Saturday, 31 March 2012

Search for The Northern Lights - Luosto, Finland, 23rd - 28th March 2012

Friday 23rd March and we headed off in the car to Heathrow Airport for an overnight stay before flying off to Finland on the 24th. The journey was uneventful with 3 red-legged partridges, a mistle thrush and stock doves being the bird highlights. I have never seen so many stock doves as I have done in the last 3 months, they seem to be everywhere but maybe I am just being more observant. Sadly there were may badger corpses by the roadside again, as there were on the same journey last March when we went to Germany.

A delay at Heathrow Airport meant a tight transfer at Helsinki Airport but we arrived at Rovaniemi for our 80 minute coach transfer to Luosto. It was grey and overcast as dusk fell but everywhere and everything was covered in loads of snow. I kept a look out for birds on the journey although I didn't expect to see much but I was in for a surprise with brief sightings of two new birds. The first was a great grey owl sat on a telegraph pole by the roadside as we sped by, a brief view and unfortunately it had its back to the road but its large size and large head were obvious. Ten minutes later and I saw another owl, this time a hawk owl and again perched on a telegraph pole by the roadside facing towards me but further back from the road. Its smaller and slimmer build with barred pale underparts were obvious again as we sped by.

Luosto in the snow

The view from our balcony

The next day while wandering through the snowy forest around the hotel I saw a songflighting greenfinch along with great tits and willow tits, the willow tits being of the Scandinavian race borealis with white cheeks and grey backs compared to the British kleinschmidti race. I have only ever seen willow tit once in the UK, many years ago in Norfolk, so it was nice to see them showing well feeding in the trees.

The following day a male snow bunting was seen briefly as it flew off when disturbed from outside the main entrance to the hotel. Another walk around the hotel area provided 2 new birds, the first being a black woodpecker flying through the trees giving a distinctive "kruck" call as it landed on a tree branch before flying off again and out of sight. Its all black plumage, large size and flappy, direct flight were obvious despite the poor view as it flew amongst the trees. The 2nd new bird were good views of 4 Siberian Jays showing well and appearing quite fearless as they preened in a pine tree close to the footpath. Great spotted woodpeckers were also seen and heard drumming and "chipping" in the trees.

Siberian Jay
Great Spotted Woodpecker

The only other birds seen were a single hooded crow regularly around the hotel and some magpies and more hooded crows on the coach trip back to the airport at Rovaniemi on the 28th March. And so a total of 11 bird species were seen, more than I had expected and with 4 lifers, not bad going.

Other signs of wildlife were found in the snow - Arctic hare footprints were seen everywhere and a flight print of a presumed willow grouse. Fungi were seen growing on the birch trees.

Arctic Hare footprints (right) and Grouse footprints (left0

Willow Grouse snowprint

Fungus sp. on Birch Tree

A selection of game birds were also seen but not in the way I had hoped for - being stuffed and for sale in a cafe near the hotel!

Black Grouse


Willow Grouse

And so to the Aurora Borealis..... We were given mobile phones which would be sent a text if an Aurora was showing during the night but the weather was not ideal during our stay - it was sunny at times during the day but the nights were snowy and overcast. Some of our group reported seeing the Lights on the first night but by our fourth and final night we had not had so much as a glimpse. On our last night we went to a talk about the Northern Lights and we saw lots of photos and videos of the Lights but the lady giving the talk stated that we had a 99.9% chance of not seeing the Lights that night due to the snow blizzard going on outside! And so we went to bed  - I did wake up at 01:30 and looked out of the window to see that it had stopped snowing but it was still totally overcast and so I went back to bed. However at 02:00 this happened .......

Oh My God !!!!!!!!!!!!
We ran to the balcony in a half asleep, slighty drunk from vodka stagger to be greeted with a green auroral display right in front of us! David looked over to the left and there was an even bigger green display going on and so somehow we managed to get dressed up in our thermal overalls and boots and run out of the hotel and down to the frozen lake in just a few minutes for an amazing view as the Lights showed across the sky in a beautiful and surreal display. The clouds reappeared after a few minutes to block the view but the display continued unseen as every now and then a small gap in the clouds glowed green but after an hour of waiting unsuccessfully for the clouds to clear we went back to bed. We had even saw an aurora corona, a rare sight according to the lady who gave the talk earlier, and while the lights were purely green and didn't "dance" it was still an amazing experience and one I want to repeat!

I had imagined the Aurora alert was some highly technical and sophisticated system but on asking the receptionist about it when I returned the phone on checking out of the hotel she told me the alert is triggered by the hotel night porter who checks out of the window regularly during the night as she goes about her duties and sends the text if the Aurora shows !

And so an amazing holiday - snow, toboggans, snowmobiles, husky sled rides and reindeer sled rides, some nice birds and the Aurora Borealis - brilliant!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - we are going in March this year and I wanted to see if there was snow and what chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

    Your blog made me feel very positive.