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”.
In the end of February, Bearded reedlings (Panurus biarmicus) were all the rage on Finnish nature social pages. Wherever I looked, I saw loads of pictures of these adorable buggers. Naturally, I wanted to make my own images, especially since I didn’t have any of that specific species at the time.
When I noticed my friend Mika had seen and shot them twice in Espoo, I asked him for some info. I had been to Laajalahti once, but hadn’t managed to spot any reedling. This time, though, the hottest place was Kaitalahti, much further west, and several sightings had been reported to Tiira, the Finnish bird sighting database. On a Saturday morning, I embarked on an epic bus trip through the second most populated municipality of Finland. One hour and forty minutes later, I was carefully treading my path over an icy road.
Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus)
Last year, I decided I would visit all 40 national parks of Finland. I knew it would take some time, but it sounded like a fun project, and whenever I’ve been, I’ve discovered wonders. Remember Pallas-Yllästunturi? Pyhä-Luosto? Sipoo?
I’m still not there, but I recently added a new park to my list: Koli! Here is the story.
My parents were visiting Finland this February, and while I didn’t follow them to Lapland, I took them on a trip to North Carelia for their last weekend here. Koli is a very famous place in Finland, for the landscape there has inspired many artists, including the great composer Sibelius and painter Gallen-Kallela. In a sense, it’s the Skagen of Finland 😉
We took the train to Joensuu on Friday evening, slept there, and were off on an adventure in the morning. Koli lay some 60 km north, but we were not so much in a hurry. The weather was cold and sunny, proving once more that February was the most beautiful month of the year.
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.
After a quick jump to Budapest, where I stayed with my friend Marci and had a blast in his studio, I flew to Stockholm for work. The bad idea was to fly to Helsinki on Sunday evening only to fly out again to Sweden on the morning after; it would have made much more sense to fly directly to Stockholm and sleep a bit longer than 3 hours. Still learning.
After two days of work with a new RELEX customer, my colleague Pessi and I were exhausted, but we had a bit of free time before the flight back, and I had never seen Stockholm… so we left the office and had a one-hour walk in the city. It had snowed since the morning, and my excitement had grown consequently: you know, I love the white stuff 😉
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)
A red door, in Danish. That’s with this expression that our teacher introduced us to both the “ø” sound (a bit like “ö” in Finnish or “eu” or “œ” in French) and the soft “d”, which is for me pretty much like a “l”, except the tongue goes to the bottom of the mouth and not the top. At first, it sounded complicated… after a few months, it still felt complicated, but I also found the whole pronounciation very funny, and I learnt to appreciate it.
Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)