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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