Finland in Winter

Once again, we joined Hector Astorga in Finland, this time during the coldest times. Our quarry – golden eagles and assorted other feathered beasts. This workshop would also include some landscape opportunities – and hopefully the Northern Lights.

Sunday, January 28

We arrived a day early in Oulu on Saturday, and then got started on the workshop on Sunday at a lodge in Muhos. Our guide was once again Pirita! She’s so sweet – our reunion was joyful!

It was 28 degrees at 6:40am, and very dark outside, when we made our way to the hide. A few of us thought to bring headlamps, which made finding our way to the hide easier. A few hours later, as the day began to brighten, our first eagle showed up. 

We had to be extremely quiet and still while we waited. And while we could move our cameras after the eagle started feeding, we had to do so very slowly so as not to spook the shy raptor.  Later a second eagle came around but stayed up in the trees. Still later a third eagle showed up. This one took advantage of the carcass that the first bird had been on. Eventually one of the other eagles came back and chased him off. As well as the eagles there were four species of tits, Eurasian jays, great spotted woodpeckers, redpolls, and in the distance, magpies, jackdaws and ravens.

Monday, January 29

Today we returned to the eagle hides and again saw the two mated eagles, and the assortment of little birds. Nothing particularly interesting happened. We kept hoping to see a black woodpecker, but he was a no-show.

Tuesday, January 30

This morning we had the option of sitting in the hide attached to the lodge we were staying in, or whatever we wanted to do. Alan was working on his photos at the desk in our room when he noticed a goshawk had landed on a carcass out back. Everyone rushed to get photos. He was a beautiful bird! In the afternoon we visited some new hides and stayed through the evening. The hope was for goshawks and eagle owls. We did see two different goshawks – one male, one female, but no eagle owls . With darkness descending, we left early to try and catch the aurora borealis which our apps indicated were at a 3.8 – 4 level.

We drove back to the lodge to pick up our wide angles, then drove down the road just a bit, to an open field and were lucky to see the Northern Lights. They weren’t as strong as we’d hoped, but they were there, and we took advantage of the show.

Wednesday, January 31

A reindeer farm was our location today. Juha (pronounced You-ha) was our host. In talking with him I found out he was a fellow Rotarian. He told us about how his land has been in his family since 1770, and how his grandfather speared an arctic salmon that was 24 kilos large! He showed us the spear/harpoon that was used. He also showed us a cask in which they made buttermilk. He claimed that they would put a frog in it to let it swim around to keep stirring the milk. Apparently, this is more commonly a Russian practice, known as amphibian dairy treatment. It’s old folklore, but for a moment he had us going. We learned that a lynx can take down a full grown reindeer and that they are a bit of a problem for farmers right now because their population has exploded in the region.

For some action shots, we photographed the reindeer as they ran down the field, and then ran back. A bit of fun. Since my leg was bothering me, I stayed behind with Patrice and our host while the rest followed the reindeer past the woods and into the field.

At one point Hector decided to lay down on his belly to photograph the reindeer. Alan decided to kneel down near him for lower shots too, but his leg sank all the way down in the deep snow and he fell to his back next to Hector. They laughed and Hector rolled over onto his back too and shot from that position.

After everyone came back from the field we enjoyed a picnic lunch outside next to a roaring fire. Our host was very gracious.

We left the reindeer behind and headed farther northeast to our next location near Kuusamo. This time our accommodations were at a winter resort hotel.

Thursday, February 1

I decided to stay at the hotel today while Alan went out to photograph dippers and hike a couple miles in snowshoes for snow scenes. At the dippers location on the river, he got down on his stomach and got some really nice shots. The hike up the mountainside was steep and long, and he wasn’t used to snowshoes at all. He almost died. Or felt like it anyway. At the top he got a few very nice pictures of snow-covered tree tops. All you could see above the deep snow was the tops of the trees completely covered in snow, making them look like ghosts.

Friday, February 2

We drove an hour away from the hotel and up a small mountain, stopping short of the top – we had to hike the rest of the way, about a third of a mile. I hate snow pants. Alan and I got to share our rustic hide with Pirita.

We) and watched a pair of eagles, and saw gray headed woodpeckers, plenty of the usual assortment of tits, and great spotted woodpeckers. The eagles stayed at the top of a tree most of the time, only coming down for brief periods to feed on the carcass bait. They were beautiful to photograph. 

Saturday, February 3

Today we visited a national park where we photographed Eurasian red squirrels, and fed Siberian jays by hand. Fun! 

Then we went to a location farther north and piled onto a sled pulled by a large snowmobile. It took us about a half-hour to get to the top of a small mountain to do some great landscapes. It was quite cold, but our clothes kept us warm. The area was surreal and looked like something out of a dream. My turn to see the ghost-like trees.

We enjoyed lunch in a small wood hut around a fire. Pirita also cooked some sausages over the fire for us. Several snowmobilers came and went as we sat there nice and cozy.

At one point I had to go to the bathroom bad enough that I used the lone, half-buried in the snow, pit toilet. Inside was a wooden bench with a hole cut into it. The experience felt like sitting on a metal bedpan that had been first put in a freezer.

the “bathroom”

Afterward we photographed the landscape. Shooting east we could see Russia.

Sunday, February 4

My back/leg problem had gotten worse, so I stayed back again today. Alan went with the group to the Eagle hides again. He said it was a good thing I didn’t go – there wasn’t much action, and fewer birds that before.

We all met for dinner, which was somewhat subdued, then went up to our rooms to pack for our trip home the next day.