|Photo: Hans Falklind
Birds & Sami culture in the heart of Lapland
If you like to experience real wilderness, its birds and wildlife and get unique insights in one of the last remainings of Europes indigenous people, this is the trip for you. Although some longer walks are required to take you there, comfort won´t be lacking, since we also travel easy by boat and stay in the same hotel all week. A hotel in a little village, where roads end, mountains take over and with two rivers joining in a delta landscape on the doorstep, you can easily choose the lazy way to enjoy the area as well.
Ammarnäs lies on the threshold to Vindelfjällens Nature Reserve – in fact the biggest in Sweden – a 560.000 hectars (!) vast and untamed wilderness of mountains, lakes, rivers and forests, practically only roamed by reindeer and their sami herdsmen.
That´s not entirely true though, since Ammarnäs for the last 4 centuries has been a stronghold for nature research and centre of bird studies, surveys and ringing. Not many parts of Swedish Lapland are so well documented biologically.
A focus that has raised awareness and interest for birds among the villagers themselves. This must be one of very few places on earth where – as you walk down the village road – you can get tips on where the Hawk Owls or Tengmalm´s Owls are breeding this season. Sometimes they breed in a copse in the very village.
Just in walking distance from the hotel, you can also enjoy a deltalike landscape with grassy land tongues reaching out into the rivers, grazed by sheep and with little, grey, wooden haybarns scattered over the landscape and a lovely birdlife to enjoy. In early summer this is where the Lesser White-fronted Geese roost. By now they will probably be up on the high plateau boglands, so you will be left with Red-necked Phalaropes, little parties of Ruffs, Greenshanks, Wood Sandpipers and the chance of hunting White-tailed Eagles descending for Wigeons, Pintails, Teal or other Waterfowl.
This far north (66° N – just 50 km S of the Arctic Circle) Hawk Owls are more abundant than further south in the more accessible part of the mountain range. The same goes for Siberian Tit and Long-tailed Skua. Although Lemming cycles are far from what they used to be in Swedish Lapland, up here the population can explode. And such years will mean a feast for all Birds of Prey; Rough-legged Buzzards, Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls will then all be abundant. Long-tailed Skuas breeding all over the high plateaus. In our dreams, one day we hope to find breeding Snowy Owls up here. Last year there was sightings so we keep hope high. Mammals are also an interesting chapter here, Vindelfjällen is one of the Swedish strongholds for Arctic Fox. As if that is not enough Brown Bears, Lynx and Wolverines all reproduce in the area, the latter being the most common predating mammal.
Among Bluethroats, Lapland Buntings, Dotterels, Red-necked Phalaropes, Temminck´s Stints and many other Waders, here on the high plateaus you can even find Purple Sandpipers breeding. The Great Snipe lek requires a longer walk, but provides a spectacle well worth the effort.
Are you up for climbing one of the steeper summits, Ring ouzel, Rock Ptamigan and Snow Buntings will be there for you, along with breath-taking views over this vast mountainous world.
But rest assure, there will be serene moments and very tranquil ways of exploring this landscape too. On general a bus will transport us up to the elevation where we start the walks, and on a couple of occasions we go by boat on lake systems that take us deeper into the wilderness than we could reach by foot.
Black-throated Divers, Velvet– & Common Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and hunting Gyr Falcon, Merlin, Osprey, Rough-legged Buzzard and White-tailed– or Golden Eagles will be to look out for.
In the old spruce– and pine forests we look for such a quality combination of species as Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Willow Grouse, Hawk Owl, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay and Three-toed Woodpecker. Breeding Crossbills, Waxwings and occasionally even Pine Grosbeaks can be found in the taiga up here. Bramblings and Mealy Redpolls are most years common everywhere, especially in the birch forest on the higher mountain sides. Redwings and Fieldfares even more so.
This trip also offers a unique meeting with the Reindeer-herding, Sami culture. Although reluctant to show up in folklore costumes, our Sami host is known for skillful storytelling and sharing many aspects of his cultural heritage.
He will not only tell us about his legacy of tracking, hunting–, fishing–, and handicraft methods, but also let us take part of some of his doings. Maybe this night’s dinner we will help us catch ourselves? A night in these genuine and well-designed log cabins at the Sami settlement Geunja by the lake surrounded by mountains will likely become a long-lasting memory, maybe you´d even like to spend the night in the Sami tipi?
We will also try traditional as well as modern, ”gastronomized” Sami cuisine. Fresh Arctic Charr just pulled up from the lake we arrived on or dried or lightly smoked Reindeer meat, perhaps served on local flatbread.
The place known as Geunja is really something else and even experienced mountaineers consider this to be one of the most beautiful places in Swedish Lapland. We get there by boat and from there we make an excursion further into the wild, to explore a delta bogland with much to discover. Lying well off the beaten track, little is known about this part of the area and new things can be found. Our guide will take us further to where Gyr Falcons and Golden Eagles breed.
After this adventure the last days will be a little more relaxed with short excursions, guided for instance by researchers from the local Biology station. There will also be time to use the hotel pool and spa or to roam on your own in the delta or any surroundings. Interesting birds are to be found everywhere here.
A one and a half hour domestic flight takes us from Stockholm– Arlanda to Arvidsjaur. From here we go by minivan to Ammarnäs. After a while the scenery gets interesting, the taiga spruce trees with its shorter branches are giving a new impression. You can tell you´re further north. A few steep rock formations can be worth checking for raptors. Grouse as well as the first Siberian Jays, might turn up along the road so watch out! After the 2 hour drive we arrive to the nice, little village of Ammarnäs ready for dinner. If you´re not too exhausted by the journey, you can always take an evening walk to the delta, or just step outside the hotel and inhale the smell of fresh air and spring wetland, because up here spring has just arrived and the mountains still have snowy summits.
After a lovely hotel breakfast we get driven to the southeast side of the village where we follow a river uphill through primeval spruce forest. In this habitat we have the chance to encounter Capercaillies, as well as Hazel Grouse along the path. We also look for Three-toed Woodpecker, Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit.
Soon we reach the lakesystem Bertejaure, where our local guide will take us out in a boat. We will be surrounded by low mountains and birchforest where Bramblings, (Mealy) Redpolls and Redwings all are common breeding birds. The water surface will provide Black-throated Diver, Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter, and possibly Scaup and Long-tailed Duck. While Arctic Terns hunt around us we also look out for Merlin, Osprey, Rough-legged Buzzard and White-tailed Eagle. This is also a good habitat for Hawk Owl.
After a lovely picnic lunch we slowly make our way back down through the forest where we get more chances to find some of our target birds. Maybe Crossbills or Waxwings breed here too this year?
An after dinner walk in the village can include Spotted- and Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts or finds of Slavonian Grebes in the village pond. The delta is also attracting and a walk out there in the everlight night – it doesn´t get dark here at all this time of the year – is a real experience, with a variety of bird encounters around the corner. Wader calls will be filling the air if the night is calm and among Redshank, Common Snipe and Curlew, you can single out Greenshank, and Wood– and Green Sandpiper, while leking Ruff or totally unshy Red-necked Phalaropes are the visual candy. Out on the river you can find Divers and Ducks like Scoters and Mergansers. Overhead is always the chance for a hunting Eagle or Falcon.
Today we ascend to the first high alpine plateau. Although we don´t get higher than around 1.000 meters altitude, the habitat is of the flat, open, highland tundra. Here we meet Lapland Buntings, Dotterel, Bluethroat and Long-tailed Skua. We also find another set of breedingWaders including Whimbrel, Golden Plover, Dunlin and in small alpine pools we look for Red-necked Phalaropes, Long-tailed Ducks and with some luck Temminck´s– or Broad–billed Sandpiper. Usually detected by the churring, almost electrified song they utter in display flight.
Up here we also keep an eye over the vast open landscape, because Arctic Fox, Wolverine and Brown Beer also roam here. Raptors to look out for in this habitat will include Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and on a very good lemming year – Snowy Owl.
If the weather should be fine, this night could be an option for those who like the longer walk to experience one of the most curious and mysterious spectacles – that of leking Great Snipes. It starts while it´s good light for photography and it keeps on all night if the conditions are good. The leaning slope will make it possible to stand slightly above the arena, providing excellent observations.
To the northwest, a steep mountaintop attracts our attention. The rocky summit hosts Ring Ouzels, Rock Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting, and a totally stunning view over the landscape. The view increase possibilities if good sightings of raptors and now we are closer to Gyr Falcons and Golden Eagles. If you prefer a lighter walk, the forest trekking route below is a good area for Capercaillie, Three-toed Woodpecker, Willow Grouse and potentially even Pine Grosbeak.
We then descend to the lake Tjulträsk where Mikael Vinka – our sami guide – meets us and take us aboard his long, wooden boat. Slowly it´ll take us deep into this mountain wilderness, the destination being an ancient Sami settlement where Mikael´s ancestors have spent the summers for centuries. Today it´s beautifully renovated for guided visitor groups only, but the cultural heritage is well kept. The log cabins, the ”kåta” – the Sami wooden tipi – the rails to dry fish on, the ”njalla” where dried and smoked meat was kept, out of reach for Bears and Wolverines are all on display here. The site lying on a tiny peninsula, just by the water´s edge and with mountains all around it.
Here we will enjoy some Sami culture, history and cooking. And spend the night. A more solitary lodge is hard to come across anywhere in Europe. On this place nature is overwhelming, the modern world seems distant, if not even non-existing, the mobile phone is of no use and the energy of nature is strong. Here you look into the unknown and beyond. An evening excursion to a small wetland delta is so far off the beaten track that even local birders haven´t explored it yet. Bluethroats and northern Yellow Wagtails (of the thunbergi race) will be abundant, Waders too, but which species? Maybe we could find leking Great Snipes here too or breeding Spotted Redshanks?
Mikael might share some great Sami storytelling with us in the tipi before we go to bed. (Note: Shared, primitive facilities, but very clean and well designed)
To start a day in life on a gorgeous place like this is a great moment. Take an extra deep breath and enjoy the view, breathe the fresh air, listen to the birdsong and get impressed by the soaring Eagle in front of the opposite mountain side, and let the moment sink in, because this place will make a long-lasting imprint in your memory.
Today our local Sami- & nature guide takes us once again into the wild. First we travel by boat and then we will have to walk to get within viewing distance of the best sites for Gyr Falcon and Golden Eagle. This far out in the distance we naturally have to look extra carefully for mammals like Wolverines and Bears.
A day to take in the space and solitude of this totally unspoilt wilderness. You might never have been so far away.
Back in the village – that by now probably will feel like civilization – we probably need to relax, maybe use the sauna and the hot pool in the hotel, but if you´re still on the go, the Owl population in the village might need a check-up. If Hawk Owl isn´t present, well surely Tengmalm´s Owl is. If there are still broods in the nestboxes, local ringers will let us take part of the ringing of the Owlets.
After a slightly slower morning, we will get acquainted with the local research station Luvre. One of the researchers will take us on a guided tour to a flat, easy-walked mountain – Krajpe – with some old spruce forest where Siberian Tits and Siberian Jays can be seen. Up on the plateau this is where you can find breeding Purple Sandpipers and a lot of other high alpine birds that we´ve already been acquainted with, like Bluethroats, Lapland Buntings, Dotterel, etc. We will also get exclusive insights in the local Long-tailed Skua project and hopefully some close encounters with these beautiful, agile birds.
A last morning to enjoy the delta or some local history and handicraft in the village. Transfer to Arvidsjaur and the domestic flight to Arlanda and further back home.
|CURIOUS FACTS ON AMMARNÄS
Ammarnäs has for decades been known among Swedish birdwatchers as a Lapland Hotspot for birds.
Its attraction has lead to a tradition of studies and excursions.
Many rare birds have been found here through the years, e.g. Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow-browed Warbler, Arctic Warbler and Pallas´s Sandgrouse(!).