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Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Having seen the Midnight Sun in Antarctica in 1972/73, it became a mission to see it in Arctic latitudes. To get to Nordkapp (Norway's North Cape) at 71°N for the Summer Solstice seemed an appropriate pilgrimage. Thanks to Ryanair's budget route to Tampere and Finland's fine uncluttered roads, the journey north is feasible with three days driving, allowing for some birding stops. So, leaving Nokia (summary of route and schedule below) at 10.00 am on 17 June the trail north in Hertz's Nissan Micra began. After a ritual paddle in the Baltic Sea north of Oulu, the Arctic Circle was crossed early the following morning where a regulation stop at Santa's Village was in order. I was curious to notice that Reindeer meat was on sale in the same shop as the Christmas decorations. I only hope that Santa's sleigh won't be short of pulling power next Christmas. Thereafter herds of reindeer along the roadside were commonplace. One elk (moose) was also seen browsing at the road side.

The Elk (Moose) is more shy than the Reindeer

From then on it was a matter of progressing into Lapland, passing through sub-arctic taiga and birch forest habitat mile after mile towards my next camp beside Lake Inari. Spent some time walking trails in the Urho Kekkonen National Park.

Reindeer are a common sight in Lapland

The next day I forged on into Norway where interesting northern species like Redpoll, Brambling, Redwing, Red-necked Phalarope and Rough-legged Buzzard were seen. I reached Lakselv at the head of Borsangen Fjord, technically the Arctic Ocean, by lunch time, where another ritual paddle was called for. Thus refreshed, I pressed on, went through the 7 km tunnel to the island of Magerøya and reached North Cape by evening. There was time to find a camp site and explore a couple of small fishing villages away from the main tourist trail before returning to Nordkapp to witness the Midnight Sun in near cloudless conditions.

The following morning, Solstice Eve, was overcast with light intermittent rain so I drove across North Cape Island to the small fishing town of Gjesvær. There I found local boatman and fisherman Roald Berg who operates charter excursions for birdwatching and fishing .

Roald Berg's sign board (click on the picture to enlarge). Click here for his website.

Roald took me on an exclusive boat trip to the largest Puffin colony in Europe, which was unforgettable and excellent value. We even made time for a spot of fishing, resulting in 3 fine cod, one of which became my dinner.

Fine cod caught from Roald Berg's Boat
By evening the skies had cleared and so it was back to Nordkapp for a meal of reindeer kebab in the restaurant, then some walking across the bare tundra habitat before witnessing the midnight sun herald the Summer Solstice.

Midnight Sun at the Summer Solstice at Nordkapp

Then began the journey south, choosing a different route via Hammerfest and Alta, with a little more time. Before Alta the road passed through some good tundra habitat where I found Lapland Bunting, Willow Grouse, Merlin, Ruff and Long-tailed Skua (my first 'lifer' of the trip), to add to Rough-legged Buzzard and a male Bluethroat seen earlier in the day.

Midnight sun over the endless tundra
I spent 2 days in the Lapp town of Enontekiö (treating myself to a camping cabin) allowing some exploration of the Pallas-Ounastunturi National Park looking for taiga species. Unfortunately Siberian Jay eluded me. Continuing south of the Arctic Circle past Oulo, I followed the coast road to Kokkola before cutting inland to Parkano. A camp site at Pyhäjoki (which had a Scarlet Rosefinch singing over my cabin) allowed some exploration of Baltic coast, the peninsula at Himanka was especially attractive in fresh sunny weather, turning up Red-necked Grebe with a chick nearby. Then two days at Parkano was ideal for exploring trails through the Seitseminen National Park, eventually as far as Liesijarvi. Good birding including Three-toed Woodpecker, Hazel Grouse, Willow Grouse, Crested Tit, Crossbill and possible female Rustic Bunting. The second morning I returned with CD player and soon attracted a splendid male Rustic Bunting - the second 'lifer' of the trip. The park has an excellent interpretative centre and serves cooked meals and snacks.

The final night I hired a cabin at the Nokia camp site, departing from Finland on 27 June by Ryanair on a rather damp morning.

All in all a highly successful trip with "mission accomplished", and a total of 117 bird species, including two 'lifers', identified.

Outline of Route

Stansted to Tampere by Ryanair, camped Nokia. Headed off North on E75 ("Santa's Road") via Jyväskyla, Oulu (1 night nr. Simo), Kemi, Rovaniemi, Sodankylä, Ivalo and Inari (1 night). On to Norway and Nordkapp via Karasjok, Lakselv, 2 nights at Skipfijord. South via Skaidi, Hammerfest, Alta, Kautokeino, Enontekio (2 nights), Kittilä, Rovaniemi, Kemi, Oulu, Raahe, Pyhäjoki (1 night), Kokkola, Seinajoki, Parkano (2 nights), Kuru, Nokia (1 night) and Tampere. Total distance driven: 4120 km (2575 miles).

Bird List

01. Black-headed Gull; 02. Great Crested Grebe; 03. Mallard; 04. Robin; 05. Willow Warbler; 06. Chaffinch; 07. Goldeneye; 08. Fieldfare; 09. Hooded Crow; 10. Greenfinch; 11. Common Tern; 12. Pied Flycatcher; 13. Swallow; 14. Siskin; 15. White Wagtail; 16. Magpie; 17. Wigeon; 18. Coot; 19. Blue Tit; 20. Great tit; 21. Dunnock; 22. Blackcap; 23. Swift; 24. Herring Gull; 25. Lapwing; 26. Kestrel; 27. House Sparrow; 28. Jackdaw; 29. Woodpigeon; 30. Mistle Thrush; 31. Redwing; 32. Blackbird; 33. Jay; 34. Sparrowhawk.; 35. Whooper Swan; 36. Green Sandpiper; 37. Curlew; 38. Yellowhammer; 39. Little Gull; 40. Reed Bunting; 41. Sand Martin; 42. Tufted Duck; 43. Common Sandpiper; 44. Red-breasted Merganser; 45. Cormorant; 46. Great Black-Backed Gull; 47. Greenshank; 48. Starling; 49. House Martin; 50. Redpoll; 51. Skylark; 52. Common Crane; 53. Willow Tit; 54. Brambling; 55. Great Spotted Woodpecker; 56. Cuckoo; 57. Song Thrush; 58. Golden Plover; 59. Redstart; 60. Arctic Tern; 61. Ringed Plover; 62. Teal; 63. Red-necked Phalarope; 64. Rough-legged Buzzard; 65. Velvet Scoter; 66. Wheatear; 67. Oystercatcher; 68. Goosander ; 69. Eider; 70. Shelduck; 71. Sea Eagle; 72. Bar-tailed Godwit; 73. Slavonian Grebe; 74. Lesser Black-backed Gull; 75. Raven; 76. Black-throated Diver; 77. Black Guillemot; 78. Sedge Warbler; 79. Snow Bunting; 80. Fulmar; 81. Shag; 82. Kittiwake; 83. Meadow Pipit; 84. Snipe; 85. Dipper; 86. Arctic Skua; 87. Guillemot; 88. Puffin; 89. Razorbill; 90. Gannet; 91. Rock Pipit; 92. Bluethroat; 93. Lapland Bunting; 94. Ruff; 95. Willow Grouse; 96. Long-tailed Skua*; 97. Merlin; 98. Treecreeper; 99. Lesser Whitethroat; 100. Rook; 101. Scarlet Rosefinch; 102. Tree Pipit; 103. Turnstone; 104. Garden Warbler; 105. Red-necked Grebe; 106. Whitethroat; 107. Spotted Flycatcher; 108. Crested Tit; 109. Three-toed Woodpecker; 110. Hazel Grouse; 111. Wood Warbler; 112. Crossbill; 113. Goldcrest; 114. Chiffchaff; 115. Pheasant; 116. Rustic Bunting; 117. Buzzard.