Atop the fells

Lapland. A land of fantasy far far to the north, inhabited by reindeers, covered in snow and lit by Nordic lights. Or a land of neverending days, when summer comes. Or none of this.

Our story starts on Facebook. I’m chatting with my friend Vincent, telling him I’m going to stay in Finland for the month of August. “Hey, I may pay you a visit”, he said. And me: “hey, from France, Helsinki is not so far north, what about we go hiking in Lapland?”. I knew he was keen on hiking in the wild, and I wanted to try something longer than what I was used to. I had high hopes for birds there, although I feared we would be too late in the season.

There started our quest: quest for information on the hike, the weather (tip: never trust the Finnish weather forecast), the facilities, transportation… Quest for equipment also, as I didn’t expect my sleeping bag optimized for 15-10ºC to be warm enough. We settled on the Hetta-Pallas trail, in the (repeat after me) Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park: 55km in the forest and atop the fells (tunturi in Finnish). The highest “summit” in the “mountain” range is 800m high (notice the quotation marks, that’s nothing scary for two people born in the Alps), and we would climb it on our last day.

Backpacks heavily loaded (I left at home the book I had bought especially for this occasion), we set sail on a long and expensive trip accross Finland, to reach Hetta (Enontekiö), our starting point. A lengthy journey that almost never happened: the first bus was late and slow, so we missed the connection that would lead us to the railway station. I am happy I know Helsinki, for I was able to improvise a plan C on the go and get another bus. We arrived on time to take our train… which itself was late, thanks to some work on the tracks. Our connection in Oulu was threatened, but an announcement stated that the train to Rovaniemi would wait for us (and I understood the announcement in Finnish! Yaay!). On the way, I had time to admire small flocks of Common cranes (Grus grus). In Rovaniemi, we visited a shopping center: for the sake of my back, I had got rid of everything unnecessary in my photo bag, and also of something that was much necessary, a spare memory card. Quand on a pas de tête…

The hike felt long, especially carrying so much on our backs. We saw vey few birds, as everything was silent most of the time. We saw very few humans too, which was great, and some reindeers!

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Vincent and the reindeers

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Wonders of Seurasaari

Seurasaari, located north-west of the center of Helsinki, is a place loved by tourists and locals alike, for it is a beautiful island where you can lose yourself in the forest. I was about to say that it’s also a patch of wilderness inside the city, but I realized the animals there are anything but wild: remember the raccoon-dog?

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Sunrise in Sioskuru

Here are the first pictures from our trip to the north. That day, I woke up early for sunrise, nothing special about it. The weird thing is, many things have happened in my photographer life, but never, ever had I woken up TOO early for sunrise. After facing the wind for one and a half hour, I was frozen when the sun appeared at last. I welcomed my warm sleeping bag when I entered it again for a few more hours ^^

Here are three versions of the same shot. Which one do you prefer? Why?

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Sipoonkorven kansallispuisto

Finnish word of the day: kansallispuisto = national park

Wonderful Finland, whose capital has two national parks established thirty kilometers from the city center. Nuuksio, to the west, lies in Espoo, and Sipoonkorpi lies in Sipoo, in the east. I went to Nuuksio a couple of times last year, but for some reason, Sipoonkorpi is not as famous, and I had never visited it before that day.

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Helsinki by night

I’ve always found long-exposure photography fascinating. This smooth look this technique gives to water, especially waterfalls, is truly spellbinding, and the possibility to shoot light trails from cars’s lights is very exciting.

I don’t own a Neutral Density filter, so my experiments are limited to night time. Not a problem for me, there are many possibilities to explore before investing in new equipment. That day, I left the apartment at 11, in quest for interesting scenes. I wanted to capture a tram on Bulevardi; of course there wasn’t enough light for freezing it in movement, so I settled for some light trails, my very first!

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Around Hämeenlinna

Finnish word of the day: järvi = lake

Last week, I went birdwatching around Hämeenlinna, a town situated approximately one hour of driving north of Helsinki. The bus left the capital at 06.15, arriving at a comfortable 07.30. There, I met Karri, a birder from the region I had met on BirdingPal; even though July is a very quiet period in the region, he offered me to visit a few birding spots, an offer I quickly accepted, as you might guess 😉

Until 3 in the afternoon, we toured the region, watching lakes, rivers and forests in quest for birds. It’s interesting to note that there are many bird towers there, and we used them extensively, especially in the morning. I have made a map that shows our peregrinations, with the car parks and the towers, click here.

Our first objective was Katumajärvi. Located next to the town, it is used for leisure activities and is surrounded by buildings, but one part of the shore has been preserved by a keen landowner, who asked the birdwatching association to build a bird tower. The reedbed we crossed was still wet from the night’s condensation, but the sun was shining. In the trees, a Wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) sang, but we never managed to see it. Karri is very knowledgeable about bird voices, and he spotted Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) before we could even see them. I listened to him carefully, trying to remember all this information. On the lake, gulls rested on some rocks, soon to be joined by a lone Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus).

The Whooper swan is the official bird of Finland, it’s featured on the Finnish one-euro coin. A winter visitor in Denmark (I’ve seen it in Staunings Ø or Vestamager, for instance), it is rather common here, and aggressive: Karri told me that, when the local pair of Whooper swan would fly to the lake, the brave Mute swans (Cygnus olor, national bird of… Denmark!) who had ventured in the area could be seen flying away, fleeing the menace. In recent years, the Whooper swans have increased in numbers. They mostly live on lakes, while the Mute swan favors open waters; baby Mute swans take so long to grow up that they can’t be raised on waters that freeze durably during winter; that is not the case of Whooper swans, which are therefore present in more northern latitude than their more common (globally, not in Finland) cousins.

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The best possible welcome party

Sometimes, you don’t need sophisticated celebrations. Sometimes, all you need is a sunset offered by the best city in the world.

Kuusisaari, Helsinki, Finland

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