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Twenty four hour flying visit to Central Finland 4-5 June 2010

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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 08:51   #1
wolfbirder
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Twenty four hour flying visit to Central Finland 4-5 June 2010

Logistics

This was my 3rd visit to this wonderful country, albeit another flying visit to co-incide with a "Finnature" guided tour. I know cheaper Ryan Air flights can be had to Tampere further south, but it is still quite a drive to Oulu. So I had pre-booked Finnair flights on-line to Oulu via Helsinki at £290. The timetable suggested a tight switch was possible via a 2.5 hour flight to Helsinki from Manchester due to depart 10.25, leaving a 45 minute gap for the connection to the Oulu flight (which itself takes just under an hour). Helsinki is a smooth running, modern airport and transit is usually smooth and quick here.

I had also booked car hire via Europcar, a VW Polo for £79 for the short time I was there (upgraded to a VW Golf free of charge).

Then there was the 200 euros Finnature tour price. See www.finnature.com .Without their expertise and knowledge I believe your chances of seeing the wonderful owls is 0%.

With petrol, and £18 Manchester Airport car parking it came to £600 - a lot I know for less than 24 hours of birding which could be done for a lot cheaper.

Reality bites

I arrived at "Parking for less" at Manchester with my pre-paid voucher, only to be told that it was overbooked and I was receiving a free upgrade to nearby T2 Long Stay. No problem, but the free courtesy bus from there only dropped off at T2, meaning a twenty minute walk through a boiling hot, elevated, vacuum-effect, passenger walkway tunnel to T1, so I arrived feeling like I needed a shower before I even set off ! I hate that feeling. I checked in for my Finnair flight well in time, but after settling down to de-mist the departure board soon brought me down to earth - the 10.25am departure was delayed to 12.15pm, meaning I would miss my tight connection. Two Finnair stooges behind the information desk eventually managed to confirm, after much prompting and repeat visits to the desk, the assurance of a later connection to Oulu from Helsinki, that departed 1720. Without that assurance it would be futile for me to travel at all. I quickly managed to inform Europcar of my later arrival via their customer services contact number.

Arriving at Oulu at 8pm (they are two hours in front), my next horror was opening my suitcase to realise a can of Red Bull had been split open by my tripod, and so my sleeping bag, pillow and some spare clothes were slightly wet and scented.

Oh, and my return Finnair flight the following day from Oulu to Helsinki was also delayed by 30 minutes, meaning a mad sprint on arrival from gate 24 to 37 to connect to the Manchester bound flight. I made it, my suitcase failed to, though they will be sending it on. Hard to blame Finnair for technical failure and slight delays really, its a risk you take and I nearly paid the ultimate price. Of course if flights are on time, the timetable is perfect!

Having picked up my VW Golf on 4th June at 8pm, I was off. A detailed map was essential (not easy to find here), but the roads are easy to use though you must be aware of varied radar-controlled speed limits ! The roads are excellent and relatively quiet, but the main roads confusingly have several numbers, so familarise yourself with where you want to go.

The weather was drizzling upon arrival but quickly subsided and I was fortunate to enjoy dry mainly sunny weather, but with a very cool breeze.

The Birding

The most common birds were 'pale-headed' Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, Magpies, Curlews, Fieldfares, and Black-Headed & Herring Gulls. Remember this is central Finland, too far south to see many arctic Tundra species which are highly sought-after.

I first drove south along route 813 a few miles south of Oulu, between Liminka, Lumijoki and Siikajoki, an area of forestry and open plains. Although it was nearing 10pm, the light was excellent but subdued, and apart from Whooper Swans and Jackdaws I had a male Hen Harrier and a Short-Eared Owl, as well as a couple of Common Cranes, Yellowhammer's on telegraph wires, and a Pink-Footed Goose with a group of Greylag Geese. A couple of Woodcocks offered great flyover views too. I nipped in to the famous Liminganlahti Reserve (Liminka Bay) and walked out to Tower Hide a five minute walk away from the reserve centre car park. It appears access is free at any time. More Whoopers and wildfowl were seen, but I quickly drove on to nearby Tupos ABC Service station on Route 4 dual carriageway, the starting point for Finnature tours. I settled down for a few hours sleep in my reclining seat of the VW Golf. Tupos Service area is excellent, being open 24 hours, for hot/cold food, drinks and fuel, and the washroom wc's are big enough to wash and change in, and are kept very clean. There is a cafe to order hot food and a supermarket to buy virtually anything including cans of the Red Bull equivalent - "Battery". You can pay cash for fuel inside at the supermarket cash desk if your credit cards have a problem at the pumps.

I had been on a Finnature tour last year, and enjoyed great views of Great Grey Owl on the nest, Tengmalm's Owl and Pygmy Owl, as well as Black Grouse at the lekk, waders singing from tree tops, and RL Buzzard thrown in. Their tours last about 8 hours, but of course precise tour location varies immensely, and the presence of owls is dependent annually on the specific availability of voles, their primary diet. Via email, I had arranged with Finnature to hopefully see Great Grey Owl ( in flight this time), & Ural and Hawk Owl, so that I could conclude my Northern owls speciality list. My trip last year had been a few weeks earlier,so this time instead of merely seeing owls sat on the nest, I hoped to see a bit more activity. Late cancellations by a group booked on my tour meant that I was the only person on my tour, but I could not re-arrange to other offered dates as I was only there 24 hours. Immense credit must go to Finnature who honoured my tour, perhaps because of the late cancellation and due to the fact this was my second trip with them (loyal customer etc?). Tours are only run subject to numbers, so I was lucky and extremely grateful that they still ran this for me alone. Bang on 3am Pirita my guide turned up in the tour van, a wonderful young lady she is and a great tour guide, who ensured that I got to see exactly what I wanted bird-wise. Infact it possibly worked in my favour, as normal group size of upto 8 can sometimes be more of a disturbance when approaching nervous owls.

We were first off to an area about ten miles east of Oulu, I think on the 8331 "Sanginjoentie" road. But do not think you will find the owls yourself, there are hundreds of forestry tracks accross swathes of forest in Finland, and you could easily get lost. We took a turn off a few hundred metres, parked up and walked into dense woods a few hundred metres to hopefully see the most difficult and unpredictable of the targets - Ural Owl. The nestbox which contained a few young was easy to find, but the female was sat out of cover and apparently would often fly off with any disturbance. Jays scolded her and a Treecreeper fed nearby, but we could not quite obtain views. However, Pirita was surprised to locate the adult male sat out in the open at a distance of 20 metres, and we enjoyed fantastic scope views. This was the first time she or other guides had come across the male.

Moving on, Pirita informed me that it was a two hour drive up north to two nests close to each other - containing Great Grey Owl and Hawk Owl. 130 kms later, with just a Black-Throated Diver of note seen en-route, we were north-east of Kemi on the 926 road (with the main E75 on the other side of the river), and we took a forestry track inland for a further 10 kms near Ilmola. Again, you would never find the birds in a million years without the knowledge of a guide. We came to an open area where the male Hawk Owl was as Pirita guessed, on his favoured perch. He allowed me to approach to thirty metres. Fantastic views. Whilst watching him, immature male Common Rosefinch, 2 Brambling, and male Redstart and Whinchat put in an appearance. We moved a few hundred metres down a track to the tree nest hole, where the largest of the several young could be seen. Pirita told me it was by far the largest and would fledge anyday. The adult female called and the male flew in, on rapid wingbeat to protect her. Great views were enjoyed, I thought the plumage seemed browner and less grey than books depicted.
A few hundred metres further on we stopped again, and walked into woods where Pirita showed me the Great Grey Owl nest. The female's head could clearly be seen, and she watched us with passive interest. Occasionally she turned her head around in a slow 'dalek-style' motion. Pirita looked around for the adult male, as he usually completed his morning hunt by about 7.30a.m. - the exact time we were present. But there was no sign of him resting in nearby trees. Whilst we waited patiently Curlew called overhead, Northern Bullfinches flitted above our heads, Siskin, Marsh Tit (a rarity here apparently), and best of all a Black Woodpecker passed through. Then - the magic moment - the adult male flew in on huge wings and passed an unfortunate vole to the waiting female........a wonderful birding experience. He then settled down in a nearby tree perch, and we manoeuvred ourselves around to get better sun angle views. He seemed unconcerned and infact was dropping off to sleep, but quite superb full-body views were obtained down to about twenty metres - exactly what I had hoped for!! He stared at us briefly with his huge, mesmorising, yellow and black eyes, before getting a bit of 'shuteye' himself. Wonderful stuff and exactly why I was prepared to sacrifice £600 to fullfill this birding dream.

Female Black Grouse and a 'road-bathing' Woodcock were seen as we drove back along the forestry track to the main road.

Driving back to Oulu I was dropping off to sleep. Pirita advised me that this was the 3rd time in 4 days she had guided a group to this area early morning, and she would possibly be doing the same again tomorrow!! I noticed she too was 'supping' from a can of Battery - and no wonder. But you can only admire the stealth and dedication of such people. We arrived back at Tupos at about 10.30am and said our sad farewells. Again, I cannot praise Finnature and Pirita highly enough- they really delivered for me !!

I still had a short time to drive around, and I had intended to drive south to a location CAU (Birdforum member) had suggested might get me Three-Toed Woodpecker (thanks Andreas). Sadly though time was not on my side, but I quickly checked the area between Tupos ABC Service station and Tyrnava, hoping to see any passing harrier on these expansive fields. Alas, no joy but 2 kestrels and 2 Rooks were the first of the trip. Before dropping the car back off at the airport I again briefly visited Liminganlahti NR, Liminka Bay. I had missed 2 juvenile White Tailed Eagles sadly, but added Marsh Harrier, Common Terns, Goldeneyes, Redshanks, White Wagtails, and Sedge Warblers imitating Spotted Redshank!

The stressful journey home to Wolverhampton began, I had left home at 6am on Friday 4th June, and was home at 7.15pm on Saturday 5th June.

The bird list ( in no specific order) :

Great Grey Owl (x 2)
Hawk Owl ( x 3)
Ural Owl (x 1)
Short-Eared Owl ( x 3)
Hen Harrier ( x 1)
Marsh Harrier ( x 1)
Kestrel ( x 2)
Black-Throated Diver ( x 1)
Black Grouse ( x 1)
Common Rosefinch ( x 1)
Yellowhammer ( x 10)
White Wagtail ( x 3)
House Sparrow ( x 3)
Fieldfare ( X 10)
Whinchat ( x 1)
Redstart ( x 1)
Willow Warbler ( x 5)
Sedge Warbler ( x 3)
Treecreeper ( x 1)
Marsh Tit ( x 1)
Skylark ( x 1)
Blue Tit ( x 2)
Song Thrush ( x 1)
Jay ( x 5)
Hooded Crow ( x 30)
Jackdaw ( x 200)
Magpie ( x 50)
Whooper Swan ( x 500)
Common Crane ( x 4)
Greylag Goose ( x 15)
Pink-Footed Goose ( x 1)
Mallard ( x 4)
Goldeneye ( x 5)
Tufted Duck ( x 10)
Shoveler ( x 20)
Shelduck ( x 1)
Teal ( x 4)
Great Crested Grebe ( x 4)
Common Tern ( x 20)
Black-Headed Gull ( x 500)
Herring Gull ( x 40)
Little Gull ( x 2)
Curlew ( x 100)
Lapwing ( x 10)
Snipe ( x 1)
Redshank ( x 5)
Woodcock ( x 3)
Sand Martin ( x 5)
Swallow ( x 10)
Swift ( x 10)

50 Species. But its about quality not quantity! Sorry there are no photos but I am a traditional birder who wants to simply enjoy watching the birds.
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Favourite birds:- Pallid Harrier, Hen Harrier, Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Snowy Owl, Wryneck, Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater, Sib Rubythroat, Firecrest, Redstart, Hawfinch, Bearded Tit, Smew, GN & BT Diver, Pom Skua, Warblers especially colourful American ones.

Last edited by wolfbirder : Monday 7th June 2010 at 03:54.
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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 18:01   #2
Pam_m
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What a fascinating read of your Twenty four hour flying visit to Central Finland ! I was out of breath just reading the report!

You have a brilliant species list! I am off to Google a few of them.lol!!

Thanks for sharing your trip!
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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 18:51   #3
wolfbirder
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Originally Posted by Pam_m View Post
What a fascinating read of your Twenty four hour flying visit to Central Finland ! I was out of breath just reading the report!

You have a brilliant species list! I am off to Google a few of them.lol!!

Thanks for sharing your trip!
Thanks Pam. I am too old for such experiences and stress levels!

Glad you enjoyed the read, have a look at Great Grey Owl - surely one of the most charasmatic birds on the planet!
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Favourite birds:- Pallid Harrier, Hen Harrier, Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Snowy Owl, Wryneck, Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater, Sib Rubythroat, Firecrest, Redstart, Hawfinch, Bearded Tit, Smew, GN & BT Diver, Pom Skua, Warblers especially colourful American ones.
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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 19:28   #4
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Originally Posted by wolfbirder View Post
Thanks Pam. I am too old for such experiences and stress levels!

Glad you enjoyed the read, have a look at Great Grey Owl - surely one of the most charasmatic birds on the planet!
Wow! What a stunner the Great Grey Owl is! Such a large facial disc and with those yellow eyes it doesn't look real.lol!! I think I would consider blowing £600 to see just one never mind two! A birding dream indeed!
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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 19:59   #5
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Really pleased to see it all worked out OK for you in the end, wolfbirder! It sounds like you went to exactly the same spots for the owls as I did.
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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 21:59   #6
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Wolkbirder,

A great report, sometimes I felt that I was seeing the birds with you!

best regards
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Old Sunday 6th June 2010, 22:01   #7
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Wolfbirder,

A great report, sometimes I felt that I was seeing the birds with you!

best regards
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Old Monday 7th June 2010, 04:00   #8
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Pam, exactly my thoughts the first time I laid my eyes on a photo of a Great Grey Owl !! Was always my dream to see one. Thanks again !

MSA and SCFMerlin, appreciate your kind thoughts, would have been a photographers dream, but I consciously made the decision some time ago to watch the birds only.A wonderful experience.
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Favourite birds:- Pallid Harrier, Hen Harrier, Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Snowy Owl, Wryneck, Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater, Sib Rubythroat, Firecrest, Redstart, Hawfinch, Bearded Tit, Smew, GN & BT Diver, Pom Skua, Warblers especially colourful American ones.
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Old Monday 7th June 2010, 15:24   #9
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Nice report!

Had to say that Marsh Tit is next to impossible in Northern Finland. It's a major rarity even in SE-Finland, where it's most likely to be seen. Also, there's no known summer sightings of Marsh Tit in Finland; http://tarsiger.com/news/index.php?s..._button=Search
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Old Monday 7th June 2010, 16:09   #10
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Nice report!

Had to say that Marsh Tit is next to impossible in Northern Finland. It's a major rarity even in SE-Finland, where it's most likely to be seen. Also, there's no known summer sightings of Marsh Tit in Finland; http://tarsiger.com/news/index.php?s..._button=Search

Ah ok many thanks Makpe. It must have been Northern Willow Tit then. I am not familiar with their call but the Willow Tits we get here in the uk have a really distinctive nasal sound to their call, the bird in question issued clear sharp notes that were entirely different.

My guide Pirita was unfortunately about 100 metres away at the time but she said Marsh Tit would be a rarity too

EDIT - I have just listened to recordings and yes it was Willow Tit singing. I have only heard their nasal call (not the song) in the UK. Too late to amend the report (no edit facility now on original post). Sorry for the confusion.
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Last edited by wolfbirder : Tuesday 8th June 2010 at 05:38.
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Old Tuesday 8th June 2010, 19:45   #11
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Hi Wolfbirder,
always enjoy your reports and well done on getting your owls!! It's a bit expensive for 48 hours but fair play to you, you know what you want and it paid off handsomely!!

all the best

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Old Tuesday 8th June 2010, 20:29   #12
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Hi Wolfbirder,

Excellent report. I was there with a group just a week before you (and could take this wee picture). We went then on to Lappland with Finnature and they are really good. Especially this year there are hardly any owls around and as you said, the chance of seeing one without guide is 0%.


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Old Wednesday 9th June 2010, 06:51   #13
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Many thanks for your very kind remarks Derek and Andre. I am glad that someone enjoys a little read, though I think I am thinking of changing my name to pi** poor birder ! (based on my compromised i/d skills). Nice of you to say that Derek. Thank you. You have to be able to laugh at your own inadequacies I always think!

I agree it seems to be a poor year for owls, when Finnature said it was excellent in Oulu and Kuusamo I expected them to be local & relatively easy. So surprised we had to drive 130 kms though well-pleased ultimately.

PS that GGO photo is superb Andre, looks like the male on its favoured perch that I saw, but of course I am not confident at i/d-ing Finnish tree branches just yet !
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Favourite birds:- Pallid Harrier, Hen Harrier, Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Snowy Owl, Wryneck, Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater, Sib Rubythroat, Firecrest, Redstart, Hawfinch, Bearded Tit, Smew, GN & BT Diver, Pom Skua, Warblers especially colourful American ones.
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Old Monday 14th June 2010, 21:17   #14
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I blew £350 last week for 24 hours of birding in central Sweden, with some simply amazing encounters with Great Grey Owl.

5 mins of video, including Great Great & Ural Owls and Three-toed Woodpecker, here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBdeU1ic0W4

Excellent guiding from Daniel Green at www.birdsafarisweden.com
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