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Trip into the Uncertainties, Arctic Scandinavia, July 2020.

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Old Friday 10th July 2020, 04:37   #1
Jos Stratford
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Trip into the Uncertainties, Arctic Scandinavia, July 2020.

On remote mountains far beyond the Arctic Circle, there live a whole bunch of specialised butterflies, species that are, to me, almost mystical. About 16 species in all, the names alone are mouthwatering enough - Arctic Blue, Polar Fritillary, Dewy Ringlet, Norse Grayling and more.

However, with the world blighted by Coronavirus and its associated travel restrictions, and with myself suffering the consequences of tick-borne encephalitis, it might not seem the most apt time to ponder global travel.

However, it was exactly what I felt I needed, so I decided on a 2500 km drive from Lithuania to the extreme north of Scandinavia to try and locate a number of these highly localised butterflies.

For the best chances of seeing the widest range of them, the ideal scenario would be to visit northern localities in both Sweden and Norway, plus several in Finland whilst on route. However, in the current era, that was not going to be possible and, in many ways, this trip had potential to not quite go as planned. Of particular concern:

1. Borders! Due to Coronavirus restrictions, the Swedish land borders are absolutely closed with near zero chance of opening any time soon. As I depart, the Finland-Norway border is also closed to non-residents, though the Norwegian government is talking of relaxing this rule to residents of certain countries on 15 July, though it has not specified which countries. Without Norway, the trip is doomed.

2. My health state. None too good - a month on, the after-effects of tick-borne encephalitis still result in considerable pain in my neck, back and right arm, plus I have some paralysis/weakness in my right arm and hand. Also issues with my right leg - the knee sometimes buckling. I hope I am able to both drive the required distance and climb the mountains at the end.

3. Weather. All the key butterflies occur on high mountain tops and all require sunshine to fly, a rare commodity in such areas. Real possibility exists that adverse weather scuppers my chances.

4. Flight season. Many of the key butterflies fly from June to "mid-July". Arriving in the best areas only after the 15th, there is possibility that some of the species will no longer be flying. It wouldn't have been possible to visit earlier due to Coronavirus restrictions and my encephalitis.
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Old Friday 10th July 2020, 04:51   #2
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DAY ONE - Through the Baltics, 9 July.

Sleep is hard these days, pain limiting me to just a few hours at best, so finally giving up at 4.30 am, I clambered out of bed and decided it a good time to start the journey north, it would give me the time to explore some of the butterfly delights of Latvia on route.

There are two key butterflies that occur in Latvia but not Lithuania - Arran Brown and Titania's Fritillary. Wasn't too worried about the first, as that should be easy in Finland, but did have high hopes for the second.

Pods of White Storks plodding about in mist-laden meadows, I slipped across the Latvian border at 7 am and was on site in an excellent area in the centre of the country three hours later.

Bright sunshine on arrival, but a chilly 13 C …nevertheless, hordes of butterflies already flying - lots of Lesser Marbled Fritillaries, heaps of Ringlets, plenty of Meadow Browns and Chestnut Heaths. Also one False Heath Fritillary, never a butterfly I see very often. Plus quite a few Amanda's Blues and all three of the skippers. Though clouds kept scuttling across the blue sky, the next couple of hours were pretty good - despite a couple of showers dampening things down and my wayward leg not always cooperating, the sunny periods did produce plenty of butterflies. And among the highlights, one Ilex Hairsteak, one Cranberry Blue, several Northern Brown Argus and, after much searching, one very welcome Titania's Fritillary - found it flying on a patch of overgrown meadow aside a wet ditch.

About midday, an unfriendly slab of thick cloud parked itself overhead, basically halting most butterfly action, though it was at this moment that I found both the Cranberry Blue and a Large Copper.

It was time to continue northwards towards Estonia. Cut towards the coast and the road to Tallinn. Now basking in unbroken sunshine and 20 C, I decided to make a random stop in forestlands aside the Baltic Sea. Excellent decision - found a forest track heaving in butterflies! Among many species present, two superb Black Hairstreaks, a couple of Little Blues, one Poplar Admiral, one Large Tortoiseshell and a superb range of fritillaries - lots of Silver-washed Fritillaries and Lesser Marbled Fritillaries, several Heath Fritillaries and, stars of the afternoon, one Pallas's Fritillary and two very nice Scarce Fritillaries.

So, a productive start to the trip, 37 species of butterfly, some corkers among them. Hit the road and drove up to Tallinn. Arms aching, right leg wobbly, happy.
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Old Friday 10th July 2020, 05:39   #3
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Old Friday 10th July 2020, 08:28   #4
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Cor!! What a start.

Good luck Jos.



Wanna change the date?
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Old Friday 10th July 2020, 13:09   #5
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Wanna change the date?
Oops :)
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Old Friday 10th July 2020, 15:52   #6
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Glad to hear your wanderlust has overcome the adverse effects of the illness - hope it all goes well.
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 10:17   #7
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I know its pointless telling you to take it easy, but remember the words of the great Harry Callahan: "A good man always knows his limitations"!

Good luck and I look forward to reading about the trip.

Cheers

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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 13:54   #8
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Isn't Finnland still closed for tourist puproses?
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 17:26   #9
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Isn't Finnland still closed for tourist puproses?
Baltic States bubble, we've been allowed in since early June. Some other nationalities will be from 13 July, but still not Poland or Czech Republic, etc.

Norway has also now announced it is opening the border on the 15th to some countries, fortunately including Lithuania. Which is very good news because I can see Norway out of the window.
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 17:30   #10
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Day Two. 10 July, Northbound.

Arctic Terns in its wake, Common Scoters and Common Eiders as we approached Finland, took the 6.00 am ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, thereafter began the long drive north, covering 740 km by evening to reach the Finland-Sweden border for an overnight stop at the northern tip of the Gulf of Bothnia.

Immediately apparent the relative sparsity of butterflies in comparison to the Baltic States - random stops generally producing just an occasional butterfly here and there. Even at the best stop, a patch of flowering forest edge, a grand total of just 13 species seen - Silver-studded Blues the most common, but also including Black-veined White, Moorland Clouded Yellow and four species of fritillary ... several Silver-washed Fritillaries, three High Brown Fritillaries, fairly common Lesser Marbled Fritillaries and one Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 17:54   #11
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Baltic States bubble, we've been allowed in since early June. Some other nationalities will be from 13 July, but still not Poland or Czech Republic, etc.

Norway has also now announced it is opening the border on the 15th to some countries, fortunately including Lithuania. Which is very good news because I can see Norway out of the window.
Ah, good for your! At the moment, I can't even go to Latvia or Estonia - nobody cares I live in Poland, I have a Czech passport and we are "high risk" thus. I am kinda demotivated to go mostly anywhere in Europe during July because of the heat, the far north would have been one possible exception, but alas.

Btw. this thread is quite shocking to me, I would never have figured that there are some interesting butterflies in Lapland, it just doesn't feel like a butterfly region - I have never been to the north in the season you outlined, so no wonder I don't imagine them to be a part of the landscape.

Are you also gonna look for northern birds? Red-flanked bluetail, Arctic warbler...?
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 17:58   #12
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Are you also gonna look for northern birds? Red-flanked bluetail, Arctic warbler...?
Nope :)
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 18:21   #13
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Dang! I didn't know there was a tick-borne encephalitis. So sorry you're dealing with that among other things Jos.

Hope things get more prolific (other than the encephalitis) as your trip continues.
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 18:30   #14
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Dang! I didn't know there was a tick-borne encephalitis. So sorry you're dealing with that among other things Jos.
Not so bad, there are no other things I am dealing with, just the TBE :)
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Old Saturday 11th July 2020, 22:31   #15
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Well take it easy and let your body heal itself
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Old Sunday 12th July 2020, 20:46   #16
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Day Three. 11 July, Northbound, Arctic Finland.

A glorious sunny morning, I continued the push north, crossing the Arctic Circle at 8.00 am and reaching Kilpisjärvi late afternoon, another 460 km notched up. With good sunshine, I stopped several times to explore the margins of cottongrass bogs, some good butterflies as a result. Moorland Clouded Yellows and Silver-studded Blues proved fairly common, plus a nice scattering of extras along the way - one Cranberry Blue, a few Mazarine Blues and Idas Blues, several Cranberry Fritillaries and, in a couple of locations, colonies of both Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. One butterfly of note, for it sent me tumbling to land on my back in a water-filled ditch as my leg collapsed, also found my first Baltic Grayling of the trip.

Arrived at Kilpisjärvi just as cloud rolled in, one Pale Arctic Clouded Yellow vanishing over the slopes being the only butterfly seen.
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Old Sunday 12th July 2020, 21:13   #17
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Sounds ‘sportif’ according to my wife ( she’s a nurse but rather than agree with me that you’re bonkers she says it will be doing you good to get out and about!). Just watch your footing
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Old Sunday 12th July 2020, 21:33   #18
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Could've been worse... at least you only got wet (again)

That was a lovely lot of butterflies you saw on that drive Jos. Good luck for the rest of the trip.
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Old Sunday 12th July 2020, 21:35   #19
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You sure know your Butterflies Jos. Hope you took some photos.
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Old Monday 13th July 2020, 08:04   #20
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Sounds ‘sportif’ according to my wife ( she’s a nurse but rather than agree with me that you’re bonkers she says it will be doing you good to get out and about!). Just watch your footing
Your wife sounds like a class act!
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Old Friday 31st July 2020, 17:19   #21
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Can continue this thread now, a few photos of the earlier part first:

Latvia:

Scarce Fritillary, Titania's Fritillary, False Heath Fritllary, Black Hairstreak, Ilex Hairstreak.
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Old Friday 31st July 2020, 17:20   #22
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12-14 July. Kilpisjärvi.

At the north-west extremity of Finland, 300 km north of the Arctic Circle and in a small arm of land flanked by both Norway and Sweden, Kilpisjärvi is a peculiarity on Finland – the only Alpine region, home to the country's highest points. And upon these peaks, my first chance of Arctic butterflies. A monolith rising above the village, Saana Fell is the most famous, though my main focus was on the plateau beyond and the high top of Korkea-Jehkas. Provide the weather Gods and my health played ball, a good chance of many species here, the tops being Polar Fritillary and Arctic Fritillary.
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Old Friday 31st July 2020, 17:21   #23
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Day One. Essentially lost to cloud and rain - a grand total of two butterflies seen – one Common Blue and one bicolorata Green-veined White.
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Old Friday 31st July 2020, 17:27   #24
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Day Two. Somewhat greater potential, a cocktail of scurrying clouds, bursts of sunshine and, latter on, periods of heavy rain. In this, I hiked a round trip of 18 km, a test for my knee that was still very prone to random buckling, me tumbling for the umpteenth time to the ground. Up I slowly went, eyeing patches of blue sky around the higher slopes of Korkea-Jehkas. Bluethroats, Redwings and Bramblings abundant in the lower birch zone, Meadow Pipits and occcasional Wheatears just about the only birds seen on the open tundra.

The sun proved a very elusive commodity this day, the sunny patches always seeming a little further up, butterflies totally absent. But then, at about altitude 850 metres, suddenly a brief break in the clouds and I was bathed in sunshine ...immediately butterflies on the wing, fritillaries quartering the slope, brown in jerky flight too. Off in pursuit I went, new species both – Arctic Fritillary tracked down first, then Dewy Ringlet. Thoughts of further species were dashed when the sun once again vanished, a window of a mere 10 minutes. Upward I trudged, past patches of snow and finally onto the highest plateau, altitude 975 metres. And it was here that I was treated to my second sunny spell of the day, a more fulfilling half hour of pretty good sunshine. Arctic Fritillaries again, plus four hyper active Northern Clouded Yellows. Trick here was to really study each of the frtillaries – underwing the key. And in this way, I hoped to find a Polar Fritillary. No such luck, but I did find a very cooperative Arctic Fritillary that thoughtfully settled on a rock as the sun briefly went behind a cloud.

With dark skies brooding, the sun would not last much longer – I tried to find an Arctic Blue among patches of its favoured Mountain Avens ...no sign, but did find another new species, a very nice Mountain Fritillary. And then it started to rain, down the mountain I went, my knee buckling rather often in the descent. So, summary of the day – only four species, but classic species all ...Northern Clouded Yellow, Arctic Fritillary, Mountain Fritillary and Dewy Ringlet.

Attempted to get into Norway in the evening, hoping to get to Alta to coincide with good weather forecast for the next day. Given the border was still closed for another two days, no big surprise that we were turned back.


Photo: Arctic and Mountain Fritillaries
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Old Friday 31st July 2020, 17:34   #25
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Day Three. Excellent weather, 19 C and sunny all day. Explored the lower slopes of Saani Fell, climbing to about 900 metres before dropping back to the lower fells. Many butterflies flying, Cranberry Blues and Cranberry Fritillaries common, plus both Northern Clouded Yellow and Pale Arctic Clouded Yellow. Also at least 25 Dewy Ringlets, eight Mountain Fritillaries and, in the open birches lower down, two Freija's Fritillaries, another new species for me. All in all, a very nice day, walked about 12km.

With the Norwegian border set to open next day, I decided to to drive a little to the east and position myself at the Kalkenenai border with the plan to cross at midnight, thereafter just a two hour drive to Alta. As it was, got to the border at 6pm and found it unmanned ...so crossed and continued on my way. Two kilometres inside Norway, one stunning Hawk Owl by the roadside, nice welcome indeed. Thirty kilometres inside Norway, a border control point, oops! Totally expected to be turned back, but after a few minutes of questioning, mostly ensuring we had not been to Sweden (with its high rates of Coronavirus), we were allowed to continue. Nice border guards and just two hours later we were on the Baeskeden Plateau in the hills above Alta.

Perfect evening, camping out in the Arctic, midnight sun, breeding Golden Plovers calling just yonder.
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