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Often referred to as the 'Land of aThousand Lakes', Finland is one ofEurope's most wild and unspoiltcountries. This tour will take you far northof Britain, up to the westernmost part ofthe vast Siberian taiga forests and north tothe Arctic Circle itself. In April, the Arcticwilderness starts to awake after a very longand harsh winter; now the days are gettinglonger, the weather slightly warmer, and thebirds and mammals are beginning toprepare for the short and hectic breedingseason ahead. This is a very rewardingand spectacular time to visit Finland. Allthe resident species such as owls,woodpeckers, grouse, crossbills and bothSiberian Jay and Siberian Tit are presentand active, and the first of the springmigrants will be making their way north.The weather is usually clear and fine, thesun shines and there is ample time forbirdwatching. In the evening, as duskstarts to fall, the mixed and coniferousforests play host to displaying owls andafter dark there is even the chance ofcatching sight of the spectacular AuroraBorealis or 'Northern Lights', the naturallight phenomenon which is at its bestduring the dark winter and early springnights!Finland is the seventh largest country inEurope, yet is home to only five millionpeople. A staggering 70% of the land areais carpeted in forest and 10% of thatremaining is covered by lakes and ponds.This tour focuses on central Finland's vastand unspoilt taiga forests and is unusual inthe fact that it departs relatively early in theyear. For, whilst at this season some of thebreeding birds are unlikely to be seen, thisshortfall is more than compensated for bythose 'special birds' that are present, and by the breathtaking snow-coveredlandscape, a spectacle that later toursmiss! Our holiday begins with a flight fromLondon to Helsinki and then on to Oulu, atown on the north-east shore of the Gulf ofBothnia. The town is surrounded byextensive boreal forests in which live manyof the high Arctic bird species most soughtafter by British birdwatchers, in particularthe owls. The Great Grey Owl must surelybe the highlight of any trip to northernFinland, but alongside this magnificentspecies live Ural and Eagle Owls, plusTengmalm's and Pygmy Owls, their morediminutive cousins. Hawk Owls areoccasionally found sitting atop tall conifers,whilst Snowy Owls visit the more opencoastal areas from time to time. Along withthe owls, the forests hold Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Waxwing,Capercaillie and the elusive Hazel Grouse.On the coast, migrating wildfowl will betracking their way north, and in thesheltered bays and estuaries WhooperSwans and Goosander will be starting togather. A sudden flurry of wings mayindicate a passing raptor which, for the veryfortunate, may turn out to be a Gyr Falcon,a truly magnificent falcon and one thatoften winters along the Finnish coast.From Oulu we will head north-east througha snow-covered landscape of forests andfrozen lakes to Kuusamo, a small townclose to the Russian border. Kuusamo isapproximately four hours from Oulu and issurrounded by some of Finland's finestwilderness scenery. Here, amongst the oldgrowth taiga forests, bogs and lakes, wewill look for such sought-after species asSiberian Jay and Siberian Tit, Two-barredand Parrot Crossbills, Pine Grosbeak andof course more owls! Close to Kuusamo can be found themagnificent wilderness of Oulanka NationalPark. Lying close to the Arctic Circle,Oulanka contains a wonderfully diverserange of habitats that includes vastexpanses of old taiga forest, deep rivervalleys, magnificent waterfalls, bogs andmeadows, together encompassing an areaof over 270 square kilometres of landalong the Oulankajoki River. Spring willhave just touched this near-Arctic park andalthough much of the land will be coveredin snow, the birds should be activelysetting up territory. Whilst in Oulanka wewill look for such species as Waxwing,Capercaillie, Golden Eagle, Common,Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills, PineGrosbeak, Arctic Redpoll and, once again,possibly a few more owls. Reindeer are afairly common sight and, with luck, someof the other mammals that frequent thearea such as Elk (Moose), Arctic Hare,Pine Marten, Beaver and Red Squirrel maybe seen. We will also spare time to crossthe Arctic Circle, a necessity when soclose to this world famous latitudinal line.From Oulanka we will have to transfer byroad back to Oulu to catch our return flightto Helsinki and from there our connectingflight home.Finland - Easter on the Arctic CircleA long weekend in search of owls and other wintering and spring-time specialities of Finland.Friday 29th March - Tuesday 2nd April Cost: £1,595Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Oulu.Day 2Oulu.Day 3/4Kuusamo.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy day walks only.FocusBirds.LeaderAri Latja or Toni Eskelin.Single room supplement£195.Web quick search: FIN0152Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryRUSSIASWEDENOULUKUUSAMOHELSINKIGULF OFBOTHNIAGULF OFFINLANDARCTIC CIRCLEFINLANDGreat Grey OwlNorthern LightsSiberian Jay

This exciting 4-day tour, runningthroughout Finland's high summermonths, includes a 3-night stay at awonderful Wilderness Centre, lying in aquiet taiga forest along the Russian border.Here you have the option of spending oneor two nights in a specially constructed logcabin that has been designed as a bearhide. The departure dates listed above aresplit between two wilderness venues,Martinselkosen Wilds Centre and BorealWildlife Centre. Both are located in easternFinland, a stone's throw from Russia, andare surrounded by endless tracts ofuninhabited taiga forest, home to the fullassemblage of Europe's top predators:Brown Bear, Wolf, Lynx and Wolverine. Ever since our first visit to this region backin 2001 we have been amazed by thenumber of Brown Bears visiting the siteseach night. Up to 20 individuals have beenseen over the course of a single night atMartinselkosen Wilds Centre, sometimeswith 10 or more present at one time!Whilst fewer individuals are generally seenfrom the hide at Boreal Wildlife Centre,multiple Bear sightings are typical on mostsummer nights and both Wolf andWolverine are being recorded fairlyregularly here too! Being just south of theArctic Circle, this region enjoys virtuallycontinuous, 24-hour daylight during thesummer months and it is certainly lightenough to view the Bears throughout thenight, should you choose to do so.Watching the interaction and socialhierarchy of the Bears is fascinating. Hugestern males wander through from time totime scattering the smaller animals as theygo. By mid to late June the first mothersappear with their cubs (the cubs are bornduring the winter months and stay close totheir mothers for over a year), whilstplayful independent youngsters come andgo throughout the night and singlefemales forage timidly. During the courseof the night, all forage, scratch, climb,sniff, scrap and play - displaying all theendearing characteristics which makeBears and their cubs so universallypopular with humans! For most of the period of observation theBears are likely to be at 10 to 30 metres'range from the hide. However, at timesthey approach much nearer and a close-up view of an adult Brown Bear is a never-to-be-forgotten highlight of the tour.Although nothing is guaranteed in theworld of wildlife-viewing, we have anexcellent chance of seeing thesemagnificent creatures, provided thatsilence is observed within the hide.As well as afternoon and night-time Bear-watching from the hide, you will have thechance to walk amongst and enjoy theforests, mires, small lakes and brooks ofthis peaceful and remote region, either inthe company of your guide, orindependently. On the small lakesamongst the forest Black-throated andRed-throated Divers breed; Rustic andeven Little Buntings may be found by thelakesides and around the mires, whilstdeeper in the forest you may encountersuch specialities as Black and Three-toedWoodpecker, Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit.There are few species of diurnal raptors inthis part of Europe but, by keeping an eyeskyward, Honey Buzzards should be seen,and there is always a good chance ofseeing a Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk,Goshawk or Hobby. In the heart of theforest, resident Capercaillie, Black Grouseand Hazel Grouse are shy and elusive, butthose that are quiet and patient enough may be rewarded. Whooper Swans, Red-breasted Mergansers, Goosanders andCommon Cranes are other denizens of thenorth that may be found breeding on theFinnish lakes and mires, though they arenot necessarily to be found in the vicinityof either Wilderness Centre. The moreobliging and sociable bird groups of theseFinnish taiga forests are the northernthrushes (including breeding Fieldfaresand Redwings), tits and finches(Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin, Redpoll,Scarlet Rosefinch, Crossbill and ParrotCrossbill amongst others).Although the Brown Bears are our primaryobjective, many other mammals inhabitthe taiga and, although they are all shyand elusive (especially when there areBears in the vicinity!), such species as Elk,Wolverine, Wolf, Pine Marten and Beaverare also occasionally observed. NB. For those of you interested inmaximising your chances of seeingWolverine, we would recommend a 2- or 3-night extension to a 'Wolverine hide'close to the town of Viksmo. Thisextension can only be added to those ofour 'Finland - Just Brown Bears!' toursbased at Boreal Wildlife Centre. Pleasecall us on 01962 733051 for moreinformation and prices.Finland - Just Brown Bears!Join us for a long weekend (or mid-week) Brown Bear-watching holiday amongst the fine taigaforests that straddle Finland's border with Russia.Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationRUSSIASWEDENOULUWILDERNESS CENTREKUUSAMOHELSINKIGULF OFBOTHNIAGULF OFFINLANDARCTIC CIRCLEFINLANDOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Oulu and transferWilderness Centre.Day 2/3Brown Bear-watchingand birdwatching,Wilderness Centre.Day 4Transfer to Oulu and flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable wilderness guesthousewith shared facilities; overnightBear-watching from a log cabinwith reclining seats, mattresses andshared toilet facilities.FoodTwo main meals per day, plussnacks.GradingA straightforward wildlife tour withsome gentle walking to and fromthe Bear hide, plus optional walksfrom the guesthouse. Grade A/B.FocusBrown Bears, other mammals, birdsand general natural history.LeaderA local naturalist guide.Single room supplement£120.ExtensionsMany optional extensions forfurther exciting wildlife-viewing (e.g. Wolf and Wolverine) areavailable. Please call for our helpand suggestions.Web quick search: FIN0253European Brown BearsWolverineDeparture dates (Martinselkosen Wilds Centre):24th & 30th May; 6th June; 4th, 18th & 25th July; 1st & 4th August Cost: from £995Departure dates (Boreal Wildlife Centre):20th & 27th June; 11th July; 8th & 15th August Cost: £995N.B. Our 4th July departure is a specialist photography tour led by a UK tour leader and our 25th Julydeparture is for families with children.