Day Three began with an early – though not quite as early as Day Two – drive back out to deep forest to look for Pygmy Owls. We found the nest box and Antti called for the male, with no response. I’ve seen Pygmy Owls twice before in Sweden and both times they reacted quite quickly to a whistle. We waited around for a while, eventually becoming distracted by a calling Hazelhen which sadly never appeared, before trying the owl call again. This time we noticed a tiny flutter up above our heads as the owl finally arrived and perched obligingly on a branch. It stayed there for at least ten minutes, watching us intently and silently, before relocating to a position where we could no longer see him. As we made our way back to the minibuses he finally began to whistle back.
We drove through more deep forest areas, seeing more Black Grouse, Capercaillie, a Cuckoo and a Woodcock, and then we stopped to look for Black Woodpeckers (at least one called back, but it was distant and didn’t approach us), before we moved on to a beautiful lake where we stopped for elevenses, and also to look at some toads. On the way we stopped because two Hazelhens were spotted briefly by the side of the road. Sadly for me, because of where I was sat in the second minibus, I was the only person on the entire tour who didn’t see either bird. After this it was back to the hotel for breakfast and to pack up for our own relocation to Kuusamo.
This is where the first little grievance of mine occurred. I’ve been trying – unsuccessfully – to see a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker for several years. In Serbia in the spring of 2012 half the group watched one on a dead tree trunk. As I neared it flew straight past my head and into a dense bush, but I didn’t really see anything other than a black-and-white blur. In the New Forest last year we heard one drumming at Blashford Lakes, but all we saw was a distant black dot flying away from us across the tops of the trees. Last year Jem and I located a nest tree in Bushy Park, but the birds never appeared while we were there. It’s my bad-luck bird. So, of course, as Jem and I were packing our luggage and preparing to check out, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker arrived amongst the trees by the car park. Most of the tour participants saw the bird, but it was gone by the time we arrived.
One woodpecker missed, but the resumed search for the Black Woodpecker was more successful. A jaunt out to a forest clearing brought us a couple of singing Common Redstarts as a warm-up, and then a very showy Black Woodpecker in and around its nesting tree. I’ve seen them before during both Sweden trips and they’ve always had a winter feel – but this was different as we watched the bird flying around in blazing sunshine and against clear blue skies.
The drive to Kuusamo was fairly uneventful. We stopped for lunch in a kind of transport cafe, and then stopped off to have our first look for Hawk Owls. Nothing was around at that location, but we kept our eyes peeled for the rest of the journey. We got excited by a small raptor perched on top of a conifer, but closer inspection revealed it to be a Kestrel.
After getting settled into our hotel we were back on the road. We briefly stopped by a Capercaillie lek site before next finding an area of farmland which played host to several White-fronted Geese. We checked them out carefully to see if there were any Lesser White-fronts amongst them. There was good debate about this, but Antti was adamant there weren’t. There was, however, yet another Short-eared Owl hunting towards the back of the fields.
Then it was on to look for Hawk Owls again at an area of higher ground. We could hear Bramblings nearby, although I didn’t see any myself, and there was a distant Rough-legged Buzzard soaring in the distance. Eventually Antti located the female Hawk Owl on the nest inside the top of a tree stump. She watched us carefully through one eye, and then a few minutes later we heard the make calling. Antti soon found him perched in a nearby conifer and led us round to watch. He didn’t seem too concerned by us and even let out a few yawns. For me, this was the highlight of the tour, and the second new species on my lifelist (#403).
On returning to the hotel we had a quick look over the lake behind it. There were distant divers and Goosanders, but the heat haze drifting across the water – even though a large amount was still covered with sheets of ice – made it impossible to really have a good look at anything. Then it was time for Reindeer stew for dinner.