Often referred to as the 'Land of aThousand Lakes', Finland is one ofEurope's most wild and unspoiltcountries. This tour will take you far northof Britain, up to the westernmost part ofthe vast Siberian taiga forests and north tothe Arctic Circle itself. In April, the Arcticwilderness starts to awake after a very longand harsh winter; now the days are gettinglonger, the weather slightly warmer, and thebirds and mammals are beginning toprepare for the short and hectic breedingseason ahead. This is a very rewardingand spectacular time to visit Finland. Allthe resident species such as owls,woodpeckers, grouse, crossbills and bothSiberian Jay and Siberian Tit are presentand active, and the first of the springmigrants will be making their way north.The weather is usually clear and fine, thesun shines and there is ample time forbirdwatching. In the evening, as duskstarts to fall, the mixed and coniferousforests play host to displaying owls andafter dark there is even the chance ofcatching sight of the spectacular AuroraBorealis or 'Northern Lights', the naturallight phenomenon which is at its bestduring the dark winter and early springnights!Finland is the seventh largest country inEurope, yet is home to only five millionpeople. A staggering 70% of the land areais carpeted in forest and 10% of thatremaining is covered by lakes and ponds.This tour focuses on central Finland's vastand unspoilt taiga forests and is unusual inthe fact that it departs relatively early in theyear. For, whilst at this season some of thebreeding birds are unlikely to be seen, thisshortfall is more than compensated for bythose 'special birds' that are present, and by the breathtaking snow-coveredlandscape, a spectacle that later tours miss! Our holiday begins with a flight fromLondon to Helsinki and then on to Oulu, atown on the north-east shore of the Gulf ofBothnia. The town is surrounded byextensive boreal forests in which live manyof the high Arctic bird species most soughtafter by British birdwatchers, in particularthe owls. The Great Grey Owl must surelybe the highlight of any trip to northernFinland, but alongside this magnificentspecies live Ural and Eagle Owls, plusTengmalm's and Pygmy Owls, their morediminutive cousins. Hawk Owls areoccasionally found sitting atop tall conifers,whilst Snowy Owls visit the more opencoastal areas from time to time. Along withthe owls, the forests hold Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Waxwing,Capercaillie and the elusive Hazel Grouse.On the coast, migrating wildfowl will betracking their way north, and in thesheltered bays and estuaries WhooperSwans and Goosander will be starting togather. A sudden flurry of wings mayindicate a passing raptor which, for the veryfortunate, may turn out to be a Gyr Falcon,a truly magnificent falcon and one thatoften winters along the Finnish coast.From Oulu we will head north-east througha snow-covered landscape of forests andfrozen lakes to Kuusamo, a small townclose to the Russian border. Kuusamo isapproximately four hours from Oulu and issurrounded by some of Finland's finestwilderness scenery. Here, amongst the oldgrowth taiga forests, bogs and lakes, wewill look for such sought-after species asSiberian Jay and Siberian Tit, Two-barredand Parrot Crossbills, Pine Grosbeak andof course more owls! Close to Kuusamo can be found themagnificent wilderness of Oulanka NationalPark. Lying close to the Arctic Circle,Oulanka contains a wonderfully diverserange of habitats that includes vastexpanses of old taiga forest, deep rivervalleys, magnificent waterfalls, bogs andmeadows, together encompassing an areaof over 270 square kilometres of landalong the Oulankajoki River. Spring willhave just touched this near-Arctic park andalthough much of the land will be coveredin snow, the birds should be activelysetting up territory. Whilst in Oulanka wewill look for such species as Waxwing,Capercaillie, Golden Eagle, Common,Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills, PineGrosbeak, Arctic Redpoll and, once again,possibly a few more owls. Reindeer are afairly common sight and, with luck, someof the other mammals that frequent thearea such as Elk (Moose), Arctic Hare,Pine Marten, Beaver and Red Squirrel maybe seen. We will also spare time to crossthe Arctic Circle, a necessity when soclose to this world famous latitudinal line.From Oulanka we will have to transfer byroad back to Oulu to catch our return flightto Helsinki and from there our connectingflight home.Finland - Easter on the Arctic CircleA long weekend in search of owls and other wintering and spring-time specialities of Finland.Friday 6th April - Tuesday 10th April Cost: £1,595Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Oulu.Day 2Oulu.Day 3/4Kuusamo.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy day walks only.FocusBirds.LeaderAri Latja or Toni Eskelin.Single room supplement£195.Web quick search: FIN0150Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.uk for your free Trip ItineraryRUSSIASWEDENOULUKUUSAMOHELSINKIGULF OFBOTHNIAGULF OFFINLANDARCTIC CIRCLEFINLANDGreat Grey OwlNorthern LightsSiberian Jay
This exciting 4-day tour, runningthroughout Finland's high summermonths, provides a 3-night stay at awonderful Wilderness Centre, lying in aquiet taiga forest along the Russian border. Here, you have the option ofspending one or two nights in a speciallyconstructed log cabin that has beendesigned as a bear hide. We were amazed, during our firstNaturetrek visit in August 2001, to see over20 individuals on each night, with amaximum of 12 present at any one time!Rarely during the period of each watch(between 5pm and 6am the followingmorning) were Bears not in the vicinity ofthe hide. Further, being just south of theArctic Circle, at this time of year the areaenjoys virtually continuous, 24-hour-rounddaylight; it is certainly light enough towatch the Bears throughout the night,should you choose to do so. Despite themany Bears attracted to this quiet area,they seem able to mingle together, at timesin some numbers, in a relatively peacefulmanner. Only the approach of the largestsolitary males sends others scattering,though there is a fascinating hierarchy thatmay be observed through the course ofeach night. Mothers arrive, with cubs in tow (the cubs are born during the wintermonths and stay close to their mothers for over a year); playful independentyoungsters come and go throughout thenight; single females forage timidly, whilsthuge, stern males give one another space.During the course of the night, all forage,scratch, climb, sniff, scrap and play -displaying all the endearing characteristicswhich make Bears and their cubs souniversally popular with humans! For mostof the period of observation the Bears arelikely to be at 10 to 30 metres' range fromthe hide. However, at times they approachmuch nearer and a close-up view of anadult Brown Bear is a never-to-be-forgottenhighlight of the tour. Although nothing isguaranteed in the world of wildlife-viewing,we have an excellent chance of seeingthese magnificent creatures, provided thatsilence is observed within the hide. The secret of this hide's success lies in itsproximity to the great taiga forests that lieacross the Russian border. There, thepoverty, very low density of humanpopulation and lack of hunting haveallowed the large carnivores (Wolves,Brown Bears, Lynx and Wolverines) andother animals to thrive. The WildernessCentre's position could not be better, for itbenefits both from a fine range ofmammals, that are either very rare orextinct in other parts of Europe, as well asfrom the traditional comfort and facilitiesthat we have come to expect fromEuropean accommodation. As well as afternoon and night-time Bear-watching from the hide, you will have thechance to walk amongst and enjoy theforests, mires, small lakes and brooks ofthis peaceful and remote spot, either in thecompany of your guide, or independently.On the small lakes amongst the forestBlack-throated and Red-throated Diversbreed; Rustic and even Little Buntings maybe found by the lakesides and around themires, whilst deeper in the forest you mayencounter such specialities as Black andThree-toed Woodpecker, Siberian Jay andSiberian Tit. There are few species ofdiurnal raptors in this part of Europe but, bykeeping an eye skyward, Honey Buzzardsshould be seen, and there is always agood chance of seeing a CommonBuzzard, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk orHobby. In the heart of the forest, resident Capercaillie, Black Grouse and HazelGrouse are shy and elusive, but those thatare quiet and patient enough may berewarded. Whooper Swans, Red-breastedMergansers, Goosanders and CommonCranes are other denizens of the north thatmay be found breeding on the Finnishlakes and mires, though they are notnecessarily to be found in the vicinity of theCentre. The more obliging and sociablebird groups of these Finnish taiga forestsare the northern thrushes (includingbreeding Fieldfares and Redwings), tits andfinches (Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin,Redpoll, Scarlet Rosefinch, Crossbill andParrot Crossbill amongst others).Although the Brown Bears are our primaryobjective, many other mammals inhabit thetaiga and, although they are all shy andelusive (especially when there are Bears inthe vicinity!), such species as Wolverine,Pine Marten and Red Squirrel are veryoccasionally observed from the hide.Further, in a good 'owl-year', Long-eared,Hawk, Ural, Great Grey, Pygmy andTengmalm's Owl all breed in the vicinity;although only the sparrow-sized PygmyOwl, which is partially diurnal in habits, islikely to be seen.Finland - Just Brown Bears!Join us for a long weekend (or mid-week) Brown Bear-watching holiday amongst the fine taigaforests that straddle Finland's border with Russia.Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 280 for Booking InformationRUSSIASWEDENOULUWILDERNESS CENTREKUUSAMOHELSINKIGULF OFBOTHNIAGULF OFFINLANDARCTIC CIRCLEFINLANDOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Oulu and transferWilderness Centre.Day 2/3Brown Bear-watchingand birdwatching,Wilderness Centre.Day 4Transfer to Oulu and flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable wilderness guesthousewith shared facilities; overnightBear-watching from a log cabinwith reclining seats, mattresses andshared toilet facilities.FoodTwo main meals per day, plussnacks.GradingA straightforward wildlife tour withsome gentle walking to and fromthe Bear hide, plus optional walksfrom the guesthouse. Grade A/B.FocusBrown Bears, other mammals, birdsand general natural history.LeaderA local naturalist guide.Single room supplement£120.ExtensionsMany optional extensions forfurther exciting wildlife-viewing (e.g. Owls and Wolverine) areavailable. Please call for our helpand suggestions.Web quick search: FIN0251European Brown BearsWolverineDeparture dates:19th and 22nd May Cost: £9952nd and 21st June Cost: £9955th, 12th, 19th and 26th July Cost: from £9951st, 4th, 10th and 17th August Cost: £995N.B. Our 5th July departure is a specialist photography tour and our 26th July departure is for families with children.