LOVE TO WANDER
A 5.30 start was again scheduled – we didn’t go. Good move – bacon was back on the breakfast menu this morning and was still quite hot early on. Temperatures on the vans were -14 this morning and the only bird anyone saw was the red grouse, again. No Snowy Owls then (which was the one bird we had really both been hoping to see).
A 5am start was scheduled again, with the promise of seeing grouse. We gave it a miss and had a bit of a lie in. Breakfast was much more sparse at this hotel than the previous one. There was no bacon and the scrambled eggs were cold. At least the coffee was good and hot. Those who had gone on the grouse hunt returned at 9ish for their breakfast. With the temperature falling to -14, they needed it. Did we make the right decision not to go – or did we miss the highlight of the holiday and risk kicking ourselves for the rest of the trip? They saw very little. Two red grouse eventually showed up – but not everyone actually got to see them – and there was certainly no excitement of a lek as had been promised. So, it was a good call not to go.
I was still hoping that things might get better as we went further north and into the Kuusamo national park area - a small town close to the Russian border about four hours from Oulu. Although we were told in the trip blurb that reindeer were a fairly common sight, we never saw one. We didn’t see an Arctic Hare either – although we did see tracks (possibly?!). We didn’t see any birds at all on the way either.
Nowhere had been booked for lunch – obviously not a priority – and the one place that looked like it had potential had stopped serving. We stopped in a layby by a forest where there were a few bird feeders strung .
I was so hungry, I was beginning to wonder whether it would be possible to eat the bird seed? Some Siberian Jays did – eventually – turn up. We heard the elusive three toed woodpecker drumming – I never saw it though.
Our Finnish guide said very little. I think the word count got up to about 40 in 5 days? The three main words in his limited English vocabulary were “IN”, “OUT” and “EAT”. “IN” could be roughly translated as “Come on guys, it’s time to get into the van to start the next bit of our adventure. We are going in search of XXX today – let me tell you a bit about it …”. “OUT” – rough translation “OK – I know we’ve had a long drive to get here and I can’t promise that we are actually going to see anything now we’ve arrived, but we’ve got more chance of seeing something if we get out of the van than if we stay in it, so let’s give it a go. Does anyone need hand warmers – I’ve got a supply in the van if you do …” I have taken some liberties with the translation here – there was, of course, no supply of hand warmers in the van, but it would have been lovely if there had been. “EAT” doesn’t really need any translation – although I wished he had said this a bit more often on the trip. Lunch wasn’t part of the “plan” on any of the days really – it was seen as a distraction from birding.
I could have chosen to stay at home, munched a few Easter eggs, dug the garden or just chilled out - but I thought it would be fun to be a bit more adventurous and take a Naturetrek trip to Finland. The thrill of visiting a place I had never seen before, bright blue skies, pristine snow, a spot of bird watching (especially owls) and putting my pin in the map at the Arctic Circle - it was a trip so full of promise. I should have stayed at home. This trip was so bad, it was actually funny – it was truly the holiday from hell. Apologies in advance to any birding enthusiasts. I respect your passion and I’m glad that you get enjoyment from it. I just don't share it, or understand it. HELP - I am on the wrong holiday ...!
We stayed overnight near Heathrow airport to make the 5am start on Saturday morning slightly less painful. We boarded a flight from Heathrow to Helsinki (2 ½ hours) and then another flight (1 hour) to Oulu, a town on the north-east shore of the Gulf of Bothnia. Our tour guide was actually on both flights, but didn’t introduce herself until we arrived, which I thought was a bit strange. The on board TV played rolling footage of Nordic blondes dressed in semi see-through nighties dancing around campfires in the snow and waving birch twigs at each other. Oddly, they didn’t seem to be wearing the Sorel/Kamik boots – actually, they all had bare feet?!. This was maybe the second indication that this trip would be an initiation to the strange. It kept Tim amused for the length of the flight anyway.