The unsound approach

 

 

by Alex Lees & Rich Moores

 

Logistics

After a highly successful Azure Tit twitch in January, AL suggested that the team return in the summer. Work commitments meant that only RDM and AL could go, and we booked with Ryanair (Stansted -Tampere) sometime in February. Neither of us thought anything more about the trip until about four days before departure whereupon RDM went to Norwich library and booked out Where to Watch Birds in Scandinavia and a Rough Guide to Finland. AL bought a map (Insight Travel Map Scandinavia & Finland), printed off four trip reports* and phoned a few folks – Rich Bonser provided directions for Terek Sand in Oulu, Simon Mitchell was able to confirm that RBA had no literature worth stealing and Stuart Piner that Scandinavia was indeed a good place to look at birds). We were able to purchase a copy of "Birdwatching in Sodankyla" at Peurasuvanto, but this is also available online. We managed to finish reading this on the plane on the way home and found out about some useful sites for stuff we missed... Most trip reports suggested that “months of planning” are necessary to see the best birds. We managed to read at least half a trip report each on the plane. We had agreed to meet up with Antero Topp (of the excellent Alula) but had to cancel following time constraints. Most birders seemed to be travelling with the professional Finnature tour-oufit but after some soul-searching we decided it was against our mantra to pay for someone to have gone birding before us and have staked anything good out**. We knew that this would obviously cost us good birds. We also knew that getting drunk would also cost us good birds, and only giving ourselves six days in the field and attempting to cover two huge countries and….

Finland is relatively expensive, Norway is very expensive we subsisted on cheese and ham sandwiches and huge bars of chocolate whilst in Finland. In Norway we survived on water from the rivers, lichens, reindeer moss and berries whilst snacking on the odd rock. We slept in the car the entire trip. Our car, a Renault Modus; top speed 178 km/h, drank 322.6 litres of petrol and covered 4562.9 Km, stank a bit afterwards.

 

Kunto and Fani, staples for any young male in Scandinavia

 

* http://www.jjcskw.demon.co.uk/finland.htm, http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/tripreports/NorthScand98.html, http://www.ebnitalia.it/trips/trip08.htm, http://home.kabelfoon.nl/~trogon/Scand2003/text.html

**not that it didn't stop us asking everyone we met for gen.... sorry Pidny

 

 

Day by day accounts

 

6th June

Left Norwich, arrived Stansted a bit later, flight on time landed Tampere without hastle, waited behind queue-jumping British birders for Hertz officials to give us keys.

 

7th June

Blasted north, first past somewhere sounding like Jarviscocker then pulled into car-park of Pyhä-Häkin National Park. Amazing acoustic show compounded by extremely high air quality, cold and anthropogenic silence: Cuckoos and Black Woodpeckers were deafening.  Slept in the car for three hours then drove north towards Oulu. Several hours spent around Lumjoenselkä Bay – note visitor centre is at least temporarily closed here now and boardwalks and towers are in a state of considerable disrepair. Fortuitously we laugh in the face of petty danger… We tried for Terek at Oulu Oilport but drew a blank. Slept in the car for eight minutes, too hot so drove south to the Pyhäjoki area. Rest of evening/’night’ spent driving forest tracks. Our 'hot gen' for this region was 4 years old and it was evidently a poor owl year, but if you don't try then you'll not skor...    

 

Lumjoenselkä Bay (AL)

8th June

Continued driving roads north of Pyhäjoki until 5.30am. Then slept until 11.30am. Drove north, did the remaining towers at Lumjoenselkä. We then dipped Terek again before driving to the big campsite at Hietasaari. Paid €4 for a shower, drunk an entire bottle of 35% spiced rum between us in 15 minutes. Walked into town in broad daylight at 9.30pm. Convinced the locals to buy us dinner, went to Club Onnela.

midnight in 'taiga barn' country near Pyhäjoki (AL)

9th June

Came back from Onnela, reached the car by 4.40am, AL drove north (after a 6-hour gradual sober-up the previous evening) for 6 hours as far as Vuotso, RM had continued drinking and was unrousable, waking to the worst hangover in Northern Europe but was able to take-over driving responsibilities shortly-after. Drew a blank on Sibe Jay at Tankavarra despite asking the girl at the spacious reserve headquarters for directions to the camp-fire place 5 times. Purchased cuddly toys. We may not have fully recovered our faculties at this point, either that or it was the rarefied Arctic air. Pressed on north before trying woodland around Tuuruniemi on advice from Olavi Nyyssönen at Peurasuvanto. Crossed the Norwegian border under cover of 24 hour daylight and reached Varangerbotn by early evening; Sea-eagles littered the beaches. Progressed straight to Nesseby. Then tried roads running up the fells before continuing east stopping at various sites along the fjord….

Reindeer near Ekkeroy (AL)

10th June

…continued birding through the night before parking up at Vardø after amazing tunnel experience at 3.30am. Up at  8.30am, tried to see what the skor was with boats to Hornoya. No-one in. Drove north west to Hamningberg stopping en-route between rain-showers. Birded Hammningberg all afternoon before back-tracking to Vardø and then all the way back along the Fjord. Stop at Asia Burger Café* where we were able to afford 3 chips each. Splendid. Drove up onto Båtsjford pass area and birded through the night on the tops.

* a bizarre dining experience, enjoying our 3 chips each in a venue that from the outside looked like your standard high street 2am kebab stop, but on the inside had marble-walled toilets and authentic Thai cuisine. The owner was the funniest person in Norway.  

Vardø Harbour (AL)

11th June

Kept going to 5am, RDM diced with death whilst listening to the dawn chorus, woke at 7am to persistent rain, slept until 10am. Set off on the hike to Syltefjordklubben. Managed 4km over scree till we were isolated on a ridge-top by deep snow over a scree free-face. Had small collective breakdown. Stared longingly at cliffs and packs of sea-eagles ravaging the gannetry 4km away. Trip low-point. Retraced steps, refuelled in Båtsjford, then headed south. Båtsjford looks like the sort of place that the streets would be paved with White's Thrushes come October. We didn't have time to try for Polar Bear at Berlevag. Called in briefly at Utsjoki. Rest of evening spent driving the border roads east of Ivalo, close to Njellim. Briefly penetrated Russia. Russian authorities do maintain a border presence. When surruptiously photographing border checkpoints turn flash off camera.

Båtsjford fells (AL)

12th June

Birded the border area till 3am, drove south to Lake Ilmakkijärvi, then slept 8.30am-10.15am. Shower at Peurasuvanto for €3. Mint. Drove on south to Rykimä Gorge. Waked various trails 1.30-4.00pm, Kept going to Kuusamo, fatigue setting in, reindeer a constant hazard. Tried the lakes around the town, bought a huge pack of value ham. Wicked. Gave up on buntings, drove up to the Valtavaarra ridge car park. Slept in the car midnight – 1.45am.

Statement from one presumed dipper at Lake Toranki tower: we think this is Finnish for "we didn't see any rare buntings" (AL)

 

13 June

Woken by Sibe Jay trying to get into the car, climbed the ridge, had a much better time than most people seem to have here, came back down, gripped off rude Polish birder who immediately left the region. Tried the lakes again, gave up, drove south all the way to Pyhä-Häkin National Park, again. Gave it 2 hours, drove south onwards to Orivesi. Showered at a camp-site for €3.50. Staked out railway meadow till 1.30am, bonus ‘coon-dog, Cat-C-euro-mammal-dross-self-found-tick. Rock-on.

RFB (AL)

14th June

Gave up on Blyth’s Reed, drove to Aulanko area, drove roads till we couldn’t keep eyes open. Continued driving till car came to rest. Slept 4.30am – 2.30pm (!). Woke-up, tried random stop near the town in good-looking wood, life-wrecked by grey-phase Tawny Owl. Called it a day, drove to airport via celebratory fast-food….

'Northern lights' (AL)

 

Systematic List:

 

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)

Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica)

White-billed Diver (Gavia adamsii) One (very) distant 1st/2nd summer off Hamningberg.

WbD & Gannet, no really. (AL)

 

Great-crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) Several pairs at Kuusamo Järvi.

 

(AL)

 

Northern Gannet (Sula bassanus)

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

Bean Goose (Anser fabalis) 18 over Hamningberg, 3 by the river at Skallelv, one over Båtsjfjord, all Taiga Beans (A. f. fabalis).

er, Anserlutely fabulis? (AL)

 

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Gadwall (Anas strepera)

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

Common Teal (Anas crecca)

Common Pochard (Aythya farina)

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) 2 pairs above Båtsjfjord.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Common Eider (Somateria mollisima),

King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) 4 on an island distantly (2km range) off Vardø Harbour, 5 at Hamningberg.

4 Kings! (AL)

 

Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri) 8 drakes in Vadsø Harbour, 1 drake, 2 ducks at Kilberg – not that easy but absolutely stonking mega-cripplers. 

stellar views (AL)

 

Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)

Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

(AL)

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Smew (Mergellus albellus) – 2 white nuns at Kuusamo

Goosander (Mergus merganser) – incredibly abundant at Varanger with most birds on the sea

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) – one over the E75 near Phitipudas.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) Abundant along the Varanger peninsula, e.g., 12 in ones bins-sweep at Varangerbotn, 3 hunting seabirds at Syltefjordklubben, four others sat on the beach.

Sea-beast (AL)

 

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) common around the Varanger peninsula

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) 1 secondary found at Kuusamo

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) one ‘east of Vardo’ – a rare bird in Finnmark,

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolis)

Blinding views of a pair at a cliff in ‘eastern Finnmark’, watched ‘arguing’ with Common Kestrel and Rough-leg. Unblocked at last…

Pretty fly for a grey Gyr (AL)

 

Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia) One heard to flush but unseen at Rykimä Gorge, several flushed of which one sat up nicely on Valtavaarra ridge and 3 flushed from the roadside at Kuusamo Järvi.  

magic eye, HG, it did show well before the camera was called for...

 

Willow Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) 1 at Varangerbotn, abundant on Båtsjford fells, 25 seen in 3 hours.

(AL)

 

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) 4 on Båtsjford fells.

digivideoscoped at midnight in the rain from the car (AL)

 

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) Kuusamo.

Capercallie (Tetrao urogallus) One female (videoed) taking gravel from the road at 1am on the Russian frontier near Njellim, one female flew across the road and multiple droppings, tracks found at Rykimä Gorge, one female put off a nest of nine eggs on Valtaavarra and one female flushed at Kuusamo Järvi. Easy.  

frontier Caper (left) tracks and signs...(AL)

 

Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) One singing north of Pyhäjoki.

Corncrake (Crex crex) 2 singing near Pyhäjoki and another near Orivesi.

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Common Coot (Fulica atra)

Common Crane (Grus grus) Abundant around Oulu with a few seen north as far as Ivalo. Amazing deafening vocal display by a pair early morning near Pyhäjoki.    

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii) A pair at Oulu Oilport, hyper-conspicuous around Varanger, song-flighting birds all over.

Arctic (top) and Subarctic Tem Stints, willowscrub had Bluethroats, Red-t-pipits etc (AL)

 

Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus) at least three displaying males over the bog at Lake Ilmakkijärvi.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) some spectacular leks at Varanger.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola)

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)  

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) Present on almost every freshwater body at Varanger, at least 60 on the sea in Vadsø Harbour. An incubating male put off a nest with four eggs on the trek to Syltefjordklubben.

 

Phalarama (AL)

 

Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus) Common on the fells at Varanger with odd individuals seen during opportunistic glances at the sea. A good Lemming year apparently, probably what this one was after.

mint (AL)

 

Little Gull (Larus minutus)

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)

Common Gull (Larus canus)

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) 15 1st/2nd summers seen around Varanger.

Larus hyperboringus (AL)

 

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

Common Guillemot (Uria aalge)

Brünnich's Guillemot (Uria lomvia) Small numbers passing within identifiable range from Vardø, one in the harbour there was more satfisactory, we never made it to Hornoya in the end, but it did look amazing.

Thick-billed Murre (AL)

 

Razorbill (Alca torda)

Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle)

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Rock Dove (Columba livia)

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) A grey-phase adult disappointed at Aulanko after being revealed as the source of small passerine mobbing vocalisations.  

Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)  One flew across the road at Utsjoki.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  One at Nesseby.

Common Swift (Apus apus

Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus)  One over the E12 near Kalvola.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) Easy at Pyhä-Häkin National Park, one at the roadside at Hattula.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major

Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) One flew across a large clearfell and landed atop a birch north of Pyhäjoki at 3am on the 8th. One glimpsed near Kuusamo on the 13th and a pair feeding near-fledged young found in a random stop in the woods near Aulanko.  

female 3-toe feeding male progeny (AL)

 

Eurasian Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) Locally common at Varanger.  

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica

House Martin (Delichon urbicum

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)  Territories near Ekkeroy, at Hamningberg and on Båtsjford fells.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus

Grey-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)  

Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes

Dunnock (Prunella modularis

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula

Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia)  One male singing at Orivesi.

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) Red-spots common in the Varangerfjord area in riparian willow-scrub corridors.  

(AL)

Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) 5 singing males heard between 2.30-3.30am on the Valtavarra ridge Kuusamo, both birds seen well were 1st years. We had considered sacking bluetail as neither of us "needed" it, but then we remembered that this would put us in the class of scum that consider Tarsiger to be "a useful year-tick", in the end watching these beauties on the ridgetop was a major trip highlight. 

1st summer male Orange-flanked Bush-robin, its not about lists....

 

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos

Redwing (Turdus iliacus

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)   

Common Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) one in the same field as below. 

Gropper (AL)

 

River Warbler (Locustella fluviatilis) Stu came with gen of a reeler at Orivesi which we picked up fairly easily.

 

dslr please (AL)

 

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca

Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla

Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) One singing on the drive-by at Aulanko. 

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus

Great Tit (Parus major)

Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus

Coal Tit (Periparus ater

Willow Tit (Poecile montanus

Siberian Tit (Poecile cincta) One near the Russian frontier at Njellim, not systematically searched for.    

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)  Two pairs near Pyhäjoki.

Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) One landed on the car at about 1.30am at the Valtavaara ridge lay-by, attempted to pull the wind-screen wipers off the car, ate the ham provided (ignored bread and tomato) and then sat around looking disheveled.

sorry Stu... (AL)

 

Common Magpie (Pica pica

Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)  One over the E75 30km north of Oulu.

Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula

Rook (Corvus frugilegus

Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix

Common Raven (Corvus corax

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus

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

Arctic Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni) Rarer than Meally Redpoll on the Varanger peninsula, 2 birds near Nesseby and about 15 near Båtsjford. 

  

minor white thing (AL)

 

Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) 

Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) Easy in any birchwood in southern Finland...

Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)  One in the birchwood at Tuuruniemi, a difficult summer bird here and better light for photography than last winter...

Pinebeak (AL)

 

Common Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)  Common in various spots, has a semi-spectacular song-flight - 'lap-dance'.

Lap (AL)

 

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis

nice cock (AL)

 

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

 

Other taxa:

 

Mammals:

Generally few and far between despite some considerable effort on "driving transect censuses". No cetaceans despite a modicum of effort.

 

Root Vole (RDM)

 

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethica)

Short-tailed Field Vole (Microtus agrestis)

Root Vole (Microtus oeconomus)

European Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus)

Sorex sp.

Northern Bat (Eptesicus nilssoni)

Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

Stoat (Mustela erminea)

European Otter (Lutra lutra)

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

Elk (Alces alces)

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

 

Also Pine Marten (Martes martes) scats recorded at various sites.

 

Elk (RDM)

 

(Selected) Invertebrates:

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) Single at Liminganlahti

Wood White (Leptidea sinapis) Common at Liminganlahti

Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) Two at Liminganlahti

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) Widespread

Lapland Ringlet (Erebia embla) Single at Pyhajoki

Northern Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus centaureae) Single at Pyhajoki

Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) Single at Liminganlahti

Northern Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus silvicolus) Two at Liminganlahti

 

Small Whiteface (Leucorrhinia dubia) Common at Liminganlahti

 

Northern Chequered Skipper (RDM)

 

Afterthought:

So there you have it: no research, no gen, no guides, no playback, no plans, no sleep, some effort, some tomfoolery. You can see Scandi specials without paying the professionals; just don't expect to see them all and don't have expectations of completing the owls in a poor owl year... Moreover, spend more than a week and then just bird Kuusamo rather than try and cover a region the size of Iberia like we did.... 

RDM boldly goes in search of breakfast....