Trip report - north Finland and north Norway

24th April 2010
Dates: 9th to 16th April 2010 (and an unforeseen extension!)

Destination: north Finland and north Norway





Purpose of trip:

The purpose of my trip was essentially a follow up to my visit in May and June 2009 but undertaken slightly earlier in the year to enjoy some Arctic winter landscapes and to pick up on some of the species that I missed last time.

Primary target areas:

The primary target areas for wildlife watching were:

Lapland (Finland)

Varanger (Norway)

Getting there:

I flew from London Heathrow to Ivalo in north Finalnd via Helsinki Vaanta with Finnair.

London Heathrow to Helsinki Vaanta – depart 10:20 a.m. and arrive 15:15 p.m. local time (GMT + 2)

Helsink Vaanta to Ivalo – depart 17:15 p.m. and arrive 18:50 p.m.

I was due to fly home from Ivalo via Helsinki on 16th April 2010 but both my flights were cancelled due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland.

My return trip home, using buses, ferries and trains, took several days via the following route: Ivalo – Rovaniemi – Helsinki – Stockholm – Copenhagen – Hamburg – Cologne – Brussels – London St Pancras.

This was a lengthy trip home via the Helsinki to Stockholm Baltic Sea ferry crossing and some of the top express train routes in Europe .... X2000, ICE, Thalys and Eurostar.

In addition, there was the remarkable experience of the Øresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark and the Rødby to Puttgarden ferry between Denmark and Germany.

The opportunities for wildlife watching were very limited on the return journey but the 2 day stay in Helsinki and the morning of the Baltic Sea ferry crossing from Helsinki to Stockholm did provide some notable sightings.

Getting around:

At Ivalo airport, I hired a VW Polo from Hertz via ebookers.com

I travelled independently following thorough research and preparing an itinerary before leaving the UK.

My trip involved around 2000 km (1200 miles) of driving and therefore fuel costs were significant, especially since petrol was slightly more expensive in Finland than in the UK and considerably more expensive in Norway than in the UK. Fortunately, the hire car was very economical returning somewhere between 50 to 60 mpg.

The roads in both Finland and Norway were extremely quiet with very little traffic. The primary routes and the majority of minor roads were clear of snow and ice despite the region still being in the grip of winter. The only road that I was unable to negotiate, since it was still blocked by deep snow, was the one from Vardø to Hamningberg in the very far north of Varanger.

Be aware of the speed limits (lower than the UK) and the speed cameras on the primary routes!

During my trip, I stayed at the following:

Inari (3 nights): Hotelli Inari

Ekkerøy (3 nights): Ekkerøy Holidayhouse

Kongsfjord (1 night): Kongsfjord Gjestehus

The Ekkerøy Holidayhouse is highly recommended not just for the comfort of the accommodation but also for the wonderful location with all round views of the Varangerfjord and its wildlife.

Impressions, experiences and memories:

Travelling to the far north of Europe .... from home at 51°N to Helsinki at 60°N, onwards to Ivalo and Inari at 68°N and finally to the north of Varanger at Berlevåg at 70°51′28″N.

Stunning Arctic winter landscapes .... a lot of snow and ice

North Finland .... huge taiga forests and tundra

North Norway .... the mighty Varangerfjord, the Arctic Ocean, big horizons and big skies and the “top of Europe”

Both countries .... significantly larger than the UK in geographical area but with populations of around 7% to 8% of that in the UK .... space!

The wildlife .... especially the Arctic and Siberian species

Weather:

The weather was extremely mixed with many bright and sunny periods but also cloudy periods, drizzle, rain and snow.

Daytime temperatures varied from minus 4 degrees to 8 degrees. However, the warmer days with sunshine seemed to make little impression on the deep snow and frozen lakes and rivers.

Although it was only early April, daylight hours were already longer than in the UK with dawn at 3.15 a.m. and dusk at 9 p.m.

Wildlife highlights:

During my trip, I was able to record 65 species of birds, not a substantial total but nonetheless very good given that the spring inward migration of waders and passerines was still several weeks away. In addition, I was able to record 5 species of mammal.

Trip records - Finland and Norway

My target species of birds were as follows:

Finland: Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay, Arctic Redpoll, woodpecker species, owl species

I saw all of the first 4 species but with much better views than my trip in 2009. In addition, I had lengthy views of a stunning Northern Hawk Owl but Great Spotted Woodpecker was the only representative of its genus.

Norway: Steller’s Eider, King Eider, Brunnich’s Guillemot, White-billed Diver, Gyrfalcon, Rough-legged Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull

I saw all of these species except White-billed Diver. Both Steller’s Eider and Brunnich’s Guillemot were “lifers” whilst Rough-legged Buzzard and the 2 gull species were my first records in north Norway.

The bird highlights were the Finland forest species, the exceptionally large numbers of Steller’s Eider and a very confiding Northern Hawk Owl.

The mammal highlight was undoubtedly the group of c.50 to c.100 Harbour Porpoise west of Komagvaer in Varanger.

Disappointments:

There is only one candidate for “trip disappointment” .... the substantial delay and additional cost caused by Eyjafjallajökull! However, the necessity for overland travel back to the UK really did make me appreciate how far north my trip had taken me.

Photos:

Photos from my trip can be found in the European trips gallery.

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