Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Wednesday 27 May 2015

Finland & North Norway 18th - 26th May 2015

A very successful trip with five others (Adam Bowley and his other half Dawn, Jake Everitt, Ian Barnard and Kevin Verlanger) concentrating mainly on the Owls, but also a few other Siberian species that avoided me on my trip to Norway back in 2012, but probably the biggest target of all, Brown Bears.

Only two mornings were spent with a Finnature guide targeting the Owls. However we luckily managed to find our own Ural, Tengmalm's & Hawk Owls

Although I saw all my main targets, the sight of seeing so many displays of species seen only on passage back home was brilliant. Species like Wood & Green Sandpiper, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Red-throated Diver, Ruff etc were all seen displaying. 

The only slight disappointment of the trip was how few summer migrants were present, and how we didn't see a Snow Bunting or Shore Lark is beyond me. 

18th May
Our Norwegian flight from Gatwick to Oulu via Helsinki was running an hour late which led to a very tight connection in Helsinki, but all was well. Our minivan was waiting for us on arrival and we set off to our accommodation in the centre of  Oulu. 

As we had an early start (3am) the local cemetery was walked in the evening seeing the following:

Pied Flycatcher - 4
Northern Bullfinch - 3
Redstart - 10 

19th May
Up at 01.45 to meet our Finnature guide near Oulu. We were with him until midday seeing a number of target species in the areas surrounding Oulu, namely Sanginjoki, Kiiminki, Pirttikoski and so on with the highlights being: 

PYGMY OWL - 1 fem on eggs. 
Black Grouse - 15+
Hawk Owl - 2 
URAL OWL - (1 fem and 1 juv) 
TENGMALM'S OWL - 4 juvs showing very well!!
Three-toed Woodpecker - 1 adult poking it's head out of a nest hole. Not an ideal sighting but in the heavy rain that'll do. 
GREAT GREY OWL - 1 female on nest

 young Ural Owl, closely watched by the adult
female Great Grey Owl 

We then moved onto Liminka Bay spending a few hours wandering around and viewing the area from the platform with highlights being: 

Bluethroat - 1 male
Spotted Redshank - 1 s/p
White-tailed Eagle - 2
Marsh Harrier - 1 male

With plenty of time to spare we drove around the vast pine forests north of Oulu where we had an incredible encounter with a family of Ural Owls, but other then this the area was quiet with just the odd Crested Tit being seen. 

a stunning Ural Owl north of Oulu. Such a lucky find. The fledgling was on the ground behind us so we didn't stay too long.

20th May
A bit of a lay in this morning after yesterday's marathon. The weather wasn't great today and got worse as the day went on. We started of around Oulu Port seeing the following:

Terek Sandpiper - 1 displaying then landed on a street light. 
Temminck's Stint - 1
Little Gull - 50+
Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi) - 50+
Bluethroat - 2 stunning males

After this we went back to the Pygmy Owl site seeing the same female, but still no sign of the male. We then tried a site told to us the day before for Rustic Bunting, but by this time the weather was grim so alas no sign of the Bunting, but on arrival a Hazel Hen was heard, and over the next two hours we all had satisfactory, but brief views. 

Nearing lunchtime, we set off North for Kuusamo but stopped off seeing a range of species in Syote National Park which were:

Black Woodpecker - 1 flew over whilst I was hiking up a ski slope and inevitably missed it. 
Common Redpoll - 2
Black Grouse - 8 males lekking
Red-necked Grebe - 2 s/p
Black-throated Diver - 2 

Syote National Park - Black Grouse lek site

After several hours of driving, we reached Kuusamo but instead of checking in to the hotel, we treated ourselves to Gull watching at the local tip seeing:

Heuglin's Gull - 1 probable 1st summer
Lesser-blacked Backed Gull - many with most looking like Baltic Gull
Temminck's Stint - 1

21st May
Our second (and final) morning with Finnature was excellent. Our guide Antti was superb and we saw the following around Kuusamo in finally nice weather:

Willow Grouse - 5
Capercaillie - ca. 10 incl. 1 displaying male
Brambling - 1 male singing!!
Rustic Bunting - 3 males
Hazel Hen - 2 showed well on the roadside
SIBERIAN JAY - 5 at Valtavaara
Willow Tit - 2 at Valtavaara 
Velvet Scoter - 5 on Raapislampy Lake
Smew - 2 (1 drk) 
SIBERIAN TIT - 2 building nest
Osprey - 1
Great Grey Owl - 2 near Lamsonkyla.....amazing!!!
Tengmalm's Owl - 1 adult at nest box

 Willow Ptarmigan near Kuusamo
 Capercaillie near Kuusamo
 Siberian Jay at Valtavaara

 Great Grey Owl - one of my all time birds!! On the nest was ok, but to have a male perched out was incredible.
 Tengmalm's Owl
'Black-bellied' Dipper

As we had yet another mammoth drive to undertake, we were soon on our way heading north to the Pine Grosbeak spot, or Neljan Tuulen Tupa situated on the main road. A few stops at some prime locations for Dotterel failed to produce as did Broad-billed Sandpipers as it was a late spring in Finland, and these unsurprisingly was not the only summer migrant we failed to see. 

22nd/23rd May
This day can only be described as a mission with approximately 40 hours of continuous birding, made very easy by the 24hr daylight. 

At long last though it was a lovely sunny day, so we all got up fairly early in the hope of seeing a Pine Grosbeak. The feeders by the lodge were active most of the morning with totals of:
Waxwing - 2
Siberian Tit - 4
Common Redpoll - 2
Brambling - 20+ incl. some stunning males
Spotted Redshank - 2

 male Pine Grosbeak - great to see after the Shetland dip
Siberian Tit

Our end point for today was Varanger which meant a prompt departure from the feeders. Our journey took us through the Finnish/Norwegian border and birding  on the way up was quiet with the true highlight being a Hawk Owl by the roadside (a Merlin was close by), but two Moose were also pretty cool.
 Hawk Owl - although we did get told about this Owl, we still had to find it so it goes down as part of the four Owl species we managed to find.

Once in Varanger we stopped at a number of sites in the vain hope of seeing some Red-necked Phalaropes, but these hadn't arrived yet. We however did see the following between Nesseby and Vardo. 

Rough-legged Buzzard - several seen
White-tailed Eagle - 12
STELLER'S EIDER - 16 incl 3 adult drakes in Vadso Harbour
King Eider - 40
Knot - ca. 200 in superb plumage
Glaucous Gull - 5
Arctic Skua - ca. 20 
Taiga Been Geese - 9
Long-tailed Duck - 200+ (1 flock)
Purple Sandpiper - 1 s/p

 Steller's Eider at Vadso........such stunning birds made even better by the ludicrous weather......12 degrees celcius. 
 Arctic Tern at Vadso

 views from Nesseby

Once in Vardo, we scoped the island of Hornoya seeing all the regular Auks including Puffin and Black Guillemot. It was now decision time to either head back to our digs an hours drive south, or carry on around the northern side of the peninsula and bird the night as the weather for the next day was a bit ropey for the afternoon. 

We headed north (a brave but correct decision) and soon found a pair of Lapland Buntings, and around Smelror we saw the following birds in full display:

Red-throated Diver - 22
Arctic Skua - numerous pairs
Short-eared Owl - 2

Most of the birds had roosted by the time we got to Hamningberg, though a few species were still passing out at sea. A couple of hours Seawatching was quiet but it all livened up when a female/young male Killer Whale was spotted close inshore, only to be followed by a stunning Minke Whale that stayed in view for half hour. Also a stonking adult Long-tailed Skua flew through high.

 Kittiwakes nesting in Vardo town


By now tiredness had crept in so we very slowly made our way back but another stop at Smelror produced a pair of Arctic Skuas displaying over our car. Close by two Willow Grouse were found. By far the highlight was a superb view of a perched GYRFALCON

On our way back down we finally found (after dipping on the way up) the resident Bearded Seal.

Bearded Seal at 2am - certainly woke us all up a tad

Roll on several hours and still no decent sleep, we were back on Vardo and waiting for our boat ride onto Hornoya for the seabird colony. Whilst waiting we had plenty of cafe time, and saw a couple of Glaucous Gulls to. 

Three hours on Hornoya produced the following:
Brunnich's Guillemot - 30+
Twite - 2
Glaucous Gull - 1
'Bridled' Guillemot - hundreds
Also Puffins, Razorbills, Shags etc

 Puffin on Hornoya
 plenty of 'Bridled' Guillemots were present to
 Brunnich's Guillemots on Hornoya

By the time we were off Hornoya it was late afternoon and still deprived on any sleep, we made it back to our accommodation, roughly an hours drive south. 

24th May
Today we drove back down to Kuusamo stopping off at a mountain for Ptarmigan, and although birds were seen, the big surprise was a full adult Long-tailed Skua flying north into the gale force wind.


25th/26th May
Our last full day and the weather was superb. We made a return visit to Valtavaara and were rewarded with finding an adult Tengmalm's Owl. An incredibly lucky encounter. Other species seen were:
Pine Grosbeak - 1
Crossbill - 5
Whooper Swan - 5
Bean Geese - 2

 Tengmalm's Owl at Valtavaara - can't beat finding a nocturnal Owl

views from Valtavaara

Our last venture of the trip was to hopefully see Brown Bears near Khumo (a Honey Buzzard was seen displaying on our way there) setup by the Boreal Wildlife Centre, which is situated very close to the Russian border. It was an all night vigil for most and we were rewarded with at least five Brown Bears, including two huge adults, but by the time these arrived the light had dimmed and photography was hard work. A very memorable experience and a fitting end to a successful trip. Many thanks to Adam for organising the trip. 

 Brown Bear - awesome!!
 Baltic Gulls were a slight distraction when the Bears weren't performing
an odd place seen on the way to Khumo - try and spot the non scarecrow