Snowstorm over Helsinki

The only memory I kept from my first November in Finland, two years ago, was one of a grey sky, all day, all week. In fact, it was the gloomiest November in years, with only a few hours of sunshine… and whenever you ask a Finn which month is the worst, they reply “November”: it’s getting dark, it’s getting cold, but there isn’t snow yet, nor has the Christmas spirit kicked off. Therefore, I dreaded these first weeks in Finland. It felt like arriving in the middle of October was the worst possible option.

Oh how wrong I was!


It started to snow in the middle of the week. I was extremely excited, of course, because I love snow. I can’t explain why I’m so fascinating by it. When I was a kid, I had this fantasy that, if there were enough snow on the roads, we wouldn’t go to school. As far as I remember, it never happened, but the hope was always alive.

Anyway, snow is pure magic, and I can’t get tired of it. Even with 30 cm on the ground, I feel sad when it stops falling.
So it started to snow. I was so happy that, after work, I walked one and a half hour in the park before going home. I was ready for one day of snow, but when I looked at the weather forecast, it seemed like the storm was not over yet.

snow helsinki-3

In fact, the temperatures stayed between 0 and -10ºC for two full weeks, with snow almost every day. With such temperatures, it was some really good snow, light and not too sticky, but which immediately held to the ground. In no time, winter was in the streets. In Helsinki, they leave snow on the roadway. Mom would hate it, but it really feels like people accept winter instead of fighting it. Maybe I wouldn’t like it so much if I had to drive in these conditions, but at least they don’t spread as much salt as the Danes (during winter, there’s more salt on Danish bike lanes than in the Baltic sea).

To focus or not to focus

Usually, the first snow of the year is a very wet and heavy snow that forms huge puddles on the edge of the pavement. Nothing like that there, it was real winter snow… in the beginning of November.

From my job place to my current apartment, I need to cross Keskuspuisto, the central park of Helsinki. I gladly did it walking, enjoying the fairy scenery. Furthermore, I made a few expeditions around the city, the most noteworthy being an afternoon in Seurasaari in the midst of a real snowstorm. I met the tits and squirrels I’ve come to expect from the place, but the falling snow was a welcome addition to that mix. I had a really good time there. Again.

seurasaari seurasaari-12

While I loomed around the feeders, a woman came and started to replenish them. Immediately, many birds came closer and waited on the upper branches, clearly eager for her to remove her hand so that they could feast. How many of them can you spot on this picture?


It turned out that these tits were so tame they came to eat from her very hand. Actually, if I stayed still enough, they would come and jump onto my shoes or perch on my hands, even though I had nothing to offer. This woman was very friendly, we even had a conversation in Finnish! Sure, it was a basic one, but it made my day *-*

Great tit (Parus major)
Great tit
Great tit
Coal tit (Periparus ater)
Coal tit (Periparus ater)

Besides the usual suspects, there was this rather common sight in the guise of a female Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). I saw a few others in the forest as well, digging in trees to find a meal.

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Great spotted woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker

This day allowed me to practice snow photography for the first time. It’s not as easy as it sounds like, but I produced some shots I’m quite happy with. I can’t wait for the next time, though, because there’s still a lot to learn.

seurasaari-2 seurasaari-3

The next picture, which had some success on social media, is an accident. With birds, I don’t have the time to set up all the parameters required in Manual mode, therefore I generally shoot in Aperture Priority mode, selecting the highest aperture available and choosing a level of ISO according to the conditions. I have then the possibility to focus on, well, focusing, which is crucial and particularly difficult. The main pitfall is forgetting to update your ISO setting when you move to a darker place, but by using this semi-automatic mode, you also put yourself at the mercy of the metering instruments of your camera. I use spot metering, which means that the camera mesures the light in the center of the frame and chooses the shutter speed accordingly. Thus, depending on whether I aim at a dark or bright spot on the bird, the shutter speed can be quite different, and lead to comical situations.

I’m not sure which of these problems led to this completely blurred Coal tit, but in any case, the camera chose a shutter speed of 1/80s, clearly not enough to freeze such an excited bird. Still, I like the shot, especially the heart-shaped wings. What do you think?

Coal tit
Coal tit

On the way back, I noticed a Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) with a prey, in the canal. I don’t know whether it caught the fish alive or picked it up already dead, but it started to eat it, attracting a younger bird that did not dare interfere. In the beginning it was easy, but at some point, the fish started to sink whenever the gull realeased it. That was a funny scene to witness, the bird swallowing then plunging its head underwater to catch the prey before it disappeared out of reach.

Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus)
Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

And that’s it for today. I know my publishing rythm has slowed down, but I’m still alive, trying to survive my new life. So stay tuned, there’s more snow to come, and in case you want to receive my newsletter, please enter your email address in the field down here (Follow blog via email), and that’s it! You’ll receive an email when there’s a new article here.

Bird inventory


23 thoughts on “Snowstorm over Helsinki

  1. Bonjour.

    I love also Your photos. They are lovely and beautiful. What comes to Your sentence: “In Helsinki, they leave snow on the roadway.”. Yes indeed, because Helsinki do not know how to handle with snow, they are still learning. I can say this because I have lived in my life in many places (Varkaus, Nurmijärvi, Mikkeli ad Oulu) in Finland and thus observed snow removing. Also my many winter trips to many other parts of Northern regions in winter, prove that those living north of the Arctic Circle know how to struggle agains snow. Well, this is my opinion and other people has their own. The best snow handling is in Oulu. In Helsinki, I had to walk nearly two weeks on footpaths; no ploughing, nothing happened.

    Here is one of my many winter / snow photos:

    Snow and Christmas wreath .

    Bonne journée.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It doesn’t bother me, I love this wild feeling in a snowstorm 😀 And I know I have to walk carefully during winter, it’s part of the experience and I embrace it (I wouldn’t have moved to Finland otherwise).
      Thank you for your nice words 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Neither me. I just wanted to compare how well snow removal in different towns works. 🙂 From my list, I forgot to mention Espoo and Vantaa. Happy new week!


  2. I love snow! Your great shots reminded me of childhood winters. And indeed the school did shut down sometimes because of heavy snow! 🙂 None of this happens here in Ireland. How I miss it though! Thank you for the great article and I’m looking forward to some more snow update. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny and fun, Baltic Sea, ha! Yay, no school. 🙂 Except it might start to feel like Narnia, and terrible thing about Narnia is that it is always Winter, and NEVER Christmas… ~ P ~

    Liked by 1 person

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