The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 677/A Walk across Lapland


By H.C. Playne and A.F.R. Wollaston.[1]

Once more again this year the 1st of August saw us on our way northwards, wishing indeed that we could have started three months earlier, but ready to make the most of the only time at our disposal. As we travelled over a considerable extent of country, it will be better not to give a list of all the species of birds we met with, but to write some account of what seemed to us of most interest.

From Trondhjem we went to Hammerfest, through fjords which abound in bird-life; but the deck of a steamer is not a good point of observation, for one is only able to have a passing glimpse of a bird before it is out of sight. Richardson's Skua, Stercorarius crepidatus, was abundant, and we had excellent views of many a chase which ended in an unfortunate Tern giving up its prey. Of Buffon's Skua, S. parasiticus, with its long tail, we only saw one. We spent a short time on shore at Hammerfest between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m., and though the days of the midnight sun were past, we saw two Dippers, Cinclus aquaticus, playing about the stones of a stream at 12.30 a.m. In the afternoon of the same day we landed at the head of the Alten fjord, and began our walk, which was to bring us over the watershed into Finland, and to the northern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia.

Bramblings, Fringilla montifringilla, were very numerous among the birch trees, and we could nearly always hear the callnote of Parus borealis. This bird has also a song quite unlike any song of P. palustris that we had ever heard. The Lapp Tit, P. cinctus, was often with his cousin, but he seemed a much more silent bird. These were the only Paridæ that we met with until we reached Tervola, half-way between Rovaniemi and Tornea, where a Great Tit, P. major, was seen searching a window-frame for insects. On a small lake not far from Alten was a Brent Goose, Bernicla brenta, with five young birds.

On Aug. 6th we climbed above the forest growth, and walked over the open fjeld, where the ground is partly covered with dwarf birch, and there are many lakes and swamps. Here were Redshanks, Totanus calidris, and Greenshanks, T. canescens, and other waders we were unable to identify. Golden Plovers, Charadrius pluvialis, were numerous, and their very melancholy whistle could be heard throughout almost all that country. We had the delight, too, of seeing Dotterels, Endromias morinellus, and three young birds in down. Not far from them was a Shore Lark, Otocorys alpestris, which seemed rather shy, and ran along the ground in front of us; we saw one more on the next day.

In the evening, at the stooe Suoluobme, a Wood Sandpiper, Totanus glareola, was shot. About the farms and hay-huts there was generally a crowd of Snow Buntings, Plectrophenax nivalis, so tame that they would run on the ground close to our feet. They were a pleasing substitute for the House Sparrow, a bird we did not see until we were thirty miles south of Kittila. Bluethroats, Cyanecula suecica, were very abundant where there were any bushes in damp places. A colony of Sand Martins, Cotile riparia, nested in a steep bank of the Alten river.

On a small pool of shallow water at Kautokeino we found three Grey Phalaropes, Phalaropus fulicarius, swimming with a buoyancy which was beautiful to see; while at the same time there were standing at the edge of the water a Ringed Plover, Ægialitis hiaticula, a Temminck's Stint, Tringa temmincki, and a Ruff, Machetes pugnax.

At Sieppa, a small Lapp settlement near the Finnish frontier, were hosts of House Martins, Chelidon urbica. The Lapps and Finns give these birds a warm welcome, and put up ledges under the eaves of their wooden houses, on which the Martins build their nests as closely together as they can be packed. Round each small farmhouse the birds could be seen in hundreds busily feeding young in the nests. These wooden houses, usually several miles apart, seem to be the only suitable nesting places for House Martins in the country. After leaving Sieppa, just before crossing the watershed, we came upon a flock of Whimbrels, Numenius phæopus.

For almost all the rest of the walk we were in forest, and here most noticeable was the absence of the Great Black Woodpecker, Picus martius. Last year we saw many of these birds near Rovaniemi, but during this summer, although we passed through a great deal more country, we did not hear or see a single specimen. Picus major was abundant, and we on several occasions heard and sometimes had glimpses of a bird which was no doubt P. minor. One day, too, between Muonioniska and Kittila, a male Three-toed Woodpecker, Picoides tridactylis, flew to a pine tree only a few yards off, and gave us a most excellent view of himself. Frequently, too, in the forest, Siberian Jays, Perisoreus infaustus, would come round to inspect us, flying with noiseless flight from tree to tree, and making at times curious though not unmusical sounds.

The country near Muonioniska seems to be much visited by collectors, for we found several of the natives with nests and eggs which they wished to sell. In a large swamp in this district, into which we wandered through losing our path, we saw two Cranes, Grus communis, which flew about uttering discordant cries—perhaps it was the swamp in which Wolley found them breeding—and on Aug. 26th, near Tervola, we saw three more of the same species migrating southwards.

We were not fortunate enough to see a flock of Waxwings, Ampelis garrulus, again, but as we were following a road near Rovaniemi one bird perched on the top of a pine close to us, and remained there a short time chattering in his curious way.

By the river banks, and in the clearings near the farms, were many Wagtails of three species (Motacilla alba, M.flava, Budytes borealis). A young M. flava was shot on Aug. 19th, only twenty-five miles south of Kittila. The Meadow Pipit, Anthus pratensis, was very common throughout our walk.

We reached Rovaniemi a week later than last year, and found the river crowded with logs, which seemed to have driven many of the Ducks away. Chiffchaffs, Phylloscopus collybita, were there singing again after their moult. On our way southwards from Rovaniemi we saw a Great Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor, very near the place where we saw one last year, but he flew off before we could decide to which of the two races he belonged.

We were especially pleased to make sure of a bird which we unwittingly included in our list last year on rather scanty evidence, because we are told on the best authority that it has not been recorded so far north. On Aug. 25th, between Jankala and Takkunen, about twenty miles south of Rovaniemi, we had a good view of a flock of Siskins, Chrysomitris spinus, feeding on the birch trees by the roadside. There was no doubt about them, but in order to have some proof we thought we had better shoot one; however, luckily for the bird, the shot was unsuccessful.

It may be worth recording that on the road between Kemi and Torneå we caught a Common Viper, which moved away sluggishly, but was vicious enough when caught; it was the only Snake we saw. On Aug. 26th we reached Torneå, and brought our walk to an end, for it was necessary to travel home quickly by steamer and rail.

  1. See: remark in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2 (1898), issue 679, January, p. 25–26 (Wikisource-ed.)

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