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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!