Thursday, 10 July 2014

Finland again Part one: Land of the Midnight su..... erm rain....

This was going to be the ultimate trip, I would see all the owls, Three-toed Woodpecker, Elk and Bear - the forecast for Finland was Sun Sun and more Sun with a little cloud. Off I went. Of course realistically I had no hope of seeing all the owls, anyway I was scared of them as I've heard they can be aggressive with young about, and the thought of those claws made me feel safer with a couple of warblers or two. So one of many intentions was to record and hear Blyth's Reed Warbler in their breeding grounds. I got off to a good start by sitting in the wrong seat and row on the plane, then went and sat in the wrong seat again in the correct row at least much to the sarcastic amusement of the guy who's seat I had originally squated in and much to the perplexity of the cabin crew as I fumbled about and this was made even worse when I tried to enter an occupied toilet that cleary said 'Occupied'. I heard a hostess say 'I rest my case' inserted into an otherwise Finnish conversation. Okay I was already knackered and I hadn't gone anywhere. I think refusing the reindeer sandwich and having inferior chicken was were it all started to go wrong. No, this is just a shock tactic to get you interested, actually I had a great time! I arrived at Helsinki Vantaa airport, like I've done three times now, at 12:30, where it was indeed still light enough to see quite well, a lovely glow to the sky through some cloud reminded me of northern Scotland.

A few Blackbirds were singing away as I walked to 'my campspot by terminal 1'. I'm always amazed how wonderful this spot is considering how close to the airport it is and the fact that it is surrounded on either side by business parks and a new petrol station has sprung up. I could see the bright green 'glow-in-the-dark sticker' points of light of several Glow-worms dotted about on the open part of the heath, just past this I put up the tent, had a couple of gulps of wine then crashed out. I was awoken at about 3 or 4 am by a Tree Pipit singing over the tent, not a bad way to be woken up, then fell asleep and woke up at 7ish. I spent the morning doing a bit of birding, bought a Primus gas stove then walked a bit more. Then went to Helsinki for a walk around the Park, the weather was gorgeous. I found an Icterine Warbler singing very actively right next to a large house with a big wedding reception, it was singing so loudly that several passers by stopped to look up to see what it was.
Baby Fieldfare
Baby Whitehroats
Erm...... Lake
Common Tern
Then I headed to the station to catch the train to Parikkala. Another 'Ozzy' moment occured when I got confused and couldn't open the door between the carriage and continually pressed the light button instead of the door button, turning the lights off and on, good job it doesn't get that dark here. 'I don't think that many people noticed, not sure what they were laughing at, can't have been me'. The weather was gorgeous all the way to around Lappeenranta, then I noticed some huge thundery showers which just got worse. However there was an amazing phenomena in the form of a rainbow that appeared as I looked through the window, it seemed as though the end of the rainbow was just outside the window and it was there for 10 minutes or so moving with the train, the effect was probably added to by the glass. I changed train at Parikkala on to a local service to take me to Punkaharju and I arrived there at about 10pm, in fact I forgot it was just one stop and had to dash off the train. Instantly the atmosphere hit me, this was much more out of the town than I thought, a couple of people hid under the station front from the now pouring rain, but I just carried on walking west. My waterproof trousers weren't waterproof anymore so I didn't bother, withing a few minutes I was soaked. I reached a bridge and there was this huge lake, the sun was high on the horizon and it had cast this amazing orange glow to the whole sky, surreal! A couple of Pied Flycatchers and a Redstart were alarm calling with young nearby.


I carried on along the main road, then I noticed a smaller road going off to the right, followed that - actually it runs parrallel to the main road as it is just a road linking a group of islands together for several miles towards Savonlinna. The rain got heavier and heavier, a group of noisy scamble bikes came belting along the road, followed by another few then silence, then a truck on the main road, then silence, or so it seemed. I hid under what looked like a summer house in the garden of a even bigger summer house, made a cup of coffee.

A lone Fieldfare appeared right next to me on the path in the rain, I tried to make a Fieldfare noise, it panicked and flew off, obviously completely unawares that I had been standing there at all. Finally the rain stopped and it was a really nice evening, I walked around some beautiful spruce woods up to the edge of a lake and back to the road, Robins being the only birds I could hear, then the odd Woodcock roding overhead. There also seemed to be two Long-eared Owls calling from somewhere, though it sounded a long way off and I was never convinced if they were owls or not. When it passed midnight, it almost seemed to be getting lighter, it was gorgeous, quiet, even the road was quiet, oh I think there was one more scramble bike past, clearly he'd lost his mates.

I carried on walking, intending to walk all night if need be. By about 2am I was feeling really tired so I walked down a steep bank below the road to the edge of a still lake and put up the tent, the area was completely insect free! As soon as I lay down I was out! I awoke at 6.30am and it was overcast at first. A lone female Goosander flew onto the Lake. I walked further down the road, past a bridge that looked it might have a troll lurking under it (if you believe in trolls), then passed some more stunning looking Spruce woods, then came to the main road, and across the other side, Punkaharju Arboretum. In fact as soon as I walked into the woods here I could here a Blyth's Reed Warbler singing from the other side of the road in scrub along the railway. Then heard another, then another in a clearing near a car park.

Troll ahead
A cover for the new edition of the Kalevala, or one of Sibelius's symphonies?
Tree Pipit, close up
Yellow Oxytropis (Oxytropis campestris)
I walked the rides in the Arboretum, this was a lovely place, just me here, not another human being. I got out my umbrella to start recording, the weather was beautiful. Recorded a Wood Warbler in a damp birch wood, got attacked by loads of Mosquitoes, moved on, recorded another Wood Warbler and a Tree Pipit got attacked by loads more mosquitoes. Then walked to the edge of the lake and made a cup of coffee by some moored boats overlooking an island with a colony of Little and Black-headed Gulls. A superb Black-throated Diver flew past.

Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense)
Water Avens (Geum rivale)
It got really warm by 11am, I reached a cleared area full of low, lush scrub and small saplings and here there were two or three more Blyth's Reed Warblers singing alongside a Garden Warbler or two. One male came so close to me I was able to get some very clear recordings, he even showed himself a few times as well. Though I was constantly beginning to get harrassed by 'Tabanus' type deer flies, these were quite easy to kill as they often would just settle on your leg, however as soon as you got rid of three, another three would take there place and they kept constantly getting under the umbrella as I was recording and getting trapped. They seemed to make more noise than actually bite. In contrast to these 'nasty' insects a couple of beauties appeared in the form of a graceful Black-veined White butterfly and a Downy Emerald Dragonfly. 

Downy Emerald
Black-veined White

Honey Buzzard

I kept walking the various rides and paths of the arboretum, occasionally I would find some Wild Strawberries to eat, they weren't quiet ripe at all but they were refreshing and there seemed to be a lot of them about. I must have left the arboretum around lunchtime, it was getting very warm but there was a noticeable change in the air, cloud had begun to come in and I knew that tonight it would rain, it was instinctive. I found a camp site near Rettreti and put the tent up there. I was pretty quiet, even at this time of year.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia) which is quite a common orhid in Finland

Sure enough during the evening the rain came in. I had a meal in the restaurant on the camp site. There was a nice Red-necked Grebe on the lake and I had a walk around the area. I went through a clump of Bog Myrtle enjoying the sweet smell the plant gives off. This is a natural insect repellant and I rubbed some on my face to see if it worked better than the stuff called 'Off!' that I had bought. Neither really worked that well. Mozies aren't that put off, they always find the bits you miss, like the ears. The back of my head was beginning to feel like a scaled down model of Burnham Overy Dunes in Norfolk, well thats how I thought of it anyway. I still feel that somehow they are easier to deal with than millions of Scottish Midges buzzing around your head. Mosquitoes seem more subtle in their approach, sneaking up on you, not creating a big swarm, well maybe they do up in Lapland. There was even a Blyth's Reed Warbler here on the campsite, though very quiet most of the time, plus an unseen Common Rosefinch singing from a garden somewhere nearby.

Red-necked Grebe
Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale)

The next day I went back in to the Arboretum and spent hours wandering around there in the rain. It was fairly light at first but got heavier as the day went on. The highlight of the morning was coming across a Black Woodpecker feeding on a Spruce tree, that then flew low right over my head then when I went back to the ride it literally flew off from the ground a couple of feet from me then landed in tree stumps foraging.

I then had lunch in a shelter by one of the lakes, it was getting very windy and more rain was coming in so I decided to go back to the campsite, stopped off at the shop and had a chat with the girl working there who was really friendly. She talked about staying up in norhern Finland and said her other half was Czech, so that gave us plenty to talk about whilst it hammered down outside. I wondered how long she worked there in this shop next to a garage out here, 12 hour shifts?

I revisited the Arboretum in the evening. I intended to have dinner in the shelter, but a family had literally moved in and put a polethene sheet over the entrance, two kids were running about and they may have been scared by 'the man in the woods' so I left and stood in an open pine wood. A car came by, stopped then drove on, they were probably spooked too but 'the man in the woods' then it went further into the arboretum. Then I heard some strange Jay sounds, having previously thought I'd seen Siberian Jay, only later to find out that I had probably seen only a juvenile Eurasian Jay, I was amazed to see a Nutcracker fly into the top of a pine, followed by another. I got a photo, they were real Nutcrackers, not Jays or Crows, nope definately Nutcrackers. Another bird of note, was a Red-breasted Flycatcher that was alarming from some birch woods when I came into the West of the Arboretum near a pair of Wood Warblers.

Melancholy Thistle
Marsh Lousewort 

To be continued......

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