Finland is the sparsest populated country in the European union, has a lot of different types of waterbodies and very tall in north-south axis. Together these features make Finland rather interesting - all of Europe's boreal odonata fauna is common and easily seen in Finland.
For general topographic and geographic properties of Finland, see Wiki's article of Finland.
So, what does this mean for a dragonfly watcher?
Good to know
Moving around and watching dragonflies in Finland is easy. The so-called "Every Man's Rights" make moving around very easy. Once you know where you can move you will realize that you can watch dragonflies pretty much everywhere. This is a very good thing indeed, as long as you play by certain rules. These rules are very important to know. These rules are recited a page or two down.
Protected and endangered species
Five Finnish dragonfly species are protected by law. These are:
- Green Hawker Aeshna viridis
- Green Snaketail Ophiogomphus cecilia
- Yellow-spotted Whiteface Leucorrhinia pectoralis
- Lilypad Whiteface Leucorrhinia caudalis
- Dark Whiteface Leucorrhinia albifrons
Of these, only Green Hawker is endangered.
Other endangered, but not yet protected!, species are:
- Sedgling Nehalennia speciosa, extremely rare, only one known population
- Blue Chaser Libellula fulva, very rare, only three known populations.
Do not harass or collect these species.
Some species are considered vulnerable. These are
- Keeled Skimmer Orthetrum coerulescens, uncommon and local, and
- Azure Bluet Coenagrion puella, currently common but local colonizer in Southern Coast. This status is a relict from earlier times, when the species was very rare resident on a few streams in Southeastern Finland.
The collection of dragonflies is not forbidden. Diethyl ether and acetone are sold in pharmacies ("apteekki"), however, diethyl ether is often sold only on 1 liter bottles. Insect nets are difficult to find, so bringing your own net is encouraged.
Finnish Dragonfly Society would be thankful if you contacted us when you observe dragonflies in Finland.
The way I put these rules they sound much stricter than they actually are. Finns are quiet and quite peaceful people (unless drunk) and are used to people roaming around in forests. If you face problems, negotiate or just move a bit - no harm done. Usually small problems only rise in more densely populated parts of the country - in Lapland or Northeastern Finland you can just walk, camp etc. anywhere. A good English summary can be found on This PDF, which I also used as a source.
In short, EMR means that one can freely move and trespass in both public and private property, in other words it deals with public access to countryside (where most interesting dragonfly habitats are). Remember: The EMR is more a flexible code than a rigid law (though EMR is legalized), so use your brains. If you are uncertain about certain place, better leave it alone than to risk the owner's wrath. If you are respectful and discreet, practically no one will bother you. Mind your own business and keep a low profile if staying near someone's home.
You have access to all countryside, public or private. You can walk, ski, cycle or ride freely in the countryside as long as it does not harm nature or property. You can collect berries and mushrooms if you want to. You can also catch and collect dragonflies in someone else's property. Don't chop trees.
One must go around fields, plantations in summertime. These are treated as easily damaged property, so walking on wheat fields etc. is strictly forbidden. You can walk in the edges or follow the trails that go through them, but do not stamp on the plantation itself. In other words: don't step on grain or potatoes or whatever and you are clear. This can seem quite vague but is quite intuitive.
Everyman's rights do not apply to gardens or immediate vicinity of homes (this varies per case. Usually, keep a respectful distance to all habitated buildings). Keep clear of people's yards, don't walk through them, unless there is a public right of way. A normal situation is a public road which goes through a yard. You can walk or drive on the road, but don't go into the yard or "immediate vicinity of home". Don't use anyone's yard as a throughfare!
Building, digging the ground, or permanently shaping the terrain is forbidden in private property and it's also a very big no-no in public property as well. Don't do this. I don't know why a dragonfly watcher would dig trenches or build tree houses, but just don't.
Camping comes in handy for a dragonfly watcher. Finland is sparsely populated, and if you want to spend time in Northern Finland, a tent is a very good investment. Of course, you can also borrow or lend one. So, how about that? Where can you camp and for how long?
In short: Pretty much everywhere, as long as it "short-term" camping (couple of nights at maximum). In public property you can camp for pretty much as long as you want, as long as it is not considered some kind of permanent camping.
While camping, same rules apply: Don't disturb the habitat, change the landscape, chop trees or go into the immediate vicinity of homes, summer cottages, saunas et cetera. Don't camp in private beaches, agricultural fields etc. In public recreational areas campers often have dedicated areas.
Campfires, oh, how romantic. Lighting one is not allowed without landowner's permission. Public recreational lands often have official (and non-official) fireplaces. You can gather wood from the ground or use existing supplies, which are often placed nearby in public recreational lands. Do not harm or damage trees.
There are often blanket bans on lighting campfires, usually on dry summers and early spring. You can find more info on these from for example Here. In these cases lighting any kind of "open fire" is absolutely forbidden. It does not apply to cookers, Trangias and other portable food heaters.
Other good-to-know stuff
When driving, use your headlights. Don't speed too much - remember, there are elks in southern Finland, and Lapland is full of reindeer. Don't try to bribe the police, or anyone else. When in trouble, smile and speak English - people either understand you or give up. Don't drive drunk - limit is .5 permilles and is enforced by random checkpoints every here and there. Also, don't drive too tired, especially in the North where distances are north and reindeer are plenty.
There are nature reservates and strict nature reservates here and there. Strict nature reservates are well marked. Don't walk outside the tracks and roads, and absolutely no collecting/netting/harming of nature is allowed. Strict nature reservates are sometimes quite interesting in dragonfly sense, but if you seek North European specialities, nature reservates and large bogs are often more fruitful.
Private roads can have driving restrictions. It is usually wise to obey the Important Official Looking Signs. Of course, if you walk or cycle, driving restrictions don't matter.
A crash course tutorial to Finnish from a dragonfly watcher perspective
Some useful phrases include:
- "Excuse me" or "Sorry" = "Anteeksi"
- "Thank you" = "Kiitos"
- "Dragonfly" = "Sudenkorento"
- "Yes" = "Kyllä" (nod)
- "No" = "Ei" (shake head)
- "Hello" = "Terve", "Hei"
- "Goodbye" = "Näkemiin"
- "Beer, please" = "Olut, kiitos"
- "I don't fish" = "En kalasta"
- "I don't speak Finnish" = "En puhu suomea"
- "Is this allowed?" = "Onko tämä sallittua?"
- "Where is the nearest gas station?" = "Missä on lähin bensa-asema?"
- "Strict nature reservate" = "Luonnonsuojelualue"
Renting a car is disgustingly expensive in Finland, as is pretty much everything. As I don't, at this moment, know anything about it except that it is expensive, so I'm not going to write anything about it at all.
Buying food and other goods
South of Lapland, the gas station/grocery store network is quite extensive. However, if you plan on leaving the main road grid, several things are good to remember
- reserve enough water. In Lapland, the fjaell brooks are clean and water is drinkable.
- MOSQUITO DETERRENT. Oil, gel, whatever. You'll need it.
- fill your tank before heading out, it will be worth it. If you have less than 100 kilometers left before empty, fill up. Yes, it is expensive. You could always rent a horse.
There are large "24" gas stations near larger towns and cities. These are a reliable point to fill your basic human needs. If you need food, just buy it. The shops are pretty much the same. Restaurant and diners can be found very easily in the center of all villages, towns and cities.
Watching dragonflies in Finland
Overview of Odonata fauna
I don't know how you came here, or why you read about Finland, but here you are anyways. Since you are interested in Odonata, I'm going to cut straight into the chase. I'm going to use scientific names here, because they are universal.
Finnish dragonfly fauna consists of 62 species. You can see the entire listing here. I am going to deal with more interesting species from non-Finnish point-of-view. Blue indicates link, such as this: Dark Bluet Coenagrion armatum; clicking a link will open a more throughout analysis of the species. Continental European species are usually only given a short overview.
Finnish dragonfly fauna is a potpurri of Central European and boreal species, with several distinctively northern and one completely arctic species. "Nominal fauna" is probably best considered as northern. Many species which have become scarce and threatened in Western Europe, such as Coenagrion armatum and Leucorrhinia albifrons, are still common in Finland, and many boreal or boreo-alpine species, such as Aeshna subarctica, Coenagrion hastulatum and Somatochlora arctica, are quite easy to find. On the other hand, species such as Coenagrion puella, Libellula fulva and Orthetrum coerulescens are uncommon, and Aeshna mixta is just almost exclusively an autumn migrant.
The most common zygopterans in Finland are probably Lestes sponsa, Coenagrion hastulatum and Enallagma cyathigerum, most common anisopterans being Libellula quadrimaculata, Cordulia aenea, Leucorrhinia dubia and Aeshna grandis. Most uncommon zygopterans are Nehalennia speciosa, Sympecma paedisca and Ischnura pumilio and most uncommon anisopterans are Somatochlora sahlbergi, Aeshna viridis, Libellula fulva and Sympetrum striolatum. Of course, as anyone who has watched dragonfly realizes, the strict "common/uncommon" class has little to do with how easy these species are actually to see. Overall, the most difficult species are the rarest - Nehalennia speciosa - and the farthest - Somatochlora sahlbergi.
Finnish specialities are quite interesting. The most obvious are two "large blue aeshnas": Aeshna serrata [osiliensis] and Aeshna crenata. Both of these are easy to see in later July and August. Leucorrhinia whitefaces are easy to see in June, there are many places where all 5 species fly in the same water course.
The crown jewel is Somatochlora sahlbergi, Treeline Emerald. This is arguably the second most difficult species in Finland - it only flies far north, in Utsjoki municipality in Lapland, 1300km from Helsinki. The flight period is short, the weather is usually bad and the species is very uncommon and not numerous.
It is best to forget Nehalennia speciosa. As of 2007, only one known population remains, the exact location being kept secret for conservation reasons. However, a 2006 record from Helsinki and a 1980s record from Tammisaari give some hints that species might still have more populations in southern coast.
General overview of Finnish Odonata fauna
Calopteryx demoiselles, two species of which fly in Finland, are both quite common south of Lapland. Smaller rivers, rivulets and streams, particularly those that are clean, often harbour good populations of both virgo and splendens, with virgo being the more common species. Splendens is more often seen in larger, more polluted rivers. These species shouldn't cause any problems if you visit streams in June-July, even August.
Lestes spreadwings, or emerald damsels, are kinda tricky. There are two Lestes species in Finland: extremely common sponsa and quite local and rare dryas. Lestes sponsa shouldn't cause any problems after July till early October. It's probably among our most common odes, and can be found in thousands in suitable standing waterbodies. Lestes dryas is a much trickier species, however. It favours seasonally dry habitats, and is quite local. There is one known population in Helsinki, in Vuosaari's old landfill. The species is apparently not uncommon in Hanko in the southern coast. It is probably underrecorded, but still a very good sighting.
Winter damsel Sympecma paedisca is a recent colonizer in the southern coast. The species has increased in occurrance, and first confirmed breeding records are from Lappeenranta in the southeast. Sympecma is local, but not uncommon, in southern coast - there are colonies in Cape Porkkala in Kirkkonummi, about 40km west of Helsinki, and dispersing migrants have been recorded in much of the Southern Coast. The species apparently favours reedy, calm bays and especially nearby meadows. Best months to see this interesting colonizer are April-May and August, but there are occasional records from June and July as well.
Coenagrionids and unsorted
Coenagrionids, with their 11 species, are one of the most variable and interesting groups in Finland. Variable Bluet Coenagrion pulchellum is very common in the south, but it's cousin, Azure Bluet Coenagrion puella, is a recent colonizer which has increased dramatically on the south coast. Spearhead Bluet Coenagrion hastulatum and Common Bluet Enallagma cyathigerum are very easy to find and are found on the entire country, so they shouldn't cause any problems.
Crescent Bluet Coenagrion lunulatum, on the other hand, is very difficult to find, and records are sparse. It's apparently found on the entire country and is not uncommon in Lapland around Inari, but on Southern Finland only a handful of populations are known. The best place to look for the species is Sipoo's Bakunkärrs träsk, east of Helsinki. Go there in early June. In the same place you can also see Arctic and Spearhead Bluets. Another interesting bog species is Arctic Bluet Coenagrion johanssoni, a diminutive and dark resident of all small peaty lakes. It is a local species, but can be quite easily found on more forested areas. Espoo's Nuuksio and Sipoo's small lakes are good places to start. It is also quite common in north. Dark Bluet Coenagrion armatum is a spring species, and is found on many kinds of standing waters. Uutela Särkkäniemi in Helsinki is a good place in late May.
Large Red-Eye Erythromma najas is very common in Southern Finland, recently recorded as far north as Kuusamo. Large Red Damsel, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, is almost exclusively limited to flowing waters and is quite local. As said, Sedling Nehalennia speciosa is a Holy Grail for Finnish dragonfly enthusiasts. It is possible that the species still has some populations in the south coast, but diminutive size, short flight period and extremely restrictive habitat requirements render searches pretty frustrating.
Two Ischnura bluetails are found: Small Bluetail I. pumilio and Common Bluetail I. elegans. Pumilio is a colonizer and very rare. There are two known populations in Helsinki - one at the wetland just north of Vuosaari Golf Course (a legendary place), one in Taka-Viikki. The species is apparently just colonizing Finland, and very rare migrants might be found pretty much anywhere. Elegans is common on the reedy bays of the coast, becoming more sparse and uncommon inland.
Of Platycnemidae, only one species is found: Blue Featherleg Platycnemis pennipes. It's common in all kinds of streams in Southern and Central Finland.
The most interesting Aeshnas in Finland are, obviously, Siberian Hawker Aeshna crenata and Baltic Hawker Aeshna serrata. Both are relatively easy to find. Siberian Hawker is a species of mid-July to early August. It favours small, dark forest lakes with peatmoss shores. It's found in Espoo's Nuuksio, especially Pikku-Sorlampi. It's also relatively common near Jaala in Kymenlaakso and Tammela-Loppi -area. Baltic Hawker is an insect of July and August, found relatively easily on large, reedy bays in Southern Coast. Start in Pornaistenniemi, in Viikki, Helsinki. It's also quite common along the entire shoreline up to Vaasa, but good places are Hamina and Hanko in southern coast.
Green Hawker Aeshna viridis, a southern Siberian hawker of impressive and brilliant appearance, is very rare and local with a patchy distribution. The best place is Parikkala's Siikalahti in North Karelia, about 400 km from Helsinki. There, the species breeds in water courses which harbour Water Soldier Stratioites aloides. Mid-August is, by far, the best time for this species. It's apparently much more common in Estonia and Latvia.
Bog Hawker Aeshna subarctica is common in bogs, swamps and peaty forest lakes throughout the country, sans the most northern Lapland. Be aware: it is not an easy insect to identify, and individual markings vary a lot! Brown Hawker Aeshna grandis and Moorland Hawker Aeshna juncea are found pretty much everywhere throughout the country and are among the most common Finnish dragonflies. Blue Hawker Aeshna cyanea favours small ponds and pools, it's a more southern insect. Azure Hawker Aeshna caerulea is very rare in south, but as you go north, it increases, and is probably the most common dragonfly in Lapland. Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta has increased dramatically in occurence in last years, and is now among the most common hawkers on southern coast during August-September. It's also an occasional breeder.
Hairy Hawker Brachytron pratense is local, early hawker, found on a wide range of habitats but not common anywhere. Reedy bays, forest lakes and rivermouths are a good place. It's only found on southern part of Finland.
Gomphids and Goldenring
For all these species, a day trip is recommended. Good areas would be the numerous small rivers in Jaala, north of Kouvola in Kymenlaakso, or alternatively those just north of Pohja town, about 100km west of Helsinki. The species are not uncommon elsewhere, but these well-recorded areas have numerous very good clear rivers where most species can be recorded in single day. The best time would be mid-July.
The three gomphids are local but not uncommon residents of clear running waters, although Pincertail and Clubtail are sometimes found in standing waterbodies as well. Common Clubtail Gomphus vulgatissimus is found on all kinds of medium or small clear streams and rivers.The best time is early July. Green Snaketail Ophiogomphus cecilia has a patchy distribution, but is found throughout most of the southern and central Finland. It is quite common in Jaala area, and is also found in River Vantaa (Vantaanjoki), for example at Ruutinkoski in Helsinki. Although it emerges in mid-June, the best time is mid-July. All kinds of smaller, relatively clear and fast-flowing rivers and streams are good, but the best are clear with sandy or rocky bottom. Small Pincertail Onychogomphus forcipatus is a local insect, with preference of rocky and clear streams.
Common Goldenring Cordulegaster boltonii is common in small, clear streams. It emerges as early as early June, but is most common in breeding sites around July.
Both Downy Emerald Cordulia aenea and Brilliant Emerald Somatochlora metallica are very common. Downy is an early summer species, Brilliant favours July and August. Both are easy to find and there is much overlap. Downy prefers all kinds of standing or slow-flowing waterbodies, Brilliant is also quite flexible when it comes to habitat, but is easiest to find on small water courses, such as canals, ditches and slow-flowing rivers. Yellow-spotted Emerald Somatochlora flavomaculata is also an all-around species. It is, however, surprisingly difficult to see, but in June a slow drive through any of the numerous small roads in the countryside will give you at least a few individuals. Swamps and wet meadows with small ponds are also a good place to find this insect. Binoculars are recommended; Emeralds often fly and rest high.
So-called "dark emeralds" or "bog emeralds" - Northern Emerald S. arctica, Alpine Emerald S. alpestris and Treeline Emerald S. sahlbergi are all insects of different bogs, swamps, moors and tundra lakes. Of these, arctica is found on entire country, in all kinds of peaty bogs, sometimes even peaty lakes. Be warned: although widely spread, it is not a numerous species! Near Helsinki it is found in, for example, Kirkkonummi's Meiko nature reserve and Sipoo's Bakunkärrs träsk. The further north one goes, the more common it becomes. The species is not very picky about it's habitats, and good-looking swamps and small peaty ponds often harbour populations. It's flight time ranges from mid-July to late August.
Alpine Emerald S. alpestris is very rare and extremely local in Southern Finland, uncommon in Central Finland and relatively common in Northern Finland and Lapland. The knowledge of distribution is patchy and incomplete, to say at least. The best place would be different swamps in Northern Finland. There are two records in recent years from Somero.
Treeline Emerald S. sahlbergi is very rare. It's only found on the extreme north, in Utsjoki municipality. It is not picky about its habitats, living in small tundra pools near the treeline. It's apparently not "rare" per se, but very rarely recorded and only a few adult insects have been recorded during last decade. There are records from Karigasniemi, from Kevo and from Utsjoki, all of which indicate that the insect is more widespread than the records indicate.
A trip to seek Treeline Emerald is long. It takes at least a day of driving to get from Helsinki to Utsjoki and the weather up there is often bad, rendering searches frustrating. But usually one will have a chance Crescent Bluets, Northern and Alpine Emeralds and at least Azure Hawkers and Arctic Bluets, so a trip is usually not a complete waste. Best time for such a trip is mid-July or even late July, when there are also myriads of bloodsucking insects flying in places you want to go to.
Eurasian Baskettail Epitheca bimaculata is relatively common in lush, reedy lakes in southern and central Finland. It is, however, a very difficult animal to observe, often flying far from the shore or high above ground. With short flight period (June), the best bet is to seek well-vegetated bays and lakes and walk slowly near meadows and fields surrounding them or on forest roads, looking up and using binoculars to inspect high-flying dragonflies, looking for trademark spots in the base of the hindwings. Exuviae and larvae are easier to find than adult insects.
Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata is extremely common, but Blue Chaser Libellula fulva and Broad-bodied Chaser L. depressa are uncommon. Blue Chaser is uncommon; the best area is around Kitee, Savonlinna and Kerimäki in Eastern Finland, and two smaller populations are found in Loppi in Tavastia and Pohja municipality in Uusimaa, respectively. It favours clear streams and rivers, apparently sometimes also breeding in clear-watered forest ponds. Broad-Bodied is widely spread in Southern Finland, but uncommon. It's a pioneer and a colonizer, and recorded numbers vary greatly between the years.
Keeled Skimmer Orthetrum coerulescens is uncommon and very local in southeastern Finland, living in clear, slow-flowing rivulets and streams with lush bankside vegetation. It's apparently most common in Jaala, and probably underrecorded west of Lahti, where it is currently found in at least one location and has been previously located in Pohja municipality. Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum is quite common on coast, but the only known inland population lives around Punkaharju in southeastern Finland.
Small Whiteface Leucorrhinia dubia is very common in bogs, swamps and forest lakes, Ruby Whiteface Leucorrhinia rubicunda being also common in similar habitats but more often found on bays, larger ponds and lush habitats.
Yellow-spotted Whiteface Leucorrhinia pectoralis is local but common in bays and mesotrophic lakes in southern Finland, good places are the areas surrounding Lake Päijänne, about 120km north of Helsinki, and lush bays in southeastern Finland. In similar habitats you can also find Lilypad Whiteface Leucorrhinia caudalis, sitting on lilypad leaves. Lilypad WF is also found on peaty lakes and ponds, as long as there's at least some floating vegetation. As such, Lilypad often shares habitat with its more common cousin, Dark Whiteface Leucorrhinia albifrons, which is quite common in all kinds of swamps, forest lakes and bays throughout southern Finland. All whitefaces peak in mid-June, with flight period ending by late July.
Black Darter Sympetrum danae is an ubiquitous species, found in most of the country in all kinds of standing waters. It is often present in thousands, being one of the most common anisopterans. As with other darters, it's a autumn insect, emerging in July and flying late into September and even October. Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum, on the other hand, is very rare - in recent years new populations have been found in southern coast, for example in restricted access mlitary area in Santahamina, Helsinki. It's most often found in reedy bays and ponds.
Yellow-winged Darter S. flaveolum varies wildly in occurrance, being extremely numerous in some years, and rather scarce in others. Southwardly winds in late July often bring thousands of migrants over Gulf of Finland. It is not difficult to find in southern coast. On southern coast, Moustached Darter S. vulgatum is also extremely numerous and common in all kinds of habitats in late summer and early spring, becoming scarce the further inlands one goes. It replaces the continental Common Darter S. striolatum, which is only found in Ahvenanmaa [Åland Islands] ,where it is common, and Örö. Striolatums of Ahvenanmaa are quite dark, resembling nigrescens-taxon or form found in Scotland and Norway.
As one can see, many continental species, such as Coenagrion puella, Sympetrum sanguineum and Aeshna mixta are only uncommon southern species in Finland. Some widespread species, such as Aeshna isoceles, Anax parthenope and Sympecma fusca are completely unrecorded as of now. Knowledge of distribution of even relatively common Finnish species is still patchy and as time goes on, more and more interesting records will be made.