couple of kilometres. 2 of the foreigners went to a hide that was near a small bog and the Finnish went to a professional photographer hide alone, so to a big hide came 3 Italians and the guide with us. So we had plenty of room in the hide and of course we managed to get the best places.

It took only a couple of minutes when the first bear arrived! There were lots of salmon that they came to eat. Because of it was still early afternoon the light was really good for photographing. There were more and more bears coming all the time and the cameras were busy. Soon a Black Kite came to perch on the top of trees. It took its part of the salmon without landing between the bears and it always perched to the top of the trees before it flew away and probably went to feed its nestlings. On the best time there were altogether 12 bears, 2 Black Kites, a sub-adult White-tailed Eagle and a Heuglin’s Gull with a flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The first Waxwings for the trip were heard too. Altogether we counted more than 20 Bears, there were young twins and one year old triplets that were a bit afraid of the bigger bears and were climbing to the trees when they got scared. Anyway the bigger bears were very calm so we didn’t see any bigger fights between them but we heard one fight – it was really amazing roaring! After the midnight it came too dark for photographing and also the bears came much less active. So at 1 a.m. we decided go to sleep.

To Kuusamo

On the morning of 12th of July only a couple of Bears came to lick the last smell of the salmon from the rocks. Also a Black Kite visited briefly so we could still get some pictures but when at 7 a.m. we started to pack our stuff there were no more movements on the forest. But when we were leaving one big old bear came to lie down to the feeder like waiting for the next salmon load to come. It was of course a difficult situation for us because of the Bear was only 10 metres from us. But the guide thought this Bear was so old and stupid that we could anyway start walking away. When we were all out from the hide the Bear decided to go a little bit further to wait for us to leave.

On the way back we photographed the footprints of the bears and an anthill a bear had destroyed and the trees that they had used to sharpen their nails. In the information centre we had a shower, charged all our batteries and photographed a couple of Siberian Jays that were visiting the feeder together with young Bullfinches, Redpolls and Greenfinches.

When we finally continued our way north we had driven only some 20 kilometres when we saw a Bear crossing the road far in front of us! In any other day this would have been maybe the best ever observation for me but somehow the last night was decreasing the value of this observation. Only a little bit later we saw an Elk crossing the road and even this felt better than the Bear right now.

We continued straight to Kuusamo and until Iivaara. After a short walk we heard a Little Bunting calling. We walked with our luggage under the Iivaara hill where we put up the tent. Then we climbed up to the top of Iivaara but because of it was an afternoon there weren’t many birds to see. But finally we found a family of Hazel Hens. Surprisingly we had managed not to find any before. It was another lifer for Paul. It wasn’t a surprise that we couldn’t find any Red-flanked Bluetails but a female Capercaillie was still found.

A Really long day!

On the 13th of July we slept some hours in the tent and after packing the tent we decided to leave Iivaara and to Konttainen. On the way we managed to get some pictures of a Goshawk that was perched on an electric pole. While walking to the top of Konttainen we found at least 3 Red-flanked Blutails that were calling to each others but we couldn’t find them because ot they stopped calling suddenly. On the top we found a tame couple of Siberian Jays that came to eat from our hands. Unfortunately the weather was changing rainy again so we decided to keep on going, but we were planning to come back later.

We continued to Vaimosuo where an Arctic Warbler was singing exactly on the place it was told to be. I got really good recordings but it was moving too quickly for photographing. A couple of Rustic Buntings were also found. Our next target was Ruka Saaruanlammet where we found a Grey Wagtail singing on the wires of skiing lifts. Again one more Siberian Jay was seen flying across the road.

It was already late morning when we were back in Konttainen. We climbed again to the halfway of the hill when we suddenly heard a Red-flanked Bluetail calling. We tried to get closer we heard another bird singing somewhere far on the Valtavaara. But again both birds stopped calling. Several flocks of Common Crossbills flew over us but still we hadn’t seen any bluetails. After some time we decided to walk back to our car and we were only 30 metres from it when a young Red-flanked Bluetail was jumping on the track just in front of us! Unfortunately Paul had his camera in a car and Hannas camera had some dysfunction and the pictures weren’t got. The bird ran to low bushes and disappeared. Luckily a couple of Parrot Crossbills landed to the top of the trees nearby and a flock of Two-barred Crossbills flew over us so we were more than happy!

At 8 a.m. we continued towards Kemijärvi. We were all extremely tired so only 20 kilometres before Kemijärvi I had to stop and sleep a little bit! Too many Reindeers had been running on the road so the driving had been pretty slow and tough. The short toilet-visit to the forest revealed the reason why the Reindeers weren’t there; the forest was absolutely full of mosquitoes!

After a half an hour sleeping we continued to my brother Pirkka who had just moved to a bigger apartment in Kemijärvi. After some coffee we drove to a factory area where Pirkka had a permit to do birdwatching. So we were able to twitch the famous Bar-headed Geese that come to spend the whole summer to this place. Altogether 22 Bar-headed Geese and 2 hybrids between Bar-headed and Barnacle Geese were seen. Also a rare Lappish bird an Oystercatcher and 5 Great Ringed Plovers were seen.

When we were leaving and going to order some pizzas Pirkka got a call from Jorma Halonen: “Have you heard about the Abdim’s Stork in Pekkala?”. ”WHAAT?” So soon we were driving to Rovaniemi Pekkala to twitch some strange stork that we managed to see a picture in a local paper and amazing it really seemed to be an Abdim’s Stork!

After a half of an hour we were in Pekkala which was a familiar place for Pirkka because of last summer there had been a Cattle Egret! And soon we had a strange looking stork in our telescopes! The bird was feeding on the field only a couple of hundreds of metres from us. Soon it flew shortly and soared above us and landed to an electric pole to clean its feathers.

I took more than 200 pictures of the stork. There were several journalist and more were coming even before the twitchers so we decided to leave pretty soon. We were much too tired to give interviews.

When we were back in Kemijärvi we put the pictures to the computer, photoshopped them and sent tem around the country so in the evening my pictures were shown in news and in the next morning they were in several newspapers around the country. And finally we had time to go to order some pizzas! We weren’t sure when we had eaten last time. After all we were so excited about the stork and good pizzas that we had also forgotten when we had been sleeping last time so we decided to keep on going towards north.

The next stop was made in Sodankylä Ilmakkiaap, where was very quiet. The view from the tower wasn’t very good eirther as the trees had grown too much in front of it. So only some Common Scoters were found.

In Sodankylä Vuotso we saw a Sparrowhawk crossing the road. In Inari Kaunispää we had saw plenty of Japanese tourists that where there to see the midnight sun. We laughed a little bit because they were just sitting in their cars and waiting for the midnight. But we wouldn’t have laughed if we’d known this to be the last change to see the sun at all for a long time! Well also a family of Dotterels was found – a dad with 3 small chicks. A couple of Whimbrels and Golden Plovers were also found but we kept on going.

We managed to drive until Ivalo Koppelontie where we put up the tent and went to sleep. And I think this had been the hardest but one of the best birding day ever!

To Norway

On the 14th of July we woke up and twitched another Arctic Warbler in Koppelontie. This bird was easy to photograph too. We also saw a couple od Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. And when it started to rain again we noticed we had to try to find Siberian Tits before the rain was getting too hard. Luckily already the first stop to a good looking place was good and we found a flock of several young Siberian Tits – the 6th lifer for Paul. Soon the rain was getting too hard and we continued to north.

We drove directly to Utsjoki where we did last shopping and put the tank full Finnish cheaper gas. Anyway we decided to drive on the Finnish side of river Teno until Nuorgam – the most northern place in Finland. That was a right choice because of we found a family of Hawk Owls on the way! Four absolutely wet young owls were begging for food from their mother; again a lifer for Paul. Well I must say they were the ugliest Hawk Owls I’ve ever seen…

We crossed the border to Norway in a heavy rain and started to collect Norway trip-ticks! There weren’t many birds but a Short-eared Owl and a Dunnock were seen before we reached the sea in Varagerbottn where we of course got plenty of trip-ticks – Shelducks, Redshanks and Eiders and so on.

The rain stayed heavy, but anyway we were stopping on the good places on the coast. Arctic Skuas, Great Black-backed Gulls and then in Nesseby church Kittiwakes and lots of Eider families and a Shelduck family were seen. Because of the heavy rain we decided to sleep in a car in front of the church.

The weather stays awful but birds can be found

On the 15th of July we were sleeping until the morning even though the rain stopped for a while during the early hours. When we woke up the rain was even harder than earlier, so we had to start birding in a rain. Luckily when we walked behind the church the rain stopped for a while. 3 Shovelers, some Bar-tailed Godwits, a stunning Great Skua, a Grey Plover, 4 Greylag Geese and far on the calm sea together with some Black and Red-throated Divers was a young White-billed Diver. Still we found 4 Gannets and a Fulmar so the birdlife seemed to be good; we were just the bottom of Varangerfjord!

In Vadsö Island we found 14 Steller’s Eiders with Eiders. On the sand-beach there were also a couple of beautiful Curlew Sandpipers and a Dunlin. From the pools we found lots of Red-necked Phalaropes; altogether 60 birds, also families of Wigeon and Mallard. A couple of Ruffs were seen on flight too. A Temminck’s Stint was panicking on the meadow where were also several Red-throated Pipits while we were hurrying back to our car to try to get our optics and clothes dry.

We sent a message (again one more) to Spanish and soon they came to twitch Steller’s Eiders. They had been driving up and down along the fjord whole night and we got a couple of good tips from Vardö where we were now continuing.

In Eckerö the rain was still hard and Hanna and Paul climbed up to the hill to photograph a huge colony of Kittiwakes from above while I went to record them under the colony. Luckily we all managed to see the same Peregrine Falcon that came to catch some young Kittiwakes for a lunch. A couple of Rock Pipits were found and I saw the first Brünnich’s Guillemot too.

Finally the rain stopped and the next stop was made because of a huge flock of Redpolls that was feeding on the bushes along the road. Only one Arctic Redpoll was found but pretty soon we found a family of Gyr Falcons sitting on the electric poles. And luck continued when Paul found a Willow Grouse that was running under the sheep fences. When we stopped we found out that this female Willow Grouse had 9 youngsters following it. Pretty soon we found the first Rough-legged Buzzards of the whole trip.

In Persfjorden we found a couple of King Eiders that were in a huge flock of Eiders, one bird was a 2nd cy and another was 3rd cy male. We continued until the world’s end to Hamningberg where a deep fog made the visibility almost zero and soon the rain started again! So we couldn’t find anything else than a Snow Finch, a couple of Gannets, a Twite and a dozen of Brünnich’s Guillemots. All the divers were just Black-throated Divers even though other birders had seen there much more interesting species too. After some time the fog and the rain bacame too uncomfortable so we went to tent to get some sleep.

Hornöya day

On the 16th of July we woke up when the rain was still whipping our tent. The wind had also started to blow very hard it was almost stormy. So we left Hamningberg and started to drive back to Vardö. On the way we found a stunning 2nd cy Glauscous Gull that was on a big flock of gulls and also another Gyr Falcon family. The youngsters were fighting and calling and we saw even another adult attacking to a White-tailed Eagle that was flying above the edge.

But we were already in a hurry to get to Vardö where we had a boat to catch at 10 a.m. We were going to Hornöya bird-island! We made it t the harbour at 10 a-,- but we realized that we hadn’t a single Norwegian money. So we decided to take the second boat because of it seemed that the weather was also getting better soon. So we went to cash-machine and shopping before we had to be back in the harbour at 11.30 a.m.

Hornöya was as it always is – amazing! Thousands and thousands of Kittiwakes and guillemots and lots of Razorbills and Puffins! The weather was still bad for photographing and too bad for recording. The Fulmar was again in the same nest where it had been our previous visits and another couple was seen also little bit under it, but later there were just Kittiwakes sitting on these decks. Maybe the Fulmars were still there because ot there were small tunnels where they might have been incubating the eggs or warming the nestlings.

Hanna and Paul concentrated on photographing flying alcids and I climbed higher to a less windy place to digiscope Rock and Red-throated Pipits. Between the worst gusts I also managed to get some kind of recording under the colonies. We did find a place where a Twite was breeding but it was too bad wind to photograph such a small bird. Anyway the time went fast because of there were so much birds and it was fun to watch what they all were doing. At 5 p.m. we had a boat back to Vardö.
Because of the wind we drove until Nesseby where we put up the tent behind the church just next to a fence that protected us from the wind.

Lifer for us too!

On the 17th of July we drove directly away from Varanger to Teno river-mouth to Högholmen. There were only a few birds and the road was extremely bad but the views were stunning again!

We continued to fjelds where we saw 20 Rough-legged Buzzards and when we were on the highest part we saw also the first Long-tailed Skua, a couple of Snow Finches and Shore Larks. A little bit lower we saw a Merlin.

We drove fast towards the Porsangerfjord. A short stop was made in Silvarifossen where we found a nest of a Bluethroat. The male and also the nest were photographed and soon we hit the road again. Porsanger was a beautiful place; the views were stunning and there were also good selection of birds. When the weather was getting really good too it was really nice! Our target was to find a Surf Scoter that Pierre-André Crochet and his friend had seen a couple of weeks earlier. I had been guiding them one night in Parikkala so I had got instruction to the place where they had found the bird. But after all the instructions weren’t that easy and because of the sea was full of Velvet and Common Scoters and Eiders it seemed not to be that easy.

We stopped in several places around the bottom of the fjord and saw lots of Velvet Scoters and quite a few Common Scoters, Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks, also 12 Scaups and a Slavonian Grebe were seen. After having some lunch in one parking place I sent a sms to Pierre and asked about better instructions. Luckily he answered soon and even though it was still difficult to understand the exact place we finally thought we might know the right place.

So we drove 7 kilometres back from Lakselv to a place where the fjord was visible from the road, stopped and started scanning the sea with scopes. And there it was, a male Surf Scoter was sleeping in a big flock of Velvet Scoters and Eiders! First I could see only some white on its forehead but soon it turned and also the hind-neck came visible. After some time it finally woke up and we could see THE bill! A lifer for me and Hanna! Soon the bird started to swim actively and it funnily stretched up many times, a couple of times we saw its wings that almost didn’t exist – it was in a middle of strong moulting.

We were happy when we started our long way back to inland and towards Finland. In the evening we parked to a slope of Karigasniemi Ailigas fjeld where we put up the tent and when it once again started to rain we went to sleep.

Slowly towards Oulu

On the 18th of July once we had woke up we climbed to the Ailigas fjeld where almost no birds were at all. Normally this was the best bird-fjeld in Finland. We walked around the whole top of the fjeld together with 3 Finnish birder that we met but we couldn’t find anything else than some Snow Buntings. On the way down we saw briefly a Golden Eagle but anyway Ailigas had been a big disappointment. Luckily in Piesjänkä nearby we saw a family of Willow Grouses and a Lemming! Soon we found a breeding pair of Long-tailed Skuas. Their territory was full of pieces of dead Lemmings, mostly there was only head left. We photographed these skuas for some time before we left them and walked back to our car. On the way we saw also a couple of Arctic Redpoll, Bluethroats, Lapland Buntings and also a Reed Bunting which I think was in wrong place.

Near Nuvvus Ailigas we saw plenty of Rough-legged Buzzards and also a Merlin and a stunning Gyr Falcon that flew over us calling

In Utsjoki we did some shopping again and it started to rain very hard again when we continued 9 kilometres to Pohjan tuli hotel to eat some reindeer. This was a place to see Pine Grosbeaks visiting the feeders just outside the restaurant windows. The rain stopped right when we got our food to the table and exactly then an adult female Pine Grosbeak came to the feeder! 10th lifer for Paul! And the timing was perfect!

We were so happy when we had seen also this extremely difficult species that we decided to take a room and have a shower with sauna. And it was also good to charge some batteries, also our own.

On the morning of 19th of July we still tried to see Pine Grosbeaks better but only Paul saw the same bird while we were still sleeping. The wind was now stormy so we could easily decide to start driving a long way towards Oulu.

Somewhere in Utsjoki we saw a couple of Rough-legged Buzzards and a Short-eared Owl and right away when we had came to Inari we saw a Willow Grouse and a Long-tailed Skua. We climbed to Kiilopää because of we still hadn’t seen any Ptarmigans but we couldn’t find any. A family of Siberian Jays, a couple of Lapland Buntings, a Golden Plover and a Bluethroat were seen. In Sodankylä Porttipahta we saw the first Osprey of the whole trip (that tells something about the weather and our schedule!) and on the lake we saw a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls. After this we had just a long and boring drive until Rovaniemi where we had a must stop at the Arctic Circle, but soon we were on the way to Oulu. We were finally at Oulu at 11 p.m.

And as crazy as we are we decided to drive to Rusko rubbish tip to try to see an Eagle Owl. We had decided to have only a short stop there but we met a security-guard there who told that the best time to see the owl is between 2 and 4 a.m. So we slept a couple of hours in a car outside the rubbish tip gates!

In Oulu region

On the morning of 20th of July I woke up once again to check all the poles that were visibly from the rubbish tip and there the Eagle Owl was perched on a rubbish-hill against the sunset. Unfortunately it flew away almost right away but all of us managed to see it briefly. We still waited for a half an hour but then the sun started to rise and too many gulls and crows were coming to the rubbish tip so the owl was gone.

Because of at 2 a.m. it was difficult to figure out a good place to go to sleep (even though I have lived there for 15 years) I decided that we drove to Liminka Virkkula. So we just slept on the mattresses in our sleeping bags under the sky while a Spotted Crake was calling just next to us.

After some hours sleeping we walked to the bird-tower, where we could see amazingly few birds. A flying Bittern a White-tailed Eagle, lots of Greylag Geese, a Great Grey Shrike but nothing else interesting. So we continued to Lumijoki Sannanlahti where many ducks weren’t either but a Black Tern was a good one as was an Arctic Skua too! The craziest triptick that we had still missing was also finally seen, a Lesser Whitethroat.

In Lumijoki we twitched the Collared Doves and then had a short stop in Oulu Kiviniemi and Oritkari but only some Little Ringed Plovers were seen. At 11 a.m. we had a meeting with our good friend Mikko Ala-Kojola and we drove 100 kilometres to Vaala where we headed to a bog and a nest of an Osprey. It seemed that the local Ospreys were breeding in very ridiculous trees if comparing to those that breeds in South-Karelia. The first nest we visited was in such a tree that it was impossible to climb because of the tree might have been fallen! But the second nest was possible to climb with ladders and Mikko ringed the only but big nestling and we all got nice opportunity to have such a big raptor in our hand. Paul was so happy that we didn’t have to ask him to smile in the pictures! On the ways we saw also a Hazel Hen and a Great Grey Shrike.

We were absolutely tired when we drove back to Oulu. But we were also very thankful to Mikko to have an opportunity to join him ringing an Osprey. If it has been amazing experience for us it was even much more to Paul. In Oulu we dropped Mikko to Linnanmaa and continued to my brother Riku. Riku was with his two children in Kokkola but his wife Pirjo let us to lodge to their upstairs. We finally met their newborn girl too. After some dinner we were ready to go to sleep.

Back home

On the 21st of July we slept as long as it was possible. We didn’t plan any birding for the day but we were resting, went to walk to Oulu city and even went to cinema. Anyway we visited Hietasaari bird-tower and in Lake Pyykösjärvi, but we didn’t see anything special. In the evening Riku came home too so the rest of the day went easily while discussing and also packing. At 11 p.m. we took Paul to the train station and he took the train to Helsinki. The night train was the most relaxed way to get to Helsinki from where he had his flight to catch next morning.

On the 22nd of July Paul had a good time to take a bus to the airport because of his flight was at 2 p.m. We were relaxing until the mid-day when we had to start our long way to Parikkala.

On the way we saw a Great Grey Shrike in Rantsila and the only stop was made in Kärsämäki Nurmesjärvi where 3 Hobbies, a Honey Buzzard and a Hen Harrier were seen. Finally at 10 p.m. we were at home. We had had amazing 2 weeks; 4300 kilometres driven and 222 birdspecies seen, which is really a lot in July!

J.A.

Norway Lofoten 31st of July to 6th of August 2004

Forewords

Ilkka Jarva had done a great work: he had managed to talk his parents caravan for our trip and done lots of preparations for our trip, so the rest of us – Janne and Hanna, Ilkka’s girlfriend Marisanna and our friends from Oulu, Juha Heimovirta and Paulus Tulppo – could just jump to this summers adventure to Norway Lofoten.

Ilkka had planned the schedule, ferries and also together with Janne an accommodation in our target place in Røst island. These two had also found out that we could join with a Swedish group to their Storm-Petrel trip, so everything was well planned.

Everything ready to go

Ilkka and Marisanna started their trip from Imatra already at 31st of July after midday, a lot of earlier than rest of us. The rest of us were already in Oulu, Janne and Hanna on their friends wedding. So Ilkka and Marisanna drove the whole Saturday up until Liminka, where they slept over night on the parking place of Virkkula information center.

On Sunday the 1st of August after Ilkka had visited the birdtower they drove to Oulu where they picked up Janne and Hanna. Next we picked up Juha and finally it was Pales turn. The clock was less than 6 a.m. when our journey really begun!

We bought gasoline in Ii and Ilkka who had been driven enough let Janne to continue. We crossed the Swedish border before the shops were opened and started to collect Sweden-ticks. We did see lots of birds. All bushes along the road were full of young passerines and many of them really tried to make suicide and fly under the car. The best species were a Marsh Harrier, a Red-backed Shrike and a Sparrowhawk. Little bit northern we saw also Cranes, Common Buzzards, couple of Short-eared Owls, Bluethroats, Common Crossbills and heard a Black Woodpecker.

We continued driving 89 km/h through the whole Sweden. Only longer stop was made in Kiruna, where we again bought gasoline. Marisanna and Ilkka even managed to visit Marisannas aunt. Little bit after Kiruna the landscape changed, the road climbed up to the mountains. We didn’t see lots of birds but some Waxwings, Black- and Red-throated Divers were seen. Otherwise the driving was easy because there wasn’t quiet moments in a car, all the time someone was joking or telling stories. So we really had fun.

Driving and driving

We crossed the Norwegian border of course celebrating. Norway, Norway -shouts would have scared any Norwegian nearby. Janne started to write down Norwegian-ticks.

Like always when we have crossed the Norwegian border we haven’t seen almost any birds before the view to the sea had opened. Now we reached the sea near Narvik and right away we saw some birds but much more interesting were the beautiful views! Mountains were rising straight from the azure-blue sea, and even the weather was really good – 25 degrees and no wind at all! We really started to think that winter jackets and hats and other winter clothes wouldn’t be so necessary on this trip.

The most common birds on these “fjords” were Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Herring, Common and Great Black-backed Gulls, Common and Arctic Terns, Cormorants, Eiders, Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers. Also Grey Herons were everywhere! Not so common species were Black-headed Gulls, Arctic Skuas, Black-throated Divers, Whimbrels, Curlews, Black Guillemots and Mallards. Also a Slavonian Grebe, White-tailed Eagle and Spotted Redshank were seen on pretty soon. The passerines were mostly Pied Wagtails, Fieldfares, Redwings, Redpolls, Meadow Pipits, Willow Warblers and Willow and Great Tits. Some Wheatears, Greenfinches, House Sparrows, Swallows, Sand and House Martins, Magpies, Feral and Wood Pigeons were seen.

We stopped couple of times because of the great views but we had to keep on going, we had still long way to drive. We waited 20 minutes for the ferry that crossed Hadselfjorden and then we finally were in Lofoten. This ferry from Melbu to Fiskeböl was right in a schedule and from the ferry we saw the first Porpoises.

It was already getting dark so we tried to find a place to stay for a night as quickly as possible. We managed to find a good place along one small road. Soon we all were trying to fell asleep.

There was only one problem. It was an unnamed person from Northern Oulu. I think none of us had ever heard so terrible snoring! Janne even thought to go to sleep outside, but there was so humid that his sleeping bag was wet in one minute. Even Willow Grouses were laughing for this situation.

Finally all of us managed to sleep at least a little. And after all we slept longer than we had planned. Outside there was a deep fog, so we didn’t have to hurry.

Some seawatching

After the breakfast we continued to our first seawatching point to Henningsvær. When we reached the place we first tried to park to an old football pitch, but two local women came to tell us friendly that it wasn’t the right place to leave the car. They said that someone will kill us if we do so! Nice! Well we found a good parking place and walked to the shore.

We climbed up to the hill with our equipments and soon we found out that there were nothing moving on the sea. Luckily there were some nice local birds like Shags and Twites, which both were new Western Palearctic year ticks for Janne and Hanna.

Our second seawatching point was in Eggum. While driving there we saw some Scaups on one small lake. There was one nice Scaup family too. At Eggum we found the first Rock Pipits and also one Kittiwake was seen. After all the fog made seawatching useless, so soon we continued driving.

We had still a long way to the Southern end of Lofoten, Å. We drove couple of hours in deep fog and we saw just some Ducks in one lake. During the evening we found out that the weather was getting much better on the Southern side of the mountains. So little bit before Måskenes we had couple of stops before we continued to the edge of Å to do seawatching until the dusk.

The most Southern edge of Lofoten had colonies of Kittiwakes. Some of them were breeding on the houses too. We also saw the first sub-adult Gannet and some Puffins. Black Guillemot was really common, but Razorbill and Common Guillemot weren’t found at all. After a beautiful sunset we drove to Måskenes harbour to sleep. On the next morning we would get on a ferry to Røst.

Finally some real seabirds

3rd of August we woke up about 7.50 a.m. While eating breakfast we heard a Chiffchaff, saw several flocks of Waxbills and a flock of Common Crossbills.

Soon we climbed to the ferry’s deck and started to do seawatching. Now we thought we could finally see something better too. We knew other birders had seen Storm-Petrels on this ferry trip. Soon we saw the first Puffins and little bit later first Storm-Petrels. First Janne saw a Storm-Petrel which might have been Leach’s, but the bird was too far. Next Storm Petrels we managed to identify as European Storm-Petrels.

Before the island of Værøy we saw the first Fulmars. First they were just flying or swimming far on the sea but soon some of them came to fly just next to the ferry. So our photographer unit got something to do. Near the Værøy we saw thousands of Puffins and also first Common Guillemots and Razorbills were seen. The ferry stopped shortly on Værøy but soon we were on the way to Røst.

We did see hundreds of Fulmars and Puffins, a Gannet, a Great Skua and some more European Storm-Petrels, but when we came close to Røst we saw only Black Guillemots and Kittiwakes anymore.

After 3.5 hours ferry trip it was nice to get hard ground under our feet. On the harbour there was one worker of Rorbukamping and by his boat we reached our hotel which was on own small island. This Rorbucamping was something amazing! Kittiwakes were breeding everywhere on the roofs and walls. We got two rooms: room for 4 and room for 2, so boys and girls had own rooms. The price was 125 crowns/night/person.

Birding on a island

After a short rest we were ready to go for a walk to the best birding areas of the island. So we rowed to the main island and started to walk towards the airfield. After couple of kilometres walk we climbed over a sheep fence and walked around the airfield to the shore. Rock Pipit and Arctic Skua were common. There were much less waders than we had excepted, anyway some Dunlins, Turnstones, Ruffs, couple of Sanderlings and one Little Stint Temminck’s Stint were found. We also met the Swedish bird group and they had been already searching the closest places. They hadn’t seen anything special, but one dead Sperm Whale. (This was the group that we would join in the evening.)

Pretty soon we were back in our rooms. And after a short rest and dinner we were ready to go for the Storm-Petrels. 9 p.m. there were 13 Swedes, Hanna, Janne and Ilkka ready for the highlight of the trip (rest of our group weren’t birdwatchers).

To the sea

The Swedes climbed to the roof of the boat, so we went to the back and started to use our Finn-sticks right away we were out of the coastline. Surprisingly Janne found a female Eider, which seemed to smile – also all other id-marks told that the bird was a King Eider.

When we reached the first islands south from Røst we saw amazing numbers of Puffins and Kittiwakes which were breeding on a huge cliffs. It was weird to find out that there were almost no Razorbills and Common Guillemots, almost just Puffins.

We continued and passed Trenyken which had at least 50 White-tailed Eagles! They were sitting on the rocks and flying high above the cliffs. We also saw couple of Purple Sandpipers, but soon we passed the last island and continued to the sea. That was the place for Storm-Petrels!

The crew started to fish which was the way to get the birds closer, and right away Fulmars came up. Soon there was tens of Fulmars. We climbed to the front where a Norwegian group leader was and started to search for Storm-Petrels. Soon we found the first ones, but they were again all European Storm-Petrels. Some of these tiny birds flew pretty close to us. It was wonderful to see these birds well!

There was couple of darker morph of Fulmar amongst the others, couple of Gannets was also seen, but Leach’s Storm-Petrel was still missing. Swedes frustrated first, (but I think they wouldn’t have seen any Storm-Petrels without their guide or us). Some of them promised to buy a beer for the person who can find the first Leach’s. We were laughing because we knew that we will find it, and in a minute Ilkka saw first one promising looking bird and a little bit later Janne found a Leach’s Storm-Petrel flying towards the boat.

Everyone but the guide got a lifer, so the atmosphere rose quickly. We still had a last look to the Fulmars which were eating all the small fish that the crew had caught with only a hook. The biggest 12 kilos catfish they decided to give for the Hernyken bird stations crew.

On Hernyken bird island

We landed to Hernyken and met both 2 ringers of the station. Janne had contacted another ringer, Thomas Arvaak, before the trip. The ringers told about the history and projects of the station, but unfortunately on their own language. So the Swedes did understand but we understood only something. Tomas brought a young Puffin from a trap (couple of fences which were leading downhill to a box), so we had an opportunity to see this funny bird really close, some on hand.

Soon we walked to the shore to wait the Storm-Petrels to arrive. The ringers went to set up the mist nets and put the cd-player on. They had both Leach’s and European Storm-Petrels calls. We waited only couple of minutes before the Storm-Petrels arrived. First there were European Storm-Petrels which started to fly up to the mountains, and soon the first bird was caught. While Tomas was releasing the bird from the net, we found the first Leach’s Storm-Petrel flying with the Europeans. This one also came to fly really close to us so everyone saw it extremely well.

We did catch several European Storm-Petrel soon so we managed to get this bird also to hand. (Of course not all, but Tomas knew that we had had birds in our hands before.) We managed to get some kind of pictures too.

Totally we caught 15 European Storm-Petrels but we couldn’t catch any Leach’s. We did see them realy well and also heard them displaying, so we were more than happy.

The sun started to rise when we closed the mist nets and started our way back to Røst. We were all extremely tired but still the White-tailed Eagles and Puffins were nice to see again. But it was also nice to get to bed!

Just relaxing

We woke up about midday. Of course Pale, Juha and Marisanna were already woken. Probably the reason why we woke up was that the smell in our room was something horrible! We had been travelling some days already, so it was nice to go to the shower! We were all so tired that we decided just to take it easy. So we were photographing the Kittiwakes. The funniest pictures were taken through the kitchen window. There were all the time couple of Kittiwakes watching through it.
During the day we really didn’t do anything important. Of course just going to shop wasn’t that easy. First we had to raw to the main island and then walk couple of kilometres to the other side of the harbour. After this the ice-cream was even better than normally in the heat.

In the evening we were again on the deck of the ferry. All the Swedes were also watching to the sea with us. We did see again some 15 European Storm-Petrels, Gannets, 3 Great Skuas, amazing numbers of Fulmars and as the best 3rd year Glauscous Gull.

When we were back on Lofoten we still drove couple of hours before we stopped to Flakstad to sleep next to the beautiful beaches. Our photographers Pale and Juha still went to do some photographing but soon we all were asleep.

Way back

On the 5th of August we all knew what we had for the day. We had a long drive to do again. Anyway our group was so great that the atmosphere stayed good all the time (even Janne was the only who had met everyone before).

Anyway we decided to do some seawatching in Eggum, because now there was no fog. The sun was shining and it was almost hot, so it was nice to watch to the sea with an English group which had our Norwegian friend as a guide. We saw 9 Gannets, about 20 Fulmars, a Great Skua and some young and local Peregrine Falcons.

When we continued our drive it was nice to see some places which had been in a fog last time. Fiskeböl – Melbu ferry trip was like a new experience. Now all of us managed to see Porpoises. Also the only Rough-legged Buzzard of the whole trip was seen.

Ilkka drove as long as the roads came little bit wider and then Janne started his turn. Janne drove more than 12 hours continuously while Pale was keeping him awake. All the rest were sleeping well. The last observation in Norway was a family of Willow Grouses and a family of Whooper Swans.

In Sweden the speed stayed similar. Janne drove through the whole country and saw 5 Short-eared Owls which 3 of them tried to get killed under the car. All 10 Willow Grouses and a big surprise on the mountains a Great Snipe passed the road earlier.

In Tornio Janne was already too tired to drive so Ilkka continued again. We arrived at Oulu already in the morning. Janne, Pale and Juha stayed left there. Marisanna continued driving until Paltamo where Ilkka and Hanna could also eat with Marisanna’s family before these too continued to South-Karelia.

J.A.

Norway, Varanger 11th to 19th of July 2003

And again to Varanger!

We relaxed only two days after our friend from Catalonia left. Then we loaned the same VW Golf again from Hanna’s father and started our next holiday trip to Inari Lapland and Varanger. My old friend from Oulu Juha Heimovirta joined us. Juha isn’t that much a birder but he is a photographed, and there is a lot of photographing in Varanger, at least birds!

On Friday 11th of July we got our car packed and begun our way to north again. Juha joined us in Kontiomäki, where he came by train.

I have been driving some too much to Rovaniemi in my life so we decided to drive now by different roads. So we drove through Kemijärvi to our first tenting place to Pelkosenniemi Saunavaara.

Some twitching on the way

So we weren’t in Saunavaara by accident: It was not just a good place for tenting, it was also good place to see a Pallid Harrier. There had been one male bird hunting whole summer. Somebody said there could be also female and perhaps a nest too. So after some sleeping (I slept very bad – the ground was too hard and Rustic Bunting family was calling too loud and some fucking Pirkka Aalto was making the beeper call all the time) I started to watch over field in 5 a.m. And soon I found first Short-eared Owl and after that a 3 c-y Pallid Harrier male flying over the field. I woke up Hanna and Juha but they weren’t fast enough. Next time I found the bird Hanna and Juha managed to see it too.

Hanna and Juha continued sleeping but I decided to digiscope the Harrier. And I was lucky, the bird landed to sit on a pole and I managed to get one some kind of picture. After one hour that P.Aalto with his friend Petri Piisilä and after some waiting we saw the Harrier again. There was also Little Bunting singing.

With Pirkka and Petri we went to wake up Hanna and Juha. Soon it came to rain very heavily but we could pack the tent somehow before it was totally wet. Pirkka and Petri continued to Kemijärvi to have some birding and we continued our way to north.

In Sodankylä we stops some times, and we saw some Common Scoter (one family too), Smews and from car we saw one Hobby and one Peregrine Falcon, I think the fist one was better bird in that north.

Our next more important stop was in Inari Kaamanen where we twitched two female Pine Crossbeaks which were staying in one restaurants feeding place. First summer record for me ever of this bird, which can be the most common bird in winter in some years in Oulu area.

Hiking on the top of Ailigas

We arrived to our first main place to Karigasniemi Ailigas in afternoon. We had to wait for an hour that rain went over mountains, but finally we could start hiking to the top of Ailigas mountain. Some Arctic Redpolls were flying around, but soon I saw a very good surprise: I saw a Gyrfalcon flying beautifully against the mountain. It was so hard wind that Hanna and Juha couldn’t hear what I was shouting so they both missed the bird they just saw me jumping and acting like a crazy. Soon we heard some voices of Long-tailed Skua from the sky but we couldn’t find the birds from the blue sky. But now Hanna and of course Juha got lifers. After some climbing we reached the top of the mountain. Juha sat down against the rocks when I said:” There is some Ptarmigans running three meters from you”. So that stopped our relaxing, of course we had to take photos of the birds. While photographing I started to wonder where Hanna was. So I called her:” Here is Ptarmigan came and photograph”. And Hanna answered:” Well here is a family of Dotterel. Should we change?” And that’s what we made. First we took some photos of Dotterels and then climbed back to the top, but Ptarmigans were gone. But now there was funny looking Snow Finch youngster running under the buildings.

Later we started our way back down and then we found the Ptarmigans again and also Hanna could take photos. We had our tent pretty high on the mountain and it was amazing to sleep while Whimblers and Golden Plovers were calling outside.

A BIG mistage

Next morning (13th of July) we walked some hours at Piesjänkä bogs. It was very hard and there were not a lot of birds: just some Arctic Redpolls, two Long-tailed Skuas, Spotted Redshanks, Red-necked Phalaropes, Rough-legged Buzzards…

But pretty early we decided to continue to north. At Nuvvus Ailigas we stopped to play some CD for Ring Ouzel. And soon we heard just similar calling from the bushes. I decided to take some photos of the bird but then I realized my telescope is missing! Soon I realized I had left it to Piesjänkä 70km back way against the small wooden toilet. I think this is the biggest mistake that birder can do! Leave his telescope, amazing!

Well I drove like Ari Vatanen and Juha and Hanna were sitting eyes shut and after one and half hour we were back in Nuvvus Ailigas trying to hear Ring Ouzel. At least I tried to be like nothing were happened but I don’t know how was others. It was now very windy so we couldn’t find the Ring Ouzel anymore so we decided to move on to Norway!

And real birding begins

After the Norwegian boarder we began to keep species list. Of course we had begun a list already when we took Juha from Kontiolahti, but now we were collecting Norway species. And this time the first one was Hooded Crow.

In Varangerbotn there was again a lot of birds! No mind fucker -feelings this time but again a lot of birds! Strange looking Eider male, Velvet Scoters, Common Scoters, Goldeneyes, Goosanders, Gulls with also some Kittiwakes, Arctic Skuas, some Black-throated Divers, male Scaup… Before Nesseby church we saw also hunting Short-eared Owl.

At Nesseby church it was already evening. It was also raining. So we were just sitting on car and waiting the weather getting better. On the beach there was 20 Shellducks, 13 Steller’s Eiders, Whimbrels and a flock of 94 Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Sandpiper, Pintail, Red-throated Divers and a flock of 10 Little Gulls. When the rain stopped we put our tent up to the island behind the church and went to our sleeping bags.

Some seawatching

At morning we woke up to have some seawatching and some photographing. Soon I found a flying Great Skua (a lifer!). Others were as far as possible photographing but they ran to see the bird against the fells very far. Now there was 19 Steller’s Eiders, there was also easy Oystercatchers and Dunlin to photograph. And of course the breeding pair of Arctic Skuas were very brave (nice pale and dark birds). But we couldn’t find the Sabine Gull which our friend Jari Kontiokorpi had seen less than week earlier. Kittiwakes were mostly too far on the sea.

Next we stopped in Vadsö, where the closest swimming bird was a Fulmar! I got it digiscoped when swimming less than 100 metres from us and Hanna got a flying photo. There was also funny young Hooded Crow and Raven which made everything to get photographed. In Vadsö islands small water place there was 60 Red-necked Phalaropes, Tufted Ducks, Ruffs, Little Stints and on the beach amazing amount of Arctic Terns. Soon were again in car and were driving on.

In Eckerö we were wondering again the amount of Kittiwakes. We took some photos too, but there was nothing more interesting. In Krampenes there was an old White-tailed Eagle sitting on the shore and in Skallelv a Shore Lark flew over the road. We parked the car and tried to find the Lark where I saw it landing. We took only few steps from the road when Hanna found a fledling of Shore Lark. Very nice bird! Of course we took a lot of pictures and soon mother came there too to call us. When mother realized we are not going to eat its child it started to eat calm. It was very windy but I managed to get some pictures of the adult bird too.

In the evening we found from Vardö a nice place to tent. It was nice to watch to bird islands from the door of the tent. It was very windy but I managed to recognize even Brunnich’s Guillemot to a tent tick. We also had a shover in Vardö hotell (of course it cost a little) and bought the tickets to Hornöya bird island for the whole next day.

To Hornöya bird island

It was 9 a.m. in Norwegian time (10 in Finnish) when we jumped on the boat in Vardö harbour. This time we were going to the island. And this was why we were there in Varanger, in Eastern we couldn’t get there and then we decide we have to come back!

There were also one Norwegian and couple from South Africa (which came there by their own car!). When we came closer the islands we realized how different it was this time: Hundreds of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills. Cliffs were black of them – thousands! Swimming birds were very close. When we jumped from boat to island there were some Common Guillemots sitting on the stones and we begun to photograph.

We took a lot of pictures! First there were Black Guillemots on the rocks, Common Guillemots swimming on the shore, Shags were calling on the cliffs. After some climbing there were a lot of Puffins sitting on the cliffs very close the track. They were very easy to photograph. They were always too close to digiscope! There were also Razorbills only a little further. Common Guillemots were hundreds pretty far on the cliffs and first we couldn’t find Brunnich’s Guillemots at all. And of course thousands and thousands of Kittiwakes!

Soon we saw an surprise when we saw a Common Guillemot dropping own to rocks. It just lost air under wings. But it didn’t hurt at least badly, but jumped to the sea from next edge.

Another boat took Dick Forsman and his group to island. We had met Dick already earlier in Vardö hotel. He told us that there was somewhere on the cliffs a breeding Fulmar. But he didn’t know the exact place and there was some 10000 other white bird (Kittiwakes) breeding. But we thought we do can find it if we just try.

And more photos

After two hours photographing we realized, that it was amazing hot! Last evening it was really cold so we had two trousers and three jackets. And now it was amazingly hot and could be in just t-skirts. We continued climbing up to watch views and more birds.

When back down we had some breakfast and photographed three species of Pipits: Meadow, Rock and Red-throated Pipits. While doing dishes we got attacked by Black-backed Gull which had a small youngster on the shore.

Soon we went back to photograph some Guillemots. Now we found quite many Brunnich’s Guillemots and I digiscope them. There was also Common Guillemots with (ringvia) and without eye ring. Puffins were flying very close of us and sometimes they almost hit us. All those birds had different kind of voices: Shags and Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins were pretty easy to recognize from voice. Kittiwakes were crying like babies and calling more like other gulls too.

Fulmar on its nest!

After some more digiscoping and photographing I and Hanna decided to find the breeding Fulmar. And amazing or what in 15 minutes Hanna found it! It was breeding very high on the cliff above many Common Guillemots between many Kittiwakes. I took of course photos of it and soon we spread to different directions to continue photographing.

At afternoon we noticed there was a ringer climbing on the cliff! Soon the ringer came down and we could change some words with him. We told him about the Fulmar, which he said that it is maybe not breeding. Fulmar can be just sitting on a cliff for years just practising breeding. Ringer told nobody has seen another bird.

When the ringer left the island I went to have another check of the Fulmar and surprise another bird flew to nest. The first bird which was sitting on a cliff checked few times underneath itself if there is all okay. The pair was also acting like lovers (more than any bird I have ever seen and I don’t mean anything just action). Soon male shouted twice and left back to sea. I think they were really breeding.

Later I was digiscoping Brunnich’s Guillemots again it happened again, one of the birds drop just to my legs and I caught it. And I was happy because it was a ringvia bird. Now every one of us got very close views of this bird. The bird has very sharp bill it really hurt when it bit. Soon we let it free again.

Nine hours in the island went very fast. That was the right time to be there. I wouldn’t have left any earlier. Such a paradise it was at least for digiscoper! We had paid 50 krones more to be there extra three hours and it was worthy. There was even no one but us. Unfortunately we didn’t have more films and memory sticks, so they were almost full when we left. We left the island by some kind of rubber boat which wet really fast. We were back in Vardö harbour in some minutes.

At the end of the World

When back in Vardö we tried to find a place to buy dia film but we couldn’t find any. I also loaded my batteries in Vardö hotel. Then we continued to Hamningberg.
One White-tailed Eagle was sitting on the shore somewhere on the way and in Persfjorden we found one King Eider swimming with a huge flock of Eiders. At Hamningberg we tried to find first a good place for tenting without reindeer shit. It had been pretty good day again!

16th of July I woke up first as usually to have some seawatching. And there was a lot of sea to watch. It was very nice weather with no wind at all, but pretty bad light. I had watched only 20 minutes when there was something else but Fulmars and Gannets. I found a lifer when Shearwater was flying up and down between the small waves. But the light was so bad that I couldn’t be sure was it a Manx or something else. Soon I found two Shearwaters more but I again I couldn’t recognize them. Soon Hanna came also to have some seawatching and finally we found the first sure Manx Shearwater. Soon I walked a hard way to another place to continue sea watching and soon I saw another Manx much better. Somehow I think the first birds were different, Sooty Shearwaters maybe? There were also three big Divers but also too far and too bad light.

Later it started to wind again and air began to wave too. Wind made the weather also much cooler so when I couldn’t continue seawatching wearing just t-skirt I stopped doing it. When you are on holiday you can’t make any misery birdwatching!

Seabirds

Soon we decided to start our way as far back as possible. On the way we met Dick again, and with them we saw 2 male and two female King Eiders. We had been concentrating more to flying birds which explained also that we hadn’t seen any Yellow-billed or Great Northern Divers that Dick’s group has seen.

After a big work we found more film for Juha in Vadsö. Next better birds were in Nesseby. Of course we climbed over Nesseby too, but nothing else than Kittiwakes. At Nesseby it was very windy but a lot of Fulmars were flying all the time to the bottom of the fjord. But the light was again that bad that we decided to go around the bottom to the other side.

From the other side of bottom we could watch those Fulmars much better. They were also flying pretty close. There was about one hundred Fulmars, Gannets, one Shearwater (which seemed to be very dark), also three Slavonian Grebes were seen as a Norwegian ticks. But soon we had to continue to inner land.

From sandbeach to high fells

Of course we stopped again in Gyr Falcon edge, even we had heard some rumours that birds had already left their home. We hadn’t got our neck hurt yet when I found a young Gyr Falcon flying over the fell towards us. .The bird landed on the top of the cliff and we could get some views of it with scopes. I managed to get two pictures of it before it flew away again.

In Högholmen we concentrated only to photograph some of the craziest Arctic Terns. They were hitting even the car while driving. Juha tried to get a picture of the Tern when it is soaring against the big fell but he got only pictures without the fell. On the silt there were some Sandpipers walking: Dunlins, tens of Temminck’s Stints, eight Curlew Sandpipers, 27 Bar-tailed Godwits with one Knot, 18 Red-throated Phalaropes and a Ruff.

Our plans to stay overnight at Högholmen couldn’t be done because of the area was protected and there was only one tenting place pretty far. So we continued our way to high fells to find new places to stay.

Road to the fells was very beautiful it went very high to the fells. On the lakes there was some Long-tailed Ducks, a family of Black-throated Divers, Rough-legged Buzzards were flying in some places, all Skuas were amazingly still just Arctic Skuas. Finally we found a good tenting place pretty high fro fells where there was a small river and amazingly green. And first time there was also mosquitoes pretty much.

Hard walk

When woke up we continued our way to Syltefjorden. On the lakes there were again Long-tailed Ducks, Black-throated Divers, one mail Scaup, finally we found some Long-tailed Skuas too. We reached the bottom of Syltefjord about ten o’clock a.m. First we cooked some meal and then begun our 11 km hike towards the Gannet colony!

The hike was very tough! It was almost just round stones which were very hard and dangerous to walk. We had to climb up and down some fells too and they were pretty high and steep. First we climbed 400 metres up from the sea level over a high fell. Hanna and Juha were carrying backpacks, my packages were little smaller but I had to carry my Zeiss with tripod and I had also all drinks in my back. – And we had a lot of drinks with us.

Soon we saw a cliff on the other side of fjord which ad a Cormorant colony breeding. The cliff was almost whole white because of the birds shit. Other birds were very few. Main reason was of course that we were pretty high where is almost nothing growing, but another reason was because we had to watch all the time to our steps to that we are not falling.

After two hours hiking the route came down the fells to the valley. There we had to get over some small rivers by foots. There was one Ptarmigan drinking at the first river. It was funny to see a Ptarmigan only some twenty of meters from the sea level.

Soon we climbed again up the fells and later back down to a empty fishers village. There we relaxed a little before it started to get cold and we moved on again. There was one pair of Twites sitting on the rocky fence of the village. It was nice to see these birds in their breeding views.

On the way we had met one pair from somewhere South-Europe which told us to walk as high the fells as possible to reach the colony easiest. That’s what we made.

Gannet colony

Last four kilometres were vey hard climbing. The track was marked with stone piles. We hiked from pile to another hoping we finally would be there at colony, but always there was another hill with another stone pile to climb. Finally we reached the top which started a six kilometres long edge with amazing 150000 pairs of Kittiwakes. But right above us there was tens of Gannets flying and much more sitting on a rock bench where the colony was. The birds were sitting there and shouting.

Hanna and Juha came there after me and it was a disappointment for Juha to see how far down the colony was. The birds were far too long for photographing with normal camera. The colony was about 250 metres below us. They were just sitting on their nests and flying pretty low. They didn’t fly higher almost at all.

I do started to digiscope the Gannets and Hanna was almost Happy just seeing those amazing birds even without photographing. But Juha started to find a way down closer the colony. He really wanted to get photos, and I did understood him after 11 kilometres walking.

More than ten White-tailed Eagles were soaring up the sky, once eight together. Snow Finch was carrying food to its nestlings to a hole on a cliff. Even the wind wasn’t bordering us because it was behind a top of the fell. It was very nice!

Finally Juha came to tell us that it do is possible to get down there closer the colony. Just up the colony there was a canyon, about 45 degrees steep, and just small rocks, but we thought it really is a possible way to get down. Cameras with us (and I took of course the scope) we climbed very dangerous way down. We had to be sure all the tie there is no one underneath or up from us because of the rolling stones. When we on our halfway it started to rain and it came much more slippery and dangerous of course. It took about half an hour to get down to the colony. But it was really worth to get there! The colony was just 50 meters from us! They were now little higher than us but now we all could take some photographs. It could have been even better to photograph from another rock bench, but it was too slippery to climb over it and you should have to walk there using 40cm wide track.

Finally the rain stopped, and we could begun to photograph. The lighj was still pretty bad but the Gannets were now so close that Juha and Hanna could take nice flying pictures too and I had to climb little further to get the whole bird to picture. Some Gannets had nestlings, funny looking white hairy birds. All the time there was new birds coming from the sea, some birds were stretching their wings and some birds were fighting against their neighbours. Only two meters up from us there was Kittiwakes breeding and calling those funny voices.

We photographed the Gannets more than an hour and all our films and memory sticks begun to be full. Hanna was the only who still had room for some photos. I had only room for eight photos and Juha had room for only four photos. So we decided to climb back. It was much easier to climb up than it was to get down. Of course it was tougher but when going with “four-wheel”, it wasn’t even close as dangerous.

Finally we got up to our rest luggage. Soon we had our tent up only three meters from the cliff just up from the colony. While putting the tent up a Gyr Falcon flew over us. What a pity we hadn’t had our tent up, so I couldn’t get very good tent tick which you have to see or hear from tent. Snow Finch and Ermine were there watching us. Soon we were all sleeping (of course Juha as doing this and that at least half an hour like every night).

To the way back

Next morning we slept late. We had again a long walk back to our car. We had some seawatching if we could find some seabirds or whales because it was amazingly still, but we found only thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills and tens of thousand Kittiwakes and some White-tailed Eagles. Soon we had al our luggage packed and we started our way back. The hike back was pretty easy. Of course we had much less to carry because of food and drinks were destroyed. In four hours we were back at car. On the way we saw some Ptarmigans again and Hanna and Juha found Actic Skua with a young still non flying bird.

After a small lunch we packed the car again and were ready for a long way back home. When we found again a place where our mobiles were working, all our phones were calling a lot. At least 5-10 messages for all of us. I had to make some calls to Parikkala so I could be sure that I can start my work in Health Centre after two days.

On fells we saw again Long-tailed Ducks, Arctis Skuas and finally also pair of Long-tailed Skuas which were possibly to photograph. On our way to Syltefjord we had seen this same pair but now we found their nesting place, and we found also nestling. So now we had to take all pictures we had left. But this was a must to get photos.

At Högholmen it was much less birds than last time so we continued our way pretty fast. At Gyr Falcon place we didn’t even stop. So now we were driving pretty fast!
In Skippagurra we decided to drive to Utsjoki using Norwegian roads which were much faster than Finnish roads. There were also good shops to do some shopping. At least we needed much more to drink; it was so hot in the car.

Very tired driving

We drove pretty fast through North-Lapland and nothing interesting happened. In Saariselkä we had a shower in Riekonkieppi hotel of course no free). Late night we saw some birds: first in Sodankylä we saw Siberian Jay and then we twitched a calling Quail at Sattanen (we tried this also when we drove to north). Juha was driving until midnight, and I was driving the last 100 km. We slept again in Pelkosenniemi Saunavaara.

Early morning we woke up and continued our way without any bird records. In Rovaniemi county we twitched Grey Wagtail male and Dipper at Auttiköngäs. In Pudasjärvi we dropped Juha to bus station and we ate some lunch too. After that we drove directly to Parikkala. We bought of course some ice-cream on the way twice. After all we were home about 7 p.m. at Saturday evening. So we had still time to relax before our works at Monday.

We had had pretty good three weeks holiday! We drove in our both trips together 5555 kilometres. In this Lapland-Varanger trip we drove 3555 kilometres. With Catalans we sae 152 species and in this another trip we got 140 species (88 in Norway). Together in these trips we saw 204 species and in June-July – pretty well!

J.A.