LOVE TO WANDER
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.
It was a 5.30am start the next day. It was snowing and the temperature in the van was registering a bone chilling -18.5 degrees. We drove for a couple of hours to a forest – it wasn’t clear what we were going in search of. We were at the back of the van, so the views weren’t great. Around Oulu, the terrain is pretty flat – fir trees and snow pretty much sums it up. There is a lot of water when the thaw comes – rivers, lakes and sea – but for now, everything was frozen. The Gulf of Bothnia was frozen solid – I took a photo as I have never seen frozen sea before, but I can’t say it was particularly spectacular. We trudged through the forest for some distance and eventually arrived at a clearing. The bird tape was played again and we stood in silence waiting for something to appear. It struck me that the silence here was absolute – there was no bird song as you would hear in any forest back home pretty well all year round – or even in my own back garden .
If there were any birds around, then none of them were singing. After an hour and a half, we gave up waiting for something to appear and trudged back to the van. At this point, I would have welcomed a cup of something hot – not too fussy about what – but there was nothing on the van to drink and nowhere to stop for a warming coffee break. We continued to drive kilometre after kilometre on cold, icy roads. A couple more stops and cold walks yielded nothing more than an empty nesting box on a far off tree. Eventually, we managed to find a nesting box with something in it – great excitement! It was a Tengmalm’s Owl – half asleep and certainly not interested in doing anything remotely exciting like coming out of the nesting box and showing us his wing span. I did manage to take a photo, although by this stage, holding the camera was a struggle – never mind depressing the shutter button. We had an abortive trudge into the forest and saw the hole in a fir tree that had allegedly been made by a three toed woodpecker – another “no show” .
We pulled in at a wetland sanctuary and I was very grateful for a bowl of smoked reindeer soup. There was a small exhibition there, but we didn’t get chance to look around it – it was straight back on the birding trail.
I calculated I spent around 24 hours during this trip looking at the hats of the people in the seats in front – so worthy of a photo, I thought. There wasn’t much else to photograph anyway.
It was hard to see how this trip could get any worse, but the suggestion was then made that a trip to the rubbish dump might be just the thing to raise the spirits. Seriously?! Yes – this was serious. Rubbish dumps are a food source of course, so there just may be some gulls there … Yes, you guessed it, we waited two hours at the rubbish dump, but it was another no show
This was a missed photo opportunity if ever there was one – but I was really beginning to lose the plot by now.
In desperation, we started pulling in to private houses which had bird feeders in their gardens in the hope of finding something interesting to see. After a long afternoon of driving and snow trudging, we did eventually see Arctic Redpolls and Waxwings. There was also a bluetit, which no one was interested in – except me. He obligingly posed for a photo. Birding seems to be all about ticking species off your list rather than about watching and enjoying them – I just don’t get it?! The majority of the group had only binoculars/spotting scopes – no cameras – so there wouldn’t even have been any evidence of having ticked something off your list?
Dinner was reasonable – asparagus soup, white fish (not defined) and risotto, apple cake and ice cream. A lot of water was drunk by all and everyone then retired for an early night. We attempted to jolly the night along a bit with a drink in the bar – it is surprising what they advertise on Finnish TV. I suppose with weather this cold there isn’t much else to do – flat batteries must be a real problem?!