Saturday, 15 September 2012

Northern Forests of Lapland Study Tour

The last week was spent in Northern Lapland on a study tour for University. There were roughly 30 of us (20 Finns, 7 Czechs and 3 Scots) and we toured around the Inari and Ivalo area viewing various aspects of forestry and land management. It was fairly quiet in terms of birds and wildlife mainly due to the vast scale of the areas we visited and the time of year but I managed to see my number one bird on my wishlist so it was definately all worth it.

- An early start of 6.30am to make the bus at the University campus that was leaving at 8.00am. It was a cold start with frost on the ground from the previous night. Looking out of the kitchen window and there were two Mountain Hares feeding on the grass outside. They really were huge, the size of a medium dog almost. Our first stop of the day was  Sodankylä. On the journey North were Hooded Crows, Magpies, Reindeer and not a whole lot else really. We were hosted by two employees from  Metsähallitus (The Finnish Forest and Park Service) and were shown around various sites related to forestry and included a forest lunch of sausage rolls and coffee around an open fire.

Forest lunch.
A few White Wagtails were seen but not much else, but the weather stayed good for the whole day. In the evening we arrived at our accomodation which consisted of log cabins right next to Inari Lake. There were a couple of Goldeneyes on the water. Later that evening I went for a walk in the forest nearby and I flushed two noisy birds which I think were Siberian Jay but it was too dark to see them or follow them so I went back to the cabin.

Day.2 - We headed to Hotel Ivalo in Ivalo for a presentation by Metsähallitus on Natural Resource Planning in the area, which has to balance the needs of Forestry, Reindeer Herding, Recreation, Hunting and the cultural traditions of the Sami people. We then visited several forestry sites again in the afternoon but towards the end of our forest lunch when heading back to the bus we had a couple of visitors, Siberian Jays! Only got to see them at a distance for a couple minutes which was frustrating but at least I finally got to see them, my most wanted bird for this trip.

Distant Siberian Jay.
Day.3 - Was an early start as we had to pack up everything to leave this accomodation as were moving to somewhere new at the end of the day. During this day we visited the Sami Education Institute which offers courses for people to learn and continue the handicraft techniques of the Sami people including jewellery making and leather tanning. A short trip to Sajos the centre for Sami Parliament (they have their own) and then to Siida, the Sami Museum and Nature Centre. This was very interesting in terms of the nature side. Lot's of information displays on the environment and it's wildlife including lots on the bird life of the area. In terms of sightings there was not much to report as we were inside most of the day and the weather was rubbish. The best bird I saw was a stuffed Great Grey Owl. At the end of the day we headed to our new accomodation for the last two nights, 6 of us had a very nice cabin on the lake shore near to Lemmenjoki National Park. Unfortunately the weather was still rubbish so no chance to explore but the weather looked better for the next day.

Stuffed Great Grey Owl at Siida

Day.4 - This day everyone was looking forward to the most of the whole week. The weather was clear and sunny and we were heading into the heard of Lemmenjoki National Park by boat. Our first stop was the visitor centre where we were given a brief description of the park and what goes on in it. We then headed a couple km down the road to where the boats were. Two boats and 25km up river using the old gold mining route. The only other way in was to walk as there are no roads. We headed up river with some parts so still they seemed like lakes. I was keeping my eyes peeled for eagles but only a few goldeneye were seen. We stopped off at a lovely waterfall where a Red Squirrel made an appearance then continued on for the last few km to our main stop and a forest lunch before hiking to the gold mining area. Shortly after we left the camp I noticed something flying towards the group. It was a Siberian Jay coming to investigate what was going on and looking for an easy meal. It was then joined by another coming to within a few feet. We had to move on but they followed us from tree to tree for a couple hundred metres. Nothing else was seen that afternoon whilst we were panning for gold until we returned to camp which had no less than 6 Siberian Jay flying around and coming down near the fire place for scraps. Some landing not a metre away from my feet, a really great experience. I'm going to flood you with photos now as it is one of my favourite birds.

Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) - A true bird of the Northern Forest

On the return leg of the boat trip a Dipper was spotted amongst many White Wagtails and a lone Little Grebe and more Reindeer on the river banks. The National Park itself is really stunning and it was a really great day. Upon returning to our accomodation the sky looked fantastic with pinks, purples and blues and later on that night I got my first proper view of the Northern Lights (although I was a little bit too drunk to take a picture by then!)

Day.5 - The fifth and final day was mostly for the journey home but we had a planned stop in Levi on the way. On one of the single track roads an Elk was spotted at the side of the road which I guessed was a young male or a female. There were also shouts for a Willow Grouse but I didn't manage to see it in time. Upon entering Levi I spotted another Siberian Jay from the bus window and a couple Ravens overhead. A group of Whooper Swans was also seen at some point on the long road back.

Overall it was a really interesting week and was nice to get a chance to see a part of Lapland properly. In terms of wildife I didn't see much but what I did was really fantastic.

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