Trip into the Uncertainties, Arctic Scandinavia, July 2020. (1 Viewer)

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
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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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
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.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
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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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
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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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
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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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
15-16 July. Alta.

Day One. Vast open tundra plains, mournful calls of Golden Plovers echoing out, Temminck's Stints, Wood Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers breeding aside cottongrass bogs, a wonderful setting. With unbroken sunshine, the plan for this day was to explore some of the higher hills – herds of Reindeer sauntering past, but an obvious scarcity of butterflies immediately apparent. Possibly slightly related to a strong wind, but I think more likely the peak of the season was over. Either way, I had to work for my rewards here, many kilometres of drudging the tundra for an occasional butterfly that all too often went zooming off in the wind!

Of the handful of species seen, Dewy Ringlets were the most common, followed by Pale Arctic Clouded Yellows. Other than these, two Arctic Graylings were the highlight and one Polar Fritillary, both unfortunately not submitting to photographs! In a lower damp area, also added one Bog Fritillary and two Frejya's Fritillaries.

Middle afternoon, with cloud beginning to build to the west, I decided to drop down to the coast – the main target of my trip resided down there, namely Arctic Blue. Predictably, there was little sun down on the coast and at my chosen spot for my target the sun weather did not look very promising at all. Started by fluffing one identification – thought I had found Arctic Woodland Ringlets only to then realize they were Arran Browns (didn't know these occurred so far north)! As for blues, a brief spell of hazy sun brought out quite a number of Idas Blues and Common Blues, plus a Small Copper, but then pretty thick cloud set in and it seemed all was over. Departing the locality however, a steep back of loose scree looked just perfect for Arctic Blues ...maybe I could find one roosting.

The biggest problem here was my leg and arm – steep scree, a leg with a collapsing knee and an arm with limited mobility do not make happy bed fellows! Fortunately there was nobody present to watch my ungainly climb up the shale, it was very much a scramble on all fours, slipping back down many times. All for no butterfly! Next problem was how to get down – no way my knee was going to stand that, so I sat on my butt and slid down! Midway down, I spied a spied a tiny little butterfly quietly roosting on a stalk. Stopped my slide and there he was, a perfect (albeit slightly tatty) Arctic Blue, complete with ghostly white patches on the underwing. After managing to reorientate without falling, I even got the photos I wanted, good result.

As I was about to leave the butterfly, I then noticed a break in the clouds, perhaps it would be sunny for a few moments. And indeed it was, enough to tempt the Arctic Blue into activity, opening its wings to reveal to slate blue uppers, a perfect colour match to the scree. Five or ten minutes of activity from the butterfly, then onward down the slope I continued. Excellent end to the day.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
A tiny butterfly, but a special one: Arctic Blue...
 

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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Day Two. Concentrated on the northern end of the Baeskeden Plateau this day, slightly lower and perhaps better for butterflies I thought. Very nice weather this morning, a warm 20 C, no wind and non-stop sunshine, but still butterflies were few and far between – clearly the season was near its end in these northern latitudes. What it lacked in quantity however, it made up for in quality – of the seven species I saw, three were new species for me! The new ones being Frigga's Fritillary (three seen), Norse Grayling (two) and Arctic Ringlet (one), nice butterflies all. Along with these, several Cranberry Blues, at least 15 Dewy Ringlets, a dozen Northern Clouded Yellows and, near the birch line, a few Moorland Clouded Yellows.

Mid-afternoon, the weather began to change and the forecast for the following days was pretty dire – no point in hanging around, dropped off the plateau and headed back to the boreal forests closer to the Finnish border, Rough-legged Buzzard and Goshawk en route.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Frigga's Fritillary...
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Great names and hard-earned - epitomised by your account of seeing Arctic Blue on a scree slope with 50-ish% limb function!

"Sportif" indeed!
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
17-18 July. Bound for Eastern Finland.

1000 km relocation, leaving the tundra of Alta and driving to the boreal forests of the Kuhimo region on the Russian border in central Finland. A journey through landscapes of fens, bogs and forests, I added a detour to Neljan Tuulen Tupa for a touch of civilized birding at the feeders of this remote restaurant – coffee with Pine Grosbeaks et al at point black range, nice stuff. So over the coffee and bun, with Red Squirrels scampering below, the bird tally amounted to five Pine Grosbeaks, four Siberian Jays, one Hawfinch, at least 50 Bramblings, numerous Common Redpolls and Greenfinches. No Siberian Tits here this morning, but did have them around my tent the next morning.

As for butterflies, very few north of Rovaniemi, but impressive numbers between Rovaniemi and Kuhimo – alongside assorted bogs, hundreds of Cranberry Fritillaries, plenty of Idas Blues and Cranberry Blues, quite a few Lesser Marbled Fritillaries, plus my first Arran Browns of the trip. Nearing Kuhimo, now south of the Arctic Circle, flavours of the south back on show – Scarce Copper, High Brown Fritillary and Essex Skipper all seen.
 
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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Neljan Tuulen Tupa
 

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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Cranberries and Marbles
 

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foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Those photos of the feeders at Neljan Tuulen Tupa bring back some great memories of two visits over the last couple of years.
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Gripped - again! First the Hawk Owl and now Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Jay and Sibe Tit - and all as mere incidentals!
 

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