Join us in the wonderful country of Finland for a Bird Watching reader holiday to remember!
Over the years in Bird Watching, you’ll have seen a lot of superb photographs of the birds of Finland, taken by visiting UK photographers as well as the country’s own many superb snappers. That’s because Finland has all the ingredients for a superb all-round birdwatching experience – lots of unspoiled natural habitat, especially forests and lakes, superb light (thanks to a lack of pollution and, in spring and summer, long hours of daylight), and a location on the fringes of Europe that means both Arctic-breeding species and eastern species can be found.
Late spring is the best time to visit, with breeding birds back on territory, and the days long enough that you can birdwatch almost around the clock.
It’s a big country, though, and not one that’s necessarily easy to birdwatch on your own, which is why it’s become a popular destination for tour companies. We’re travelling with Heatherlea on a holiday that will allow you to sample the best of the country’s birdlife, thanks to expert guiding. But whether you travel as part of a trip, or on your own, here are five great reasons to visit this country…
Finland reader holiday: trip details
This holiday targets all the key bird species of Finland on a relatively relaxed itinerary which should produce a spectacular list of northern European birds. While the focus is on birding, of course, there’s also a visit to a traditional restaurant, and to a Reindeer farm.
During your first two days you’ll look for Eagle, Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm’s, Hawk, Long-eared, Short-eared and Pygmy Owls, plus Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Citrine Wagtail, Caspian Tern, Black-tailed Godwit and Garganey. Bitterns can be heard booming, and Red-backed Shrike is possible. Other key birds include White-tailed Eagle, Crane, Whooper Swan, and both Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers. The forests give a first chance of Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers, Black and Hazel Grouse and Capercaillie. Night singers might include Thrush Nightingale, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, and even Corn Crake.
The second centre is Kuusamo, Finland’s top birding destination. Vast forests hold Capercaillie and Black and Willow Grouse, Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper and Brambling are common, but the real draw is the eastern and northern species – Red-flanked Bluetail, Little and Rustic Buntings, Greenish Warbler, Siberian Tit, Dipper and Siberian Jay. Other species might include Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Red-necked Grebe, Common Rosefinch, Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred Crossbill and Parrot Crossbill. Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black Grouse, Willow Grouse, Hazel Hen, Capercaillie and Little Gull all breed here.
You’ll be guided by a highly experienced local leader, with a second guide from Heatherlea to supplement this key local knowledge with more than eight clients. You’ll make use of late nights to enjoy brilliant birding throughout, but there will also be the opportunity to rest up in the afternoon on some days.
FINLAND: 28 MAY - 3 JUNE 2018
DETAILS: Our holiday includes pre-flight airport hotel and lounge, departure
from London Heathrow or Edinburgh. Maximum group size 12
LEADERS: Markus Sirkka plus Heatherlea guide with more than 8 clients
COST: £2,695pp, £240 single supplement, deposit £300
EXCLUDES: Travel insurance, drinks and items of a personal nature
BOOK NOW: To book, call 01479 821248, or visit heatherlea.co.uk
Markus Sirkka: Tour Leader
"I am Markus Sirkka (born 1975), tour leader, nature photographer and freelance journalist, currently living in Porvoo, the old sea coast town next to Helsinki, but I’ve been living and working all around Finland during the last 20 years. I have been working in this field full time since 2004, but nature and nature photography have been my passion for a lot longer. The photography started in the early 1990s and I’m a member of the Professional Nature Photographers of Finland. I’m also a trained Wilderness guide, guiding snowshoeing, skiing, paddling and hiking tours, as well as birders! Lastly, but most importantly, I am a father of three: daughter Lilja and sons Elias and Aarni."
Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!
Day 1: Monday 28 May
After relaxing in our complimentary airport lounge, we fly from London Heathrow Arrival - Oulu airport (via Helsinki), where we meet our local Guide. Our hotel is nearby, and if time allows after check-in, we will enjoy some local birding. Overnight for three nights at the Airport Hotel in Vihiluoto.
Days 2-3: Tuesday 29 - Wednesday 30 May
The next two full days are spent birding in the vicinity of Oulu. This region is best known for its breeding owls, which include Eagle, Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm’s, Short-eared and Pygmy, and most years also Hawk and Long-eared Owl. During this period we also visit Liminka Bay, an internationally important wetland which is a paradise for birdwatchers. Among the many waterbirds we should see Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Caspian Tern, Black-tailed Godwit, Shoveler and Garganey. Bitterns can be heard booming, and a few pairs of Red-backed Shrikes breed.
White-tailed Eagle and Marsh Harrier breed here, many migrants rest, and summering juvenile Common Crane and Whooper Swan are expected. We pay particular attention to rare Terek Sandpiper; Oulu is one of the last places in Finland where this bird still breeds. Citrine Wagtail is another rare breeding bird which we target.
In the Bay of Liminka there are several observation towers providing ideal vantage points. After watching Little and Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns catching insects from the sky we will head to the forests to look for Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers. Other possible forest species here include Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse and Capercaillie.
Four species of harrier breed annually around the Liminka Bay area, so with luck we may see not only Marsh and Hen, but also Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier!
Although lying on the threshold of Lapland, some ‘night singers’ are found in Oulu area, in most years. There might be a chance to find Thrush Nightingale and Blyth’s Reed Warbler, and perhaps even Corn Crake.
Day 4: Thursday 31 May
Today, we drive eastwards to Kuusamo, an exciting birding destination, generally regarded as the best in Finland. Along the way, we stop to scan some of the extensive forest bogs and lakes, and also visit the Reindeer farm in Iso-Syöte, where we will enjoy a delicious lunch, hear stories about Reindeer husbandry and see the private museum. Overnight for three nights: Sokos Hotel, Kuusamo.
Days 5 – 6: Friday 1 June - Saturday 2 June
In Kuusamo we can expect to encounter a real birding feast in the expansive taiga forests. While Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper and Brambling are common, the real draw here is the unrivalled list of eastern and northern species: Red-flanked Bluetail, Little and Rustic Buntings, Greenish Warbler, Siberian Tit and Siberian Jay.
Other species might include Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Red-necked Grebe, Dipper, Common Rosefinch, Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred and Parrot Crossbill, Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black Grouse, Willow Grouse, Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie and Little Gull.
We will visit Valtavaara Hill for Red-flanked Bluetail. The terrain is mostly easy to walk, but will involve one or two steep uphill climbs, so a reasonable level of fitness is required for this excursion. In forests surrounding Kuusamo there is plenty of grouse habitat, and we will make an early morning excursion to the vast forests that extend around Kuusamo, looking for Capercaillie and Black and Willow Grouse. One day we will have lunch in Iivaaran eräkartano: iivaara.fi/en
Day 7: Sunday 3 June
After breakfast and some birding we travel back to Oulu to catch our homeward flight.
BOOK NOW: To book, call 01479 821248, or visit heatherlea.co.uk
Boost your tick list and enjoy expert guidance with an organised trip to bird-rich Scotland
Whether you’re planning on taking part in our #My200BirdYear challenge in 2018, would just like to get some new species on your year and life lists, or want to see the best of Scotland’s birds for the first time, our Birders’ Blast holiday, run with Heatherlea, is the perfect answer.
You’ll have started 2018 with a flurry of birding, but the tail end of winter can be a challenging time for birdwatching, with spring migration yet to begin and the worst of the weather arriving.
But it also offers great opportunities, with winter visitors present in large numbers, especially at the coast, and all Scotland’s resident birds present (and often easier to see, as they search for food and breeding territories).
Join us on a Birders’ Blast holiday in March and early April you’ll see some of the UK’s most spectacular resident birds, including perhaps Capercaillie, Ptarmigan and Golden Eagle, as well
as visiting northern coastal locations for geese, waders, ducks and divers, to give a big boost to your 2018 avian experience! Other target species include Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill,
Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver, as well as any rarities within reach (for example, King Eiders sometimes turn up on the Moray coast), targeting 100 species (including many species best birded in Scotland) on the four-night break and
70 species on the three-night break.
This holiday is perfect for all levels of birding ability, from absolute beginners to expert twitchers, packing in a lot of birds while having great fun!
With an expert local Heatherlea guide and all travel and transfers, accommodation and food included in the price, this is an unbeatable way to see the Scottish specials! On the 28-31 March trip, you’ll also be joined by Bird Watching editor Matt Merritt.
From briefing on the first evening to round-up on the last, your guide plans the entire holiday, organising it to suit wildlife and weather. Our in-house knowledge is unbeatable, and your guide knows where the birds have been showing, and the best route to maximise your chances.
We think you will see far more with a Heatherlea guide than under your own steam, so relax and enjoy yourself.
Scotland reader holiday: outline itinerary
DAY 1: Saturday or Wednesday – arrival, welcome, dinner and briefing. Don’t forget Heatherlea’s courtesy service from Aviemore.
DAY 2: Sunday or Thursday – Local Day in Strathspey
We aim high today, exploring Strathspey by vehicle and on foot to look for some of the most elusive and iconic British birds: Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle, Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill and many more. In early spring, anything is possible, and we could see
Hen Harrier, Merlin, Goshawk or White-tailed Eagle. Depending on the level of the snow in the mountains we may look for Snow Bunting and Ptarmigan too, for
a possible ‘four grouse species in a day’.
DAY 3: Monday or Friday – Moray Coast Day
Spring birding along the Moray Coast is particularly enjoyable as the first arriving migrants complement wintering birds. We may see the first returning Ospreys, rafts of Eider, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Black Guillemot and other auks, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, and spring waders, many changing into bright summer plumage, including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Watch out for farmland birds in the stubble and low crops, with Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer and Grey Partridge all targeted. Rarities are always possible here, King Eider, American Wigeon and Surf Scoter are good examples of what can turn up. With Kittiwake, Gannet, early terns and more, this is a rewarding day with a high birdlist. Watch out for Bottlenosed Dolphin, too!
DAY 4: Tuesday – Round-up Day
For those on the three day break we keep birding! We fill in any blanks from our Local Day in the morning, heading to new sites at the coast in the afternoon, adding new species. We expect good numbers of wintering birds, with higher numbers than usual as southern birds begin making their way north.
DAY 5: Wednesday or Saturday. Breakfast and departure.
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather). Accommodation is at the 3-star Heatherlea-owned Mountview Hotel in Nethy Bridge, and can be seen here: mountviewhotel.co.uk
Team members you may meet...
Toby Green: Keen birder Toby always keeps a year list, and with his worldwide travels expects to top 700 species in 2017. The perfect guide to extend your own birding experience!
Mark Warren: From Shetland to Scilly, Mark has led groups throughout the year for Heatherlea in 2017. Mark estimates he has seen much more than 200 species in the UK this year.
For more details, go to heatherlea.co.uk and click ‘holidays’, then ‘Mainland Scotland’, then ‘Birders’ Blast’.
SCOTLAND: BIRDERS BLAST
Choose three days birding, four nights DBB – Sat 24 March to Wed 28 March;
Sat 31 March to Wed 4 April
Or two days birding, three nights DBB – Wed 7 March to Sat 10 March,;
Wed 28 March to Sat 31 March; Wed 4 April to Sat 7 April
DETAILS: All accommodation is en-suite, and the holiday price includes dinner, breakfast, packed lunch, all transport during your stay, and the services of an experienced Heatherlea guide. Everything you need! Group size maximum 8 clients per guide.
PRICE: £645 (three days’ birding), £475 (two days’ birding).
EXCLUDES: Travel insurance, drinks and items of a personal nature.
BOOK NOW: To book, call 01479 821248, or visit heatherlea.co.uk