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The Varanger Peninsula lies at themost northern tip of Europe, asparsely populated land ofmountains, fjords and glaciers extendingout from the continent towards the icywastes of the Arctic Circle. For much of thewinter the interior of this region is aChristmas card scene of thick snow, thehaunt of Willow Grouse and Snowy Owl,but thanks to the influences of the GulfStream, the deeply indented coastline islargely free of ice, providing shelteredhavens for large rafts of sea-duck. Most ofEurope's Steller's Eiders crowd intoVaranger Fjord, sharing the open waterwith Common Eider, King Eider and Long-tailed Duck, to create a uniqueassemblage of birds that will be one of thehighlights of this unusual early spring tour.Our tour begins at Ivalo, in FinnishLapland, amidst wonderful northern taigaforests where the likelihood is that snowwill be covering the ground. Reindeer sledis a popular form of transport here, and itwould almost seem appropriate for FatherChristmas to suddenly appear along oneof the forest roads! A surprising number ofbirds choose to remain in these foreststhroughout the harsh winter months andnow, with the unmistakable signs of springall around, the new season is celebratedby courtship displays and the beginning ofsong. Three-toed Woodpeckers will be oneof the birds we will be hoping to find, alongwith Siberian Tit, Arctic Redpoll, andCommon, Parrot and Two-barredCrossbills. Although perfectly adapted tosurvive the rigours of the climate, many ofthese northern birds also appreciate ahelping hand from humans, and gardenbird tables in the villages are as popularwith the local birdlife as they are in Britain.As we continue north along the Arctichighway into Norway, we will pause atsome of the roadside feeding stations and hope to obtain close-up views of thevarious species coming to supplementtheir diet at the bird tables. The handsomeSiberian Jay is one of the most adaptableof the taiga inhabitants and quick to takeadvantage of any free meals, oftenbecoming remarkably confiding in suchsituations.The trees are gradually replaced by opentundra as we cross Varanger Peninsula tothe small fishing port of Vardo where westay for two nights. Fringed by thickets ofMountain Birch, the blue waters of VarangerFjord and the surrounding tundra representone of the most accessible examples ofArctic habitat on the mainland of Europe.Arriving at the shores of the fjord our initialimpression will be of the sheer numbers ofsea-duck bobbing offshore, a viewconsolidated on the following day as wescan through the rafts of Common, Kingand Steller's Eiders, many of the malesenergetically performing their courtshipdisplays. The crooning calls of the Commonand King Eiders fill the air and mingle withthe cries of nearby Long-tailed Ducks, themales resplendent in summer plumage.White-billed Divers are occasionally seenploughing through the waves like pocketbattleships, their ivory-coloured beaksgleaming in the morning sun, whilstinquisitive seals interrupt their fishing topeer at us. When we have absorbed thesights and sounds of the inshore waters,and weather permitting, we will board asmall boat to visit Hornøya Island which isan important seabird breeding island in thefjord. Brünnich's Guillemot, one of thespecies of most interest to Britishbirdwatchers, is numerous here, but thereare also a thousand pairs of Puffin, plusbreeding Black Guillemots, Razorbills andGuillemots - five members of the aukfamily all found on the one island. A hugeKittiwake colony adds to the spectacle andGlaucous Gulls may be present amongstvast, noisy colonies of Herring and GreaterBlack-backed Gulls. Returning to shore, wewill look out for one of the local White-tailedEagles soaring above the fjord and later inthe evening there may be spectacular freeentertainment, as the flickering lights of theAurora Borealis illuminate the night sky, atrue Arctic conclusion to our stay in thismagical place.All too soon, it will be time to return toIvalo, but travelling through the gloriouswinter scenery of the peninsula there willbe plenty more birdwatching opportunitiesas we pass roadside Ptarmigan, WillowGrouse and perhaps the occasional SnowyOwl or Arctic Fox. A long established GyrFalcon eyrie merits a diversion along theway and the sight of these big northernfalcons gliding over the tundra will be anenduring memory of our early spring visitto this fascinating region, where mainlandEurope merges with the Arctic. Norway's Varanger Fjord A 5-day birdwatching tour to the Varanger Peninsula at the northern tip of Europe in search ofSteller's and King Eiders, Gyr Falcon and other Arctic birds.Monday 18th March - Friday 22nd MarchCost: £1,995Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Ivalo.Day 2/3Varanger Fjord.Day 4Ivalo.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy birdwatching walks.FocusBirds.LeaderAri Latja or Toni Eskelin.Single room supplement£150. Web quick search: NOR04100Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryNORWAYRUSSIAFINLANDVARDOLAKEINARIJAVIIVALOVARANGERFJORDPine GrosbeakSteller's EidersVardo, Varanger FjordWhite-billed Diver

101Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Oulu.Day 2/3Oulu.Day 4/5Kuusamo.Day 6Ivalo.Day 7/9Varanger Fjord andvicinity.Day 10Ivalo.Day 11Fly London.Accommodation Comfortable tourist hotels, all withprivate facilities.Food All included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy birdwatching walksonly. Focus Breeding birds of the taiga forests,fjords and Arctic uplands.LeaderAri Latja or Toni Eskelin.Single room supplement£395.Web quick search: NOR03NORWAYRUSSIAFINLANDLAKEINARIJAVIIVALOKUUSAMOOULUVARANGER FJORD Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationNorway & Finland - An Arctic SpringAn 11-day holiday to enjoy the breeding birds of the taiga forests, spectacular fjords and Arctic uplands of Finland and Norway.Thursday 9th May - Sunday 19th May Cost: £3,395The extremely popular Naturetrek tourto northern Finland each Easter,which we have run for many yearsnow, visits this beautiful country at a timewhen the frozen Arctic wilderness iswaking from a long winter slumber andgreeting the beginning of a new spring. Sixweeks later, the transition into summer hasprecipitated one of the great Europeannatural history spectacles as a myriad ofplants, insects, birds and mammals seekto take advantage of the lengthening daysand milder weather to reproduce and raiseprogeny. With an urgency engendered bythe shortness of the Arctic summer, newlyarrived migrant birds waste no time inestablishing territories and laying eggs,whilst each day new plants burst intoflower to add colour to the northern spring.It is with great pleasure therefore that wereturn, during this late spring to earlysummer period, to savour the sights andsounds of this vibrant season with anexciting tour which embraces the very bestbirdwatching locations in Arctic Finlandand Norway.Our holiday begins with a flight fromLondon to Oulu (via Helsinki), a town onthe north-eastern shore of the Gulf ofBothnia. Oulu is surrounded by extensiveboreal forest in which live many of the highArctic birds most sought after by Britishbirdwatchers, in particular the owls. Whilstowl numbers fluctuate from year to year,the breeding species here include Eagle,Ural, Great Grey, Tengmalm's, Hawk,Short-eared and Pygmy Owl, offeringplenty of scope for our 'owling' activities.Black Grouse, Capercaillie and bothThree-toed and Black Woodpeckersfeature among the other residents of theOulu area and we will also visit LiminkaBay, Finland's most important wetlandarea, where a host of waders andwaterbirds may harbour a few surprisemigrants whilst local attractions includeCommon Crane, Terek Sandpiper andCitrine Wagtail.Next, we drive eastwards from Oulu,through a picturesque landscapeblanketed with forests and studded withlakes, to the small town of Kuusamo wherewe stay for two nights. Situated close toboth the Russian border and the ArcticCircle, Kuusamo's wild taiga forests offersome superlative birdwatching, withSiberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Pine Grosbeak,Two-barred Crossbill and Rustic Buntingbeing amongst the eastern specialities tolook for. With luck we may also find a Red-flanked Bluetail, a veritable gem of a birdwell worth the effort entailed to reach thehillside forests where the electric bluemales proclaim their arrival with bursts ofmelodious song. Not far from the town isthe magnificent wilderness of OulankaNational Park. Lying close to the ArcticCircle, Oulanka contains a wonderfullydiverse range of habitats that includesvast expanses of ancient taiga forest,deep valleys, bogs and meadowsextending over 270 square kilometres ofland along the Oulankajoki River. A dayspent in this pristine national park will befilled with many exciting bird observationsand we hope to also glimpse some of thepark's mammals which include Reindeer,Elk, Beaver, Red Squirrel and Pine Marten.From here we drive north to Ivalo, inFinland, where we stay for a night beforecontinuing to Varanger Fjord. Leaving theforests behind, we enter the great 'fellcountry' of Arctic Norway, an undulatingterrain of bare hills which overlooks bogsand lakes where the exquisite Black-throated Diver breeds. Fringed by thicketsof Mountain Birch, the blue waters ofVaranger Fjord and the surrounding tundrarepresent one of the most accessibleexamples of Arctic habitat on the mainlandof Europe. This is the haunt of divers,Steller's and King Eiders, White-tailed Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snowy Owl,Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Long-tailedSkua, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit,Shorelark and Snow Bunting whilstexploration of the surrounding tundra andthe salmon-rich Teno River should producecolonies of Arctic Terns, various breedingwaders, and maybe a glimpse of the localpair of Gyr Falcons. Weather permitting,we will take a boat trip to visit one of theoffshore seabird islands which containgreat colonies of Kittiwakes, Shags, and auks, including numbers of Brünnich'sGuillemots and Puffins. The spectacle of these noisy, bustlingseabird islets is matched the following dayby the wildness of the scenery as wefollow the peninsula from Vardo toHamninberg, the furthest point of theEuropean mainland where pristinebeaches and sheltered bays contrast withstretches of dark bogs and tundra,populated by song-flighting waders. The frenetic pace of the Arctic summer will continue for several more months but,after drinking our fill of this annualspectacle, it will sadly be time to retraceour steps to Ivalo where we catch a return flight to London.Great Grey Owl Red-flankedBluetailBlack-throated Diver