Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Northern Finland and Arctic Norway

Saturday 18 May to Saturday 1 June 2019
with Killian Mullarney and Dick Forsman as leaders

Price: $5,600*

View details

Reserve Now

featured image

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 (pronounced ‘Oh-loo’), Finland. A good selection of shorebirds, wildfowl and various songbirds can be seen in close proximity to the hotel, which we’ll observe while taking a short walk just before or after dinner. Night in Oulu.

Day 2: We’ll spend the day looking for some of the most eagerly anticipated of our target birds, the owls; Great Grey, Ural, Boreal, Pygmy and, of course, Short-eared Owl can all be found here and seeing them will be our highest priority. We’ll look for Ortolan Bunting in the agricultural fields, and these days there is a good chance of finding Pallid Harriers as well.  Around Oulu port we’ll may find 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 around Oulu before driving to Kuusamo. The forests, bogs and lakes around here support a wealth of birdlife including most of the species we hope to encounter 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 wonderful sights and sounds 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 the winter. The steep forested slopes of Valtavaara are usually home to a few pairs of Red-flanked Bluetail, and we’ll devote some time and energy trying to get views of this very special bird.

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’. Further 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 telegraph pole. On the extensive wetlands we’ll be keeping an eye open for Taiga Bean Goose, Smew and Common Crane - all of which breed here. The vast forests and boglands of Finland are ideal habitat for grouse. 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 beautiful sight. From here on we’ll have every opportunity to see the highly sought-after Hazel Grouse. Nights in Kuusamo. 

Days 6 - 7: We need to press on northwards, and today we’ll cover some distance, birding along the way, our destination being the town of Ivalo (pronounced ‘Eye-va-low’). We’ll make a brief stop as we cross the Arctic Circle and a series of longer stops at special bogland reserves, where boardwalks give us access to the heart of this beautiful habitat. Here we should encounter handsome Grey-headed (Yellow) Wagtails in song,  Bohemian Waxwing, Smew, Arctic Loon, Peregrine Falcon and if we can find one, Northern Shrike. As we get closer to our destination we’ll have chances of finding Broad-billed Sandpiper on breeding habitat, as well as Dotterel and Rock Ptarmigan on the higher ground. Within a few kilometers of our hotel we may see  Siberian Tit, Capercaillie, and Rough-legged Hawk, while singing Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts will remind us that spring has arrived, even up here! Nights in Ivalo.

Day 8: After breakfast, we’ll continue our northward journey, passing through some excellent birding terrain. Made up of a mosaic of taiga forest and bog, the scenery here is very different to 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 display, while the sight and sound of displaying Temminck’s Stints, Whimbrels, European Golden Plovers and perhaps the first Long-tailed Jaegers will contribute to the distinctly arctic atmosphere. This is where we’ll have more chances of finding Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit if they have eluded us thus far as both can be elusive at this time of year. We also have an excellent site for the ultra-unobtrusive Pine Grosbeak and will stop at some traditional ‘goose fields’, where we’ll hope to find Tundra Bean, Pink-footed and, if we are very lucky, Lesser White-fronted Geese. Later we drive to Vadsö on the famous Varangerfjord.

Days 9 - 11: At the beginning of the fjord, known as Varangerbotn, we should have good views of Velvet Scoters, while among the numerous Common Eider close inshore we’ll search carefully for 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 should arrive any day. As we continue eastwards towards 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, while the coast between Vadsö and Vardö is also where we are most likely to find the rare Yellow-billed Loon, most of which will be 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 harbors  a large colony of seabirds, with all five species of auks, 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 look for any freshly arrived Red-throated Pipits and Long-tailed Jaegers, while there may be some large flocks of full breeding-plumaged Red Knots gathered on the shoreline. As we leave Varangerfjord behind we’ll enter the interior of Varanger peninsula, where winter still prevailing but where, surprisingly, all migrants have already arrived. Willow Warblers, Northern Wheatears and Bluethroats will be hopping on the snow, handsome Long-tailed Ducks will be displaying on the open pools while Willow Ptarmigan and 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 Båtsfjord.

Day 13: We’ll 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 which both 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 Båtsfjord

Day 14:  Today we’ll start our return towards Ivalo, retracing our steps across the tundra. We have plenty of time to check any promising birding spots on the way and, being in the middle of the migration season, the birding can be very different from the days before. Night in Ivalo.

Day 15: After some optional local birding, in particular a look for newly arrived Little Buntings, the tour concludes this morning in Ivalo, Finland.

Created: 14 November 2018

Prices

  • 2019 Tour Price : $5,600
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $580
Share on Facebook

Notes

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.