This section covers the lake region of eastern Finland, an area with great
natural beauty and some outstanding birding. Several of the best sites covered here are all within short
distance of the Russian border and the best known is Siikalahti near Parikkala. This wetland is considered the
most important birdlake in Finland and has impressive numbers of breeding birds of many interesting species.
Breeders here include Horned Grebe, Spotted Crake, White-backed Woodpecker, Great Reed Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler.
Other wetlands covered in this section are Päätyenlahti near Kitee, lake Tohmajärvi and Sääperinjärvi near Värtsilä. Värtsilä is above all famous for the regular occurence of rare, eastern warblers; Booted Warbler is increasingly common here in June and has bred and there are also frequent observations of singing Lanceolated Warblers here. The area just north of Sääperinjärvi has proven to be the best for these exciting warblers. Less known to foreign birders is that the Värtsilä area can also be very good for watching the migration of geese and raptors and there is an interesting fall migration of passerines through this area with good numbers of Red-throated Pipits and Rustic Buntings.
Linnansaari NP is covered because of interesting birds and this lake national park also has a great mammalian speciality in the form of an endemic subspecies of Ringed Seal. Nearby Punkaharju is world famous for its scenery and is very popular for people on the tourist trail, but does also hold some interesting birds.
This section does also cover Pyhä-Häkki NP more to the west. This is a tiny national park, with some very old forest holding a number of taiga species normally not encountered this far south. This includes four species of grouse and several species of owl. Even Great Grey Owl breed here some years. More southerly species here include Greenish Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher.
Patvinsuo National Park lies in northern Karelia. This region is very important for mammals, particularily the large carnivores of Finland, all of which can be seen here with some effort. Trekking through these wilderness areas you should encounter several species of grouse and raptors and in spring/early summer you will see or hear numerous breeding waders. By walking the short Autiovaara trail you also stand a chance of seeing several interesting birds, including Red-flanked Bluetail and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Two-barred Crossbill also belongs to the possibilities.
Siikalahti wetland is renowned as probably the most valuable of all the Finnish birdlakes and certainly a locality that the visiting birdwatcher simply cannot miss. This reserve that covers 400 hectares is for a large part dominated by high and dense reedbeds and these reeds are holding the densest population of Eurasian Bittern in Finland. Another characteristic species of the reedbeds are Western Marsh Harrier, Spotted Crake, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Common Reed Bunting. The last years even Little Crake is breeding regularily at Siikalahti, as the only site in Finland for this
species, and Baillon's Crakes are seen (or rather heard) some years.
A number of demanding wetland species also breed in Siikalahti, some in good numbers. These include Horned Grebe, Northern Shoveler, Garganey and Common Pochard. A far more common bird is the Black-headed Gull with a breeding population of appr. 500 pairs, and between these there are a few Mew and Little Gulls and Common Terns. Hunting Western Ospreys are regularily seen over the bay.
The wetland is surrounded by lush herb-rich forests with a very rich bird population. One of the most characteristic species here is Thrush Nightingale (about 40 pairs!), and other birds you might hear here, particularily during the early hours, are Eurasian Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Icterine Warbler. Eurasian Golden Orioles are also common and Eurasian Woodcocks are often seen in display flight.
Yet another very good bird many people will be looking for here is the White-backed Woodpecker. A regular breeding site is the island just in front of the bird tower, and some patient scanning might reveal one. Also Lesser Spotted Woodpecker breeds here and can often be seen in the shoreline vegetation.
One star attraction at Siikalahti in the past was Yellow-breasted Bunting, and although this bird has disappeared completely from Siikalahti and the rest of Finland the last years, it should still be seen as a distinct possibility here; who knows?
In the following I will provide information about the various parts of Siikalahti and what birds you might find there.
Forest around visitor center:
A trail leads from the carpark to a visitors center through a lush broadleaved forest (a few hundred meters). Common birds you will hear here early in the summer include Thrush Nightingale, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Common Rosefinch. A very important bird to look for in this forest is the White-backed Woodpecker, which apparently breeds here. The best time for this shy bird is in the spring where it can easily be detected drumming or calling, in the summer it can be a little bit more tricky as they are mostly silent.
Near the visitors center is a birdtower where you have a view over the lake.
From the visitors center a boardwalk leads further into the reserve and to another, better birdtower (about 700 m). This boardwalk crosses a marsh before leading into another wooded area. This marsh is the best place to listen for Spotted Crake, while the woodland should again be checked carefully for the White-backed Woodpecker, which can sometimes be seen here. From the tower itself you can check the lake for Red-necked and Horned Grebes, various wildfowl, Little Gull etc. From the tower you also have a view over to an island directly to the south; White-backed Woodpecker can sometimes be seen on this island (but you'll need a telescope for this). Birds you can hear in the reeds around the tower include Spotted Crake and Water Rail, and some years even Little Crake.
From the main birdtower the trail continues for another few hundred meters to a birdhide. From here you have excellent, close views to a small colony of Common Terns. Other waterbirds you can see here are Horned Grebe, Eurasian Wigeon, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and Common Goldeneye.
By continuing on the main road past the carpark you soon come to a small bridge crossing the inlet of Siikalahti; here is an observation platform where you have good views over the northern part of the lake. The same wildfowl can be seen here as from the birdtowers and the hide, and this is apparently a good spot for Horned Grebe. In the reeds on the northern side of the road I have had Great Reed Warbler and from the observation platform you can scan the area for Western Osprey, Western Marsh Harrier and Eurasian Hobby, all of which are fairly common.
East of the lake:
Thickets in the surrounding vegetation should not be neglected as this is where you might find Blyth's Reed Warbler, among the more numerous Common Grasshopper and Marsh Warblers. The best place for these appears to be the lush vegetation to the east and south of Siikalahti (easily reached by car). In this area you should also hear Corn Crakes and other interesting birds here are hunting Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Common Rosefinch. Ortolan Buntings are sometimes also heard singing here.
Birds at Siikalahti
Great Crested Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eurasian Bittern, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Western Osprey, Western Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Hobby, Spotted Crake, Water Rail, Little Crake, Corn Crake, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Common Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Black-headed Gull, Little Gull, Mew Gull, Common Tern, Long-eared and Short-eared Owl, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Whinchat, Thrush Nightingale, Eurasian Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Common Rosefinch, Ortolan Bunting and Common Reed Bunting.
Near the car park is an information center, the Siikalahti Nature Information Hut (Siikalahden Luontotupa) open between April and October.
You don't need any permits to bird Siikalahti, but inside the reserve you are not allowed to wander off the trails. Please adhere strictly to this rule.
Food and accommodation:
The nearest food and accommodation is to be found in Parikkala. In and around the nature reserve there is nothing, not even a café or kiosk.
Parikkala is 59 km to the northeast of Imatra and some 60 km to the southeast of Savonlinna.
Getting to Siikalahti from Parikkala is straightforward; from the main road (6) turn to the east at crossroad
signposted with KAUKOLA 4 (immediately after you should see another signpost SIIKALAHTI LINTUJÄRVI 3). Follow this
road for about 3 km and you should see the Siikalahti car park to your right. At the car park is an information
center where you can get the latest news and from here there is a path leading to the bird tower (about 750 m).
If you want to check the areas to the east and south of Siikalahti, you can continue on the main road to Kaukola (about 800 m) and from here follow the road for another 2,5 km. Any promising areas should be checked for Blyth's Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Corn Crake. At the end of this road you can turn to the right onto Kannaksentie and you have access to the open areas to the south of Siikalahti. You can also follow this road back to Parikkala.
The village of Värtsilä and its surroundings is best known for rare, eastern warblers, that can most often be heard during the night. There are several records of Booted Warbler from Värtsilä and even Lanceolated Warbler has be seen and heard here on several occasions. The fields and meadows around Saavikko has been the best place for these two rarities. The Blyth's Reed Warbler is fairly common around Värtsilä and in fact hard to miss here in June (up to 50 in the best years) and other common nightsingers are Thrush Nightingale and Common Grasshopper Warbler. Corn Crake is quite common in suitable habitat (Spotted Crake also possible, but far less common) and another interesting birds that are common here are Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Ortolan Bunting.
Lake Sääperinjärvi does hold some good breeding birds, including Horned Grebe, Garganey, Western Marsh Harrier and Spotted Crake, but the lake should also be carefully checked for rare migrants (Black Tern is fairly regular and there are several records of Marsh Sandpiper and even rarer migrants). It should be noted though, that the area can also be good for migrating geese and raptors, particularily in the spring. The migration of White-tailed and Golden Eagles start early (March/April) albeit in rather low numbers. One month later the numbers of migrating raptors pick up, particularily with warm southeasterlies. The absolute numbers are never spectaculair (a few hundred at most), but there is good variation in species. Black Kites, Spotted Eagles (both species) and rare harriers (Montague's and Pallid Harriers) are seen with some regularity. The numbers of geese are likewise good, but not spectaculair; it seems that most geese migrate further to the southeast, i.e. over Russia. Nonetheless flocks of resting Anser geese are frequently seen, most are Taiga Bean Goose, but Greater White-fronted Geese are not uncommon. At the end of May the numbers of migrating geese increase, but they are mostly seen flying over the Värtsilä area, the most numerous Anser goose at this time is the Tundra Bean Goose (1000+ on the best days). At the end of May also thousands of Barnacle Goose can be seen in a day, again mostly seen flying over.
The fall migration is mostly quieter than the spring migration, particularily wrt raptors. Geese can be seen
migrating over Värtsilä, sometimes in impressive numbers (tens of thousands), but this is strongly weather
dependant, and thus hard to predict. The best days are days with a northeasterly wind from end of September to
the end of October. The first to appear are the Taiga Bean and Brant Geese, and later in the season Greater White-fronted and Barnacle Geese. A very good bird that can be found in the fields, particularily around Saavikko, is Great Snipe. The best time for this enigmatic species is early September. August - September can also be good for migrating passerines, and the most interesting species at this time are probably Red-throated Pipit, Lapland Longspur and Rustic Bunting, all of which are relatively common here then.
The winter is of course quiet, still the situation is not completely hopeless. The flocks of Common Redpolls are worth checking for possible Arctic Redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings are numerous in October-December. But the most interesting birds here in the winter months are the owls. Northern Hawk-Owl is seen here nearly every winter and the last years the Great Grey Owl has become increasingly common. The area around Saavikko is particularily good for Great Grays and several individuals can sometimes be seen hunting here. From March you can hear displaying Boreal and Ural Owls and Eurasian Pygmy Owls in the surrounding forests, as well as standing a chance of finding Hazel Grouse.
It should be noted that Värtsilä has a huge potential for rare migrants, particularily eastern vagrants; both in the summer as during the migration seasons.
What follows is a brief description of some of the best areas around Värtsilä.
There is a birdwatching tower at the southwestern shore of Lake Sääperinjärvi. Although you have good sight to the western parts of the lake, this might not be the best place to scan the lake. Possibly a better vantage point is a little bit to the east, along the southern embankment. Here you can scan the lake for waterbirds, the shore for waders and you have a good view for visible migration. On good days you might see hundreds of Tringa waders here and sightings of uncommon waterbirds, like Black Tern, are frequent. Rare birds are sometimes also seen here (occasionally the mega-rarity) and there are several sightings of birds as Marsh Sandpiper and Richard's Pipit. The Marsh Sandpiper even bred here one year.
The Saavikko meadows to the west and north of Lake Sääperinjärvi have long been the most important place for night-singers around Värtsilä. The most common species are Corn Crake, Thrush Nightingale, Common Grasshopper Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler; Marsh Warbler and River Warbler are much less common, but mostly seen/heard annually. There have been several sightings of singing Booted and Lanceolated Warblers from Saavikko.
In the past the Saavikko meadows to the north of Sääperinjärvi were the best places around Värtsilä for Yellow- breasted Bunting. This bird has since disappeared altogether from Finland, but if visiting Värtsilä in June this should definitely be something to keep in mind!
Saavikko is also probably the best place to find Great Snipe in this area; both displaying birds in the spring and migrants in the fall. The birds are often hiding in the grass fields and can (with difficulty) be found here. You should show great sensitivity here, though. Never walk on the fields without the explicit permission of the ground owner, as this has lead to some very unpleasant situations in the past (walking along the ditches should be OK).
This area is the most popular among Finnish birdwatchers for watching the visible migration through this area. There is an impressive birdtower here from where you can scan the skies for migrating raptors and geese. The surrounding meadows and fields can also be very good for resting geese, waterbirds and waders, certainly when the fields are partly flooded. Several raptors can also be seen hunting in this area and in the past this has included Pallid Harrier and Red-footed Falcon. Other rare birds recorded here are White Stork, Richard's Pipit, Black Redstart, Lanceolated Warbler and Azure Tit.
White-backed Woodpecker is said to be regular in the vegetation around the tower, particularily in the winter.
To the west of the river is another small lake, known as Uudenkylänlampi, that can be worth checking. One inhabitant of the reeds here is the Eurasian Bittern. The lake can also be good for waders and ducks, but there are no really good vantage points where you can check the lake. During migration seasons you are probably better off checking the fields to the south of the lake. This is another place that can be good for resting geese and waders.
Another area that you should check are the fields at Niirala, cramped between the main road (9), the Värtsiläntie road and the Russian border. The fields in this area, like Uudenkylä, holds numerous geese and raptors and good birds found here in the past include Lesser White-fronted Goose, Pallid Harrier and Citrine Wagtail.
Please note that the border area is very sensitive and you should only bird from the roads here. Don't walk into the border zone (which is well marked with obvious signs) as this will get you into serious trouble!
Birds at Värtsilä
Boreal and Ural Owls, Eurasian Pygmy Owl and Hazel Grouse all breed in this area, but I have no specific information.
Horned Grebe, Garganey, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Western Marsh Harrier, Corn and Spotted Crakes, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Thrush Nightingale, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Ortolan Bunting.
Great Snipe (spring/fall), Northern Hawk-Owl (winter), Great Grey Owl (winter), Horned Lark (fall), Thrush Nightingale, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Booted Warbler (rare), Common Grasshopper Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler (rare), Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Ortolan Bunting.
Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose, Greater White-fronted, Barnacle and Brant Goose, White-tailed and Golden Eagles, Common and Rough-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Bohemian Waxwing, Red-throated Pipit, Common and Arctic Redpolls, Lapland Longspur and Rustic Bunting.
Taiga Bean Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose.
No permits are needed to bird around Värtsilä, but be careful not to trespass privately owned ground or to damage crops.
The heavily guarded border zone is another matter; all along Finland's eastern border is a border zone, and this is a very sensitive area where you are not allowed unless you have a special permit. Its maximum breadth on land is three kilometres and the outermost limit of the zone is marked in the terrain using yellow signs, yellow rings painted on trees or yellow plastic tape attached to trees.
Food and accommodation:
There is not much of accommodation to be found in Värtsilä, your sole option is the Sinilintu B&B (Address:Värtsiläntie 432, 82655 Värtsilä). Several people that have stayed here report the owners of this place as exceptionally friendly.
If you want higher standard of your accommodation your nearest options are in the village of Tohmajärvi (see below)
From the main road (number 6) going north from Imatra and Parikkala turn right onto Purtovaarantie road (number
9/490) and follow this for 32 km. Turn left onto road 500 a few km before the border crossing at Niirala (signposted
ILOMANTSI 75, TUUPOVAARA 47, VÄRTSILÄ 4). For Sääperinjärvi; follow this road for 5 km and park in lay-by next to the road; here you see an information board and a well marked trail to the tower (about 750 m).
For Saavikko, continue on road 500 for another 300 m and turn right onto Ilomantsintie road. The Saavikko fields are the fields around this road for the next 2 km.
Uudenkylä is the center of Värtsilä (not much more than a few houses, mind you). When coming from the south on the 500 road, take the last road to the right before the bridge and park at the end of the road. You should see the birdtower to the left from the carpark. Again, show some sensitivity on private property here, the local farmers will not be amused by a bunch of birdwatchers walking on their ground!
For lake Uudenkylänlampi, cross the bridge and take the first unsurfaced road to the left. Follow this for 300 m and park your car here. Continue on foot for about 100 m and over a dam and you should see the lake/pond to the right.
The Niirala area is to the right when you turn off the main 9/490 road and drive north towards Värtsilä. The best area is the fields to the east of the road about 1,5 km from the junction.
The Tohmajärvi area is above all good for finding nocturnal birds, like Blyth's Reed Warbler and River Warbler. The former is locally very abundant, but also the River Warbler can be seen and heard here with relative ease. Other common night birds here are Corn Crake and Spotted Crake, with findings of both Little Crake and Baillon's Crake in some years.
A very good spot for the Blyth's Reed Warbler is the road leading down from Tohmajärvi village down to the birdwatching tower at the lake shore. In good years dozens of birds can be heard along this short road! For the other nightsingers there are no sites that are consistently good between the years, but a good strategy would be to drive on the road surrounding the lake and stop at places with suitable habitat. This strategy might well produce the River Warbler as well as Corn and Spotted Crakes.
The birdtower can also be productive for waterbirds, particularily in spring, and on some days good numbers can be seen resting on the lake or migrating through. The area should also be scanned for birds of prey, with regular sightings of Western Marsh Harrier and Western Osprey, while White-tailed Eagle and Short-eared Owl are also frequently seen. Really good birds seen from this tower in the past years are Steller's Eider and Pallid Harrier.
Another interesting birds in this part of the lake are Black Woodpecker and Greenish Warbler; the former is said to be regular at a cemetery near the birdtower and the latter in the hills between the tower and the village.
Another site covered here is Päätyenlahti some 20 km to the south of Tohmajärvi. This site is easy to visit if coming to Tohmajärvi from the south.
Päätyenlahti is an inlet of lake Kiteenjärvi situated just north of the town of Kitee. This is a very good birdlake where you can see interesting birds with little effort. The best time of year is at the end of the spring/early summer, when all the breeding birds have arrived, but with the last northbound migrants still lingering. Birds you can see from the birdtowers here then include Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Common Pochard, Long-tailed Duck, Smew, Western Marsh Harrier, Spotted Crake and Little Gull.
Birds around Tohmajärvi
Whooper Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Common Pochard, Long-tailed Duck, Smew, White-tailed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Western Osprey, Corn Crake, Spotted Crake, Water Rail, Short-eared Owl, White-backed Woodpecker (winter), Black Woodpecker, River Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler and Greenish Warbler.
Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Whooper Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Common Pochard, Long-tailed Duck, Smew, Western Marsh Harrier, Spotted Crake and Little Gull.
Food and accommodation:
There is a small selection of hotels, appartments and B&B's in both Tohmajärvi and Kitee. There are also a couple of small restaurants in both towns.
Both Tohmajärvi and Kitee can be reached via route 6 from the south or the north. If coming from the south ignore exit onto road 486, but continue for another 7 km and exit the highway onto road 487 (signposted KITEE). This exit is about 88 km north of Parikkala.
There are three vantage points for Päätyenlahti. The first is a birdtower at the northern end of the inlet: After exiting route 6 follow road 487 for about 3 km and turn left onto Lahdentie road and follow this for 2,4 km. Here is a minor road to the right which you can follow for about 600 m down to the tower.
For the second tower follow the 487 road for another 2,6 km (almost to the junction with road 486) and turn left onto Vesilinnuntie road and follow this to the end (where it becomes Nokikanantie). This is in a residental area where you can park and a track leads to the tower.
The last vantage point is the bridge over the inlet, i.e follow the 487 road to the junction with 486, turn left and you have the bridge after 1 km. Find a suitable place to park and scan the waters from the bridge.
For Tohmajärvi you can either continue on the 486 road for 18 km from Kitee or exit route 6 onto route 9 leading to the Niirala border crossing. This road passes Tohmajärvi village.
To get to the birdtower at the lake shore and the church turn south onto Kauppakatu street from the main roundabout in the centre of the village. After about 200 m follow this to the left at a Y junction where it becomes Kirkkotie road and follow this road for 4,2 km. Here a small road leads down to the water; follow this for 400 m, park here and walk down to the tower. The church is another 1,3 km down the Kirkkotie road.
For the exploration of the lake surroundings you can follow route 9 for another 8,3 km (as measured from the main roundabout) and turn right onto road 4883 (signposted KORKEAKANGAS 17). Explore the area driving around on these minor roads and make frequent stops at suitable habitat.
Punkaharju is a 7 km long ridge separating lake Puruvesi and lake Pihlajavesi and is a famous national
landscape protected as a national reserve. The best part of Punkaharju birdwise is the Laukansaari island where there
is a forest research park open for visitors. In this research park there are more than one hundred tree species
introduced from other parts of the world, and in the Swiss Pine (Arolla Pine) forest there is a small population
of Spotted Nutcrackers of the Siberian subspecies macrorhynchos. Other good birds seen in this part of the island
in the past have included Blyth's Reed Warbler, Greenish Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher.
In the northern part of Laukansaari, known as Kokonharju, is an old natural forest, where you might see typical forest species as Western Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Northern Goshawk and Black Woodpecker. In the darkest hours of the summer nights you should hear spinning European Nightjars. Gosney mentions in his excellent booklet that he has had Ural Owl here on two visits here. The typical species of this habitat are very abundant here: Common Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher. Other birds on the island are Tawny Owl, Icterine Warbler and European Greenfinch.
Checking the open waters and shorelines should reveal Black-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. If you are here in May you should also be able to see migrating arctic ducks and waders.
Birds at Punkaharju
Black-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Northern Goshawk, Western Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Ural Owl, European Nightjar, Common Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Black Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart, Icterine Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Spotted Nutcracker (ssp. macrorhynchos) and European Greenfinch.
On the Kaarnalahti Bay and Lake Valkialampi shores there are commonly bite marks left by beavers and during quiet evenings hikers may even see an actual Canadian Beaver (Castor canadensis). Also the Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) and the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) have been seen in the ridge area.
There is a modern forest museum on Laukansaari (Suomen metsämuseo). Not only do they have interesting exhibitions at the museum, but they also have guided tours of the arboretum and other natural attractions on the island.
Food and accommodation:
There is a small selection of hotels and holiday resorts on or near Laukansaari. The accommodations closest to the arboretum and the old confiferous forest are Punkaharju Resort and Hotel Kruunupuisto.
You also have some possibilities on Vaahersalo island immediately to the southwest of Laukansaari, including a B&B and camping (Majoitus Hepokatti) and a cheap hotel (Hotelli Rantakatti)
Punkaharju is 25 km to the north of Parikkala and can be reached on road number 14 (Punkaharjuntie road) from
Särkisalmi just north of Parikkala. Road 14 goes along the Punkaharju ridge and further northwest to Savonlinna.
Coming from Parikkala you drive through most of Punkaharju ridge until you get to Laukansaari in the northern part of the ridge. Here is a signpost for the research park (PUISTOMETSÄALUE). You can park here and explore the area on foot, or drive on some of the several minor roads just north of the main road.
For Valkialampi and Kaarnalahti take the minor road 4792 south from the Laukansaari island (signposted HARJUALUE, VAAHERSALO 3). Kaarnalahti is the first bay to the right after about 1 km and Valkialampi is the small lake to the right a few hundred meters further on.
Linnansaari NP in the middle of Lake Haukivesi, a part of the greater Saimaa lake
complex (the largest lake in Finland), represents Finnish lakeland at its best. The national park consists
of some 130 islands, of which Linnasaari island is the largest. During the summer, there is a daily boat
service between Oravi and Linnansaari island and likewise there is a daily boat service between Rantasalmi
Not only the beautiful landscape makes this national park worth a visit, but also some very interesting birds and mammals. The most important of these is probably the Saimaa Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida saimensis), a subspecies of the Ringed Seal which is endemic to lake Saimaa. Around Linnasaari island there are about 60 seals and you actually stand a fair chance of seeing one here.
For the birdwatcher the most sought-after birds here are probably the Ural Owl and White-backed Woodpecker. A good place to look for these, as well as other forest birds, is from the two nature trails on Linnansaari island (7 km or shorter version, 5,5 km). Here you might also hear a Greenish or Wood Warbler or Common Rosefinch, all of which breed here. A frequent sight over the forest is of a Eurasian Hobby hunting insects. Checking the waters around the island you might find Black-throated Loon and Common and Red-breasted Merganser. A bird that you will probably not miss here in the summer is the Western Osprey; the breeding population in this general area is the densest in all of Finland.
Birds in Linnansaari NP
Black-throated Loon, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Western Osprey, Eurasian Hobby, Ural Owl, White-backed Woodpecker, Greenish Warbler, Wood Warbler and Common Rosefinch.
The Saimaa Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida saimensis) is a subspecies of ringed seal. They are among the most endangered seals in the world, having a total population of only about 310 individuals. The only existing population of these seals is found in Lake Saimaa of which the waters of Linnansaari NP are a part.
The national park had a visitor center in Rantasalmi, but this was unfortunately closed in 2015. The services it used to provide to visitors are now handled by an information centre in Savonlinna (Saimaa Nature Centre).
One company that specialises on showing tourists and mammal watchers the Saimaa Ringed Seal is Trillivikla. The best time to see this endangered seal is May - June and again in August - September.
In summer there is a daily boat service to Linnansaari island, either from Poronsalmi or Oravi. This service is done by Saimaa Holiday Oravi, please see their website for the most current schedule and prices and for additional services they provide.
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Linnansaari island is to take the boat from Oravi. Boats to the island can also be arranged from Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän, but this is a more expensive option and there is no regular schedule. Järvisydän can, however, arrange guided trips in addition to the standard boat trip. This includes Saimaa Ringed Seal safari's.
Food and accommodation:
There is a small camping (Sammakkoniemi Camping) on Linnansaari island and this includes 5 small cabins.
In Oravi village there are also some options for an overnight stay, including a hotel and some rather upmarket villas. Contact Saimaa Holiday Oravi for details about the accommodation options in Oravi and the camping on Linnansaari island.
There are a number of small hotels and holiday resorts in and around Rantasalmi. This includes Hotelli Rinssi-Eversti centrally located in Rantasalmi and the more upmarket Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän outside of town (at Porosalmi, conveniently the departure point of one of the boat trips to Linnansaari island).
To get to Oravi from Savonlinna, follow main road 14 eastwards for about 3 km and turn left when you see sign Enonkoski, road 471 (junction of super market Prisma). Drive 5 km and turn left onto Juvolantie road (number 468), follow this to the end (23 km) and turn left onto Tappuvirrantie. Drive 9 km and turn right onto Kiramontie road. The address of the boat operator is Kiramontie 27, 58130 Oravi.
Rantasalmi can be reached from Savonlinna on roads 14 and 464. From Savonlinna follow road 14 westwards and turn right onto road 464 (Parkumäentie road) after 24 km. After about 19 km you get to Rantasalmi.
When coming from Juva (to the southwest of Rantasalmi), take road 14 until Hiisimäki intersection and turn left onto road 467 (Rantasalmi is signposted).
To get to Porosalmi and the second departure point to Linnansaari island, take road 464 north out of Rantasalmi and turn right onto Porosalmentie road (unsurfaced) after about 7 km. Follow this road for less than 3 km to Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän.
Pyhä-Häkki National Park is one of the smallest National Parks in Finland, located in a sparsely populated area surrounded by forests. Pyhä-Häkki has untouched old-growth forests and trees of great age and can easily be explored on short, well-marked trails: Riihineva trail (1,4 km), Mastomäki trail (3,2 km) and Kotajärvi trail (6,5 km). By walking one or more of these trails you should get a good impression of what the park has to offer. Old forest species you might see are Western Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan, Northern Goshawk, Ural Owl, Boreal Owl, Eurasian Pygmy Owl, Black Woodpecker, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Siberian Jay. In good vole years Great Grey Owls might visit the national park, and in some years they even stay to breed.
Although many of these old-forest species are wanted by many, they are difficult to find; unfortunately I do not have any specific information about exactly where to find them. The area with the oldest and most pristine forest, however, is around the Mastomäki trail. This part has apparently never been logged and the forest is for a large part very old, and the oldest trees here are more than 500 years of age.
Characteristic species of the national park are Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart, Goldcrest, European Pied Flycatcher, Eurasian Treecreeper, European Crested Tit and Willow Tit. By carefully listening to the avian chorus in the forest you should also be able to pick out a singing Greenish Warbler and if walking here very early in the morning you even have a small chance of hearing a Red-flanked Bluetail, which has been recorded here on a few occasions.
When visiting this very nice national park, don't forget to keep an eye open for various mammals you migth find here; see below for details.
Birds in Pyhä-Häkki NP
Western Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan, Northern Goshawk, Ural Owl, Great Grey Owl, Boreal Owl, Eurasian Pygmy Owl, Black Woodpecker, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart, European Pied and Red-breasted Flycatcher, Goldcrest, Eurasian Treecreeper, European Crested and Willow Tit, Siberian Jay, Common Chaffinch and Brambling.
Elk (Alces alces) does occur in the park, but is not frequently seen. You have a better chance of seeing some smaller mammals in this national park. You might for instance see Pine Marten (Martes martes) in the park and another real possibility is the Russian Flying Squirrel (Pteromys volans). The Flying Squirrel is mostly nocturnal, being most active late in the evening, but a female wiht young might also feed during the day. To detect its presence you should anyway look for its droppings, which resemble orange-yellow rice grains and are often found beneath their nest.
Other small mammals in the park are the inhabitants of the moss beds which are rarely seen but are just as important as any other animal. The Bank Vole (Clethrionymus glareolus) and the Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) are a significant part of nature’s cycle and the food chain. The most beautiful inhabitant of the moss bed is the Wood Lemming (Myopus schisticolor) which can be distinguished from the area’s mice and voles by its stubby tail and ears and the slate-grey fur.
Food and accommodation:
You are not allowed to camp inside the national park itself, but if you intend to do extensive tracking in this area there is no problem to camp outside the national park. One option is to follow the trail to Tulijärvi where there is a shelter. Fortunately there are also several options for food and accommodation in the nearby towns of Viitasaari and Saarijärvi.
Coming from Jyväskylä, follow the main road 4/E75 northwards, about 6 km before the town centre of Äänekoski (38 km north of Jyväskylä) turn left onto the main road 13 and follow this for about 28 km to Saarijärvi. From the main road 13 in Saarijärvi centre there are signs to Pyhä-Häkki National Park. Turn left onto Kannonkoskentie road (route 648) and after 250 m turn left again and drive under the main road. Turn right after 1 km onto the Viitasaarentie road (route 6510) and follow this for 22 km to the parking area of the park which is on the left side of the road (Viitasaarentie 2119, Saarijärvi).
When coming from Oulu in the north on the main road 4; about 4 km after the town centre of Viitasaari turn right, onto road 77 towards Kannonkoski. Drive 10 km and then turn left onto the Vourilahdentie road (route 6510) towards Saarijärvi. Follow this for 25 km until you get to the parking area of the National Park, on the right side of the road.
The Patvinsuo NP, together with some nature reserves immediately to the east of the national park, is one of the largest wilderness areas in the southern half of Finland. The avifauna is charachterized by an interesting mixture of northerly taiga species as well as birds with a more southerly distribution. The northern species are Willow Ptarmigan, Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Siberian Jay, Bohemian Waxwing and Brambling, while the southern species are represented by Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Winter Wren, Dunnock and Wood Warbler.
Breeding birds in the vast marshes include Red-throated Loon, Whooper Swan, Taiga Bean Goose and Common Crane, while in the old forests you might very well find Western Capercaillie, Black Grouse or Hazel Grouse.
The best trail in the park appears to be the trail to Teretinniemi. This is a 3,5 km walk on a duckboard trail leading to a birdwatching tower; from this tower you have excellent view over the bogs. Birds you can expect here are Whooper Swan, Taiga Bean Goose, various ducks including Smew, Common Crane, European Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and Ruff. Hunting birds of prey you might see include Western Osprey, White-tailed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Eurasian Hobby, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. Walking through the forest to the tower you should listen carefully for the song of the Red-breasted Flycatcher; not anywhere as common as European Pied Flycatcher or Spotted Flycatcher, but certainly possible here. On a visit here in June 2014 I had a singing Little Bunting in the last stands of pine before the birdtower (this is well to the south of the normal breeding range of this species in Finland).
Another very interesting trail is the short, circular trail at Autiovaara. This is a short trail (3 km), but quite a reliable site for Red-flanked Bluetail and this is another part of Patvinsuo NP where Red-breasted Flycatcher is fairly common. If you want to see or hear the Bluetail, you should start very early in the morning (practically in the middle of the night).
Birds in Patvinsuo NP
Red-throated Loon, Black-throated Loon, Whooper Swan, Taiga Bean Goose, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal, Smew, White-tailed Eagle, Western Osprey, Hen Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Hobby, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Willow Ptarmigan, Western Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Common Crane, European Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Ruff, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Winter Wren, Dunnock, Bohemian Waxwing, Wood Warbler, Greenish Warbler, European Pied Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Siberian Jay and Brambling.
Autiovaara nature track :
Hazel Grouse, Winter Wren, Red-flanked Bluetail and Red-breasted Flycatcher.
The desolate wilderniss of Patvinsuo NP holds a healthy population of Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) and droppings or tracks are frequently seen. Unfortunately it is much harder to spot a live bear in the wild as they are mainly nocturnal. Your best bet would be to walk or drive through this area at dusk or (in mid-summer) in the middle of the night.
Also the wolf (Canis lupus), the lynx (Lynx lynx) and the wolverine (Gulo gulo) are regularly seen in the park. These are more easy to find in the winter months when they leave their marks in the snow. During summer the elk (Alces alces) frequent the mossy treeless mires in search of food. Wild forest reindeer (Rangifer tarandus fennicus) are also occasionally sighted. Today, around 20-30 Canadian beavers (Castor canadensis) inhabit the park (introduced to this area in 1945) and their burrows and dams can be found in almost every stream.
Like all of the Finnish national parks there are no entrance fees for the visitors, and like most there are no special permits needed. The only restriction in Patvinsuo NP is that you are not allowed to walk on the bogs outside of the boardwalks in the period 1/3 to 10/7 and the area around lake Hietajärvi has some additional restrictions.
There is a nature information hut at Lake Suomunjärvi (Suomun Luontotupa), in the middle of the national park. The information hut is only open in the summer months (1/5 - 30/9).
Food and accommodation:
There is a room with 9 beds at the Suomujärvi information hut, including a simple kitchen. It is possible to hire single beds here, or the whole room. See Suomun Luontotupa for further details.
Within the national park you are allowed to camp, but only in designated areas (these are indicated on map above).
If coming from Lieksa (to the northwest of the national park) take road 73 and just south of Lieksa turn left onto route 522 (Hattuvaarantie road); continue along this road for 16 km and turn right onto Kontiovaarantie road and follow this for 22 km (from here on the road is unsurfaced). Turn left onto Uimaharjuntie road (road 5202) and then, after 350 m, the first to the right (Suomuntie road). Follow Suomuntie for 7,5 km and you should see a car park; the start of the Teretinniemi track to the bird tower begins here.
If going to Autiovaara, turn right onto Uimaharjuntie in stead of left, and follow the road for about 3 km and you should see the Autiovaara car park.
If you are coming from Joensuu (to the southwest of the national park) head north on the Kajaanintie road (road 6) and after 11 km take the exit toward Lieksa and turn right onto Lieksantie (road 73) after the exit. After 33 km you get to a roundabout, take the second exit onto route 5160 (Päätie road) and follow this for 15 km. Turn right here onto the Uimaharjuntie road (route 5202) and follow this for 18 km for the Autiovaara car park.