10 November, 2010

Got mine today - Birds of Earth 2011 table top calendar

This calendar is one of the most beautiful bird calendars I've ever seen. It comes with display stand, so it's easy to place in any table or shelf. The price was not bad at all, only $15.99. It contains fourteen 4"x6" glossy photos from top bird photographers around the world. To put it short, I love this calendar!

If you're interested in this calendar, go to http://www.birds-of-earth.com/

02 November, 2010

Days are getting short, birds are getting scarce

Days are getting short here in north, currently the sun rises 7:56 and sets 16:20. So the length of day is now 8h 24min. That is the situation in southern Finland, in Tampere. In addition to that it's often either foggy or rainy, or at least the sky is covered with thick clouds. As you may guess, most of us have now very limited time for birding. Except during weekends - and lunch hours.

Yesterday I skipped my lunch and made a short trip to nearby Viinikanlahti bay in Tampere. About an hour earlier I got an SMS from Lintutiedotus, the Finnish rare bird alert system, telling me that there is a Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus). And so it was, standing in the pier. Juvenile bird, nice to see for a while. I met also couple of  local birders, so the social aspect of birding got also some attention.

 Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) in Viinikanlahti, Tampere 1.11.2010

06 September, 2010

Where has High Latitude Birder been hiding?

Over 4 months since last blogging - what happened? Well, we bought a house, so I have not had too much time for blogging. The renovation continues still, but I will now write at least short stories every now and then. I hope you will enjoy reading them!

P.S. So far 53 species observed in our new backyard :-)

10 April, 2010

A Ruddy Long Way to Fly

"Ruddy Turnstone is a small, highly-migratory wading bird with a large global range. It breeds in northern latitudes in open tundra habitat often close to water. Outside the breeding season it is found along coastlines, particularly on rocky or stony shores. It is the only species of turnstone in much of its range and is often called Turnstone.

"We have been amazed at the feats of Bar-tailed Godwit tracked by satellite from Australia and New Zealand to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic and back", said Dr Clive Minton from the Australasian Wader Studies Group. "Unfortunately the size of the satellite transmitters, and the batteries required to power them, precluded their use on smaller shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstone".

“… it was back in south-east Australia having completed a 27,000-km round trip” —Ken Gosbell, Chairman of the Australasian Wader Studies Group

The researchers therefore decided to use new 1 gram light-sensor geolocators - supplied by British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England - and fitted them to eight Ruddy Turnstone spending their non-breeding season in south-east Australia in April 2009. Four geolocators were eventually retrieved from birds between 20 October 2009 and 8 January 2010.

"All four birds flew 7,600 km non-stop to Taiwan in just over six days, with three apparently travelling together", said Dr Clive Minton. They then flew on to northern Siberia, following separate paths and stopping over at different sites. "By early August, two had moved to Korea and south-eastern Siberia, respectively, but another bird returned to Australia via the Central Pacific!"

The Pacific bird spent 26 July -15 October on the Aleutian Islands before flying 6,200 km across the Pacific in four days to Kiribati, and then it made another four-day, 5,000-km flight to eastern Australia. "Five days later it was back in south-east Australia having completed a 27,000-km round trip", added Ken Gosbell - Chairman of the Australasian Wader Studies Group."

Read the whole story at: A Ruddy Long Way to Fly

I just wonder how long flights our Ruddy Turnstones make...?

07 April, 2010

Satellite Osprey Jukka is on the road to home!

Jukka is coming back, at the moment he is in Croatia. In summer 2009 the project, started in 2007 in collaboration between the Finnish Museum of Natural History, the Osprey Foundation and UPM, continued monitoring the life of a male Osprey with the help of the newest generation of GPS-Argos satellite transmitters.

See the whole story at: Satellite Osprey Jukka - Zoological Museum - FMNH

Photo copyright Hannu Vainiopekka

05 April, 2010

Birding in fog and rain by mountain bike

I don't really know which one is easier; birding in rain or birding in fog. During last days I have done both.
They both have downsides and advantages. In fog, the visibility is really poor and the tiny water particles cover all surfaces. But the birds are active and you can still find them relatively easy. In light rain, the visibility is usually better, but the on the other hand, the birds don't move a lot and all your gears and clothing get wet fast.

Still, with proper clothing and gears, birding in in fog or rain is not too difficult - on the contrary, it can be really enjoyable. Migratory birds that usually just fly over your area, may drop down and stay sedentary until weather gets better for migration. Many rarities have been also found during these "bad" weather conditions.

As our car broke down on Saturday, I have used my mountain bike for transportation while birding. It was cool to use bike for birding after long winter, and I will continue to use it also after the car is fixed, even though it diminishes the area that I can check during limited birding hours. While cycling, you will see and especially hear much more birds than while driving by car.

So, what I saw during these days? Lot's of European Robins (Erithacus rubecula), some Mistle Thrushes (Turdus viscivorus) and Song Thrushes (Turdus philomela), flocks of 50 and 30 Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris), 20 Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus), Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Common Cranes (Grus grus), Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), hundreds of Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebes), Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), European Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and many more.

Easter holiday is now over, back to work tomorrow... I hope the car will get fixed soon, as I'd love to make birding trips flood areas of Akaa and Kylmäkoski when the migration of Taiga Bean Geese start - and that will be soon!

03 April, 2010

The Spring is here

 The first spring month, March, was exceptionally cold this year, it felt like a winter. Very few birds arrived during March; mainly some Goosanders (Mergus merganser), Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) and Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus). But finally in the end of March, the weather changed and the spring rolled in to the north.

The rush of birds was great it continues still. Lots of species have arrived during last few days and they are rather easy to find as they concentrate in few places where the snow has already melted away. Skylarks (Alauda arvensis), Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla), Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus), European Robins (Erithacus rubecula), Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and many other passerines can be found in the fields. Bigger birds have arrived as well; Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus), Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo), Rough-legged Buzzards (Buteo lagopus), Common Cranes (Grus grus), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), Grey-lag Goose (Anser anser) and Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) can all be found now. And from now on, new species will arrive every day.

During last days I have found with my younger son Roni also some interesting species; an adult Western Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii / intermedius) was in  Viiala in the evening of 31st of March and today we found a Woodlark (Lullula arborea) from Metsäkansa. The Western Lesser Black-backed Gulls are rare in Finland and Woodlark is uncommon in this part of Pirkanmaa county. Oh, and few weeks ago we saw also 4 White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in Lempäälä.

Snow is melting now very fast, daytime temperature has been +10 degrees Celcius and next two days we should get lots of rain... that means flooding, and as you can see from the photo below, much more water is not needed now...

08 March, 2010

In search of the woodpeckers, part 4 / 4

Last Sunday was the last day of my winter vacation. Yet another perfect day for outdoor activities, like birding with snow shoes. Weather was excellent like it had been already for several days. This time my older son Petro joined me and we headed to Rauttunniemi nature reserve and it's surroundings.

The first bird worth to mention was the Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), which flew over the fields in Vedentaka village while we were still driving to Rauttunniemi. In and near the nature reserve we saw and heard quite a lot of birds, like 5 Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) - a new species for this year, about 10 European Siskins (Carduelis spinus), 1 Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), at least 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), two unidentified medium size woodpeckers i.e. either Great Spotted Woodpeckers or White-backed Woodpeckers and much more (tits, greenfiches, crows etc.) White-backed Woodpecker is very rare and endangered species here, but still possible to meet, so you have to always consider that when you are trying identify woodpeckers here.

This area is one of my favorite areas around here and I will come birding here later in the spring again.

In photos: Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) above and Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) below.

The World's rarest birds through the lens

A new international photo competition covering the world's 623 most threatened birds has just been launched. This is a follow-up to the photo competitions that led to the production of the highly acclaimed Rare Birds Yearbooks 2008 and 2009.

The photos submitted for the new competition will feature in a landmark publication – The World's Rarest Birds – which will be produced by the not-for-profit publisher WILDGuides next year. The proceeds will be donated to BirdLife International's Preventing Extinctions Programme, as was the case with the Rare Birds Yearbooks.

The World's Rarest Birds will be a lavishly illustrated hardback book, covering the 362 species categorised as Endangered and 65 that are Data Deficient, as well as the 192 Critically Endangered species and the four species that are Extinct in the Wild and only now exist in captivity. It will be a comprehensive directory of the world's most threatened bird species and include specially written feature articles on the key bird conservation issues in each of the world’s regions.

Read the whole article from Birdlife International's site: The World's rarest birds through the lens

06 March, 2010

In search of the woodpeckers, parts 2 & 3

During last days the weather has been simpy excellent; -5° C, calm and almost no clouds in the sky. Wonderful winter weather full of promises of forthcoming spring. All the birds are singing, sunshine feels warm in your face. Spring equinox is getting closer every day and the days are getting longer and lighter.

Two days ago we saw another Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)- it flew over the road when we drove to Tampere. This was so far the third Black Woodpecker for me this year. Yesterday I was birding with my older son Petro. We went to Jutikkalanharju (ridge of Jutikkala), a very beautiful ridge in the southern part of Valkeakoski. I was expecting several woodpeckers from there but all we found was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). No Grey-headed, Lesser Spotted nor Black Woodpecker, all species that breed in this area. Still we enjoyed the beautiful nature and all the other birds we saw there, like Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), Willow Tits (Poecile montanus) and Coal Tits (Periparus ater) who visited in the feeding place of local birder Jussi Kallio. Also couple of Common Ravens (Corvus corax) were passing by.

Today I was birding with my younger son Roni. Our target was Heikkilänmetsä nature reserve, nice old forest close to downtown Valkeakoski. Like yesterday and few days ago, the snowshoes were mandatory again - thick layer of snow covers everything. This third trip convinced me that the Great Spotted Woodpeckers are scarce at the moment - and the reason for that is the fact that there is no cones in spruces. When there is lot's of cones, you can easily find 5-10 or even more Great Spotted Woodpeckers from this forest. Today there was none. But still we were lucky - we found Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)! Very nice, as it's a very secretive species, silent and feeding often high in the spruces. In addition to Three-toed Woodpecker, there was also 5 Eurasian Jays (Garrrulus glandarius), 2 Crested Tits (Lophophanes cristatus), 2 Coal Tits (Periparus ater), 6 Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), 2 Eurasian Siskins (Carduelis spinus) and several more common birds.

Tomorrow is the last day of my winter vacation, time for the part 4 of this search which will also be the last part - at least for now. If the nights turn warm, I think I will concentrate on listening the owls...

03 March, 2010

In search of the woodpeckers, part 1

As it's winter holiday now, and most of the migrating birds are still somewhere far south, it's time concentrate on local birds that stay here year round. Like woodpeckers. I will try to find during this holiday week all woodpecker species that breed in this region  - tough quest, but I will try still.

But... when you jump out of the car and step out of the road, you will suddenly realise that it's not so easy. At the moment we have about 60 cm of snow and in some place where wind has blown there is much more, even 1,5 meters. So snowshoes or skis are mandatory equipment. Personally I prefer snowshoes because they fit well in my car and they are easy to use in forests, where long skis instead are very difficult.

So today I went to old forest of Mettivuori with my younger son Roni. As you can see from the photo on the left, there certainly are woodpeckers, at least during summer...

But today we did not hear any knocking of woodpeckers, just a distant call of Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius).A flock of Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) were feeding in treetops and some Coal Tits (Periparus ater) and Willow Tits (Poecile montanus) were passing by. One of the male Bullfinches started singing, clear sign of the forthcoming spring.

From Mettivuori forest we moved to downtown Valkeakoski, to see if there is any waterfowl in the dowstream of the power plant. There was saw a pair of Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) and also a pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhychos). Nice flock of 90 European Greenfiches (Carduelis chloris) were resting in nearby park.

Nothing special today, but a nice trip still. On the left is one more photo, an example of the nest box for Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). As you can see, the entrance to box is in the side - not in the front like in ordinary boxes.

01 March, 2010

Garden warblers with mysterious songs - a call for informations and recordings

I'll share this call for informations and recordings:

Very rarely garden warblers (Sylvia borin) sing so atypical songs that you need to see the bird in order to find out, which species you have heard. For years we have tried to collect informations and recordings of such mysteriously singing garden warblers. By now we have got recordings of 31 birds: 16 from Germany, 2 from Holland, 1 from Switzerland, 6 from Denmark, 5 from Sweden, and 3 from Finland. Examples of the songs of the 31 birds can be heard at the site: http://www.ginster-verlag.de/Raetselsaenger.html

Ten of the 31 birds (category b on the above mentioned site) sang the same type of song, which consisted of very short elements with a rate of 10-15 per second. The overall pattern of each song was a wawing up and down in frequency - a character also found in normal garden warbler songs. Some individuals were recorded in more years.

The mysterious garden warblers have been found in a rather narrow belt, reaching from Finland to southern Germany and Switzerland. Why do some garden warblers sing such peculiar songs - and never normal garden warbler song? Three hypotheses have been forwarded.

One suggests that the birds have been hatched late in the season, when adult garden warblers have stopped singing. If they have to learn their songs from adults in the first calendar year, they are then forced to develop their singing based on only an „innate" template. According to this hypothesis, the birds sing a crude model of garden warbler song. This might apply to the 10 birds in group b on the above mentioned site. The remaining birds sing a bit more elaborate songs, which may be because they have had some experience with garden warbler singing. If the hypothesis is true, we might expect the mysterious garden warblers to be found especially in colder climates with shorter breeding seasons. However, one problem with the hypothesis is that we do not know when garden warblers acquire their song models. 

Another hypothesis is based on the observation that one of the individuals did not respond to play back of garden warbler song. The observers concluded that the bird was deaf. The reason for the abnormal songs should thus be, that the birds cannot hear and acquire the necessary song models. However, a number of studies of singing in birds, which have been experimentally deafened at an early age, show, that the birds develop very diffuse song elements (probably due to the lack of auditory feedback). The abnormal garden warblers sing well-defined song elements. That elements appear fuzzy on some recordings is mostly due to the recording quality and/or the acoustic conditions during the recording.  

The third hypothesis relate to the geographical distribution of the recorded birds, which as mentioned are found in a rather narrow zone from Finland to Central Europe. It is suggested that two genetically different populations meet in this zone, and that the mysterious singers are „hybrids" between parents of each genotype. Why these „hybrids" should develop abnormal songs is unknown, but one suggestion is that they are deaf. However, at present no data are available on the suggested divide between genetically different garden warblers in the zone with abnormally singing garden warblers.

The conclusion must be, that we simply do not know the cause of the abnormal songs.

Therefore we ask for more observations and recordings.

1) Have you heard birds with this type of song? Please let us know, and if possible, send us available informations and recordings.

2) If you happen to meet birds with this type of song in the future, we should like to know all about when and where. Preferably, we should also ask you to record to singing of the bird(s) with whatever available equipment. The most import thing is to get rather close to the bird, so that echoes from the surroundings are reduced.

3) Is the bird deaf? You may help to solve this question by playing garden warbler alarm (mobbing) calls to the bird. Does it react to the calls? If you need a recording of garden warbler alarm calls, please, contact one of us.

4) Does the bird attract a mate and produce offspring? All observations on the behaviour of the bird in relation to conspecifics is interesting.

5) If possible, it would be optimal to ring the bird, so that it could be recognised, if it returns in future years.

Contact one of us, if you need any information on the project, and if you can help us with informations and recordings.

Thank you.

Goetz Rheinwald & Poul Hansen

Email: goetz.rheinwald @  t-online.de

Email: poulh @  nathist.dk

28 February, 2010

Red-throated Loon, Dipper and more

Winter vacation started, finally some time for birding too. Well, the trip on Saturday the 27th was combined birding and shopping trip with my sons, so we concentrated on easy locations. At first we tried to find Black Grouses (Tetrao tetrix), but today they were somewhere deeper in the forests, so we let them stay there and drove to Herralankoski rapids in Lempäälä. Good choice, there were 5 Goosanders (Mergus merganser) and 1 Eurasian Dipper (Cinclus cinclus). Latter was a new one in my year list 2010.

From Lempäälä we moved to Tampere. After delicous Kääg (aka Kag'h) lunch in best Chinese Grill of Tampere, we drove to Eteläpuisto park, to see the waterfowl of Viinikanlahti bay. It's the best open water area in Pirkanmaa county during winters. Full of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) - hundreds of them, 9 Goosanders (Mergus merganser), Smew (Mergus albellus) and one more for my year list: Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) - photo below. Very nice! And just a right time to switch to shopping - phone rang and my wife asked us to pick her up. More birding trips next week, if the weather allows, now there's raining water, sleet and snow...

15 February, 2010

Feels like a spring

Here in Valkeakoski we have still about 45 cm of snow and cold weather, temperatures vary from -6 to -20 °C. Sounds like a winter, does it? But when you get out, you can see and hear the signs of spring. European Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris), Great Tits (Parus major) and Blue Tits (Cyanistes cyaneus) are all singing. First Goosanders (Mergus merganser) and female Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) have arrived to open streams of Valkeakoski. Probably these waterfowl do not come from very far, I guess they have been wintering somewhere in Baltic Sea. Anyway, every year these first scouts arrive in February, no matter how mild or cold the winter is. I just wonder when the first Gulls will arrive this year...? Soon, if I'm not totally wrong.

31 January, 2010

National Backyard Twitching Weekend

During this weekend we had "Pihabongaus" event in Finland. Pihabongaus could be translated as Backyard Twitching. The organizer of the event is Birdlife Finland and it has a very powerful patron; Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland.

The event is open for everyone and all one needs to do is to spend one hour in own backyard, some park or other small area. Pihabongaus is not a competition, so the observed number of birds is not decisive. Main purpose is to alert the public to observe the winter bird feeders and backyard birds and also the neighbouring nature. At the same time Birdlife Finland gets valuable information on the winter bird life of our country.

During 2009 in this same event total of 15 000 people observed birds in 10 000 backyards. I could bet that this year we get even more participants. 

Personally I participated in Pihabongaus for the 5th time. First in Saturday with Roni and today with Petro. On Saturday we saw 13 species, today 10 and in total 14. Nothing special, just the ordinary suburb winter birds. We could have seen some more also today, but our local newspaper Valkeakosken Sanomat wanted to interview us. The article should be in newspaper tomorrow.

The comple lists from both is below:

Saturday 30th of January:

1. Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) 8
2. European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)  45
3. Great Tit (Parus major) 35
4. European Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 50
5. Coal Tit (Periparus ater) 1
6. Common Magpie (Pica pica) 7
7. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 14
8. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) 2
9. Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) 2
10. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
11. Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus) 1
12. Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) 20
13. Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1

Sunday 31st of January:

1. Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) 9
2. European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)  45
3. Great Tit (Parus major) 15
4. European Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 30
5. Common Magpie (Pica pica) 5

6. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 19
7. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) 4
8. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 2
9. Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
10. Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) 1

A better winter birding day

On 24th of January I made an urban birding trip with my younger son Roni. Our first target was Koukkujärvi dump in Nokia. Disgusting smell, especially in the area of organic waste - but lots of birds. 1500 Western Jackdaws (Corvus monedula), 50 Common Magpies (Pica pica), 30 Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix) and 6 Common Ravens (Corvus corax) were the most visible ones. Also lot's of smaller ones - a very nice mixed flock of 120 European Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris), 20 Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea), 1 Arctic Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni), 4 Twites (Carduelis flavirostris) and 4 Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus). Both Twite and Arctic Redpoll were lifers for Roni, so the boy was very happy! In addition to previous, there was also lonely Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major).

From Nokia we drove to Tampere and tried to find White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) from Pärrinkoski rapids, but unfortunately the rapids were totally frozen, no open water at all, so no room for Dippers. Shame... Small hightlight was still the fresh footprints of the European Otter (Lutra lutra), although we did not see the animal.

After that we drove to city center of Tampere, where the Tammerkoski flows so fast that there's always some open water. Lot's of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) , two Goosanders (Mergus merganser), 1 female Long-tailed Duck aka Oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis), 1 male Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and 1 elegant male Smew (Mergus albellus).

IMHO, Long-tailed Duck is a very dull name for that beautiful arctic duck, I prefer much more the old American name Oldsquaw!

At this point it was already afternoon, so it was time get back to home. Roni was very happy and so was daddy!

27 January, 2010

Remote birding - what does it mean?

If you read this, you'll probably know what birding means - yes, it's watching the birds i.e birdwatching. But remote birding?

Well, in remote birding you don't need binoculars, scope nor camera, but you must have internet connection and TV to watch birds.

So, I'm trying to see and identify birds in live TV broadcasts and through live webcams. I will not pay any attention to recordings or movies, all the birds must be out there somewhere right at the same moment when I see them. I'm also trying to capture photos of all the birds, whenever it's possible.

At this moment this is just an experiment - I'm just curious on how many bird species I can see and identify via cables!

For this experiment I created a new blog: Remote birding

Welcome to remote birding, it's really fun and educational; my identification skills have developed fast again.

23 January, 2010

Not much birds around

This winter has been pretty cold compared to last years, almost perfect. Just almost, as I would love to get more snow, now we have just about 30 cm of it. But birds are scarce and it's difficult to find new species to year list. Still I love this winter, this is much better than those wet, dark, rainy and foggy winters, that we have experienced during this millenium.

But the cold weather itself is not the only reason for the scarcity of birds. Low vole populations have decreased the number of owls and many hawks, as well as the number of Great Gray Shrikes (Lanius excubitor). Drainage of water in lakes is minimal this winter and most of the open water locations are now covered with ice, so waterfowl are scarce too. Rowan berries are almost finished so most of the Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) and Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) are disappearing to south. And in addition to above, during last summer, due to cold and wet weather, many birds failed in their nesting, so the numbers of many tits and other small birds are also low. In fact so low, that I have not seen any Coal, Crested nor Willow Tits in our backyard this winter - this is the first winter ever that this happens!

Well, for tomorrow I'm planning a birding trip to Tampere and Nokia, there should be some nice species that I have not seen for a while. Let's see if I'm lucky or not?

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) feeding in our backyard

04 January, 2010

Winter Bird Race 2010

Winter Bird Race 2010 of Valkeakosken Lintuharrastajat was held this year on the 2nd of January in rather arctic weather. The morning temperature was -20° C and it rose only to -18° C during the day. No signs of global warming, which was in fact very refreshing after several warm winters. Basically birding in arctic weather is just the matter of proper clothing, but naturally there is some challenges, like the fact that your binocular lenses get easily covered by ice when they first get moist in warm car.

Our race team "Suur-Akaan Nuijamiehet" was the same that we have had for many years; Ville Työppönen, Heikki-Pekka Innala, Jonne Mäkelä and undersigned.

The race time was 6:00 - 16:00, basically 10 hours. But this year we started only at 8:30, as we knew that it was totally hopeless to search for owls, due to fact that the vole population cycle is right now in low phase. The sun rose at 9:38 and set down at 15:18, so the effective birding time was about 7 hours and 15 minutes.

At first we headed to couple of feeding places in Valkeakoski suburbs. The first species, Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) was observed at 8:44. During next 16 minutes we observed 10 species but after that the rate slowed down.

During the day we drove around the southern parts of Pirkanmaa county, trying to find especially grouses and woodpeckers. We were lucky with grouses; we found the Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix), Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) and Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). But the woodpeckers were not favourable for us; just the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Denrocopos minor). The latter was in fact a highlight for us and turned out to be an ace when we compared our results with other teams. Grey Partridge was also very good and in fact this was the first time ever that this species has been observed in Winter Bird Race of Valkeakosken Lintuharrastajat!

Waterfowl were scarce. Drainage of water in lakes has been minimal this winter and most of the open water locations were now covered with ice. Many waterfowl and 1 Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) are concentrated in the condensation water pool of United Paper Mills in Valkeakoski, but unfortunately that area is nowadays out of limits, so all race teams missed couple of species this year. Still we managed to find an adult Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus), male Goosander (Mergus merganser) and Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) from the few open water rapids and straits of Lempäälä.

The obligatory drawback of this race for us was the Merlin (Falco columbarius). I found a fast flying bird over the forest in Ritvala; Heikki-Pekka managed to see it, but Jonne and Ville missed it. So, as the rules say that over 50% of the team members must see and identify the bird, the Merlin was not acceptable...

Like always in these rallies, the first morning hours are the best. During afternoon we got only couple of new species and at 15:47, we ticked the last species, the Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) from my own backyard.

After hard but fun day, our result was 34 species. The winner team got 35, so we were left to silver - exactly like last year. Total number of all species observed by all teams was 42, which is 14 species less than last year. Five species were aces, i.e. seen only by one team: Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Denrocopos minor), White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) and Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor). Most teams drove 100-160 kilometers, our team together with winners had the longest drives; 203 kilometers in both team.

Next year again - and then we will take the gold position back to us!

And below is the complete list of the species we saw, including the Merlin:

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)
Goosander (Mergus merganser)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix)
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor)
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Great Tit (Parus major)
European Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus)
Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
Willow Tit (Poecile montanus)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) 
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix)
Western Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Common Magpie (Pica pica)
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Trip report: Seattle and Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA, 3-4/11/2009

My trip to Seattle and Snoqualmie National Forest was not a pure birding trip, but a combined vacation / geocaching / birding trip, as I primarily travelled to Seattle to meet my old friends. Still I was able to get some new lifers and enjoy the nature of Cascades. I was lucky with the weather, perfect sunshine and almost no wind at all. If you ever visit this area, please note that the weather is often very wet there, so waterproof clothing is really necessary. It’s also good to know that many National Forests in Oregon and Washington require day use fees. Please see the links in bottom of this article for more information.

Day 1. 3/11/2009

I arrived to USA from Canada by Amtrak Coach. I was hoping to see some owl during evening travel to Seattle, but no luck this time. In Seattle I met my friends Bryan and Heidi Roth, had a nice dinner with them. No bird observations yet, only one mammal, a Raccoon (Procyon lotor) at Capitol Hill. Well, a mammal lifer, though!

Day 2. 4/11/2009

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. at Bed & Breakfast Capitol Hill, very nice place, I can really recommend it! After breakfast I walked 4,8 kilometres from Capitol Hill to Fremont. Nice walk, but no lifers; Pacific Wren (Troglodytes pacificus), Feral Pigeons (Columba livia), Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Chickadees, some large gulls, probably Glaucous-winged or California Gulls, singing Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), some American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and some thrush, probably American Robin (Turdus migratorius). I tried to find the Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) from marina of the Lake Union, but had do luck with it here either (tried to find it from Point Roberts earlier).

Later in the morning I was on the highway 90 with Jeremy Irish and Kelly Bente, heading to Snoqualmie National Forest. Final location was close to Annette Lake Trail where our target, an extraordinary geocache was. Well, that’s not in the scope of this blog, so I will not write about it more here.

Annette Lake Trail is a serpentine path in the slopes of unnamed mountain between Humpback Mountain and Mt Catherine. Like in all northern hemisphere forests in this time of year, these forests were also quite silent. But not totally, couple of Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) flocks were feeding in tree tops, also Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and Chestnut-backed Chickadees (Poecile rufescens) were here and there.

Jeremy and Kelly, but no American Dipper

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) was on my wishlist - I tried to spot it from the river that was running down from the mountain. The river looked perfect, but no dipper anywhere, bummer...!

I was also hoping for some Grouse, but no, no luck with them either. I was also looking for Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). There were fresh marks of its existence; lots of big holes in dead trees, exactly similar tracks that our Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) makes. But the king of North American woodpeckers was hiding somewhere else this time. Shame…

Ten minutes later I heard the sounds of Crossbills. But... I was expecting Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), but these sounds did definitely not belong to them. White-winged Crossbills (Loxia leucoptera)! I found the birds, 3 of them, from treetops. Nice record! I’m familiar with this species from Finland, but even there where I live, it’s very irregular and I had not seen the species for years. When I look at the maps at Sibley, this was probably a good observation also in the State of Washington.

Downy Woodpecker, photo by permission of Wolfgang Wander, Wikimedia Commons

After few miles we were in the location of the geocache that we were looking for. While investigating its content, I heard an interesting sound close to us. A woodpecker, no doubt about it, but which one? This time it was Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), the smallest of North American woodpeckers. Nice bird indeed and a lifer to me. But suddenly the sound changed, woodpecker went quiet but some other bird was calling. I could not see it well; just some medium sized bird flew briefly between spruces. It was a Jay… and I had and idea which Jay it could be. Later I found exactly the same sound from Xeno-canto America, it was Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis). Lifer again, but what a shame that I did not see it better, as I really like these Jays! Close cousin of Gray Jay, the Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus), is one of my favourite birds in Finland.

Photo by permission of Alan D. Wilson, Wikimedia Commons

While trekking back to the car, a large group of Chickadees were feeding in nearby spruces. One of the birds looked different; it was Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)! There I heard another familiar sound – a Treecreeper, but in this case it was the American cousin of our Treecreeper, the Brown Creeper (Certhia americana). I also saw the bird briefly but well enough. Two more lifers!

When we drove back to Seattle, I got the last lifer; Stellers Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). It landed to a tree in my eye-level right next to highway. What a beautiful bird it was!

Closer to Seattle I saw still one Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). And in the evening, after sunset when I had dinner with Jeremy & Samsy Irish at Ray’s Boathouse, Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was resting right next to restaurant windows, in top of pole. Nice end for the day.

Early next morning I started my flight back to Finland… I really miss Seattle and the mountain forests…

Must get back there some day, during early summer, with my whole family.

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