This last month I’ve been up in Kilpisjärvi (northern Finland; in the province of Enontekiö) doing summer fieldwork. It was a great month, spent in a beautiful place, doing interesting work with lovely people – it was also a rather busy and exhausting month, hence the paucity of blog posts.

The view from our field site on the northern slopes of Saana mountain - only 25 minutes walk from the research station

I travelled up to Kilpisjärvi with Miska, taking the overnight train from Helsinki to Kolari (kolari = collision in Finnish; rather a strange name for a train station!). The train was comfortable and interesting – it’s a good way to travel if you have the time. We then drove the remaining 300 km north to Kilpisjärvi, where we were based at Helsinki University’s biological research station. The station was a good base – it had all the essential facilities: space for lab-work and data processing, good cook(s), lots of equipment, a drying room, two sauna’s… If you are travelling in the region, either as a tourist or a researcher, be sure to check out the station and what it has to offer.

A panorama of Kilpisjärvi lake from Saana mountain.

Working with four students we spent most of our time mapping out the distribution of the local vegetation one part of the Saana mountain- my first challenge was to learn the new flora. Many of the genera were familiar from my work on Marion Island (for example Poa, Cerastium, Sagina, Taraxacum, Plantago) and some I remembered from Abisko (Ranunclus glacialisBistorta viviparum, dwarf Salixes), but there were also some completely new species (like the miniature Veronicas and Antennarias). You can see more photos of the areas plants here. We also had some vertebrate visitors to our sites – lots of reindeer, as well as a few lemmings (it is apparently a peak year for these little rodents here), and a stoat (probably hunting lemmings). I really enjoyed seeing all these plants and animals in the field – and equally enjoyed seeing reindeer on my plate (it is delicious with lingonberry jam!).

Antennaria dioica (mountain everlasting) was often one of the smallest plants in our study plots - beautiful up close.

These reindeer kept a close eye on us one afternoon - we often saw small herds from our study sites

 

The mosquitoes and the weather turned out to be a second challenge – but fortunately when the one was bad, the other was not a problem (since the mozzies were only abundant on warm and wind-still days). When we first arrived mosquito clouds followed us around on the warm days and nights – I was very glad for the netting that Brigitte had stitched together to fit over my hat. By the end of the month the mosquitoes were much less abundant, being replaced by little biting midges.

Look who was my assistant for a few days!

A panorama of some of the local mountains - can you
spot the patches of snow that were still there from
the previous winter?

 

Ja, weather conditions varied a lot during my time there. We had a few really hot days at the start of the month (it was tempting to take a swim in the rather cold lakes), and some very chilly and breezy days towards the end of my stay. There is a web cam at the research station – so you can check out their current weather conditions here. If you are interested, you can check out forecasts for the area at yr.no (the Norwegian weather service) or fmi.fi (the Finnish weather service) – both gave fairly accurate predictions over two days.

 

Birding was good – while the density of birds was quite low, all of the species were interesting. Not many individuals hung around long enough for close inspection, so some of my identifications are a bit tentative… Nonetheless, my favourites included the Common Redpoll and Bullfinch (both spotted at the research station’s bird feeder), many Bluethroats, two Hawk Owls, the beautiful Siberian Jay and a few flocks of the stunning Rock Ptarmigan. I also had glimpses of some Merlins (a very small falcon), one Golden Eagle, some Ring Ouzels and a Crossbill (it was too quick to distinguish the species). And during a quick trip to Norway (which Brigitte will write about) I was treated to some Red-throated Divers and a big flock of juvenile and female Eiders. Strangely – I guess – one of my birding highlights was hearing the European Cuckoo, despite not spotting any of the calling birds. It sounds just like the cuckoo clock (you can play it’s call here)!

  
 

I’m sure I’ll find some other photos worth posting (and I’ll definitely remember more that I want to say about the trip!), so this post is likely to have a part two some time…

 

A 360-degree view from the path between Iso-Malla and
Pikku-Malla (iso = big, pikku = small) - one of the nicest
days of the month, despite the ominous clouds.

 

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