Owls, Taiga & The South

A 9-day, small group birdwatching tour to Finland, running at the best time of year to see Scandinavia's owls & boreal specialities

Our birdwatching tour to Finland runs at the best time of year to see Scandinavia's sought-after owls and taiga specialities - and has once again been extended to include two extra days around Helsinki in search of late arriving southern breeders such as Blyth's Reed Warbler and Thrush Nightingale. Highlights from our last Finland birding tour included Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers, Great Grey, Ural, Hawk, Tengmalm's and Eurasian Pygmy Owls, Siberian Jay, Waxwing, Siberian Tit, Greenish Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Parrot Crossbill, and Little and Rustic Buntings… and many more! Join us for Limosa’s 27th and 28th bird tours to Finland.

Tour Dates & Prices

Mon 17th May 2021

Tue 25th May 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 9 Days from £3895* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £500Single Supp: £395*Land Only: £3595*Group Size: 10Leaders:  David Fairhurst & local guides
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* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Finnature bird guides
  • Return flights - London Heathrow-Helsinki, with Finnair and/or British Airways
  • Finnair domestic flights - Helsinki-Oulu and return
  • 8 nights accommodation in Finland
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees & permits
  • All tour-based tips (inc. local guides) and taxes
  • Map & Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks, & other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack


Regional departures: depending on airline schedules, it may also be possible to arrange flights with Finnair from Manchester, for those who prefer not to go via London. Please ask for details and supplement at time of booking. • The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights.

Tour Highlights

  • THE best time and place for seeing Scandinavia's owls
  • Great Grey, Ural, Hawk, Tengmalm’s and Eurasian Pygmy Owls - all seen well on our last tour
  • 3 nights near Oulu, exploring Finland’s coastal taiga forests - and its most important wetland
  • Excellent time of year for seeing grouse, wildfowl, birds of prey, waders and woodpeckers
  • 3 nights at Kuusamo, discovering the remote Russian border forests
  • 5-star boreal passerines: Red-flanked Bluetail, Waxwing, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Rustic Bunting
  • PLUS 2 nights near Helsinki seeking key southern Scandinavian specialities
  • Thrush Nightingale, Blyth's Reed, River and Greenish Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher
  • Small group size - maximum 10 participants
  • Expertly led by Limosa's David Fairhurst and English-speaking Finnish bird tour guides

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Heathrow-Helsinki-Oulu and transfer the short distance to our first hotel. Night Oulu

  • We explore the coast and forests of Oulu region for owls and visit Liminka Bay, Finland's premier wetland reserve. Two further nights Oulu

  • Birding the remote Russian border forests for taiga specials. Kuusamo (3 nts)

  • We head south and fly from Oulu to Helsinki in search of Finland's specialist southern breeders, species which only arrive here in late May. Helsinki (2 nts)

  • Time to enjoy some final birding around the Finnish capital today. Late afternoon fight Helsinki-London Heathrow

Trip Info
Trip Reports
Great Grey Owl Finland 2015 fm.jpg
A brooding female Great Grey Owl in the forests near Oulu waits for the male to bring in food © Brian Small, Limosa

Blessed with an astonishing array of boreal breeding birds, there's nowhere quite like Finland in spring! But in a land where wilderness is vast and the birds 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 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, Eurasian Pygmy and Ural Owls also breed in these sub-Arctic pinewoods - and most years there are Hawk Owls to look for, too! With a network of local guides to assist us, 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 immature Common Cranes and Whooper Swans pass the summer here. The ghostly Pallid Harrier and gorgeous Citrine Wagtail are two rarities that may also be breeding in this area - and if they return again this year, 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. Around 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 mires, 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 enjoyed an unrivalled track record for finding the exquisite but extremely localised Red-flanked Bluetail.

An extra highlight of Limosa's Finland tour, 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 the capital, 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.

Guide David Fairhurst led this trip for us in May 2016 and 2018, and our 2020 and 2021 tours will be his third and fourth visits to Finland. He’ll be assisted as usual by one or more guides working for our old friends, Finnature.

Limosa has been operating bird tours to Finland since 1993 and these 2020 and 2021 departures will be our 27th and 28th visits there.

red-flanked bluetail finland jari peltomaki enews.jpg
We have an excellent track record over the last 25 years finding the rare Red-flanked Bluetail in the wild hills and forests that straddle Finland's border with Russia © Jari Peltomaki

Day 1
Our May birdwatching tour to Finland begins with a Finnair morning flight from London Heathrow to Helsinki, and onward afternoon connection to Oulu, where our local guide will be waiting to welcome us. We transfer the short distance to our hotel in nearby Kempele, which will be our base for a three-night stay.

Oulu is a port on the northeast shore of the Gulf of Bothnia, barely 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle. With almost round-the-clock daylight here in May (the sunrises at around 3.30am and sets again at 11.00pm), this evening we have an opportunity to try for our first owl of the trip: the diminutive but fearless Eurasian Pygmy Owl. With luck, the calls of Crested Tits and other small birds may lead us to find a male perched in a nearby tree. Night Kempele (Oulu)

Days 2 - 3
We spend these two days birding around Oulu, making a special effort to find some of Northern Europe’s rarest breeding birds.

Nowadays, there are only few pairs of Terek Sandpiper left in Finland. Oulu is a reliable spot for them and with the help of our local guide and contacts, our chances of finding one here are considerably enhanced. Pallid Harrier and Citrine Wagtail are two even rarer possibilities that occasionally nest in the area and if they are about again this year we will try for them, too.

More than anything, Oulu is a fantastic place to look for owls. In the extensive forests around town we will concentrate our efforts on finding the widespread but elusive Tengmalm’s and Ural Owls. We also have a first opportunity to try for that ‘monarch of the boreal forest’, the magnificent Great Grey Owl. Short-eared Owls quarter the meadows and most years there are breeding Long-eared and Hawk Owls to keep a look out for, too. Owl numbers can vary enormously year on year and in these vast Finnish forests it will soon become apparent why expert local knowledge is a prerequisite to enjoying any degree of success in finding Scandinavia's special birds here.

Nearby, Liminganlahti is an internationally important wetland reserve that harbours thousands of waders and ducks. Whooper Swan, Garganey, Smew, Marsh Harrier and Little Gull are all regularly present in spring, along with a few pairs of Black-tailed Godwit, a scarce breeding bird this far north. After watching for Common Cranes, Greylag Geese and White-tailed Eagles in the bay, we will head out into the forests in search of Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers. Two further nights Kempele (Oulu)

Days 4 - 6
From Oulu, we head northeast to Kuusamo, where we spend the next three nights. Along the way, we’ll stop to scan some of the country's extensive forest bogs and innumerable lakes - amazingly, there are 187,000 of the latter in Finland alone! Lying close to the border with Russia and less than 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Kuusamo has a deserved reputation as the most exciting birding area in all Finland.

Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper and Brambling are relatively common in the mixed hill woodlands and bogs around Valtavaara, where scarcer breeding species can include Red-necked Grebe, Great Grey Shrike and Parrot Crossbill. But the real draw here is the quite unparalleled list of boreal 'exotics'. From Waxwing and Siberian Tit to Little and Rustic Buntings, and the inquisitive Siberian Jay, there’s more than enough here to keep our pulses racing all day! Rarest of all, the dazzling Red-flanked Bluetail occurs here at the extreme western edge of its range. Although it may not be within our grasp every year, our forays into the hills in search of this shy Siberian jewel are invariably one of the most memorable and exciting aspects of the tour.

On one day at Kuusamo we will make an early morning excursion to look for grouse, heading into the immense forests that extend around town in search of the magnificent Capercaillie as well as Black and Willow Grouse. A moderate walk in the beautiful old forests could also reward us with sightings of the elusive Hazel Grouse, along with the energetic Dipper and perhaps Grey Wagtail. Golden Eagles breed and are well worth scanning for as they soar above the trees, and that wild northern nomad, the Hawk Owl, also breeds at Kuusamo most years.

Again, with the assistance of our local guide and a network of contacts, we have the best possible chances of finding this scarce, unpredictable and elusive bird. Three nights Kuusamo

Days 7 - 8
We return south to Oulu this morning and catch the early afternoon flight to Helsinki, in the south of Finland, where we stay for two nights. We swap local guides here and head directly out of town with our 'southern specialist' to enjoy the beautiful mixed forests, innumerable lakes and bird-rich coasts that surround the capital.

While the likes of Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes, Goshawk, Fieldfare and Crested Tit are widespread across much of Finland, around Helsinki we also have chances to see species with a more southerly distribution such as Honey Buzzard, Great Reed and Barred Warblers, and Red-backed Shrike.

In late May, quiet coastal inlets hold nesting Turnstones, Common Eider, Velvet Scoter and vociferous Arctic Terns, and visible migration can sometimes be dramatic here with large numbers of divers, geese and other waterfowl streaming north and east towards their Arctic breeding grounds.  

However, the main reason for travelling to the south will be to search for Finland's late arriving specialist southern breeders. Corncrake, Blyth's Reed, Marsh, Greenish and River Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Thrush Nightingale and the gorgeous Common Rosefinch... all arrive late to their breeding grounds in Northern Europe and our late May visit is purposely timed to maximise the chances of seeing and hearing them. Quite a number of these species are what the Finns call ‘night singers’, so some of our most exciting birding may well be done after dinner! Two nights near Helsinki

Day 9
We have an opportunity this morning to enjoy some final birding around Helsinki, perhaps with a visit to a boardwalk through the reedbeds and wooded islands at "Viikki" - which is altogether easier to pronounce than its proper name, Vanhankaupunginlahti!

In late May, we can expect to find a good selection of waterbirds and warblers here, including Great Reed Warbler, and have a further opportunity to hear the loud and far-carrying song of Thrush Nightingale. We might also be lucky to see two recent colonists at the reserve: Bearded Tit and Citrine Wagtail.

Our birding over, we return to Helsinki this afternoon for farewells to our local guide and board our flight back to London Heathrow, where our spring birding tour to Finland concludes.

siberian jay finland brian small card.jpg
The endearing Siberian Jay can take some finding in Finland's immense taiga woodlands, but sometimes a tasty titbit will work a treat! © Brian Small, Limosa

Our birdwatching tours to Finland run at the best time of year to see Scandinavia's sought-after owls and taiga specialities - and have once again been extended to include two extra days around Helsinki in search of late arriving southern breeders such as Blyth's Reed Warbler and Thrush Nightingale.

Highlights from our last Finland birding tour (May 2018) included Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers, Great Grey, Ural, Hawk, Tengmalm's and Eurasian Pygmy Owls, Siberian Jay, Waxwing, Siberian Tit, Greenish Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Parrot Crossbill, Little and Rustic Buntings… and many more!

With all but round-the-clock daylight - in late May, the sunrises in Oulu at 03.30am and sets again at 11.00pm - and a host of boreal owls and other taiga specialities to look for, to enjoy this tour to the full you should be prepared for early starts and late finishes. Although such excursions are entirely optional, note that these do offer the best chances of seeing the key specialities - especially the owls and grouse, which are usually at their most active during the 'twilight' hours - plus sought-after 'night singers' such as Blyth's Reed Warbler and Thrush Nightingale in southern Finland.

This is usually an exceptionally good tour for owls, but please be aware that owl numbers do fluctuate greatly year on year in response to the relative abundance of their prey (principally voles). 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 is still much to enjoy on this superb tour!

Finland has a cold-warm climate. It seems no two years are ever alike... well, at Kuusamo we are less than 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle! 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), averaging a little warmer in the south around Helsinki (4-15C/39-59F) and one or two degrees cooler at Kuusamo.

Insects  Well, just about everyone travelling to Finland asks about these! By visiting in 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 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 out looking for owls - if the northern spring has come early or the weather at the time of our visit is warmer than average.

Good photographic opportunities from time to time - young owls in particular can be very photogenic!

130-160 species

ca. 5 species

8 nights accommodation in Finland, staying at comfortable medium-grade hotels - in Oulu (3 nights), Kuusamo (3 nights) and near Helsinki (2 nights). All rooms are en suite.

All main meals are included within our tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at Oulu on Day 1 and concluding with lunch near Helsinki on Day 9. Food is good throughout.

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. Occasional forays over uneven ground or uphill away from tracks are optional but are sometimes necessary to find some birds (e.g. Red-flanked Bluetail).

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

We fly London Heathrow-Helsinki-Oulu (Day 1), returning Oulu-Helsinki (Day 7) and Helsinki-London Heathrow (Day 9), with Finnair and/or British Airways (who 'code share' on this route).

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

Ground Transport  By minibus

Group Liminka Finland 2015.jpg
A Limosa group checks out the coastal woodland near Liminganlahti wetland, Oulu © Brian Small, Limosa

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