This issue's theme: Finland, 2007. Winter in Finland can be a cold affair, but around the Oulu area there is plenty of wildlife to take one's mind off the cold. I spent a few days in the Oulu region of central Finland in February, and was rewarded with some photographs of very nice birds. The Finnish nature photographers, in this case led by Finnature, have constructed blinds (or "hides", as they're called in Finland, at strategic feeding sites for various bird species. These blinds allow very close viewing of several hard-to-find birds.
Driving from Oulu to Vaala, about 80km, I began to understand the character of the Finnish landscape. Wide, open spaces of frozen ground is the general rule. While there are many forests, the open landscapes are quite dramatic. This year (2007) had less snow than usual, with even an earlier period in the winter with freezing rain -- a very unusual occurrence. This freezing rain caused significant damage to the forests with downed limbs and trees seen everywhere.
I met my guide in Vaala, and as is typical of the people of Finland, he was quite accommodating. He invited me to his home to meet his wife, and we enjoyed visiting for a short time before I was shown my accommodations for the next three nights. I was scheduled to stay at an "artist's residence", which is a house rented primarily to artists in residence. It turned out to be a very nice house, and I thoroughly enjoyed the evenings looking out onto Lake Oulu from the warmth of the study.
Golden Eagle. The golden eagle is an impressive bird. With a wingspan of up to 200cm (83"), it clearly is the dominant predator among these woods. Even if the ravens were massed, once the eagle spread it's wings to fly from the perch, the ravens scattered. There were a few squirmishes between two Golden Eagles, but never with a raven. The talons of the Golden Eagle are thought to be stronger than the fingers of the human hand and arm.
From the blind, we had unobstructed view of the Eagles. As the eagles came to feed, they were pestered by ravens wishing to take some of the spoils.
Northern Hawk Owl. The Hawk Owl can be found from northern North America throughout northern Eurasia. It will perch at the top of very tall trees, and can spot prey as small as a vole (or small field mouse) from distances up to 800 meters (1/2 mile). Breeds in boreal forests of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia.
The Hawk Owl would catch a vole, carry it to a tree and perch for a few minutes while holding the vole with one talon, then fly away to it's nest site (which I could not see) to stow the vole away for another time. Then the Owl would return to a convenient perch to continue watching for additional prey.
Siberian Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker. In addition to the raptors, we were able to see a Siberian Jay and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Both are plentiful in Finland; however, the Siberian Jay has declined somewhat in numbers recently due to loss of habitat. Our blind for these two sightings was an empty hunting cabin in the forest, with removable windows.
What a convenient and comfortable blind! The Finns certainly know how to accommodate photographers. These birds came to the feeder without calls; we were at the blind for less than an hour and had several visits from both birds.
More images are available on my web site, at http://www.victorsteel.biz in the Galleries.
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