A male Capercaillie in full display Photo: Sunbird
This remarkable tour runs at the optimal time, giving us the best possible chance of finding the northern owls as well as seeing a wonderful collection of other resident species and summer visitors. We’ll begin in Finland, the land of over 180,000 lakes, and the westernmost outskirts of the vast Siberian taiga forest. Many migrant birds will just be arriving at their remote arctic breeding areas, and those annoying mosquitoes will not yet be active.
Finland’s endless birch and pine forest might seem monotonous, but the superficial impression belies a subtle and complex beauty, especially in the patches of old, “untouched” forest. Thick carpets of colorful mosses and lichens line the forest floor, and fantastic old gnarled pines lend a magical character to these places. It may seem as if, by entering such a forest, we have stepped into a fantasy game.
Farther north still, in fact as far as it is possible to go on the European mainland, we’ll visit Norway’s unspoiled Varanger peninsula on the edge of the Barents Sea. Here we’ll experience the full beauty and diversity of arctic birdlife, and we’ll watch many species infrequently seen away from these latitudes.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in the coastal town of Oulu, Finland (pronunced “Oh-loo,” in case you were wondering!). Night in Oulu.
This was my very first tour, and it exceeded my expectations. Discovering arctic species in their dramatic landscapes was thrilling. The two leaders were always responsive to our questions and requests, patient, generous, and friendly. Our tour was well-organized and carefully planned to insure that we see targeted species—and we did!
Joyce Waterman June 2016
Day 2: We’ll spend the day looking for some of our most eagerly anticipated birds, the owls; Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm’s, Pygmy, and, of course, Short-eared Owl can all be found, and seeing them will be our highest priority. We’ll see as well Ortolan Bunting in the agricultural fields, and these days there is a good chance of finding Pallid Harrier. Around Oulu port we’ll look for Terek Sandpiper, which, with only a few breeding pairs remaining in the whole country, is one of Finland’s (and Europe’s) rarest breeding species. Night in Oulu.
Days 3–5: We’ll spend the morning of day 3 around Oulu before driving to Kuusamo, whose forests, bogs, and lakes support a wealth of birdlife including most of the species we hope to see while we are in the north. We may see Three-toed Woodpecker, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay, and Rustic Bunting here, and at various bogs we’ll have the opportunity to appreciate the marvelous sight and sound of displaying Little Gulls and breeding waders such as Spotted Redshank, Ruff, and possibly Jack Snipe—all looking and sounding very different from the impressions we gain of them on migration and in winter. The steep forested slopes of Valtavaara are usually home to a few pairs of Red-flanked Bluetails, and we’ll devote some time and energy trying to get views of this very special and charming little thrush.
We’ll doubtless have time for at least one visit to the town dump, something of a mecca for gull watchers, where we should see Larus fuscus heuglini—the so-called Siberian Gull. Farther afield we’ll visit some of Finland’s finest bogs, close to the Russian border. Along the way we’ll pass through prime Hawk Owl terrain, and if we are lucky, we may see one perched in a roadside tree or on a telephone pole. In the extensive wetlands we’ll keep an eye open for Taiga Bean Goose, Smew, and Common Crane, all of which breed here. Nights in Kuusamo.
Day 6: The vast forests and boglands of Finland are ideal habitat for grouse, and we’ll have an early start to give us the best possible chance of seeing the giant of them all, the normally rather shy Capercaillie. Black Grouse is a much commoner and more easily seen species, and lekking males are always a memorable sight. The highly sought-after Hazel Grouse is everywhere, but nowhere common and we’ll need to be lucky.
The “old” forest near Luosto is another good place to look for Three-toed Woodpecker, and if we haven’t already seen it we’ll search further here. The forests are ideal for Pine Grosbeak too, and in good cone years Crossbill may be abundant. Night in Luosto.
Day 7: Continuing north, we’ll reach Ivalo, located well north of the Arctic Circle. It doesn’t get very dark at this time of the year, and if the weather is good, we’ll have our first taste of arctic birding. Within a few kilometers of our hotel we have chances of seeing Siberian Tit, Capercaillie, Black-throated Diver, Bohemian Waxwing, and Smew, while singing Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts will remind us that spring has arrived, even up here! Night in Ivalo.
Day 8: After breakfast we’ll continue our northward journey, passing through a mosaic of taiga forest and bog. The scenery here is very different from anything in the south of the country and is home to very different birds. We’ll make stops to look at gatherings of Ruff performing their extraordinary lekking routine, while the sight and sound of displaying Temminck’s Stint, Whimbrel, European Golden Plover, and Rough-legged Hawk will contribute to the distinctly arctic atmosphere. This is where we’ll have additional chances of finding Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit if they have eluded us thus far (both can be secretive at this time of year). We’ll also try again for the ultra-unobtrusive Pine Grosbeak. Night in Tana, just across the Norwegian border.
Days 9—11: After birding locally, we’ll head for the famous Varangerfjord, less than an hour’s drive away. At the beginning of the fjord, known as Varangerbotn, we should have good views of Velvet Scoter, while among the numerous Common Eiders close inshore we can expect to find small parties of engaging Steller’s Eiders. The shores of Varangerfjord can hold concentrations of waders at this time of year, including Temminck’s Stint, numerous Purple Sandpipers, and handsome Bar-tailed Godwits in full breeding plumage. If the migration is early we may see a Little Stint or two, and the first Red-necked Phalaropes could arrive any day. As we continue eastward toward the open sea, we’ll encounter majestic White-tailed Eagles, often very close to the road, waiting for an opportunity to pluck a fish—or more often an unfortunate duck—from the surface. We’ll make several stops to look for King Eider, and the coast between Vadsö and Vardö is where we are most likely to find the rare White-billed Diver, nearly always in stunning breeding plumage at this time of year. On one of the days we’ll take a boat trip to Hornöya Island, where the cliffs harbor a large colony of seabirds with all five species of auk, including the truly arctic Thick-billed Murre. Nights in Vardö.
Day 12: After breakfast we’ll drive slowly back along the fjord, stopping on the way to search for freshly arrived Red-throated Pipits and Long-tailed Skuas, and at Nesseby we’ll take a last look at the wonderful Steller’s Eiders. As we leave Varangerfjord behind, we’ll enter the interior of Varanger peninsula. Here winter still holds sway, but surprisingly, all the migrants will have already arrived. Willow Warbler, Northern Wheatear, and Bluethroat will be hopping on the snow, and Willow Grouse and Long-tailed Skua should be easy to find. If the snow conditions permit, we’ll look for Rock Ptarmigan and perhaps encounter one or two early-arrived Dotterel. Night in Batsfjord.
Day 13: We have a full day to explore the exciting high fjelds (mountains) and the northern coast of Varanger, and although chances may be slim, we’ll keep looking for Snowy Owls and Gyrfalcons, both of which frequent these areas. Most of the highland lakes will be completely frozen, but wherever there are open stretches of water, ducks, divers, and waders can be found in good numbers, and the scenery will be breathtaking. Night in Batsfjord.
Day 14: We’ll start our return toward Ivalo, retracing our steps across the tundra. We’ll have plenty of time to check any promising birding spots on the way, and since we’ll be in the middle of the migration season, the birding can be very different from the days before. Night in Ivalo.
Day 15: After some local birding, the tour concludes this morning in Ivalo, Finland.
Updated: 22 August 2016
- 2017 Tour Price : $5,500
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $680
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
Note: Participants may be able to connect with the Sunbird UK group in Helsinki; the group flights from London stop in Helsinki on the way to Oulu and on the return from Ivalo. Participants who would like to explore this option should see here.
Maximum group size 14 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour irrespective of group size.