Did you know that Finland is one of the best places in Europe for birdwatching? Follow us as we go birdwatching in Liminka Bay with an exceptional guide; Jari Peltomaki, one of the world’s best wildlife photographers.
The landscape of Liminka Bay
The Liminka Bay viewing tower surveys a wide, flat landscape. A shallow sea, surrounded with reeds and pine forests. Brightly-painted cabins built on tiny islands. Cows wade from one grazing field to another, ducks paddle away, tiny dots barely visible in the distance.
Then, something happens. The ducks are disturbed, take off all together in a frenzy, flutter for a few hundred meters then land back in the water. “It was probably a bird of prey” says Jari Peltomaki, a local wildlife photographer, one of the creators of the Liminka Bay protected area and our guide for the day.
“Look, that is a marsh harrier” says Jari, pointing at something that looks like a quick flash of brown to my untrained eye. I peer in the scope and in the binoculars that the Liminka Bay centre lent me, but unfortunately the bird is gone.
Ducks are easier to spot. There are several species, courtesy of the fact that the Gulf of Bothnia, where Liminka Bay lies, is not a true sea. Its waters are brackish; it is on its way to becoming an inland lake, when it will become possible to walk from Finland to Sweden as a result of land uplift.
Birdwatching with Jari
“Pintail, widgen, teal, mallard, shoveler, coot, greylag goose, bean goose…” Jari repeats, like a mantra. Waterfowl are only part of the amazing array of birdlife that populates the area. Some of the species found in the Liminka Bay area include the bittern, a secretive bird with a very peculiar call (Jari described it as sounding like blowing in an empty bottle), the curious-looking ruff with its prominent neck-feathers and the elegant black tailed godwit, Liminka’s special bird.
In September, a great crane migration takes place, with more than 6000 birds feeding in Liminka’s waters. The Liminka Bay area is also a popular place to see owls, with eight species inhabiting the area. Jari shows us one of his photographs; a portrait of a great grey owl, with his wings spread open. “Wildlife photography is not a matter of wandering into the forest and taking pictures of what you see” says Jari, before showing us a coffin-looking hide, one of several he uses to shoot his award-winning pictures.
Jari’s wildlife photography secrets
Wildlife photography is a lonely endeavour. A story of love for nature, a life of early wake-up calls and days spent stuck in tiny hides in uncomfortable positions, in the bitter cold or boiling heat. There’s a lot more to those amazing Wildlife Photographer of the Year shots. Preparation, patience, endurance. To get his great grey owl shot, Jari spent days waking up in the early hours in the morning, even in the winter when the temperatures are well below zero. His partner thought he had fallen in love with the owl. “Well, maybe I did, a bit” he jokes.
Jari’s career as a wildlife photographer stems from his passion for birdwatching. He first visited the area in 1984, attracted by the varied and abundant birdlife. However, birds were frequently hunted and the survival of some species was being threatened. Hunting is a popular pastime in Finland, especially in remote areas. Of course, the hunting brigades were less than supportive of his plan to make Liminka Bay a protected area.
Wildlife photography, ecotourism and conservation
The Liminka area in Western Finland, and indeed much of the northern half country, is also the habitat of large carnivores, such as wolves, lynxes and wolverines. Yet, not many people think of Europe as a wildlife destination, and – perhaps as a result – conservation still has a long way to go, compared to other places that base a considerable part of their economy on wildlife and ecotourism.
Wildlife photography can raise awareness on conservation. Ecotourism plays a crucial part in that; not only should it bring revenue to be invested back into conservation, but also it should benefit the local community, to educate people in conservation. In India, for example, without tourists there would be no tigers left. “A living bear is much more valuable than a dead one” Jari says. After all, you can only shoot an animal once with a rifle, but you can shoot it hundreds of times with a camera.
“If it were up to me, I would ban hunting altogether” says Jari, before wishing us a safe trip. “Finland could become a giant nature reserve”.
We were guests of Visit Finland as part of the #OutdoorsFinland blog trip. All opinions are our own.