Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Northern Finland and Arctic Norway

2024 Narrative

What a fantastic trip! Blessed with wonderful weather during the whole trip, we were very successful having fantastic views of no less than six species of owls, and repeated views of numerous Black Grouses, Capercaillies, Hazel Grouses and two species of Ptarmigans, and we also found many arctic specialties such as Pine Grosbeak, Rufous-flanked Bluetail, Hoary Redpoll, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker and Lapland Longspurs. This is a fantastic trip to admire shorebirds in their breeding plumage, displaying and singing: Dunlins, Terek Sandpipers, Broad-billed Sandpipers, Temminck Stints, Eurasian Dotterels, Bar-tailed Godwits, Wood Sandpipers, Common Redshanks, Red-necked Phalaropes just to name a few, even if the most charismatic ones were definitely the colorful Ruffs! Our visit to Hornoya Island with its tens of thousands of breeding seabirds was another highlight of the tour, along with a beautiful adult Yellow-billed Loon in breeding plumage, the smart male Bullfinch, the numerous White-tailed Eagles on the Norwegian coast, and the elegant Long-tailed Jaegers on their nests! 

With a beautiful blue sky, no wind and pleasant temperature on arrival in Oulu, we couldn’t resist taking a short walk from the hotel after our intro meeting, to have a look on the nearby reedbed and mudflats. A beautiful male Reed Bunting was singing atop a reed, while a singing Sedge Warbler stayed hidden in the dense vegetation. A pair of Common Snipe was doing its flight display high in the sky, and on the mudflats, we enjoyed our first views of Dunlin in breeding plumage, Ruffs, Common Mergansers and Common Ringed Plovers. A few Willow Warblers were singing here and there, and a singing male Yellowhammer concluded this nice introduction to our tour! 

We had two full days to bird the surroundings of Oulu, where the main event is searching for several species of owls. Thanks to the excellent scouting by our Finnish partners, we had fantastic views of Great Gray and Ural Owls on their nest and enjoyed a wonderful close meeting with a very responsive Eurasian Pygmy Owl. We also saw Eurasian Three-toed, Gray-headed and a beautiful pair of Black Woodpeckers, all at their breeding cavity or nearby.

On the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia, we prospected several wetlands, finding shorebirds and other waterbirds in large numbers: Whooper Swans, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Garganeys, Graylag and Barnacle Geese, Ruffs, Temminck Stints, Common Terns, etc. We even found three rare Broad-billed Sandpipers amongst a few Dunlins and Little Stints and enjoyed a great display by a pair of Terek Sandpipers, here at the western limit of its breeding range.

In the agricultural fields we found Common Cranes, Yellowhammers and Ortolan Buntings, a beautiful male Common Rosefinch, numerous breeding Eurasian Curlews, a few Whinchats, Eurasian Cuckoo and a stunning male Red-backed Shrike. While in the forest, amongst the very common Willow Warblers and Chaffinches, we found Lesser Whitethroats, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, European Pied Flycatchers, Spotted Flycatchers, Wood Warblers, and Willow Tits.

Leaving Oulu for Kuusamo, we stopped at a small pond where we enjoyed great views of Horned Grebes in their superb breeding plumage, and at a larger lake surrounded by forest where we had nice looks at a pair of breeding Arctic Loons and a male Common Redstart. After checking in at our hotel in Kuusamo, we went for a short after-dinner drive to visit a Boreal Owl nest-box, where we couldn’t have hoped for a better or closer view of this widespread but always difficult to see species!

Around Kuusamo there are plenty of magnificent lakes, surrounded by a coniferous forest that stretches as far as the eye can see, and full of breeding birds: hundreds of Little Gulls (definitely one of the most beautiful gulls in the world) numerous Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers, as well as a few Smew, Velvet Scoters, and Tufted Ducks. The Wood Sandpiper also breeds here, and displaying birds were seen and heard everywhere. In the forests, we spotted some fantastic species such as Rufous-flanked Bluetail singing atop some old trees, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker drumming on a dead trunk, Gray-headed Chickadee (Siberian Tit in Europe!) and European Siskin, while the Redwing’s song echoed everywhere. We also had great views of some rarer birds, such as Little and Rustic Buntings, as well as a pair of the lovely Gray Wagtail. Now, the main attraction of Kuusamo is definitely the grouse – and we were not disappointed, finding dozens of Black Grouse and 15+ female Capercaillie during our evening drives. We also witnessed the amazing display of Willow Ptarmigan (what a voice!) and even found a Hazel Grouse after hearing its sharp song in the forest understory.

After two full days exploring the area around Kuusamo, it was time to start our long drive towards the North of Norway! On our way, we stopped for one night in Ivalo, where we found two Eurasian Dotterels in beautiful breeding plumage, but also the no less beautiful Bluethroat, of the Northern Europe svecica subspecies showing a reddish spot in the throat. During an after-dinner outing we had a wonderful meeting with the beautiful and ‘angry-looking’ Northern Hawk Owl, and on our way back even found a very cooperative Hazel Grouse, singing and displaying only 30 meters from us!

After Ivalo we stopped at a famous coffee shop where feeders attracted numerous bramblings, together with Common Redpolls, Eurasian Greenfinches and a few Bullfinches. But the stars of these feeders were definitely the dozen Pine Grosbeaks enjoying sunflower seeds just a few meters from us!

Before crossing the border into Norway, we made our first stop in the tundra, finding breeding Long-tailed Jaegers, Willow Ptarmigans, Bar-tailed Godwits, European Golden Plovers, and even a pair of Horned Larks (a rare and interesting sighting as the species is not known breeding in Finland since 2001).

We spent the last part of the trip in the Varanger peninsula in the extreme North of Norway. After the warm temperatures we experienced in Finland, it was now time to wear our warm jackets and gloves while birding these impressive landscapes still mostly covered in snow. Where the snow had already melted, birds such as Rock Ptarmigans, Lapland Longspurs, Long-tailed Jaegers, Dunlins, Northern Wheatears, Hoary Redpolls and Ring Ouzels were displaying and singing actively – what a treat to see such beautiful birds in so amazing landscapes!

Along the coast, we had groups of hundreds of Common Eiders and Common Mergansers, together with Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Merganser and Greater Scaup, all in sparkling breeding plumage. Shorebirds were numerous, and we found a few Curlew Sandpipers and Temminck Sandpipers amongst more common Dunlins, Common Ringed Plovers and Eurasian Oystercatchers. We also found several Ruff leks and couldn’t stop watching the amazing and fun display of the colorful males! In the grassy fields we saw a few groups of Pink-footed and Tundra Bean-Goose, and we counted up to 34 White-tailed Eagles in just one day, many of them perched atop rocks on the shoreline.

At Vardo, where we stayed two nights, we were welcomed by a stunning breeding adult Yellow-billed Loon (but sadly learned that the bird was oiled), hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes actually breeding on the city buildings and a dozen Purple Sandpipers foraging on the pier.

One of the highlights here was certainly the morning we spent on Hornoya Island! Hosting 20,000+ pairs of Common Murres, breeding together with Thick-billed Murres, Razorbills, Atlantic Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwakes and European Shags, it was breathtaking to be in the middle of the breeding colony, within just a few meters of these magnificent birds, and surrounded by thousands of flying birds leaving/arriving to the colony. The sound experience was impressive too! And while exploring the grassy slope of the island, we also encountered a few singing Red-throated Pipits and Rock Pipits amongst the more common Meadow Pipits.

It’s always hard to leave such a fantastic place but on our drive back to Finland and Rovaniemi airport for our flight back home, we enjoyed a final display of a few male Ruffs on the shore of a little pond where a few Red-necked Phalaropes in their colorful breeding plumage were swimming around, and we also had a pair of Broad-billed Sandpipers doing a flight display overhead. What a great way to end this great tour!

- Fabrice Schmitt

Created: 05 June 2024