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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Northern Finland and Arctic Norway

2022 Narrative

We started our tour with three nights in Oulu. Here the hotel sits on the edge of the Bay of Bothnia and has some good birding right in and around the grounds. Fieldfare were always present, as were Redwings, the latter belting out their odd song. The reedbeds were full of Sedge Warblers, and the woodland around the car park held the first of many Pied Flycatchers. Out on the edge of the Bay there was a variety of wildfowl including Whooper Swans, some Garganey and our first Smew. Lapwings, Redshanks and Curlews were very obvious, as were the Common Snipe performing their drumming display flight overhead, and summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits. A couple of Caspian Terns put on a fly past for us, and we witnessed a Hobby in hot aerial pursuit of a small bird. Elsewhere in this area we had a couple of ghostly pale male Hen Harriers, Black Woodpecker, shimmering Wood Warblers, three or four Ortolan Buntings, Whinchats, and Common Rosefinch.

The Oulu area is famous for owls, and we were not to be disappointed having seen 7 species by the time we left. Our first owling safari (and a very early departure) found us looking at a majestic Great Grey Owl on a nest. From here we took a short walk through the forest and were soon looking at a fine Ural Owl, which was keeping watch over a nearby recently fledged youngster. Next was Tengmalm’s Owl staring at us from a nest hole. In amongst this we picked up a couple of pale Short-eared Owls quartering the fields. The next day we went in search of Hawk Owl and were not disappointed with superb views of a one bird catching voles to take to its fledged young. We bumped into another Hawk Owl the next day after having caught up with Long-eared Owl and we saw Pygmy Owl starting at us from a nest hole.

From there we travelled East to Kuusamo and to our base in the ski resort of Ruka. One of the key species in this region is Red-flanked Bluetail with a few pairs of this Siberian sprite breeding in the region and we had good views of a male perched in front of us. Exploring the wooded hills, we encountered our first Siberian Jay and Siberian Tits and driving the many forest tracks we had a good encounter with a group of Black Grouse and distant views of female Capercaillie. Around Kuusamo town we were treated to singing Little and Rustic Buntings which both showed well, and many hundreds of smart Little Gulls buzzing over a large lake, along with displaying Wood Sandpipers, and a few pairs of Red-necked Grebes.

We had an overnight stop in Ivalo on our way north. The local sewage farm gave us our first Bluethroats of the tour and also our only Taiga Bean Geese with a group of 11. The drive north to Norway was broken with a stop at the now famous bird feeder café. This location now gives us pretty much guaranteed Pine Grosbeak and we had both males and females performing well. They were joined by colourful Brambling, Arctic and Mealy Redpolls, and Bullfinches of the gaudy northern form. And then we crossed into Norway and headed for Båtsfjord for one night, crossing back the same way the next day. The drives over the expansive tundra dotted with snow were dramatic and we were soon encountering Long-tailed Skuas, Arctic Skuas, Willow Grouse, and Ptarmigan. The roadside pools held groups of Long-tailed Ducks, Greater Scaup, and Red-throated Divers and careful searching picked out Lapland Buntings and Snow Buntings in bright breeding plumage. However star attraction of this region were the pair of Dotterel which showed really well for us.

Our time at Vadso was full of activity as the whole area was alive with birds. The boat trip out to Hornoya Island was almost delayed with the discovery of a fine Ross’s Gull right behind our hotel. It was hard to tear ourselves away, but the boat trip was well worth it as it put us up close and personal with many Razorbills, Common Guillemots, endearing Puffins, and Shags all busy with nesting, along with big numbers of Common Eiders and Rock Pipits. We also located a few Brunnich’s Guillemots in amongst the throng. A drive along the dramatic coastline west from Vadso gave us a small group of King Eiders, a single summer-plumaged White-billed Diver and everywhere there were thousands of male Goosanders. The sound between Vadso and the mainland was alive with birds including lots of Black Guillemots and yet more Goosanders. There was a small group of Velvet Scoters that held a single Stejneger’s or Asian White-winged Scoter but picking it out was very difficult. Other birds here ranged from a hulking Glaucous Gull to a dainty Red-throated Pipit.

It’s always nice to end on a high point, and the very obliging Hazel Grouse near Ivalo on our last evening certainly provided that. It was a bird we had missed on the rest of the tour but this one put on a great show for us. And that was it – back to the hotel, dinner, and an early start to the airport and flights home.

-  Steve Rooke

Created: 20 June 2022