Finland: May/June 2018

Join us in the wonderful country of Finland for a Bird Watching reader holiday to remember!

blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

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

WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

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."

OUTLINE ITINERARY

Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

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