If you are a keen nature lover and want to find owls in Finland, your best option is to join a pöllöretki (= “owl trek”). A pöllöretki will probably take the form of visiting a few locations during and after sunset and listening for owls – since most of the owls start calling during late winter and early spring it may be a cold experience for those not accustomed to birding in the snow! While in central Finland with Miska in March (blog posts here and here) I had the privileged of being invited along on a pöllöretki around the village of Palonurmi. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos (too busy looking for owls…), but you can click on the links below to visit websites with relevant photos.
From a birding point of view it was a very successful trip, with Pertti, a local birding enthusiast, taking us to his best locations for seeing Great Grey Owls. At the first site he showed us the spots where the owls had recently been hunting – it was possible to make out the imprints the owls leave on the soft snow when trying to catch their prey… but not luck with spotting the birds themselves. We drove on a little further and, after walking closer to the forest edge, Pertti spotted a single Great Grey Owl sitting high up in a tree on the edge of the clearing. We admired the owl for afar for a long before moving further down the road where we spotted another three Great Grey’s… and then another two! As the sun started setting the owls became more active and I watched one individual swoop down onto the ground twice – it was too far away to tell if it was successful, but judging by the abundance of this owl in the area I guess they must be catching enough voles and mice to survive well!
We were then joined by two other local birders who arrived with warm drinks, pies and korvapuusti for everyone – along with Pertti they shared lots of great stories of the birds and animals of the area – wolverines walking through their yard, wolves spotted in the village’s main street, white-throated dippers everywhere. We then spend the next hour or two driving around and listening for owls – at most stops we heard nothing, but were rewarded with a Eurasian Eagle-Owl calling at one site. We also heard Tengmalm’s Owl twice in the distance with its distinctive call.
Just as amazing as the owls, though, was the hospitality and warmth of the three locals who showed us around. Helsinki can some times be a bit of a inhospitable place, but these three birders exemplified how friendly Finns really are. It was a great first pöölöretki and I thank Pertti and his friends warmly for such a fantastic experience!