Blessed with an astonishing array of boreal birds, there's nowhere quite like Finland in spring! But in a land where wilderness is vast and birds are thinly spread, up-to-date local knowledge coupled with expert guidance are essential if one is to enjoy any chance of success finding the region's many special birds. On this compact three-centre tour, we have again been lucky enough to secure both! We travel in late May, when both the weather and the birding in Northern Europe is at its best - the majority of Finland's summer visitors will have arrived and Scandinavia's owls will be busy feeding young.
The most sought-after specialities and a major tour highlight in spring are the "northern" owls. Our adventure begins at Oulu, a port 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, Pygmy, Ural and Eagle Owls also breed in these sub-Arctic pinewoods - and most years there are Hawk Owls to look for, too! We shall spend some time exploring Oulu’s tranquil forests and meadows, where we have an excellent chance of seeing most (if not all) of these species - often at close range!
Away from the forests, the coastal bays and rivers around Oulu hold dainty Little Gulls, displaying Temminck’s Stints and, with luck, the exceedingly rare Terek Sandpiper. We will visit Liminka Bay, Finland's most important wetland and a superb spot in spring, especially for waterfowl and shorebirds. Ruff will be lekking in the meadows, and sporting their colourful collars and tufts. Numerous migratory birds stop off here on their way to the Arctic, and young Common Cranes and Whooper Swans pass the summer here. The ghostly Pallid Harrier and gorgeous Citrine Wagtail are two rarities that may be breeding in this area - and if they return again in 2020, we will devote some time to looking for them.
After three nights near Oulu, we head northeast towards the hills and forests that straddle the border with Russia. At Kuusamo, we can expect to encounter a feast of eastern boreal specialities. The untouched Siberian taiga with its bearded, moss-laden spruce forests, lichen-clad upland pine forests, wild river valleys and miry bogs, preserves a rich wild flora and fauna including innumerable rarities. Hazel and Willow Grouse, Capercaillie, Red-necked Grebe, Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Waxwing, and Little and Rustic Buntings breed. Over the years, we've also had an unrivalled track record for finding the exquisite but extremely localised Red-flanked Bluetail.
Our itinerary again has the benefit of two extra days in the south and we will spend these exploring the excellent forests, lakes and marshes around Helsinki. Our main focus here will be to find Finland's late arriving specialist southern breeders - such as Blyth's Reed, Greenish and River Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Thrush Nightingale and Common Rosefinch. Finland's southern forests also hold many woodpeckers and, if conditions are right at the coast, we may see large numbers of divers, geese and other waterfowl streaming north towards their Arctic breeding grounds.
Limosa has been operating birdwatching tours to Finland since 1993 and this May 2020 tour will be our 27th visit there. Guide David Fairhurst led this same trip for us in May 2016 and 2018, and this will be his third visit to Finland.