We collected our hire car @ 1200 and drove to Tampere. No sign of recently present Hawk Owl near lake edge but several Magpies, Fieldfares and the odd Waxwing noted. A large accipiter over an industrial estate was considered by SME & RT to be a male Goshawk, but SJMG didn’t have good enough views to say it wasn’t a Sparrowhawk. A superb male Sparrowhawk flew over the car at Jyvaskyla en route north. Heavy snowfall had prevented us from pushing on to get to Kuusamo for our first night so drove until 2130 when stopped at Scandic Hotel in Kajaani.
Day 2. Left Kajaani @ 0500 and headed for Kuusamo. Arrived Kuusamo @ 0900; after a brief stop for fuel and directions we set off the 16km to Sossonniemi. On arrival at this tiny isolated village no sign of the Azure Tit, but common feeder birds included 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Northern Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Great Tit, Blue Tit and a distant Raven. Olli Lamminsalo arrived at 1030 – still no sign of Azure Tit so @ 1200 RT and I accompanied him 5km to nearby woodland. On arrival a Pygmy Owl imitation was enough to produce 8 Willow Tits, a male Three-toed Woodpecker and 6 superb **Siberian Jays**. Whilst at this site, Olli took a call on his mobile regarding a new Azure Tit at Niitelys, 110km north of Kuusamo and only 20km south of the Arctic Circle! We headed there as soon as we could but the bird was not seen for 20 minutes prior to our arrival, it had presumably gone to roost. Only birds of note here 4 Willow Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. With this negative news came another blow – the Azure Tit at Sossonniemi had returned to the garden at 1500 and was feeding actively until dusk, we now had to decide where to be at dawn. Eventually we decided on Sossonniemi. Night in Kuusamo – overnight temp -29°c!
Day 3. Woke at 0630 and out by 0715, car started first time despite-29°c temperature. We arrived at Sossonniemi just before dawn and to our relief the **Azure Tit** showed well together with a newly arrived trio of House Sparrows, nearby c60 Ravens flew out of roost and overhead, ‘cronking’ as they went, followed a few minutes later by c15 Northern Bullfinches, nasally calling as they passed over. RT was starting to lose any feeling in his feet and it was time @ 1000 to move on. We stopped once again at the small wooded area and 4 Siberian Jays performed in the car park. I thought I’d give a Pygmy Owl whistle which produced a lively flock of Willow Tits and a single **Siberian Tit**, readily identified by the matt brown crown. We bid Olli farewell and headed to the 220km SW to Vaala for a long-staying Hawk Owl, en route SG spotted 3 grouse feeding over the road in overhanging Birch buds; three female Black Grouse in fact! About 10 minutes later SG again spotted a grouse overhanging the road, this time it was a stunning male Hazel Grouse which promptly took flight as we turned the car round. Arrived at Vaala, met Eero Kemila and headed to see the Hawk Owl, which duly obliged but didn’t come in for a vole as we had dearly hoped. Also several Willow Tits here on the feeder. Drove to Oulu, stayed in Best Western Apollo.
Day 4. Met at dawn by Finnature’s Harri Taavetti. Drove to woodland site for Siberian Tits and asiatica Nuthatch but no sign of either. Nice Red Squirrel in his grey winter coat. Nearby we drove to check feeders which produced several Mealy Redpolls, 4 Northern Bullfinches and another Azure Tit! Pine Grosbeaks and Waxwings showed incredibly well before we had to drag ourselves away, via a quick walk on the frozen Gulf of Bothnia and some great opportunities for snowscape pix. Departed Oulu at 1230 and after a leisurely drive south, arrived Tampere Airport at 2100.