Northern Scandinavia June 1999

Northern Scandinavia June 1999



In June 1999, Pieter van der Luit and I set out for a trip through Northern Sweden, Finland and Norway. In this report I have summarised our findings, mostly regarding to the birds (and mammals) we observed.
Our goal was to find as many of the 'Northern speciality birds' as possible. Any birder will know what I mean with this: the (North-)Scandinavian forests and tundra's host a number of bird species that are difficult, or even impossible, to see elsewhere. For me, only one 'lifer' (a species I hadn't seen before in my life, in this case Brünnich's Guillemot Uria lomvia) seemed possible, but I returned home having seen one more (see the species list....).
On the whole, I guess we did pretty well. As is generally the rule in birding trips, one cannot expect to see everything in one trip, and this was no exception to that But we did see most of the wanted species, though, and the incredible sight of >100 Beluga Whales in the Varanger Fjord just made me forget everything about counting numbers of species.

Thanks to :
Our trip could never have been such a succesful one without the help of so many people that were eager to provide us with tips, suggestions, maps, site descriptions, etc., etc.

So (in alphabetical order) : Hans Ackered, Håkan Delin, Kari Engelbarth, Håkan Engström, Annika Forsten, Jussi Heikkilä, Hannu Jännes, Curt Johnsson, Pentti Kalliö, Olli Karhu, H-J Roland, Heiki Seppänen:

thank you !

Norway is expensive, Sweden and Finland aren't (anymore). Filling up your gas tank before you enter Norway can be worthwhile. Shopping in Norway will cost you considerably more, too (although I'm told that e.g., rice is much cheaper than in Sweden - 'thanks' to EU price agreements).

People are generally very friendly everywhere in Scandinavia. They usually speak english, although this every now and then may prove to be a bit of a problem in Finland. Finnish is - unlike swedish or norwegian - a very difficult language, so don't expect to understand a single word of it. At camping sites, however, there is usually no problem.

Important for birders is perhaps the "allemänsrätt" in Sweden (I think something similar exists in Norway and Finland): as long as you clean up after you and do not damage or disturb anything, you're allowed to walk through forests and fields. You're also allowed to pick berries and mushrooms wherever you like (as long as it's not in someone's back yard of course....).

Up in the North, gas stations may be few and far apart. Consider in advance where you're going to fill up the tank the next time: most real towns have one or two gas stations, but remember that a lot of places on your road map may turn out to be nothing more than just one barn or an old shed.

The midnight sun is something special, but as you're heading north, it's bound to be dead ahead of you. Considering the usually pure air in Scandinavia, this may produce a lethal combination: you'll be blinded if you don't wear decent sunglasses.

I guess we were very lucky: Scandinavia (especially Finland) experienced one of the best summers of the century: we just had sunny weather for most of the time, with temperatures around 23C, sometimes (Värtsilä, central Finland, Ivalo) 27C or more. Only in the Varanger area it was somewhat cooler (but still manageable without a winter coat), only to be really worsening just before and during midsummer's day. Other people have had snow and really cold weather some years before, so beware!
Of course it's 24 h light during a summer's day in Northern Scandinavia. This makes 'round-the-clock-birding possible. Best is to enjoy as much as possible of the 'night' time, as bird life is particularly more active then. This may pose some problems, however (especially when it's 28C outside): it can be hard to get some sleep in the middle of the day.

We brought (apart from the usual stuff):

full camping gear
In most of Scandinavia, if you're not too close to an inhabited house, you can camp out in the forest if you like. It's advisable to break up camp after one night. Camping out keeps the costs low and is usually quite comfortable. A camper would be perfect in Scandinavia: you can put it almost anywhere without having to bother with a tent, the risk of rain, etc. Alternatively, there is a range of facilities you can choose from. We every now and then took a simple cabin (stuga in swedish) at a camping site for a bit more comfort.

a lot of pre-cooked, freeze-dried meals
Saves a lot of time! Besides, it was pretty tasty, too. Keep in mind that a hamburger with a coke in Norway will easily cost you GBP 12. You can prepare your own at any nice parking place along the road, allowing birding during (the cooking of) your meal. Some parkings seem to have their own pair of Siberian Jays....

lots of warm clothing.
This turned out to be absolutely unnecessary, but of course, as you never know in advance, it's better to be well-prepared. I brought the clothing I usually wear in Holland in winter, including a down jacket and rain trousers.

insect defence
This year there weren't many mozzies in Scandinavia (I'm not kidding!). Only hundreds, instead of millions. Bring long-sleeved shirts and effective repellent: don't mess with citronella oil or other alternative stuff, but use something that contains DEET. In any supermarket in Scandinavia you can choose from a variety of sprays, oils, cremes, etc. Another useful thing may be a little net to pull over your head while birding (you can buy these in outdoor shops in Scandinavia). But even if you have taken all these precautions you will still be stung by them. Beware that being stung many times may result in allergic reactions like nausea, dizzyness, or even fainting. I personally hate the little blackflies (knot) more than mosquitoes, since their stings do tend to itch for a much longer time. Though strictly speaking not belonging to the class of insects, also beware of ticks! I don't know exactly what the present day range is, but especially in the Stockholm archipelago and probably also further east into Finland, a nasty virus can be transfected by them, resulting in a meningo-encephalitis which is hard to treat. Lyme disease also occurs here; always check for large red skin reactions if you have a tick. If so, it's time to get some antibiotics!

birding gear
Bins, a telescope with tripod, a Sony professional walkman with a (video model) directional microphone and a few (Ferro) cassette tapes. However, we didn't play any of the recordings to lure out birds. Most will sing anyway (or they will show themselves without any trouble). I was unpleasantly surprised by the number of dudes that thought a tape was necessary to obtain views of e.g., Red-flanked Bluetails Tarsiger cyanurus. This is obviously causing unnecessary disturbance.

Although we had brought our tent, we every now and then took a small cabin at a camping site to be a bit more comfortable. These cabins can actually be quite cheap, prices are usually between GBP 8 and 16. In Parikkala we took a room at the B & B near the main entrance of the area. This was really a very pleasant place to stay for only approx. GBP 12 for the 2 of us. In Kuusamo we did check some hotels, but as these were considerably more expensive, we thought we were better off with a cabin at one of the camping sites (there are several to choose from). In the Varanger area, I cannot but recommend the camping site at Vestre Jakobselv: nice cabins, hot showers & sauna, all for a very reasonable price. If you wish to visit Hamningberg, however, you will need a tent: it's a kind of special to camp out overthere, at the 'edge of Europe'

9 June

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Some birding tips

Check out our trip list.

Some birds we didn't see, can in fact be quite easy: e.g., a Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica was more or less continuously present along the South side of Torankijärvi (Kuusamo), but we dipped it. Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus? We just didn't find it. Again: never expect to see everything! Snowy Owls Nyctea scandiaca are scarce, but regularly seen in the Varanger area (and then particularly at Store Ekkerøy, at the hill called Domen and near the Svartnes camping site). Try the darkest time of the day (between 2 and 4 a.m.), we didn't manage to do this and may therefore have missed it (although I think you also need a considerable amount of luck).


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Copyright ©Teus Luijendijk 1999