Rodeo in Camargue

Camargue is the region defined by the delta of the Rhône river, in southern France. It’s a region of wetlands and fields, where nature and human activty often meld; specific breeds of bulls and horses are raised there, in partial liberty. I saw a few cows, but no horse. Anyway, cattle was not what had allured me there.

My first birding trip, with the LPO (the French bird protection society), had led me there. That was in 2004, and I had never returned before this winter.
From Grenoble, it’s a 3-hour drive to Le Sambuc, a quiet but windswept village in the Natural Regional Park. I had not left early, so I arrived in Camargue only a couple of hours before sunset.

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Piles of rocks and foxfire

After our glorious day in Lemmenjoki, we left with no hurry, and took the southern road to Kittilä. After an hour at high speed on this deserted drive through hills and swamp areas, asphalt gave way to soil and gravel, and we slowed down.

A replenishment stop in Sodankylä later, we were driving south, but soon we turned left.

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Lemmenjoki National Park is the largest national park of Finland. With 2,860 km², it’s just ahead of Urho Kekkonen National Park (where we saw Kuukeli for the first time!) and its 2,550 km². The third one, Pallas-Yllästunturi, is far behind, with 1020 km².

More than its size, though, what strikes the traveller when he arrives in Lemmenjoki is the remoteness of the place. From Inari, we took a road to the south… and suddenly, we were alone. OK, sometimes you see a Hotel sign pointing straight into the forest, or some houses. We stopped before the park to meet Jouni. This was not a period of tremendous activity, but he tried to show us some birds. We saw a Black-throated diver (Gavia arctica) on the lake, and a pair of Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus), but the best was the Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus), a tough cousin to the Great tit (Parus major) so common further south, but inhabiting only northern forests. It stayed high in the pines, but it showed well, and my two friends managed to see it correctly.

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We are now back to Lapland, for the end of our September trip.

From Rovaniemi, we have driven north, and after 3 days, we have now reached the shores of Lake Inari. If you remember, the weather was not particularly good in the previous days: low clouds were our daily lot, complemented with permanent drizzle and soaked soils. It hasn’t improved.

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Expect the unexpected

January the sixth, first outing out the year. The weather forecast announces a schizophrenic weekend: Saturday will be cloudy and possibly rainy, with temperatures above zero, while Sunday promises to be sunny and coldish, with temperatures dipping below freezing, a little. My plan is the following: Viikki with clouds, Suomenlinna for sunrise.

A week ago, a Black redstart (Phenicurus ochruros) was reported in Viikki, in the reedbed, and has been so since then, every day. This redstart is not very common in Finland, especially in winter, but the Viikki bird is even more special: it belongs to subspecies phoenicuroides, which means it comes from central Asia, somewhere between Mongolia and Iran. That’s a long trip, and not in the right direction for a migrating species.
I want to see that pretty fellow, and then go to Suomenlinna on the day after to enjoy the sun.

On Saturday, I have no reason to hurry, since the weather is so bad. Not much rain on the radar though, fortunately. I leave at 10, and enter the area with no precise direction to the bird. I see some people around, but no gathering. While I’m at the Pornaistenniemi hide, a woman enters, and we start chatting. My Finnish hasn’t improved during my holidays, but I understand that she has seen the redstart that day, and that if I walk to the north, about 400 meters, I will find it. First, I will found people watching it, of course.

Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

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[fr] SupervagabondS en Suomi

[English version] This article is about an expedition report I read recently, which shook me. It’s about a father and his daughter traveling by canoe through Finland, and it’s absolutely beautiful. A lot of strong emotions await the reader, unfortunately it’s written only in French, and I don’t know what it would look like once you send it through Google Translate. Still, they have some mind-blowing drone pictures, so it’s worth a visit. Click here.


“Je suis bouleversé. Français installé en Finlande, j’ai les larmes aux yeux de voir tant de gentillesse, de bonté, de bonheur dans mon pays d’adoption. J’admire ces relations que vous avez pu tisser. Quelle aventure. Vous êtes magnifiques.
Bravo. Merci”

Ce sont les mots qui me sont venus après lecture de la 39ème page du carnet de voyage de Yann et Amélie en Finlande.

Photo : Yann – SupervagabondS en Suomi

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Finnish word of the day: saaristo = archipelago

In the middle of summer, my family came for a visit to Finland. This time it wasn’t about skiing, it wasn’t about figure skating, it was about sailing. Usually, it’s difficult to gather the whole family, because my brothers always have a sailing competition here, a sailing competition there… and in the end, there’s often someone missing. This time, everyone was there! That’s a growth, from my usual solo/duo trips.

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The tip

After long months of autumn, winter came to Helsinki, and with it, holiday season. I had not been on a real adventure since September and our road-trip in Lapland, but I had planned something spicy for the end of December. The origin of it all was Sólstafir’s concert in Copenhagen: I wanted to see this old favourite band of mine again, and when I learnt they were playing in the capital of Denmark, they had not announced any gig in Finland yet. I thought it was a good opportunity to visit Denmark again, and see some friends there.

I flew there on Friday evening, and the morning after, I was in the train to Falster and Lolland, two islands in the south of Copenhagen. In Nykøbing F, I met Gert and Hans. I knew them from my year in Denmark, when I had spent two weekends in the area already. We drove to Lolland, stopping in several good birding areas and chatting about birds. I was astonished by the quantity of ducks feeding on the sea or resting on the lakes, including the remarkable Smew (Mergellus albellus) and Red-crested pochard (Netta rufina). I don’t see many raptors in Helsinki, so I was happy to spot a few Common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and Common buzzards (Buteo buteo).

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Alive again

This autumn had been hard. The year before, it had snowed a lot in Helsinki in November, but none of this this year: rain was all we got, and not a small measure of it. Particularly irritating were the sunny days during the week, when all weekends were cloudy and rainy. That allowed me to edit a lot of pictures, but the spirits were definitely not high in this period. Viaporin kekri was an interesting event, but it was as gloomy as the whole period. The festival’s motto, “end of light, beginning of darkness”, seemed particularly accurate.

But then, a few weeks later, surprisingly, the weather forecast promised “some light” during daytime, on a weekend. I readied my gear and set sail to Suomenlinna (my favourite place in Helsinki).

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Islands awakening

You know I love Suomenlinna. It’s even my favourite place in Helsinki, ahead of Seurasaari.

There’s magic on these four islands that form a UNESCO World Heritage site. I love Finland for its serenity and simplicity, and Suomenlinna truly exemplifies these traits, provided you go there at the right time. Avoid the sunny weekend days, embrace the weekday evenings, and you shall be rewarded. Its status attracts visitors, but they are spread on a large surface, so it’s not hard to find yourself alone, facing the waves or the city.

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