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Black-bellied Dippers and Great Grey Owls

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I have recently returned from a trip to Finland, with Finnature (www.finnature.com) to photograph Great Grey Owls in the region of Kuusamo. I had been looking for this opportunity for a while, and it is not possible every year, as it obviously depends upon whether the owls are around. This depends largely on the vole population.
I had only just returned from Hungary, when I received an email from Finnature to say the Great Grey Owls were present. I then had to put some pressure on Nikon to sort out my D4 which had stopped working in Hungary, and I have to say they were fantastic. Then with speed I organised flights to Finland, and set off on Sunday 2nd February. The arrangements with Finnature were excellent, with communication, pick ups, transfers and accommodation all very good. I was also fortunate to have an excellent guide in Antti Peuna.
But what about the Great Grey Owls - where they still around? On the Monday morning we set of, with a Finnish photographer - Ollie, and drove around the area where they had ben seen, getting out frequently to scan the fields and trees. I knew I was looking for a large owl, but it was not until after looking for three hours that I saw my first ever Great Grey Owl, and then I knew just how large they are, with a wing span up to 6 feet. Having seen my first one it helped to know what to look for and shortly after I spotted another one perched in a tree at the side of the road. The first one had flown away before we had even stopped the car, but on this second view I was able to grab some record shots from inside the car.
I always say that my three objectives, in order, are to see the bird, to take a photo, and finally to take a good photo. So two of three objectives achieved. But nothing else for the rest of the day.
The second day we were also joined by Mikko Hietanen, Finnish but he has lived in England for 15 years. We saw another Great Grey Owl within 30 minutes, and later that day, after trekking for 500 yards or more across soft snow up to our knees we got some further shots of a perched owl, but at some distance.
At the end of day 2 I was a little disappointed, and wondered if I was going to get the shots I really wanted of Great Grey Owls flying and hunting. We achieved this fairly early on the morning of the third day, but one flight only and in rather poor light. However, on the final day when I was joined by Hans and Thom, we found a very co-operative owl in a field a little away from the road. Within next to no time it had come in for the offered vole, and indeed for a second there were two owls together competing for the food. We stayed in the one place, in temperatures of minus 7C and in snow to our knees for 2 to 3 hours, but we were not cold as we had the pleasure of watching and photographing the same owl as it flew in on a further 6 or 7 visits for the offered voles. And indeed when we returned later in the day it came in for two more hunting episodes.
I went to Finland without any certainty of seeing the Great Grey Owl. The hard work over four days paid off with the fabulous experience of watching this large and silent owl hunting, and was fortunate enough to get a series of photographs. And in addition I was able to see 8 Black-bellied Dippers, a Muskrat, and a beautiful stoat in its winter plumage (although not a photograph unfortunately).
A successful trip with thanks to Antti Peuna and Finnature