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Finland & Norway RETURNING! Northern Owls & Arctic

A 13-day birdwatching tour to Arctic Finland & Norway at the best time to see owls and other boreal specialities

Our Northern Owls & Arctic tour to Finland & Norway is really something special! We visit at the best time of year to see Scandinavia's breeding owls and taiga specialities before crossing the Arctic Circle and pushing on north to Varangerfjord, in northernmost Norway. All the key Arctic birds are here - from rare divers and buntings to exotic eiders and owls! Past tour highlights include King and Steller’s Eiders, White-billed Diver, Pallid Harrier, Gyr Falcon, Temminck's Stint, Terek Sandpiper, Long-tailed Skua, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Great Grey, Northern Hawk and Tengmalm's Owls, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Red-flanked Bluetail, Red-throated Pipit, Pine Grosbeak and Rustic Bunting.

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
David Fairhurst
local guides

Max Group Size: 14
Duration: 13 Days

Ask About Tour

Cost: £4395

inc flights from London Heathrow-Helsinki--Oulu, returning Ivalo-Helsinki-London Heathrow with Finnair and/or British Airways

Deposit: £600

Single Supp: £580
Land Only: £4095

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Hawk Owl adult Lapland Jari Peltomaki 8943 07

Owl numbers can fluctuate widely from year to year, but the charismatic Hawk Owl is always a favourite to look for! © Jari Peltomaki

The Arctic - Europe’s last great wilderness - is home to some truly spectacular birds and wildlife! But in a land where wilderness is vast, up-to-date local knowledge coupled with expert guidance are essential if one is to enjoy any real chance of success finding the region’s special birds. With Limosa's top guides and the help of our old friends at Finnature, on this tour we shall enjoy both. Our trip is designed to run at a time when both the weather and the birding in the far north of Scandinavia are at their very best.

Our 'new look' itinerary for 2019 begins at Oulu, on the northeastern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia - and the best place in Finland to see breeding owls. Pride of place goes to the majestic Great Grey Owl, but Tengmalm’s, Eurasian Pygmy and Ural Owls also breed in these sub-Arctic pinewoods. The coastal rivers and bays around town hold Whooper Swans, dainty Little Gulls, bugling Common Cranes and, with any luck, the exceedingly rare Terek Sandpiper. The ghostly Pallid Harrier may also be breeding in this area.

From Oulu, we head northeast into the hills and lichen-laden forests that straddle the border with Russia. At Kuusamo, we can expect to encounter a feast of boreal specialities. Hazel and Willow Grouse, Capercaillie, Red-necked Grebe, Three-toed Woodpecker, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Waxwing and Rustic Bunting breed. Over the years, we've also enjoyed an unrivalled track record for finding the exquisite but localised Red-flanked Bluetail.

Deep into Finnish Lapland, we pause for the obligatory group photo crossing the Arctic Circle and travel on through a taiga landscape of mixed pine and birch forest interspersed with numerous bogs and lakes. We'll break our northward journey with overnight stops amid the bird-rich woodlands at Luosto and Ivalo, where Smew, Northern Hawk Owl and Little Bunting are among 'five-star' birds waiting to be found.

North of Ivalo, the Finnish taiga starts to thin and we strike out across the open tundra. Rough-legged Buzzard, Jack Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Bluethroat and Lapland Bunting are typical of breeding species to watch for along the way.

Reaching Utsjoki, we cross the border from Finland into northernmost Norway - where a whole new spectrum of birdlife awaits! As we swing east towards the port of Vardö, the Arctic shores of Varangerfjord hold some of Europe’s most sought-after species, including White-billed Diver, exquisite King and Steller’s Eiders, singing Horned Larks and Red-throated Pipits, White-tailed Eagle, Gyr Falcon, Glaucous Gull and Long-tailed Skua. Here, we may also be entranced by the remarkable sight of a tiny Temminck’s Stint hovering in display flight right before our eyes, be held spellbound by lekking Ruff or catch our breath as beautiful, tame-as-you-like Red-necked Phalaropes twirl this way and that about our feet.

The road north finally runs out at Hamningberg - marking the 'end of Europe'. One minute we are driving across a barren, rocky landscape that's reminiscent of the surface of the moon, the next we round a corner to discover a beach that looks for all the world like the Mediterranean - yet the birdlife to be seen offshore is distinctly Arctic!

We round off our stay at Varangerfjord with a boat trip to see nesting Brünnich’s Guillemots on the bustling seabird island of Hornöya, before retracing our route south to Ivalo and boarding our flight home. Yet even as our time in this 'Land of the Midnight Sun' draws to a close, perhaps a marauding Gyr Falcon, 'fluffed' Arctic Redpoll or a plump but elusive Pine Grosbeak will provide us with a thrilling climax to this fabulous tour!

Guide David Fairhurst led our May 2016 and 2018 tours to Finland... why not join him for a remarkable 'Arctic safari' during which we can expect to find most of Northern Scandinavia's sought-after specialities.

Limosa has been operating birdwatching tours to Finland and Arctic Norway since 1993 and this May 2019 tour will be our 27th visit there.

Pine Grosbeak ad m Lapland Dick Forsman 8251

The raspberry-red of a male Pine Grosbeak, one of the most confiding of boreal woodland birds - once it can be found! © Dick Forsman, dickforsman.com

Day 1                                                
FLY HELSINKI & OULU

Our birdwatching tour to Finland and Arctic Norway begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Helsinki and onward afternoon connection north to Oulu. We'll be met by our local guide and transfer the short distance to our hotel for the first three nights.

Oulu is a port on the northeast shore of the Gulf of Bothnia, barely 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Flight times permitting, we have a first opportunity this evening to check the shore near the hotel for the 'whiplash' call of Spotted Crake and 'drumming' Common Snipe as the evening draws out into the night – even at 10.30pm it is light enough here to watch birds!

We might also try for our first owl of the trip - the diminutive but fearless Eurasian Pygmy Owl - if one is available nearby. Night Oulu

Days 2 - 3                                                     
OULU & LIMINGANLAHTI

A pre-breakfast walk might produce Common Rosefinch or Pied Flycatcher in the birches by the hotel. Nearby, the coastal marshes and bays can hold dapper Black-throated Divers and Slavonian Grebes, Wheatears, Whinchats - and possibly Bluethroat, with its cerulean gorget.

We will spend these two days birding in the vicinity of Oulu, where we will make a special effort to find some of northern Europe’s rarest breeding birds. There are only few pairs of Terek Sandpiper in Finland but, with the help of our local guide and contacts, our chances of seeing one are considerably enhanced. The superb Pallid Harrier sometimes nests here, too.

Oulu is also a great place to look for owls. In the extensive forests around town, we will focus our attention on finding the widespread but elusive trio of Tengmalm’s, Ural and Eurasian Pygmy Owls. We also have a first opportunity to try for that sought-after ‘monarch of the boreal forest’, the magnificent Great Grey Owl. Owl numbers vary year on year and, as we explore the tractless forests, it will soon become apparent why expert local knowledge is a prerequisite to enjoying any success in finding Scandinavia's special birds!

Nearby, Liminganlahti is an internationally important wetland reserve that harbours thousands of waders and ducks. Whooper Swan, Garganey, Smew, Western Marsh Harrier and Little Gull are all regularly present in spring along with a few pairs of Black-tailed Godwit, the latter a very scarce bird up here. After watching for Common Cranes, Greylag Geese and White-tailed Eagles at the bay, we will head back into the forests in search of Black and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers, with Fieldfares chortling and Bramblings wheezing away in the treetops. Two further nights Oulu

Days 4 - 5
KUUSAMO
   

From Oulu, we head northeast to Kuusamo, stopping along the way to scan some of the region’s extensive forest bogs and lakes -amazingly, there are 187,000 of the latter in Finland alone! Birds to watch out for include Velvet Scoter and Black-throated Diver.

Lying close to the border with Russia, Kuusamo is one of the most exciting birding areas in all Finland. The birch scrub here is one of the first places that Little and Rustic Buntings reappear having wintered in southern Asia. Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper, Arctic Tern, Redwing and Brambling frequent the hill woodlands, lakes and bogs around Valtavaara, where less numerous breeding species include Red-necked Grebe, Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Tengmalm's Owl and Great Grey Shrike.

However, the real draw at Kuusamo is the quite unparalleled list of northern 'exotics'. From Siberian Tit and Siberian Jay to Waxwing and Parrot Crossbill, there’s more than enough here to keep our pulses racing all day! Rarest of all, the dazzling Red-flanked Bluetail is expanding its range in the forests, occurring here at the extreme western edge of its range. Although it may not be within grasp every year, our forays into the hills in search of this shy taiga jewel are invariably one of the most memorable aspects of the tour. Two nights Kuusamo

Day 6                                                                   
KUUSAMO, ACROSS THE ARCTIC CIRCLE TO LUOSTO

We have time this morning to drive the roads into the forest near Kuusamo, exploring the area for four species of grouse. Early morning is the best time to get out for these as they can often be found close to the road. Black Grouse are usually the most common, but Capercaillie can also appear - even on the road! We will visit a spot in hopes of witnessing their remarkable strutting, cork-popping display. Hazel Grouse are much more secretive, but local knowledge helps – not least of their high-pitched 'dog whistle' call. The attractive Willow Grouse (now just changing out of their white winter garb) completes the set, and can even appear about the outskirts of town itself.

Bidding a reluctant farewell to Kuusamo after breakfast, we head further north today, taking in some of the finest bogs in all Finland as we go. These are home to an impressive list of breeding waders, including the notoriously tricky Jack Snipe with its astonishing ‘galloping horse’ song.

Pausing for the customary group photos as we cross the Arctic Circle, we continue deeper into Finnish Lapland with Smew, Merlin and the fuscus race of Lesser Black-backed Gull (often called ‘Baltic Gull’) to look for along the way.

Our destination this evening is Luosto. Nestled below a granite outcrop amidst remote taiga woodlands, this is another good area to see the impressive Capercaillie - sometimes a little too close for comfort! We might also be lucky to spot a Northern Hawk Owl hunting from a snag. Night Luosto

Day 7                                    
ARCTIC LAPLAND: LUOSTO TO IVALO

We push on north through Arctic Lapland today, bound for Ivalo, where the relentless expanses of pines gradually begin to thin. We’ll check bogs en route for Broad-billed Sandpiper, and also explore the woodlands for some of the region’s trickier forest species such as Siberian Tit and the undemonstrative Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. Time allowing, we may also check some of the higher hills for Rock Ptarmigan and Dotterel before arriving at our hotel in Ivalo.       

An optional after-dinner outing at Ivalo could produce... well just about anything, from Jack Snipe and Broad-billed Sandpiper to Siberian Jay and Little Bunting! Night Ivalo

Day 8
IVALO, NORTH TO ARCTIC NORWAY

As we travel deeper into Arctic Lapland, periodically, the forests give way to open expanses of impenetrable boggy lakelands. Snazzy Lapland Buntings, song-flighting ‘red-spotted’ Bluethroats and patrolling Rough-legged Buzzards frequent this habitat and our wader list should continue to grow with the likes of Eurasian Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank - all in glorious summer dress, of course. Black-throated Divers and Common Scoters also nest, while at promising sites along the way, we may stop to try for what is perhaps the most difficult of all boreal birds to find - the quiet and retiring Pine Grosbeak.

The urge to reach the Arctic coast is irresistible now, as our route follows the Utsjoki River north to the Finnish border. Crossing into northern Norway (where confusingly the clocks go back one hour!), our destination this evening is Tana, close to the westernmost extremity of Varangerfjord. Night Tana

Days 9 - 11                                                     
ARCTIC NORWAY: VARANGERFJORD & BOAT TRIP TO HORNOYA

We have three full days to enjoy the exciting Arctic birdlife found around the shores of the remote Varanger peninsula, dividing our time between two nights at Vardö in the east (at the mouth of Varangerfjord), and one further night back at Tana in the west.

Leaving Tana, we cross the river and travel east to Varangerbotn, at the westernmost point of Varangerfjord. We'll spend the rest of this 'first' day driving slowly along the northern shore of the fjord, picking up many of the Arctic breeders that are found throughout this region, including Common Eider, Arctic Skua, Red-throated Pipit and Snow Bunting. Here we may also thrill to the incredible ‘butterfly display’ of Temminck’s Stints as they hover right before our eyes; witness the extraordinary antics of Ruffs at the lek; watch brightly-coloured Turnstones and summer-plumaged Purple Sandpipers foraging along the Arctic shoreline; and marvel at the incredible tameness of Red-necked Phalaropes spinning this way and that at our feet. Perhaps we'll find a White-tailed Eagle or a summering Glaucous Gull picking at a fish on the shore, while at Vadsö we will pause by the bay where eiders gather: amongst the many Common Eider this is a great place to check for the smaller but equally smart Steller’s Eider.

To the north and east, the scenery beyond the colourful fishing port of Vardö (where we stay) is even more dramatic. Accessed only by one, narrow coastal road, we’ll traverse a landscape dominated by stark seacliffs, barren stony fjelds and jutting rocky pinnacles that give this wonderful place a distinctly lunar appearance. The road north literally runs out at Hamningberg - the 'end of Europe'! Red-throated and White-billed Divers, and sensational King and Steller’s Eiders are but a few of the Arctic delights awaiting our discovery here as we gaze out from the shore of the Barents Sea.

As a fitting climax to our stay in the High Arctic, this morning we’ll take a boat trip out from Vardö to visit the spectacular seabird colony on Hornöya, watching for 'blue' Fulmar as we go. We should enjoy fine close views of the island’s five nesting auks: Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin and Black, Common and Brünnich’s Guillemots, while thousands of pairs of cacophonous Black-legged Kittiwakes scream above our heads. Hörnoya also offers a good chance of seeing the impressive Gyr Falcon, which regularly hunts for seabirds over the island, as our travels in this 'Land of the Midnight Sun' draws towards a close. Two nights Vardö, and one night Tana

Day 12
TANA, SOUTH TO IVALO

We have time this morning to drive a little way northeast of Tana, on the road to Batsfjord. On the high snowy fjelds we have chances to try for some special birds including Rock Ptarmigan, Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, Eurasian Dotterel, 'singing' Dunlin and Long-tailed Skua. Breeding-plumaged Horned Lark, Red-throated Pipit and Snow and Lapland Buntings are well worth watching out for along the road, along with the uncommon Ring Ouzel and Common and Arctic Redpolls.

Heading south again, we cross the border back into Finland, where the scenic mixed forests and bogs beyond the Utsjoki River provide a last opportunity to look for some of the more elusive northern specialities, such as Waxwing, Siberian Jay and the raspberry red Pine Grosbeak.

Retracing our route through the taiga of Finnish Lapland, we spend the last night of our tour once more at Ivalo. Night Ivalo

Day 13
IVALO, FLY HELSINKI & LONDON

Flight schedules permitting, there may be time to enjoy some final birding in the forests around Ivalo this morning before we must board our flight south from Ivalo to Helsinki.

Onward connection from Helsinki to London Heathrow, where our Northern Owls & Arctic tour sadly concludes.

Long tailed Skua adult flying Finland Dick Forsman 2629

An adult Long-tailed Skua patrols low over its breeding grounds in Lapland's northern bogs © Dick Forsman, dickforsman.com

What To Expect

A comprehensive 13-day birding tour to Northern Finland and Arctic Norway, from Oulu on the Gulf of Bothnia, north to Varangerfjord on the High Arctic shores of the Barents Sea.

In late May, the sunrises in Oulu at 03.30am and sets again at 11.00pm. With all but round-the-clock daylight plus a host of boreal owls and other taiga specialities to look for, to enjoy this tour to the full be prepared for early starts and late finishes. Although most such excursions are optional, note that these do offer the best chances of seeing the key specialities - especially the owls and grouse, which are at their most active during the 'twilight' hours.

This is usually an exceptionally good tour for owls, but please be aware that owl numbers can fluctuate widely year on year in response to the relative abundance of their vole prey. In the event owl numbers are low in any given year, however, our expert guides invariably manage to find at least some and participants will also find there are a great many other boreal specialities to enjoy on this superb tour!

Cold-warm climate. It seems no two years in the Arctic are ever alike! In May, the weather in this part of Finland is generally cool to mild, with daily temperatures at Oulu typically in the range of 3-12C (38-54F). As we head north of the Arctic Circle, expect anything from warm sunshine to snow! At Vardo, temperatures in May average just 3C (37F) and it can sometimes be breezy at times near the coast - so warm and weatherproof clothing required.

Good photographic opportunities from time to time - young owls and nesting seabirds can be especially photogenic!

Mosquitoes...  Well, just about everyone travelling to Finland asks about these! By visiting in late May, we will be in advance of the main ‘mosquito season’, but their prevalence in any given year much depends on whether spring comes early or late. As a precaution we do recommend that you pack some effective repellent as ‘mozzies’ can sometimes be a local nuisance in some forest areas - notably around dusk, when we may be looking for owls - if the northern spring has come early or the weather at the time of our visit is warmer than average. For the second half of our trip, we are mostly in a region that lies to the north of the range of mosquitoes, where insects are few and flies are of the non-biting variety.

Birds

160-190 species

Accommodation

12 nights accommodation in Finland and Norway staying at comfortable, medium-grade hotels. All rooms are en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included within our tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at Oulu on Day 1 and concluding with breakfast on Day 13. Food is good throughout.

Walking

Short walks on mainly good tracks and forest trails. The walking effort is mostly easy, although there may be some hills to climb in the Kuusamo region and at Varangerfjord. Occasional forays over uneven ground or uphill away from tracks optional but are sometimes necessary to find some birds (e.g. Red-flanked Bluetail).

Sturdy waterproof walking boots required. Knee-length wellingtons / rubber boots are sometimes necessary for walking in the wetter forest, boardwalks and tundra bogs, and we recommend you do take these with you.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow-Helsinki with onward connection to Oulu, and returning Ivalo-Helsinki-London Heathrow with Finnair (and/or British Airways, who operate a code share on this route).

[Depending on airline schedules this year, it may also be possible to arrange flights with Finnair from Manchester, for those who would prefer. Please ask for details and supplement at time of booking]

Ground transport is by minibus.

Boat Trips

Half-day visit to Hornöya island for seabirds in boat large enough to accommodate our whole group in comfort. The relatively sheltered crossing takes around 20 minutes each way.

Red throated Pipit ad br Norway Jari Peltomaki 6909 JPE

Leaving Finland's taiga forests behind, we move north to look for Arctic tundra specialities - like the superb Red-throated Pipit at Varangerfjord © Jari Peltomaki

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  AUTHOR TESTINTRO TITLE
1 GP, Finland Tour Great trip - I would strongly recommend it. Leaders were fantastic. Dave in particular was incredibly quick at spotting birds and getting his scope set up on them so that we could view it. [empty string]
2 NH, Finland Tour This was not just a birding holiday but an experience. The preparation that goes into this trip must be time consuming for the local guides, but well worth the effort they made. The forest, scenery, atmosphere in the north part of Finland was unique - quite remarkable - and of course the birds were not to be missed. [empty string]
3 CG, Finland Tour David was the perfect leader – friendly, warm, funny, inclusive and with excellent birding knowledge. [empty string]
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