Thirteen members travelled to Finland for an Owl Prowl extraordinaire. The main targets were owls and woodpeckers and the first evening saw us viewing Ural Owl chicks and an adult, closely followed by a Pygmy Owl perched near its nest box. The following day we added two adult and two young Great Grey Owls and a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers feeding young. A particular highlight was half an hour spent watching a Three-toed Woodpecker trying to feed a massive Goat Moth grub to its young at least ten times before giving up and trying to eat the grub itself. Even the adult struggled to cut it up to eat it.
The first hotel backed onto the Gulf of Bothnia and since it never really got dark certain members stayed out until 11.30pm and started before 6.00am to find Marsh Harrier, many Sedge Warblers, a selection of ducks, terns and gulls (lovely Little Gulls) and Woodcock. The wader list was building with Little Ringed Plover and Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage together with display flights by Common Snipe, or you could watch the Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroats and Fieldfare just outside your bedroom windows. The local Redwings were also singing rather than calling – a new sound to most. The Saturday early shift came up trumps for “One Lucky Member” – a Terek Sandpiper on the very small mud bar visible at the edge of the Gulf. Various sites in Oulu provided Common Rosefinch, Yellow Wagtails (thunbergi) and a nesting pair of Slavonian Grebes, Thrush Nightingale singing loudly and showing fleetingly and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Liminka Bay nature reserve produced distant ducks including Smew, Goldeneye and Goosander, together with close up views of Little Gull, Marsh Harrier and just as we were leaving the viewing platform a bonus bird – a Gull-billed Tern just 2,500km north of its expected range. The Gulf coast gave at least 30 Whooper Swans and Arctic and Common Terns having a duel and the forest produced Harriers (Pallid and Hen) and two Ortolan Buntings. Once in Kusamo we headed straight off to see two Siberian Tit adults feeding young, and finally a Tengmalm’s Owl sitting in its nest box before the rain started. In the rain on Sunday we drove for miles on forest tracks (no wonder the Finns are so good at rally driving!) and various stops were made for two Black Grouse and two Capercaillies on the track. Some of the many lakes visited gave White-tailed Eagle eating its prey on the far bank and Red-necked Grebes, a distant Pochard (unusual for Finland), at least ten Velvet Scoters and three Smew quite close to us. A Dipper was feeding its youngsters and diving into a torrent of water while we tried to shelter from torrential rain –poetic justice? Our perseverance finally paid off when we had views of two Siberian Jays as they flitted through the trees by the track, a Black Woodpecker feeding its three young and at last a Hawk Owl. We all piled out and had excellent views of the owl perched on a tree before someone noticed a flat tyre on the second van. Luckily the rain had more or less stopped while the spare wheel was fitted. On the route back to the hotel we spotted a Black Grouse lek with two males performing and two other males just watching. Dinner was a traditional Finnish dish of Reindeer which was too much for some members after seeing so many in the forests.
Our final day dawned with blue sky and a cool wind. After more searching, our Finnature guide eventually found a Hazel Grouse walking around in the undergrowth by the track. Over the next 15 minutes it even crossed the road a couple of times so everyone had good views. Abiding memories of the trip – forests and lakes; Owls and Woodpeckers; birding until the sun set at 11.30pm and out again before 6am; Pied and Spotted Flycatchers outside the bedroom window; Hazel Grouse; good food (those breakfasts!); great company from all the participants and the rally driving along the forest tracks. Overall the group saw 134 species in the four days we spent in Finland and everyone had some life birds.
Thanks to Jane for her excellent organisation, our two drivers Andy and Gary and to Pirita, our Finnature guide, without whom we would never have found all the owls, woodpeckers and grouse.