Winter trip Finland 6 - 15 Feb. 2007

John van der Woude  - 

Azure Tit near Uurainen, central Finland, 7 Feb. 2007. Photo by KH.

After having watched the weather forecasts for some time in order to await a high pressure area above Finland, we bought our flight tickets to Helsinki only a few days before leaving. We expected it to be cold, let's say minus 18 Celsius, but on our first days it was minus 30 and even colder (one morning minus 35). So, despite all the sunshine, the snow on even the smallest branches did not melt, and this remained so during the whole trip. For this scenic experience alone the trip was worthwhile. But cold it was! And yet the roads were good despite the somewhat frightening view I had had before leaving, at a Finnish website with road webcams. Driving on these roads was not a problem, thanks to the combination of winter tyres (obligatory) ànd spikes.

Typical road conditions in central/northern Finland during our stay. No problem!

We picked up our British friends along the way to the North, and the four of us eagerly headed for the stake-out of the Azure Tit at a feeder near Uurainen, which is NW of Jyväskylä. We were lucky to get the bird after 10 minutes already. Another 5 minutes waiting would have brought us back into the car, to warm up a bit, although this car could hardly cope with the cold (later we got another car).

Same Azure Tit as above. 
Also Yellowhammer, Redpoll (Lesser type). Photo by KH.

We stayed a few days at Oulu, where we had some stake-outs too, like for Siberian Tit at a forest feeder (and we saw it briefly indeed). We had got these stake-outs by email from a Finnish birder when I asked him why the records of all those nice winter birds are not publicly available on the internet. He had given me coordinates, to be used on the wonderful topographic map site Updates for the Azure Tit did I also find at, after having consulted the bird name translation tool at 

Site of the Azure Tit near Uurainen. Feeding spot in front.

SE of Oulu are a few interesting sites near Vaala, and we got the asiatica Nuthatch there (small, whitish, higher pitched sound), but failed to find Siberian Jay and Hawk Owl. However, we had Great Grey Shrike at the stake-out for Hawk Owl.
At Oulu itself we tried a few times to find Pine Grosbeak near the hospital, as it had been seen there regularly. We got one, singing at the treetops, but this was just after we had brought our friends to the train station for their travel back home (they had a flight from Tampere).

Summer photo of Oulu hospital (taken from Pine Grosbeak was in the row of trees at the bottom center part. Waxwing was in front of the semicircular buildings to the right. The open space left is a car park now.The whole area on this side of the hospital has several good berry bushes, but most berries had been eaten already.

We ourselves went on further North, to Kuusamo, and we found a nice forest cottage between Kuusamo and Ruka. We stayed here for four nights, and drove around in this region all the time, just gaping at the wonderful winter scenery. But we also got some nice birds. Siberian Jay soon found the food we had put out at our own cottage.

Siberian Jay at our cottage near Kuusamo.

One  morning, when leaving the cottage for another drive, we found a group of c. 25 Black Grouse at the start of our small entrance road.

Black Grouse, the small dark dots in the birches, near Kuusamo.

Driving the back roads East of Ruka, we crossed a bridge 2 km W of Vuotinki and saw 9 Dippers there. Although all the lakes were frozen, the narrow transition between two lakes sometimes still had water because of some turbulence.

Very shallow but not frozen transition between two lakes near Vuotinki, E of Ruka. 
Nine Dippers foraging here.

Two of the nine Dippers.

Dipper racing through the ice-cold water.

Dipper bringing stuff ashore, to sort it out for food. 
This bird dipped into the water all the time.

Just NE of Ruka is the forested Valtavaara ridge, famous for its Red-flanked Bluetail etc. and now part of the Oulanka NP. Right at the car park at the pass through this ridge is a forest feeder which attracted several Siberian Jays plus the usual Willow Tits etc. (but no Three-toed Woodpecker, which we had seen here in June a few years ago).

Siberian Jay at Valtavaara, NE of Ruka.

Same, but now sort of singing: 
stretching its neck and making queer muffled sounds for few seconds

In Kuusamo itself we found a group of confiding Waxwings. Pedestrians just passed at a few metres distance. A real photo opportunity, and now not in a dull wet Dutch winter street but with snow everywhere.

Street near the old church of Kuusamo. Waxwings in the first tree left.

Same Waxwings in a bush with berries across the street.

Waxwing on frozen berries.

Waxwing after feeding. 
In these cold circumstances birds tend to fluff their feathers, of course.

We also visited the Oulanka NP proper and made a walk to the waterfall. During this 1,5 hour walk, we did not see or even hear a single bird! At a nearby house, a few km before the park, we saw feeders with several forest birds. Amongst these was Bullfinch like at a few other sites, and I again heard the famous trumpeter sound.
All in all, this was an unusual but exciting trip, not just for the birds (we missed all owls, probably because of the severe cold), but also for the true winter experience. Best of all was of course the Azure Tit, right at the start of the trip.

The well-known car park at the Valtavaara ridge. 
Probably one of the best visited birding sites in northern Finland.
Some of the species not mentioned above were:
- Goshawk, near the forest feeder at Oulu
- Sparrowhawk, S of Vaala
- Black Woodpecker, c. 1 km before the Valtavaara car park
- Great Spotted Woodpecker, already defending territories (drumming, chasing)
- Willow Tit, common at feeders
- Crested Tit
- Nutcracker 1 across the road (far S of Oulu)
- Hooded Crow
- Jackdaw, of the northern type, a group at Muhos, SE of Oulu
- Crossbill, a few over the forest here and there
- Greenfinch and Yellowhammer often at garden feeders.
To sum up the northern specialties (species, subspecies, or type):
- Black Grouse, so common still here
- Waxwing
- Siberian Tit
- Azure Tit (rare visitor from Siberia)
- Nuthatch asiatica type (regular visitor from Siberia)
- Siberian Jay
- Northern type of Jackdaw
- Pine Grosbeak
- Northern (bigger) type of Bullfinch, with trumpet sound
- both types of Redpoll (flammea and cabaret)
- Crossbill with call clearly different from Western Europe.