Great Grey Owl
Birders: Esben Eriksen, Peter Hahn, Torbjørn Eriksen and Michael Mosebo Jensen (text and photos)
It was very obvious when planning this trip that we would be guided by our urge for target species. We allowed ourselves a week only, and the question was how to make the most of Finland in such a short time. However, we got invaluable help from Mika Asikainen and Sakari Kauppinen both when planning our itinerary and along the way. We thank them both warmly!
We took a flight from Copenhagen to Helsinki (about Dkr. 1500,-/€ 200), had arranged a car (Ford Mondeo Estate) beforehand at Budget Car (Dkr. 4800,-/€ 650) and made a roundtrip of 3494 km. As we were four drivers we paid an extra fee of € 69 (Dkr. 440). From Helsinki we went northwards to Liminka, near Oulu, then NE to Kuusamo, followed the Russian border down south and then went westwards to take the flight in Helsinki back to Denmark. Apart from getting nearly all the target species we noted 154 species in all. It was OK considering that we did not approach the coast at all.
Weather was pleasant. It seemed to rain only when we were sleeping - and that was not much! It was rather calm throughout the period, and the last couple of days temperature rose a bit inspiring a hope of Lanceolated Warbler, but that was not to be. Our worst dread - mosquitoes - proved not too offensive. They were noted of course, but the repellent called OFF (can be bought at gas stations) lived up to its name.
We brought a tent, but never used it as it was easy and cheap to find accommodation in cabins when first having changed our habit of sleeping a few hours at a time in our car along the way - as we did the first days full of vigour.
Our notes were based on a highly subjective method meaning only noting the species we thought interesting. Hopefully they are interesting for others as well. The obvious advantage is that you focus on the species you came for in the first place and your concentration is not blurred by trivialities.
Sat June 19th
We started off meeting Mika at an old style tavern near Kerava, close to the airport. After thorough instructions on updated Finnish bird life Mika also showed us some local sites:
Järvenpää, Lemmenlakso (15 km N the airport), 15.30-16.20. A short walk along a wooded river bank.
Northern Goshawk 1, Wood Warbler 4, Red-breasted Flycatcher 1, Willow Tit 2, Hawfinch 1 with young.
Viiki (Helsinki area), 17.15-19.10. A walk on plank roads to a bird hide. It is an area of groves, reed beds, meadows and a river. Especially recommended because of a pair of Citrine Wagtails that could be seen in the distance from the tower.
Barnacle Goose 3, Marsh Harrier 1, Ruff 6, Wood Sandpiper 1, Caspian Tern 1, Stock Dove 12, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2 males, Citrine Wagtail 1 pair obviously feeding young in the reeds, Bluethroat 1, Savi’s Reed Warbler 1, Great Reed Warbler 2, Bearded Tit 10, Common Rosefinch 4.
Kortejärvi, Urjala, 22.10 – 0.30. A lake surrounded by reed beds, meadows and a forest. A Little Crake had been heard some days previously. It did not reach our ears that night, however.
Bittern 3, Whooper Swan 4, Spotted Crake 1 heard, starting at 23.25, Common Crane 6, Woodcock 1, Common Grashopper Warbler 1.
Having driven north all night we arrived at Liminka, some 25 km S of Oulu at 6.45, a quarter of an hour before we were to meet Toni, a guide at Finnature to bring us to Ural Owl and Great Grey Owl. This year they bred very scarcely in Finland due to lack of rodents. Aiming at stumbling over them by ourselves would be rather optimistic so we felt forced to pay € 300 the group for the guiding.
Some 25 km SW Liminka 7.45-9.00. Open wooded area of mainly birch trees. Somewhat boggy and rather a good breeding ground for mosquitoes, too.
Ural Owl 1 adult guarding its nest (former Goshawk) containing a young, Willow Tit 2.
Area around Nurmesperä, some 150 km S Oulu 10.45-14.30. A lake with a bird hide. Foresty, reed-bedded, boggy area.
Slavonian Grebe 3, Whooper Swan 8, Common Teal 70, Eurasian Wigeon 40, Pintail 6, Northern Shoveller 25, Smew 1 pair, Honey Buzzard 1, Marsh Harrier 3, Hobby 4, Hazel Grouse 1 adult with 15 young, Common Crane 10, Ruff 4, Common Snipe 6, Greenshank 20, Wood Sandpiper 10, Little Gull 58, Great Grey Owl 1 adult and a young in an former Goshawk nest, Rustic Bunting 1 female.
We left the area and Tony’s thorough guiding and headed northeast.
24 km S Kuusamo on road 5 (Pohjalanvaara) was said to be a hangout for a Booted Warbler. It is merely a meadow with a stream and two rows of hedges in the otherwise forestry region. We arrived at 21.30 and stayed there for some time listening for more than what seemed to us quite heavy traffic. No luck.
We went further north, through Kuusamo to Ruka, where we took the first turn left towards Mustosenvaara having been informed of a pair of Hawk Owls with young there.
Mustosenvaara, 23.00-00.10. A hilly wooded area with many dead trees:
Hawk Owl 1 adult with 3 young and the impressive midnight sun:
Mon June 21st
We drove south of Kuusamo again turning left along Kuusamojärvi (Lake Kuusamo) following signs towards Iivaara, which was supposed to be a stronghold for an adult male Red-flanked Bluetail. It was meant to sing from the top of a tree mostly between 2.30 and 4.30 in the morning. From the parking lot we were to go over the plank board and uphill. At a sharp turn to the right there would be a smaller path to the left which to follow some 650 m down. Though very hard to spot at first the impressing bird was there all right singing constantly.
Iivaara 2.30-6.15. Hilly wooded area (mostly coniferous) with a small lake at the bottom:
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1, Common Snipe 1, Waxwing 1, Common Redstart 6, Red-flanked Bluetail 1 ad. male, Willow Tit 10, Siberian Tit 1 (at the parking lot), Parrot Crossbill 10, Two-barred Crossbill 3 2cy (close to the Bluetail).
On our way back to Kuusamo we had a try at Little Bunting that was said to sing close to road 5, at a bus stop, just opposite where the bank of Kuusamojärvi is at its closest to the road:
Saynayaperä 8.00-9.30. Wooded, grassy area with a pond:
Whooper Swan 18 ad. E, Osprey 1, Willow Grouse a pair guarding their 6 young eagerly, Wood Sandpiper 2, Greenshank 1, Little Bunting 1 male singing in the farthest corner of the area to the SW.
Again we went through Kuusamo, up to Ruka and took the first turn to the right.
Konttainen Parking Lot 11.30-13.00. Hilly area covered in trees, seemingly old forest:
Green Sandpiper 1 with 3 young, Siberian Tit 1, Willow Tit 4 with young, Siberian Jay 2 at feeders.
Then it seemed about time for a nap, so we found a campsite with cabins (€ 45 for 4 persons) and a view of a river, just N Kuusamo, W of road 5.
Willow Tit 5.
Starting point was the parking lot at Konttainen.
Valtavaara 2.15-4.50. Beautiful hilly scenery. Old forestry area with view of lakes:
South of Ruka we turned west taking road 81. At Vasaperä we turned north to go N of Naatikkavaara. We had been out there the previous day with no luck, but as we could hear the phylloscopus warblers being in the mood we tried once more to find another of our primary target species: Arctic Warbler. Indeed, 2 km after the turn-off that would bring us to the north side of the small mountain there was a brook and an area of birch trees looking promising. It was heard immediately and throughout the time we spent there.
Naatikkavaara 5.30-7.00. Boggy wooded area with a small stream:
Western Capercaillie 1 male on the road, Green Sandpiper 1, Black Woodpecker 1, Arctic Warbler 1 singing male + 1 (probably female), Willow Tit 1.
We now felt like having another go at Booted Warbler and went straight south to Pohjalanvaara, 24 km S Kuusamo on road 5. 8.00-9.10:
Booted Warbler 1 singing and showing well this time.
News about a Yellow-breasted Bunting reached us. It was a male singing vehemently at night at Valtimo, and after thorough considerations we left Kuusamo and went south before feeling we had quite “done” Kuusamo. On the other hand we had seen what we came for in the area.
Kalliojärventie, Valtimo 17.00-4.00 with breaks such as the EURO 2004 football match between Denmark and Sweden. Cultivated fields along a river:
Little Gull 1, Common Grasshopper Warbler 1, Common Rosefinch 1, Yellow-breasted Bunting 1 male singing.
Wed June 23rd
Eno – Ilomantsi 6.30. A stopover along the road.
Wood Warbler 5, Willow Tit 5.
Patrikka (60 km NNE Värtsila) 8.15:
Western Capercaillie 1 female with 4 young on the road, Common Rosefinch 1.
We continued to Värtsilä 10.50:
Marsh Harrier 1, Hobby 1, Common Rosefinch 1.
We found a cabin at a camp site at € 20 with a view of the river and:
Blyth’s Reed Warbler 1 (22.15).
We went down to the lake at Värtsilä, Sääperi, both to the bird hide and along the roads to all sides except to the east. The lake was surrounded by extensive reed beds, woods and fields with hedges. 22.30-2.45 + 4.20-5.30
Whooper Swan 1 pair with 5 young, Corncrake 6, Woodcock 3, Greenshank 1, Little Gull 1, Long-eared Owl 3, Common Grasshopper Warbler 5, Blyth’s Reed Warbler 2, Common Rosefinch 6, Ortolan Bunting 2.
Thu June 24th
Judenkylänlampi, right opposite the church at Värtsilä 2.50-3.15 + 4.10-4.15.
Corncrake 1, Common Rosefinch 3. The Booted Warbler reported earlier remained silent or gone.
Camp site. 3.45
Our next goal was Siikalahti at Parikkala some 100 km further S. We went to the bird hide, where the local guide was very helpful with information. Unfortunately the Little Crake reported earlier had gone missing, and as we feared the White-backed Woodpeckers were very silent at this time of the year. Anyway 10.00-13.30:
Slavonian Grebe 2 (1 nesting), Smew 5, Osprey 1, Hobby 4, Black Tern 1, Little Gull 150.
We found a farmhouse on the western bank of Simpelejärvi at Muikkulahti (opposite to Parikkala) paying € 15/person for a well-furnished apartment. We had a pleasant stay there for two nights. 14.00:
Honey Buzzard 3.
Fri June 25th
Simpelejärvi area. 1.00-12.40. We drove around the forest hoping for a glimpse of a bear or a wolf, which we were told were in the area. Now the fence at the border to Russia had been torn down the area of the No Man’s Land (a zone by the width of three km) was said to be the stronghold of a pack of wolves. At a point the road led to the edge of that area (the piece of land at the SE corner of Simpelejärvi, a map scaling 1:30,000 is essential here. It was kindly handed to us at the observation hide at Siikalahti). We had a stopover there in the midst of night full of vivid wildlife expectations….. only to be responded by Nightjars.
Whooper Swan heard, Honey Buzzard 1, Osprey 1, Marsh Harrier 1, Hobby 1, Hazel Grouse 2 families (both containing 1 adult with 3 young), Spotted Crake 1, Common Snipe 12, Woodcock 11 (and 1 nest with 4 eggs), Wood Sandpiper 9, Greenshank 2, Long-eared Owl 1, Common Nightjar 5, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1 male, Willow Tit 8, Golden Oriole 3, Siberian Jay 3, Common Rosefinch 5.
Sat June 26th
Corncrake 1, Spotted Crake 1
Simpelejärvi area at the No Man’s Land. 1.00
Woodcock 1, Common Nightjar 1. Still no wolves…. Or bears….
Then we tried for another “exotic” animal: the Beaver. We found its hang-out and saw lots of half-eaten trunks and two dams, but no present activity 2.30-4.00:
Woodcock 1, Common Nightjar 1.
Osprey 1 (nesting), Hobby 1, Golden Oriole 1.
We decided to head towards Helsinki.
Road 6 at Sepälanmäki. 9.55
It should be noted that date, time and other specifications do not occur on this list as they are supposedly easy to find in the itinerary once you know the place of observation. Observations are mentioned chronologically. In the rare case of a spot being visited more than once counts varying are mentioned by means of /.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus
3 Nurmesperä, 2 Siikalahti.
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Whooper Swan Cygnus Cygnus
Most 8 Nurmesperä, 18 E Saynayaperä, 1 with 5 young Sääperi
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Eurasian Wigeon Anas Penelope
Most 40 Nurmesperä
Common Teal Anas crecca
Highest number was 70 Nurmesperä
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Pintail Anas acuta
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Most 25 Nurmesperä
Common Pochard Aythya farina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Smew Mergus albellus
1 pair Nurmesperä, 5 Siikalahti.
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Goosander Mergus merganser
European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus
1 Nurmesperä, 5 in all, Simpelejärvi area.
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Most 3 Nurmesperä.
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga
1, which we promised to keep a secret as it is breeding.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
1 nesting Siikalahti, otherwise unexpectedly few observations.
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Hobby Falco subbuteo
4 Nurmesperä, 1 Värtsilä, 4/1 Siikalahti, 1 Simpelejärvi, 1 Sepälanmäki.
Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia
1 ad. with 15 chicks Nurmesperä, 2 families each consisting of 1 ad. with 3 chicks Simpelejärvi area.
Willow Grouse Lagopus lagopus
2 ad. with 6 chicks Sayanaperä
Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus
1 ad. male Naatikkavaara, 1 ad. female with 4 chicks Patrikka
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
1 Kortejärvi, 2 in all, Simpelejärvi area.
Corncrake Crex crex
8 in all, Sääperi area, 1/1 Muikkulahti
Common Coot Fulica atra
Common Crane Grus grus
Highest counts were 6 Kortejärvi, 60 Liminka, 10 Nurmesperä.
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
6 Viiki, 4 Nurmesperä
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Most 6 Nurmesperä, 12 Simpelejärvi area
Euroasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
Highest number was 3 Sääperi, 11 (+ 1 nest) Simpelejärvi
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Euroasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
20 Nurmesperä constituted highest number
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
1 ad. with 3 young Konttainen, otherwise only observations of single birds
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Most 10 Nurmesperä, 9 Simpelejärvi area.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Little Gull Larus minutes
58 Nurmesperä, 150 Siikalahti were highest counts.
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Lesser black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Black Tern Chlidonias niger
Rock Dove Columba livia
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Northern Hawk Owl Sumia ulula
1 ad. with 3 young Mustosenvaara.
Ural Owl Strix uralensis
1 ad. at a nest with 1 young SW Liminka.
Great Grey Owl Strix nebulosa
1 ad. at a nest with 1 young Nurmesperä area
Long-eared Owl Asio otus
3 Sääperi, 1 Siikalahti.
European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
5/1 SW Simpelejärvi.
Common Swift Apus apus
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius
1 Valtavaara, 1 Naatikkavaara.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor
2 males Viiki, 1 male Siikalahti.
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis
Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Meadow Pipit Anthus pretensis
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola
1 pair Viiki
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Bohemian Waxwing Bombycilla garrufus
1 Iivaara, 3 Valtavaara.
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock Prunella modularis
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus
1 ad male Iivaara.
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Most 6 Iivaara, 15 Valtavaara.
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Redwing Turdus Iliacus
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
European Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris
Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum
3 Sääperi area.
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Booted Warbler Hippolais caligata
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
1 male + 1 (probably female) Naatikkavaara.
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix
4 Järvenpää, 5 stopover Eno – Ilomantsi.
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva
European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus
Willow Tit Parus montanus
Highest counts were 10 Iivaara, 8 Simpelejärvi area.
Siberian Tit Parus cinctus
1 Iivaara, 1 Konttainen.
Crested Tit Parus cristatus
Coal Tit Parus ater
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
Great Tit Parus major
Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
3/1 Simpelejärvi area.
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Siberian Jay Perisoreus infaustus
9/2 Valtavaara, 3 Simepeljärvi area.
Common Magpie Pica pica
Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Rook Corvus frugilegus
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix
Common Raven Corvus corax
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Mealy Redpoll Carduelis flammea
Two-Barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera
3 2cy Iivaara.
Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
Parrot Crossbill Loxia pytyopsittacus
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
4 Viiki, 6 Sääperi, 5 Simpelejärvi were highest numbers counted.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
1 ad. with 1 young Järvenpää.
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana
Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica
1 female Nurmesperä.
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla
1 male Saynayaperä.
Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola
1 male Kalliojärventie.
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza shoeniclus