Day three in Sweden was to see us taking quite a long drive further north onto higher ground and the southern part of Lapland. I must say that I am never too sure where Lapland begins, as different maps I have looked at suggest different borders. The area we were to enter was spectacular but to me it did not have the feel of the Lapland we had explored in Finland and Norway in 2016, but the area was no poorer for that. Although a long drive, we had several stops and an interesting visit to Fulufjallet National Park and an unexpected guided tour by a local gentleman of the old Church at Sarna built in 1684. I must check to see if Linnaeus visited this church on his Lapland tour. I have a book by Wilfred Blunt (brother of spy Anthony Blunt) concerning the life of Linnaeus which was certainly worth reading, but I can’t recall if this church was mentioned. Interestingly it did suggest that Linnaeus made exaggerated claims about part of the area of Lapland that he said that he had covered. The book suggests that it had been impossible in the time limits. Anyway, whilst my focus was of course on birds and wildlife I do think attention needs to be given to other aspects of areas visited, as that is what travel is all about.
Early on our trip north we had nice sightings of Black Throated and Red Throated Divers, Red Breasted Mergansers and Velvet Scoters. Waders seen during the day included Lapwing, Common Snipe, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper and we had a very good sighting of Dipper on one of the rivers.
Our stop at Fulufjallet National Park used up a few hours and I do remember that it had a very interesting visitor centre showing individual species within their habitat. This was very nicely set out. The information leaflet on the birds was not quite so well done and had a picture of a Dipper which looked more like a Razorbill. Oh well I’ve seen worse in some bird guide books. The national park includes the tallest waterfall in Sweden, Njupeskar. We walked a couple of Kilometres through an area of bog and Scots Pine and Spruce Taiga Forest to a good viewing point where we had a distant sighting of Gyr Falcon on the nest. Some walked to higher snow-covered ground and had a much better view of the Gyr Falcon and found Ring Ouzel. I didn’t climb higher, but eventually walked back down towards the visitor centre and found a Siberian Jay and listened to bubbling Black Grouse. I was later told that Black Grouse are now rare in this area. Brambling was also found.
Later on, the journey we stopped for a good sighting of female Capercaillie and at some point, watched Willow Grouse. We eventually arrived at our hotel at Funasdalen where we were to spend the next three nights and which was as far north as we were going. The room was very cold as was the air outside, but after a very nice dinner the heating had gone on and things warmed up no end. I really enjoyed the stay here and there was a real homely welcome to the place. We weren’t done yet and after dinner we left to view a Great Snipe Lek or at least that was the intention. Unfortunately the weather had closed in, it was now damp, cold and windy on the high ground. I confess I wasn’t unhappy that things were called off and we returned to the hotel and called it a day. The Great Snipe weren’t going anywhere.
Day four had arrived and we were to head off for a walk on the high tundra plateau of Flatruet. Our outward journey was to prove rewarding with Sam finding us from the van a stunningly marked Icterine Warbler. A pair of Whooper Swan was also found with snow and ice in the background and a bright sun overhead. Even more exciting was the finding of a Golden Eagle eyrie high up on the mountainside. The female bird was there with young and then the male bird flew in with captured prey. Exciting minutes and we were to see four Golden Eagles today.
Once at the plateau it was on with gumboots and extra layers for the exhilarating walk which brought us some very good sightings. Amongst birds seen we can include a long fly past by a male Hen Harrier, a Ruff lek on a high mound as well as individual Ruff on the frozen pools, a pair of Long Tailed Duck, a brief sighting of Red Necked Phalarope, Willow Grouse, a fly over Wood Sandpiper, the call of Whimbrel, Long Tailed Skua on their breeding site and Lapland Bunting. You can add to this small herds of Reindeer. As in Finland last year I was reminded that there are no wild Reindeer in Sweden now, but sightings of the feral ones were no less welcome and they did seem to find us interesting too. The walk was quite tiring and involved the negotiation of some semi frozen streams. The atmosphere was wonderful and it was true wilderness.
Sam on the tundra
After a late lunch, there was time for a little exploration but you had to be very careful where you put your feet as a few of us found out when we sunk into mud and water under what looked like sold snow. Perhaps I exaggerate a little and let’s just say we got our feet wet. On the drive over high ground we found Dotterel and the photographers amongst us had a good opportunity to take some close-up images. Rough Legged Buzzard and Merlin were also seen. We had time for a bit of relaxation before dinner. Although there was plenty of action on this trip we never felt rushed and were always given time to get our thoughts together. We were to be in action again this evening following dinner as we were this time off to the Great Snipe Lekking site and on this occasion conditions proved to be ideal.
In stark contrast to the previous evening the sun was up, the air calm and relatively mild as we set of in gumboots up the small incline over wet ground to the Great Snipe Lekking ground. We had been immediately rewarded with the sight of Black Grouse in the trees and then by a wonderfully marked Red Fox which watched us from a distance as it showed so well in perfectly clear light before it suddenly vanished before our eyes, as Foxes are so inclined to do. Some expressed thoughts of Wolf or Lynx had soon departed, it was a Red Fox. It didn’t take too long before we reached our positions and we were able to alert the senses to their full extent. Neither did it take too long before we began to hear the rather strange clicking and popping of the Great Snipe. Sighting them on the tundra ground was altogether a different matter. Then gradually one, two, three displaying Great Snipe appeared, running, strutting, challenging, jumping and flashing those white tail feathers. Great Snipe numbers were soon into double figures. As we watched surrounded by snow-capped mountains and as the sun lowered in the sky leaving a red glow in its wake, a Cuckoo called from a distance, Black Grouse bubbled and two Common Cranes called as they flew in and landed not far from us. The air began to cool but I don’t think anyone really noticed, although a few layers were added instinctively. Minds were firmly set on the lekking display. Time passed us by quickly as the silence was broken only by the natural sounds around us, and soon midnight was approaching and it was decided that we best make off towards the hotel and our beds. What better way to end the day than to listen in now fading light, to the singing Bluethroat, the Swedish nightingale of Linnaeus. Sam and I agreed later that this had been one of our top nature experiences ‘ever'. Sleep came easily tonight.
Slavonian Grebe (female)
Slavonian Grebe (male)
It was now day five and before returning to the plateau we took a walk to look for Siberian Jay without success on this occasion, but a Redstart was amongst birds we did see. Further along our route to the plateau Whooper Swans and at least five Bluethroat were found. Later the van suffered a puncture and a team effort (that I watched) ensured it was fixed. but not without some struggles.
Later in the morning we arrived at a lake to find nesting Slavonian Grebes. I’ve never had nor do I think I will ever again have such a good sighting of Slavonian Grebes. They were sitting on four eggs and performed very well for us. The images can do the talking. Some had lunch and some of us didn’t bother but we all took a walk later and found an Osprey on the nest, rather more distant than the Slavonian Grebes. A Cuckoo was watched as it wandered around the lawns of one of the buildings and we found many Brambling today and Golden Eagle again. Then it was time to try for Siberian Jay again and we timed it wonderfully and it seemed they had been waiting for us. I seem to remember watching at least four Siberian Jays at length and again there was good opportunity for the photographers.
Rather than become repetitive I’ll now jump to our after-dinner drive. There was a wonderful sunset this evening and we found much of the area flooded from snowmelt. Sightings included Merlin, Roe Deer, European Elk and Mountain Hares, one of the latter species being especially friendly and providing a photo opportunity. I heard that a Pine Martin had been seen but we missed that. It was a good way to end the day and we headed back to our rooms for our final night in the uplands, maybe to dream of the days to come. Part three to follow.