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)


  1. Wow, over half of those species occur here in Hokkaido!

  2. Your Winter Bird rally brings back memories for me while stationed in the air force on Shemya Island Island, south Alaska in the Aleutian island chain when we got the rare opportunity to see many of the Bar-tailed Godwit.. what a treat for us birders.