Cruise to the Gulf of Bothnia, 21st May 2012 - 6th June 2012

For list of birds seen click here

I was a lecturer on the MV Quest for Adventure cruise ship on a cruise to the Gulf of Bothnia, accompanied by my wife. The Gulf of Bothnia, the stretch of water between Sweden and Finalnd, is is a destination rarely visited by cruise ships, yet this part of Europe offers the naturalist plenty of variety.

The cruise started and finished at Dover. The itinerary was as follows:-

Monday 21st May 2012

Depart Dover 17:00.

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

At sea

Wednesday 23rd May 2012

Skagen, Denmark. Arrive 11:00. Depart 18:30. I went on a trip to the tip of the Skagen, an area where water from the Kattegat meets the North Sea. The beach had several terns on it, and many were feeding just offshore. Later the trip visited ‘Eagleworld’ a bird of prey display centre. There were flying displays of Lammergeir, White-tailed Eagle, Peregrine and, best of all, Steller’s Sea Eagle – the world’s largest eagle, and a species normally found in the very far east, near Kamchatka.

Thursday 24th May 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark. Arrive 08:00. Depart 17:00. Here I went on  a canal boat trip to explore the city. There were one or two birds to see as we went along.

Friday 25th May 2012

At sea.

Saturday 26th May 2012

Turku, Finland. Arrive 08:00. Depart 13:30. Here, I had arranged to meet Harry and Henry Lehto. Both are excellent birders. We started on the nearby island of Ruissalo. Here we had good views of Thrush Nightingale, a new bird for me. After exploring this island a bit more we headed off back to the mainland where Henry had found a Black Woodpecker nest. En route we stopped at a bit of a clearing and found two Blyth’s Reed Warblers, seen well and in song – another new bird for me.

The Black Woodpeckers performed very well at the nest, feeding three nearly fledged young. This was a great experience, in lovely weather. All too soon it was time to return to the ship.

Sunday 27th May 2012

Vaasa, Finland. Arrival 08:00. Depart 17:00. Here, my wife and I had hired a car for the day. In glorious weather we drove around the area and ‘off the beaten track’. We found a couple of small lakes (in a country with thousands of lakes, this is not difficult) and on one we found several Horned (Slavonian) Grebes resplendent in breeding plumage. One bird allowed close approach on the nest. We also found four Whooper Swans, the national bird of Finland. There were many Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers around, and several Corn Buntings too. Fieldfares were very numerous and it was great to see them in their breeding habitat – we are mainly used to seeing them in the winter in the UK.

Monday 28th May 2012

Oulu, Finland. Arrival 08:00. Depart 22:30. This area is renowned amongst bird watchers. It is very good for owls – sadly I was not able to arrange a guide for some owls. My wife and I hired a car and drove south from the port to the famous Liminka bird reserve which sits on a wide bay. There are several stopping points on the bay with hides. However the highlight was the brand new visitor and reception centre – this has to be the best I have ever visited. A very well laid out display area and friendly staff. It had only been open a month. Here I met Jari Peltomaki, an expert bird photographer.

My wife and I visited several of the hides in the area. Highlights included Common Crane, White-tailed Eagle, Peregrine, and a single white-headed northern race Long-tailed Tit which, frustratingly, was only present for about 10 seconds then lost to view.

We returned to the reception centre at closing time (after a mad dash to repair a puncture in our hire car) in order to buy a couple of beautiful books with some of Jari’s photographs in and get a signed copy.

Tuesday 29th May 2012

Lulea, Sweden. Arrive 08:00. Depart 17:00. Just 65 miles south of the Arctic Circle, this was the northernmost point of the cruise. Lulea has a very remote feel to it. Indeed, this part of the Gulf of Bothnia freezes solid in the winter. Last winter it was particularly cold, and the ice had only melted about a week earlier.

My wife and I again explored the area by hire car. It was a quiet day birding, but the scenery was very beautiful.

Wednesday 30th May 2012

Umea, Sweden. Arrive 08:00. Depart 17:00. My wife and I again hired a car and had a very enjoyable day driving around the area. The weather continued to be good with a clear blue sky and moderate breeze. Highlights were some more Whooper Swans, Black Guillemot, Red-throated Diver and a pair of Beavers seen in a ditch. The best birds, however, were over 100 Little Gulls in summer plumage which were repeatedly flying along a small lake picking insects off the surface. The gulls approached very closely at times.

Thursday 31st May 2012

Hudiksvall, Sweden. Arrive 08:00. Depart 17:00. In Hudiksvall, my wife and I spent the day wandering around the town. The weather, which we had enjoyed since the first day of the cruise, broke today and we had drizzle and a cool wind all day. It was nice to find Redstart and Pied Flycatcher both singing in the local church yard.

Friday 1st. June 2012

Stockholm, Sweden. Arrival 08:00. Depart 21:00. Today the weather put a real dampener on proceedings. It rained heavily much of the day. We made the best of it and started with a visit to the Stockholm Natural History Museum. It is a delightful museum and the exhibits all seemed much more ‘alive’ than those in the London equivalent. The rest of the day was spent under cover on a canal cruise through the area. We finally finished up with a brief visit to the Photography Museum at the port. This was rather a disappointment with very little of interest.

Saturday 2nd June 2012

At sea.

Sunday 3rd June 2012

Warnemunde, Germany. Arrival 08:00. Depart 22:00. Today, we should have been on the Danish island of Bornholm. However due to a storm in this region of the Gulf of Bothnia, the captain abandoned the landing here and we find ourselves in Germany instead. On such occasions one must always make the best of things. The weather now was clear but with a strong breeze. My wife and I joined a trip to Ahrenshoop by coach where we joined a small boat for a trip on an inland lake. This was most enjoyable and we saw three White-tailed Eagles on the trip. We also saw Icterine Warbler and heard at least 2 Scarlet Rosefinches singing in the dunes. Overall a nice compensation for the cancelled visit to Bornholm.

Monday 4th June 2012

Transit Kiel Canal, Germany. Today was spent travelling along the Kiel Canal to the North Sea. It was a full day’s trip and by late afternoon we were in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands. There were some birds to see from the deck, and because we had land close on both sides when in the canal, we were even able to hear some land birds singing as we cruised along.

Tuesday 5th June 2012

At sea to Dover. An exciting part of today was when a coastguard helicopter asked to rendezvous with the ship to practice removing a casualty from the ship. It was dramatic stuff, and the down draught from the rotor of the helicopter had to be felt to be believed. All the time the ship was moving forward at about 10 knots in a smooth sea and perfect light. I imagined how much more difficult it could be in the winter in a stormy sea at night.

Wednesday 6th June 2012

Dover, England. Arrival (07:00) and disembarkation.