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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Northern Finland and Arctic Norway

Thursday 1 June to Monday 12 June 2023
with Fabrice Schmitt and a local leader
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Ural Owl is one of several species of northern owl we hope to encounter. Photo: Steve Rooke

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.

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. Our hotel is situated right on the Gulf of Bothnia and there is some great birding all around us. Fieldfares and Redwings will be busy feeding young and the adjacent woodland should hold freshly arrived Pied Flycatchers and numerous Willow Warblers.  The reedbeds and scrub will be alive with Sedge Warblers while overhead the drumming display of Common Snipe will fill the evening air.  Out on the edge of the bay nesting Lapwings will attack any Hooded Crow that comes too close to their nest, and the sentinel calls of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits may alert us to a passing Marsh Harrier. Night in Oulu.

Days 2 - 3: We’ll spend time looking for some of the most eagerly anticipated of our target birds, the northern owls; Great Grey, Hawk, Ural, Boreal, and Pygmy can all be found in the immediate area. Most will be nesting or feeding fledged young and our hosts have a network of local guides who locate the birds for us. We can also expect to bump into a Short-eared Owl quartering the fields almost anywhere and there is also the chance of Long-eared Owl.  In the surrounding fields we’ll look for Ortolan Bunting in the agricultural fields along with smart Whinchats, and these days there is a good chance of finding both Hen and Pallid Harriers as well. Woodcocks can be surprisingly common and the hay fields will be alive with nesting waders.  We’ll visit a large nature reserve on the edge of the bay where an elevated watchtower will allow us to scan through flocks of Whooper Swans and also scan for our first White-tailed Eagle or a passing Caspian Tern. 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, while a visit to a small patch of woodland should give us bright Wood Warblers, easily picked up by their shimmering song. Nights in Oulu.

Days 4 - 6: 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. On the edge of the town there is an excellent location for Little Bunting while a nearby lake will be swarming with Little Gulls, all in smart breeding plumage, as well as our first Arctic Terns and displaying Wood Sandpipers. There will also be a good chance of finding some Ruff, also in breeding plumage. Away from the town we find ourselves in the forested hills of Valtavaara, home to a few pairs of Red-flanked Bluetails which we will take time to locate. Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay and Rustic Bunting are also possible, and any group of crossbills will have to be scanned to see if they are of the Common or Parrot variety!

These forests hold some wonderful game birds but getting a view of them requires patience and luck. We will leave early one morning to drive the many forest tracks hoping to see Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, or Black Grouse pausing on the roadside or even better, attending a lek. Various lakes and wetlands will be worth scanning for a variety of wildfowl including Taiga Bean Geese, Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye, and Smew and we should see a few pairs of Common Cranes. Nights in Kuusamo. 

Day 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, 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 Dotterel and Rock Ptarmigan on the higher ground. Within a few kilometers of our hotel a visit to a local sewage treatment plant should give us our first Bluethroats while a variety of passage waders are possible. We also have an excellent location for Hazel Grouse here if we have missed it so far.  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 at a café that puts out bird feeders to attract not only the grosbeaks but also Brambling, Bullfinches, and Mealy and Arctic Redpolls. We’ll keep an eye open for any geese feeding in the fields as Tundra Bean, Pink-footed and, if we are very lucky, Lesser White-fronted Geese are all possible. 

As we head inland, leaving the shores of Varangerfjord behind, we begin to cross the open tundra. Both Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaegers will soon become obvious and we’ll scan for Rock Ptarmigan and Willow Grouse, perhaps picking up Red-throated Pipits, Lapland Longspurs, or Snow Buntings in the process. There will be many pools and small lakes to look over, and we can expect to find lots of Long-tailed Ducks, Greater Scaup, and attractive Arctic Loons, along with a variety of migrant waders, especially Red-necked Phalaropes. We will also search very carefully for Dotterel which do breed in the open habitat while the real prize might be a distant Snowy Owl or Gyrfalcon, both rare visitors to the region. Night in Båtsfjord.

Days 9 - 10: Today we retrace our steps across the tundra, searching for anything we may have missed the previous day. We are heading for Vardö at the mouth of the vast Varangerfjord. This whole area will be alive with birds. We’ll look through large gatherings of Herring and Common Gulls for something rarer such as a hulking Glaucous Gull. The bays will be full of Goosanders, Black Guillemots, and Common Eider and we’ll search through these for a late, lingering Steller’s Eider although recent years have seen this bird departing its wintering grounds around Vardö earlier and earlier. The same applies to King Eider although we stand a better chance with this species. Yellow-billed Loon is another winter visitor which we hope will still be present.  

On one of the days we’ll take a boat trip to Hornöya island. Here the cliffs are teeming with seabirds allowing us to get up close and personal to Common Guillemots, Razorbills, endearing Puffins and the truly arctic Thick-billed Murre. Nights in Vardö. 

Day 11: 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. Night in Ivalo.

Day 12: Depending on flight times there might be chance for some local birding before the tour concludes this morning in Ivalo, Finland.

Updated: 23 June 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2022 Tour Price $6,200)

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 14 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour irrespective of group size.

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