A birding trip to Finland and Norway's Varanger Peninsula took us wa-a-y above the Arctic Circle, to the tip of northeastern Norway, while including some sight-seeing in Helsinki, and a side visit to Tallinn, Estonia
The main harbour area in Helsinki was a bustle of activity with a plethora of food and craft stalls
There was even the odd bird around (Black-headed Gull)
Public transport was quite colourful!
There were also other modes of public transport
Some of the city's highlights were the Lutheran Temppeliaukio Church carved into solid rock (Church of the Rock)...
...the Eastern Orthodox Uspensky Cathedral...
...and the monument to Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius
From Helsinki, Tallinn is just a two-hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea
Tallinn's old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Some of the original medieval city walls and towers are still standing
Typically, the streets are narrow with the buildings packed close together
Some merchants' houses remain - as evidenced by the "crane" used to raise merchandise to the upper floors
School tours in the old town are well organized, colourful - and safe!
More colour in the flower market nestled against the city walls
Like Helsinki, Tallinn also exhibits some forms of bird life
Having completed the "cultural" portion of our trip, it was time to start birding in earnest. Leaving Helsinki, we travelled north, stopping at various birding hotspots in Finland, and then crossed the border into northern Norway
Some of the European species commonly seen included...
Great Spotted Woodpecker
The habitats we visited were quite varied...
Lakes and forest
(Even colder) Arctic tundra
Having reached the Arctic Ocean, Carol tests the waters - before going for a swim?
For this birding trip, some of the specialties were the northern owls such as one that the group is attempting to digiscope...
...a Great Grey Owl
And, in this nesting box...
...what do we have?
A Tengmalm's Owl (Boreal Owl) with chicks!
Another bird that we saw was the...Brambling
The Neljän Tuulen Tupa cafe has a bird feeder operation out back and a few (hundred) Bramblings are usually joined by several other species in a feeding frenzy
Many of our accommodations were lodges - from the semi-rustic...
...to brand new - with a rooftop "greenhouse"!
The greenhouse was a great place to compile the day's bird list - while adding the odd species that flew overhead during the count!
Some more of the birds that we listed, including a few really special species, were...
(This was a "lifer" for most of our group - including the leader!)
(Another "lifer" - for everyone - including the leader yet again!)
Of course, we didn't only see birds. As we drove across the country there were many sightings of...
And, here is another species of mammal - with Mr. Spock ears - the Eurasian Red Squirrel
Typical of all bird watching groups, each of the participants looks in a different direction!
But, they do find birds, such as...
Taiga Bean Geese
(but, note the Pink-footed Goose hiding out in back!)
Remember those sea cliffs? They were the site for a nesting colony of Black-legged Kittiwakes
Kittiwakes were also nesting on buildings adjacent to the harbour in downtown Vardø
The coast also held some oddities, such as The Steilneset Memorial, a monument to 91 people who were executed as witches in the 1600's
The inner structure has a window, a light, and an entry from the court records for each of the victims
A separate part of the monument reflects the burnings at the stake
More modern oddities included "The Beast"
...and, here is someone collecting the newspaper?
But, look closely!
Getting around in Finland can be tricky, but if you can string a few words together...
Veneen - laskup - aikka = Boat landing place (i.e. boat launch/ ramp), but that's why you need a Finnish guide!
So, with that, it's time to say - kiitos! - to our birding guide Teemu Sirkkala (who was clearly well equipped to find birds!)
And, it's also time for goodbye from us... Hyvästi