Today, Finland celebrates its hundredth birthday. I hadn’t planned anything special for it, but I thought I could show you why I love my adopted country so much =)
On July 1 and 2, I went to Rauma, a lovely town on the Western coast of Finland. My friend Bjørn was visiting from Denmark for a few days, but I wanted to do something else with him than visiting Helsinki (I’ve done that a few times already).
So I took him on an adventure. We went there by bus (Onnibus ❤ via Turku, but without transfer) for a few pennies, a tent and a pair of sleeping bags in our luggage. We were lucky, for that weekend was very warm. We arrived on Saturday in the middle of the day, the sun was shining when we “checked-in” at the camping. Unfortunately, it was not a very tent-friendly camping: there was plenty of room available for camper vans and caravans, but tent campers were only given a gentle slope with trees, rocks and roots aplenty… We found a spot that was kinda flat, raised our shelter and set sail to Rauma itself.
We walked, we didn’t steal the truck
Well, yes. What did you expect?
Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus)
OK, let’s start from the beginning. More than anything else, especially more than a birder, I’m a photographer. As a photographer, I want to make pictures that I like, pictures that are pleasing to the eye, pictures that I find beautiful. My goal is not to make pictures that show exactly what was visible when I took them.
Our journey started in Rovaniemi. We went grocery shopping, then we headed north.
Our first house was to be an AirBnB in Sassali, near Sodankylä. We had a few hours to reach it and still arrive before dusk, so we took our time, and stopped in the Arctic Circle Hiking Area, walking a few kilometers in the forest while miraculously avoiding the rain (well, too much of it at least…).
Sometimes, I come up with crazy plans, like spending the weekend 300km away, sleeping in the car during the day, and driving around during the night.
Yep, I did that in the very beginning of June, when I wanted to see Siikalahti, the so-called “best bird lake of Finland”. The name seemed oddly familiar, and I wondered whether I had visited the place during my first trip to Finland, in 2003. I had to make sure. So I drove east and north, past Kotka, Lappeenranta and Imatra, and arrived late in the night in Parikkala, under a deluge. I say “night” because of this very downpour; otherwise, nights are very bright in Finland in this period, and brighter as you go further north.
Given the weather, I had no other option than just sleep… which wasn’t as easy as it sounds like! Mind you, a Skoda Fabia is a small car, and it’s surprisingly not meant to be used as a bedroom. I struggled to find a comfortable position in the passenger seat (I didn’t find any), until exhaustion pushed me to oblivion.
This is the story of a failed endeavour turned into fruitful exploration.
Last May, I wanted to see the blossoming cherry trees. I went to Roihuvuori, where the so-called “cherry park” (Kirsikkapuisto) was opened in 2007, with trees sponsored by the Japanese community in Helsinki. Every year, the Japanese spring festival, Hanami, is celebrated there. Alas, I was one week too late, and there was nothing left in the trees. I found myself alone on the other end of the city, with the very reason why I was there, well… gone.
In September came a long-awaited journey: I traveled to Lapland to witness the famous ruska, the autumnal color bloom. Up there, it’s not only trees that turn yellow and orange: the low vegetation, berry bushes and bog grass alike, takes a different tint, sometimes purple, red or black.
I took two friends from France with me; Alexis and Sylvain were both late sleepers, but talented cooks and enthusiastic sauna-goers. I never expected to eat a home-made pizza in the middle of Lapland, but somehow it happened, and it was delicious! Together we experienced the ruska, the reindeers on the side of the road, the rain (a bit of it, and sometimes more, every day. Like Brittany), and other wonders!
This is only a first peek into this trip, a short mise en bouche, if you will. Like I said in a previous article, I’m really far behind in my picture editing, and so am I in my writing, but I want to talk about more recent things while the memory stays vivid in my mind. So I took the backwards timeline, and am going back by almost two months. Yes, I consider that “recent”. Please bear with me.
When I came back from Hungary, I found Finland somewhat warmer (warmer than before, not warmer than Budapest). It was the month of May, which means the owl chicks had left the eggs. Therefore, the adults would be outside the nest, but close, guarding the area against unwanted guests. My friend Karri, who was my guide around Hämeenlinna the summer before, has a nesting box in his garden; he invited me to check it.
He picked me up at the bus station, but first took me to Ahvenisto. There’s a beach and a swimming pool there, and both were cramped in this warm afternoon (can I use the word “torrid”? There were more than twenty degrees!); there’s also a motor race circuit, but that’s not what we were interested in.
Ahvenisto has woods as well, and a small protected area, crossed by nature trails. We were looking for Greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) and Red-throated flycatcher (Ficedula parva), but we dipped badly, without even hearing one. Karri told me that, after this long winter, forests were unusually silent.
Now that I’m finished with Hungary, I decided I would post some more recent stuff (Marci will like that :p). Therefore, from now on we will follow two timelines in parallel: the one we’ve always followed, which continues, and a new one, which starts now (I haven’t decided yet whether it would go forward or backwards… maybe both, which would actually make a total of three timelines… :D). Don’t get lost!
Autumn had been quite interesting. No real cold spell, but a lot of rain. Sometimes, it had rained for three days straight, and each morning, on my way to the office, I could see the ditches were fuller and fuller. Last weekend, at last, the skies cleared and the temperature dropped close to zero. I had been forced to postpone an excursion with my friend Mark two weekends in a row, because it was raining all the time, but finally, this was our chance!
I offered him to join me during the morning, but to my great surprise, he said he would join me on my sunrise-seeking trip. We arrived in Viikki at 7.30, long before the actual sunrise time. So we walked to the edge of the reedbed, following paths I now know by heart. I showed him some birds, like this Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing on a wood pole by the side on the duckboards. Well, in the dark of the woods, we could barely distinguish its outline, but we heard it loud and clear!
Leaves fell around us, and I was startled every time one reached the ground. “Is there a bird foraging on the ground? Was there something up there that made it fall in the first place?”. But no, most of the time the leaves had decided to fall on their own.
No crazy hue colored the clouds when the sun came, but the view from the bird tower was nice.
Hortobágy National Park was the ultimate goal of my trip to Hungary. I had heard about the place several times in the past, and more recently, the WP Big Year birders dubbed it the “best birding site in Europe”. A visit to Hortobágy was already planned when I read this last comment, but it got me really excited. A day in the puszta was a nice introduction to birding in Hungary, and I expected wonders in this second national park.
I was not disappointed.