This is the last story article dedicated to my trip to Lapland and Varanger, back in June. We will have a wrap-up post later on, and then we will be done with it. I have some more photographs from Finland and France I want to show you (many I haven’t edited yet…), and of course there will be more content from New Zealand, as I travel further.
Several animals look different depending on whether you’re looking at a male or a female. Think of the lion: males have a mane, which females lack. Think of the Paradise shelduck (Tadorna variegata): females are orange and white, while males are essentially dark grey.
Paradise shelduck (Tadorna variegata)
I had a terrifying morning. It had started well, I had woken up early and had breakfast at the back of the car, the air was cold but the sun shone from time to time. It looked like a fine day.
Then I tried to walk away, and in doing so, lock the car. Except it didn’t work. I pressed the button on the key, times and again, but nothing happened. I thought the fresh night in the tent might have depleted the battery, but I had managed to unlock the car with no trouble. I didn’t understand.
Sunday morning, 6 o’clock, basically in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and I didn’t mention my phone’s battery was completely empty. Stay calm, Samuel.
Fortunately, the car was open, and I had access to the car’s manual. Said manual was only in Finnish, but with the illustrations I hoped to gather some knowledge. First, I managed to understand I could still start the car without battery in the key, by bringing the key close to the “start engine” button. Big “ouf” of relief, I was not stuck there. I wondered whether the local town would have the specific battery needed to power the key, but at least I could drive wherever needed.
My second fear was to be able to lock the car (miracles happen), but then be locked out on the key’s whim. So I dived into the manual again, and learnt how to unlock the car manually. I was still annoyed, but I wasn’t lost anymore. And then I removed the battery from the key, put it back… and it started to work properly again. “Have you tried to switch it off, and switch it on again?”
As it turned out, I had no other problem until the end of the trip, and quickly forgot the incident. But what a fright!
I had settled in Sulaoja, the entrance of the Kevo trail. This is quite a renowned path that winds its way along a canyon, but the status of the area, a “strict nature reserve”, comes with some limitations. One is not allowed to leave paths when they are visible (i.e. when snow doesn’t cover them), and in spring, until mid-June, the canyon is completely close to preserve the nature.
I’m at an erotusaita, near Karigasniemi. This is the place where reindeers are herded, marked, and separated to be slaughtered for meat. But it’s deserted. I’m surrounded by all sorts of small cabins that form an uncanny assortment, while on one side I see high fences marking out large enclosures. No trace of the beasts, though. Either they are already roaming free, or they haven’t left their winter farm. In any case, I’m alone. The sight is eerie.
I landed in Ivalo in early evening. The aircraft’s door opened to a fine weather, partly sunny, partly cloudy, bathing in warm light. I picked up the car, went grocery shopping, and drove to the shore of Akujärvi. I had heard about some nice bird observations on that lake, and wanted to find a place to camp there. Following a track I had noticed on Google Maps, I found a lean-to shelter next to the water.
This was not the trip I had imagined.
For these two weeks in Lapland and Varanger, at the top of the world, I thought I would sleep during the day and enjoy the midnight sun to take pictures and watch the abundant bird life. Alas, the weather was not on my side, and I mostly saw clouds above. That’s not necessarily bad per se, for an overcast day brings soft and even light on my subjects. The problem is that, two weeks of cloudy weather, that’s long. And frustrating. Alone in a cold land, it would have been easy to give up.
I wanted to go to Lapland in winter, because I never had. I thought I might as well take a few friends from France with me, and add a few Northern Lights in the mix. Here is a wrap-up, with some detailed info about the planning and activities of this 1-week dream trip (all prices are for 4 people unless stated otherwise).
All the previous articles dedicated to this adventure:
Holiday on ice | Fluffiness against the cold | The greatest lie in the north
Winter is long in the north (7 months): how does one choose when to go?
My idea was that I wanted both day and night. We needed night to see the Northern Lights, but if we had been there in January, with only a couple of hours of daylight each day but clouds all the time, we would have got bored very quickly. In the end, I chose March, which was also my choice last year for Varanger. We had approximately 12 hours of night and 12 hours of light (and excellent weather 😉 ).
After the birds and the northern lights, let me show you the rest of our trip in Lapland. Between Ivalo and Karasjok, we saw, well… mostly snow and trees, but also magical lights. Behold!
When I planned my latest holidays, I knew they would revolve around taiga birds. The main target, for my friends and I, was the northern lights, but we also needed some activity during the day (it’s difficult to stay outside all night when it’s twenty degrees below the freezing point). I’m not much into husky-this or reindeer-that (because of the price, mainly), so I did some birdwatching. Surprised, aren’t you?
What does a birder think about when they hear “taiga birds”? Well, probably something along the lines of Pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus), Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus)… or maybe Willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus) or Black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix).
The former are easier, because they come to feeders during winter, and they are also more iconic because they can only be found (far) in the north. That said, I’m no stranger to these species. My first encounter with the tit happened during a hike in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park with my friend Vincent; in Varanger, in March, I saw it again, and was really impressed by the grosbeak, which I dubbed Prince of the Woods; finally the infamous kuukkeli was caught in autumn this year. The thrill of the lifer gone, remained the need for more/better pictures, or any picture at all in the tit’s case; luckily, I had good addresses to visit 😉
Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus)
I still had memories from September. An arch of light overhead, linking east and west. Green ribbons dancing in the night, immortalized in my photographs. Yes, northern lights were colorful!
Then my parents came back from Lapland, and described grey and white traces against a black canvas. “No no, the ones I saw were green, I’m sure of this”.