06 April, 2011

Mute Swan surprise

On 27th of March I noticed that our local Mute Swan has a ring in it's right leg. Naturally I thought that the bird is one of those Mute Swans that local bird ringers Jote Ahola or Markku Alanko had ringed years ago. Still, I wanted to read the ring, just to get sure when it was ringed.

So, last Tuesday I was feeding swans with my son Roni in Putaanvirta, in centre of Valkeakoski. There were both Whooper Swans and one Mute Swan, which was pretty tame. It climbed on the pier, just in front of of us, only 2 metres away, so I was able to take good photos of the ring.

But only several days later I took a better look at my photos and to my surprise I noticed that the ring is not Finnish, but a Danish ring! Wow! I sent the data of my record with enclosed photo of the ring to the Natural History Museum of Denmark. And yesterday I received the reply. The Mute Swan was ringed on 21st of March 2010 in Munkholmbroen, near Holbæk, Sjælland, Denmark, 895.5 km southwest from Putaanvirta. Now we know where this Mute Swan spends the winters!

05 April, 2011

Big rush started!

Eurasian Kestler in the fields of Linnanen

The pool plug was opened last night! Night was clear and warm, so the migration started with full power. Lot's of new species arrived during last night and the migration continued till the evening.

The landscape changes now all the time. The heavy rain that we had here yesterday has melted quite a lot of snow and that led to flooding especially in countryside. Today we had a sunny day, but tomorrow we will get more rain and for day after tomorrow, the prediction is a torrential rain! That will create big flood lakes for waterfowl and waders - good for birds and birders, but not so good for farmers.

Taiga Bean Geese in Linnanen

Back to this morning. I did a great trip with Jussi Kallio. The first new birds for this year were a singing European Robin and flock of 10 Redwings, both in Lahinen. Soon after that we stopped in the middle of the fields of Linnanen for one hour. Chaffinches, Skylarks, Snow Buntings and Wood Pigeons were flowing to north, while big numbers of sedentary Northern Lapwings, European Starlings and Skylarks with smaller numbers of Eurasian Cranes, Taiga Bean Geese, Meadow Pipits, Black-headed Gulls, thrushes (including 3 Mistle Thrushes) and some other species were resting and flying around the fields. Eurasian Kestler was the first bird of prey for today, following soon by Northern Goshawk.

Linnanen was a real Eldorado today, as other fields around were still covered with more snow. Still, the Whooper Swans or their sounds were almost everywhere. We saw also many Canada Geese and several Eurasian Cranes. Also lot's of Mallards and Goldeneyes, some Common Teals and Goosanders and about 30 Eurasian Coots. Two Rough-legged Buzzards were flying to north in Konhonvuolle. Nice surprise was also the first Small Tortoishell on the roadside in Metsäkansa.

Later in the afternoon I did another trip with my son Roni. In addition to above we saw two Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and a migrating White-tailed Eagle.

Not a bad day...

04 April, 2011

Spring winter turned to spring, finally!

Fields of Linnanen on 30th of March
During last 10 days the weather has changed totally as the termic spring (daily mean temperature over 0°C) started two days ago. Warm moist air flowed from Central Europe to Nordic countries, creating rain and fog.

So, no more walking over the hard snow, thaw takes care that hard snow turns back to soft. In fact the snow started melting immediately, and first signs of flooding are already visible. If the rains continue, we will have excellent floods on the fields, where waders and waterfowl have perfect resting places.
Below I'll write day by day what has happened, so you can get an overview how the change from spring winter to real spring happened.

27.3. Almost -15°C during night. First Mute Swan was today in Putaanvirta stream. It is a very tame and hungry individual, with a ring in the leg. The ring itself was a surprise, but I'll write about it later in separate story.

28.3. Cold nights continue, even though the daytime temperature is above zero. I saw the first Merlin today; it flew fast past my car in afternoon in Lotilansalmi.

Bewick's Swan (left) with Whooper Swan

29.3. Nice surprise today in Iso-Vuolle; an adult Bewick's Swan among the flock of Whooper Swans. Bewick's Swan is a small rarity here, so I made a rare bird alert and at least couple of twitchers came to see it. The Bewick's Swan was there still in the morning of 30th but disappeared after that.

The morning of 31st of March was still cold

30.3. - 1.4. The weather was still very cold and during daytime only few hours above 0°C. Some Skylarks, Northern Lapwings, Starlings and other scouts have been seen here by other birders, but personally I got only two new species for this year on 30.3. when Common Buzzard was soaring to north in the Fields of Linnanen and two Linnets were heading to northeast in Iso-Vuolle. I saw also two adult sedentary White-Tailed Eagles in Rauttunselkä.

2.4. Last night was warm, but still too foggy... as the fog prevents most of the birds to migrate. Still something new: Northern Shrike in Kuurila fields. Also, I saw the second Merlin for this spring, in Iso-Vuolle.

Starlings arrived on Sunday


3.4. But on Sunday it started! I didn’t actually do any birding on Sunday as we visited the relatives of my wife, but during drive to Hämeenlinna and back I managed to see a flock of 20 Starlings in the roadside in Hattula and unexpectedly the first Eurasian Oystercatcher on the ice of Rauttunselkä! It felt a bit odd to see the Oystercatcher before Lapwings and Skylarks!

Northern Lapwings and Hooded Crow

4.4. Both Sunday and Monday were too foggy for the big rush. Still, the birds seem to a have huge pressure to get to their breeding sites... When I opened the door in the morning, a flock of 10 Blackbirds flew over our house. No doubt, they had arrived during night. After that I did a nice few hour trip in heavy rain and fog, with lot's of new species for this year;  14+1 Skylarks, a flock of 83 Northern Lapwings, 2 Eurasian Wigeons, 18 Eurasian Coots, 17 Black-headed Gulls, 6 Common Gulls (aka Mew Gulls) and 2 Great Crested Grebes. In addition those also 12 Snow Buntings were nice!

The fog may fade away for tomorrow, so the big rush may start...

21 March, 2011

Early spring birding in snow desert

Herring Gulls, stalking at fishermen
 Birds and birders here in north have to adapt to the fact that spring comes slowly and 99% of the landscape is covered with ice and snow. So, it's essential for both birds and birders to find all possible oases in this white desert.

The oasis in this case is naturally a place where birds will find something to eat. Roadsides with no snow, dung piles in the fields, dumps, open streams or rivers, feeding places, spots where fishermen leave garbage fish etc.

So, last Wednesday I went to search for these oases, with ultimate goal in my mind to find some new birds for this year. No Skylarks yet, but still I managed to find first 1 and later 3 Snow Buntings. The first one was in the dung pile in Kannistonmäki fields and the rest 3 were on the road side in Kuurila.

Fishermen were again on the ice of Rauttunselkä near Viidenummero. About 10 Herring Gulls, 3 Great Black-backed Gulls and an adult White-tailed Eagle were stalking at them, waiting for carbage fish.

Later I saw also 3 Whooper Swans and 10 Goosanders in small open water area near Valkeakoski, where local paper mill lets warm condensation water flow to nearby lake.

Dung pile, where I found the first Snow Bunting of this year
During weekend we got even more snow, about 10 cm. Perhaps during this week the spring really comes. Or not, we'll see...

14 March, 2011

Milkyway, Moon and owls

Last saturday evening I went birding at 23:00. I tried to get my sons with me, but this time they prefered 007's "The spy who loved me" movie. So I went alone and headed to forests east of Valkeakoski.

What a night it was, almost perfect indeed. Sky was clear and I could see the Milkyway above my head and the Moonshine was reflecting from the snow in silent taiga forest. Well, not totally silent - as this is the best time of year to listen for owls.

The first owl I heard was a very distant one, so I wasn't 100% sure of the species - it was either a Ural Owl or Eagle Owl. A bit later I heard a Red Fox calling and then two Tengmalm's Owls (aka Boreal Owl) and one Tawny Owl. Very nice !

I drove ahead, saw one European Hare, heard a possible distant Long-Eared Owl and finally a very active and loud Tawny Owl right next to the road. Shame that my boys didn't come with me. When I told them about my trip in Sunday morning, they required me to take them to owl trip next weekend. Let's hope that the weather is still fine then!

P.S. Four days later I tried with my son Roni to hear Eagle Owls and Eurasian Pygmy Owls right after sunset, when they are supposed to hoot. But not this evening, just dogs barking here and there... Perhaps too cold, who knows... Gotta try again when the weather gets warmer.

09 March, 2011

Migrating birds stopped at coast

Jackdaw in feeder today
Spring has started, no doubt about it. First Rooks, Stock Doves, Wood Pigeons, Northern Lapwings and Skylarks have arrived to Finland but almost all of them have stopped to southern coast. Only some waterfowls, gulls and Snow Buntings have continued to inland. Too much snow everywhere, only some open water in streams and rivers.

This means that we will probably have to wait for them still for weeks. But after that there will be a huge rush, and big flocks of birds in all those places where snow has melted away. I'm really looking for "a good old birding spring", like we had when I was a kid. During last 10 or even more years, the birds have disappeared to forests almost immediately after they arrived. Now we may have a chance to see them again in big flocks in fields!

Today I went birding with my younger son Roni. Highlight of the trip was 3 adult White-tailed Eagles on the ice of lake Rauttunselkä, south from Valkeakoski. There was also 3 Herring Gulls stalking at fishermen in Viidennumero. I hope they got something to eat, otherwise they have to return to Baltic Sea soon. Later we saw also a beatiful old male Goshawk. Shame that I didn't get a photo of it, it was so close and so gorgeous.

While waiting for migrating birds, I think I'll concentrate next on nocturnal birding and get out late in the evenings to listen for owls...

07 March, 2011

Spring is here again!

Viinikanlahti bay in Tampere 7.3.2010

The winter is over, in spite of the fact that we will get more snow in the end of this week. I heard the first Herring Gulls from my backyard already on 2nd of March and saw 18 of them today in Viinikanlahti bay, in Tampere. In addition to gulls, there was also 10 Goosanders, 2 Smews and about 100 Mallards. Smews and Mallards have been there over the winter, but Goosanders have arrived from south.

Today was also the first time when I tested my new scope while birding.  Zeiss 65 T* FL, excellent scope, I love it!

Soon here should be Snow Buntings and Skylarks, can't wait for them. Spring, hurry up, kick the rest of the winter away!


27 February, 2011

Nice afternoon birding walk

Today I was birding for the first time since couple of weeks due to influenza and pneumonia. No hardcore birding, just a slow 8 km hike in and around downtown Valkeakoski, as I'm still convalescent and eating antibiotics. My younger son Roni was with me, we both enjoyed the walk in sunny and warm spring-winter afternoon. Warm indeed, as the temperature was +33°C higher than week ago; 0°C. No doubt, there was spring in the air!

Great Tits, Blue Tits and Green Finches were all singing, as well as Bullfinches and Hooded Crows. In the channel of Valkeakoski we saw 4 Goosanders and 4 Goldeneyes, the first ones arrived already two weeks ago.

Eurasian Jackdaws were playing in the sky and flock of 35 Bohemian Waxwings were eating last Chokeberries. So, nothing new for this year, but anyway a nice afternoon birding walk!

Eurasian Jackdaws

The new Swarovision EL 50 series binoculars from Swarovski


 I've been looking for new binoculars for years. Excellent ones that I would use for next 30 years or even much more longer. And I think I found them finally; new Swarovision EL 50 12x50. The price is high, at the moment I have seen prices like 2200 - 2700 €. Yes, they will be very expensive bins and I have to save money to get them. But when you divide the price with 30 or more years, then it's not so expensive anymore. So, what makes these binoculars so special? Watch the video below, and read the reviews from the following links:

26 February, 2011

Jack Snipe is a tough guy

This Jack Snipe was photographed during winter 2006.
Photo copyright Pekka Sarvela, thanks to him for allowing me to use it.

The Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minumus)  is a small stocky wader. It is the smallest snipe, and the only member of the genus Lymnocryptes. Their breeding habitat is marshes, bogs, tundra and wet meadows with short vegetation in northern Europe and northern Russia. Jack Snipes are migratory, spending the non-breeding period in Great Britain, Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal Europe, Africa, and India.
But... did you know that part of the Jack Snipe population spend winters up here in the north, up to 62nd latitude. They are able survive in very small ditches and brooks, open drains and industrial areas where warm condensation water is let out to nature. Naturally, the weather in the end of autumn affects directly to the number of overwintering snipes. During winter 2000/2001, after warm autumn, 116 Jack Snipes were found from southern Finland. The real number must be much bigger, because this bird is really difficult to find. Their survival strategy is interesting; they don't move at all during day time! When the sun sets down and the dusk arrives, Jack Snipes activate. They may even fly long times over the open water, land every now and then and continue flying. Probably they also move between open ditches and brooks. Often the only sign that birders see, are the small foot steps of Jack Snipe somewhere along the ditch.

Surprisingly big number of overwintering snipes also survive to the spring. Of course it depends on the winter; for example this winter has been very cold and fatal to snipes, because most of the ditches and brooks are now covered with ice. But probably some of the luckiest ones will survive to spring - Jack Snipe is a tough guy!

05 February, 2011

Chernobyl birds are small brained

Sad news: Birds living around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident have 5% smaller brains, an effect directly linked to lingering background radiation. The finding comes from a study of 550 birds belonging to 48 different species living in the region, published in the journal PLoS One. Brain size was significantly smaller in yearlings compared to older birds. Smaller brain sizes are thought to be linked to reduced cognitive ability. The discovery was made by a team of researchers from Norway, France and the US led by Professor Timothy Mousseau from the University of South Carolina, US, and Dr Anders Moller from the University of Paris-Sud, France

Read the whole story at: BBC - Earth News - Chernobyl birds are small brained

10 January, 2011

Winter Bird Race 2011

Whooper Swan

The 14th Winter Bird Race of Valkeakoski Birders was held on Saturday the 8th of January. Weather was not too bad, some -10° Celcius, overcast and not too windy. Our race team "Mega-Akaan Nuijamiehet" was the same that we have had for many years; Ville Työppönen, Heikki-Pekka Innala, Jonne Mäkelä and undersigned.
In this case "Nuijamiehet" refers not only to ancient Finnish Cudgel War, but also to men who dip out on many birds ;-)

The race time was 6:00 - 16:00, basically 10 hours. Sunrise was at 09.32 and sunset at 15:26, so the actual time for race was much shorter. Still, we started at 7:00 and headed to back country forests, in hope of the hooting owls. Forests were silent, only sounds we heard there were some barking dog, distant snow plough and the wind. So we turned back to town, to wait for the first birds to wake up and appear at feeders. But before that we got our first species, at 08:18, still at dark; Ural Owl (Strix uralensis) was sitting on the telephone/electric wires on the roadside of Haapasaari fields. Very good species in this race and in fact it was an ace for us!

Great Crested Grebe
The waterfowl were scarce again. Like last winter, the drainage of water in lakes has been minimal this winter and most of the open water locations were again covered with ice. Still we managed to find a Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) from Viiala and Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) from Lempäälä. Not to forget Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), only common waterfowl in these latitudes during winter.

After 274 km drive and 9 hours we were tired but happy. Last year I promised that we will take the gold position back to us! And so we did, we won, with 35 species! In addition to Ural Owl, we got four other aces; a flock of 16 White-tailed Eagles (Haliaetus albicilla),  4 Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus),  Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) and adult male Sparrow Hawk (Accipiter nisus).

Total number of all species observed by all teams was 41, just one less than last year but 15 less than two years ago. Looking forward for the next winter, will it be warm or cold?

White-tailed Eagles, Common Ravens and Hooded Crows