30 September, 2014

Skuas, skuas and more skuas!

Juvenile Pomarine Skua by Erik Mølgaard, photo taken in Sweden. Thanks Erik for the great photo and please visit his gallery too.

On Saturday evening, the 27th of September my birding buddy Ilkka Hakala found 5 skuas from lake Mallasvesi near my home. He managed to identify couple of them as juvenile Pomarine Skuas, one as juvenile Arctic Skua and the rest he had to leave unidentified.

Sun had already settled down when I got the message. So, there was no doubt what to do next morning. I woke up at 5:30, quick breakfast and then out. At 6:40 I was at the eastern cape of Riuttasaari. Sun was just rising up, many gulls were already on the fly, one Black-throated Loon flew by towards northeast. And then I saw a Skua coming towards me, no, but two Skuas. They both came rather close and when they turned, I saw all characteristic identification marks - two Pomarine Skuas! Cool! First time for me in the area of my local birding club and first time for me in Valkeakoski.

Arctic Skua in Baltic Sea coast by Miia Parviainen.
Thanks Miia for the photo!
Soon came Ilkka too and we continued watching - and identify and count the skuas. The amount caused some debate, but in my humble opinion, the final number was 8. As during one turn of my scope in the whole visible sector, I counted 6 dark Skuas. Later I found an adult pale Arctic Skua and later there was also an adult pale Pomarine Skua, so that makes 8 skuas. How many juvenile Pomarine / Arctic skuas there were, is a bit unclear. At least 4 of them were identified as Pomarine

Skuas and 1 as Arctic Skua, so one juvenile Skua was left unidentified.

This autumn has been amazing on what comes to Skuas in Finland. During last 30 days, 1115 Skuas were reported to Tiira. 354 of them were Arctic Skuas, 401 Pomarine Skuas, 21 Long-tailed Skuas and 699 unidentifed Skuas. I love these kind surprises in birding world!

But why so many Skuas here now? There were also exceptional Skua migration in northern Norway a week ago. On 22nd of September, Hampus Lejon counted 166 adult and 421 juvenile Pomarine Skuas in Gamvik, in Finnmark county. Also on 23rd of September, 104 adult and 258 juvenile Pomarines were counted in  Flintholmen, in Spitsbergen, Svalbard. Note also the big proportion of juvenile birds, it tells something about good production of Pomarine Skuas in Siberia. Maybe there were a good year for moles? If so, will we see lot's of Snowy Owls later this autumn / next winter?

24 September, 2014

What a day! Geese from dawn to dusk and much more!

Typical flock of the day; Barnacle Geese
Believe it or not, it WAS cold!

As I told on Monday, the weather in Finland changed dramatically. And actually it changed in Tuesday even more dramatically than the weathermen forecasted. Northern wind turned out be not 7 m/s but 14 m/s and in gusts even more, almost a storm! Temperature dropped down to 0,5°C and the cloudy day turned to snow squalls... 

By the way, instead of a normal birder I must be an addicted birderfreak. No other appearance of birdwatcher get out for dusk to dawn to stare the sky when temperature is close to zero degrees Celcius and freezing gale and snow squalls from north rule the atmosphere. But... it was really cool to watch almost panic-like drag race migration towards south!

I woke up at 5:30, had a breakfast and packed everything. Soon I was on the top of nearby water tower of Jyräänmäki. It's a perfect spot for migration watching, located on the top of hill and offers 360 degrees view over the surrounding landscapes.

Sun had not even rose up, when the first flock of geese, 40 Barnacle Geese, flew over the tower, barking loud. Nice start, I guess the migration had begun already during the night. Soon I found more geese flocks; Bean Geese, Brant Geese and naturally many flocks of unidentified geese further away. During morning I saw totally 1285 geese. But it was not just the geese that were migrating this morning. I saw also 585 Common Cranes, well that's nothing when compared to numbers in South-West Finland where a migration of over 20 000 cranes were seen today! In addition to above, I saw also Arctic Divers (aka Black-throated Loons), Long-tailed Ducks, Scaups, lot's of Wood Pigeons, Pied Wagtails and Chaffinches. Nice morning, indeed, but after four hours I had to get something warm to drink and the lunch, so I headed home and made a hot cup of mulled wine and sandwich.

Goodbye Common Cranes, see you again in spring 2015!

So, what next? After couple of phone calls, I decided to go to Verhonkulma pier on the shore of lake Vanajanselkä. Another addicted birderfreak, my good friend Ilkka Hakala was already there and geese migration seemed to be even more active in that direction. When I got there, several flocks of geese were on the sight, cool! And it continued till the evening... The total number of geese in Verhonkulma today was 13 348 in 147 flocks!

Some of the Barnacle Geese preferred to migrate near the lake surface.

Of course there were lot's of other birds to see in Verhonkulma too, like two adult White-tailed Eagles, Common Scoters, Oldsquaws aka Long-tailed Ducks, 1 migrating Dunlin, Hen Harrier, Grey Herons etc.

By the way, the finnstick is absolutely mandatory in this kind of migration watching session, see the photo below. Imagine keeping the binoculars up by only with your hands for 12 hours...

Ilkka, finnstick and the day long migration watching session

This kind of migration days are one of the best events that Mother Nature can offer us. It's a shame that only few birders participate in these rare events. Birders, when nature offers it's best, get out and enjoy!

22 September, 2014

Weather changed, indian summer is over, cold autumn arrived from north, strong migration started

Rain map from Monday
In the night between Sunday the 21st and Monday the 22nd of September, the weather in Finland changed dramatically. Long Indian summer ended to thunderstorms and temperature dropped from +18°C down to +5°C. Wind turned to north and Lapland got the first snow. Huge number of birds started to migrate south on Monday, but here in south was (and still is, while writing this) a strong low pressure system with heavy rains...  Some flocks of Common Cranes pushed through the rain, most turned to southwest following the front and ended to west coast.

Mew Gull aka Common Gull in rain
I went birding in the afternoon, in hope of seeing some of  the crane flocks migrating through the rain. I drove to  Sääksmäki suspension bridge, where I could watch birds from under the bridge, without getting totally wet. But no cranes... still, I saw a migrating Common Ringed Plover, lot's of gulls including a juvenile Greater Black-backed Gull, two Grey Herons and about 40 Great Crested Grebes.
But tomorrow... see the weather forecast below, looks perfect for watching the migration. Can't wait! I'll report tomorrow what happened, wish me luck! At the moment there's a almost a storm outside, I hope the wind calms a bit... and it'll be a cold morning, got to find my pullover and thick gloves.

07 September, 2014

World Shorebirds' Day in lake Ahtialanjärvi, Finland

Due to 24 hour birding rally of my local birding club on 5th - 6th of September, we decided to participate in World Shorebirds' Day in Sunday the 7th.

"We" is the "Valkeakosken Lintuharrastajat" i.e. the local ornithological society in Valkeakoski region. Our event was held in lake Ahtialanjärvi, in Lempäälä, southern Finland. Ahtialanjärvi is a famous wetland with muddy island Lokkisaari (Gull Island) in the middle of it.

The event started at 9 a.m. and ended at noon. During that time, total 14 people visited in lake and 12 of them visited the island too. All were birdwatchers, shame that we did not get "normal" people to come to event. Hopefully next year we can reach them better.

At 9:00, thick fog covered the whole wetland, visibility was really poor as you can see from the photo below, where is 3 Whooper Swans, only 50 meters away from the shore.

Fortunately the sun warmed the air fast, and soon the visibility was ok. The first visitors had arrived right after 9 a.m. and the chairman of the Lokkisaari organization started to arrange boats for them, to get to the island. In photo below, two boats of birders are approaching the Lokkisaari.

We counted the following waders:
Ruff ca 50
Wood Sandpiper ca 10
Common Snipe ca 10
Common Ringed Plover ca 10
Dunlin ca 10
Curlew Sandpiper 2
Little Stint 2
And the best, a rare visitor from North America: Pectoral Sandpiper 1

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) Photo: Kari Isokivijärvi

When you watch the lake Ahtialanjärvi from Lokkisaari island, you suddenly enter in to the totally an other world. The active conservationists Rainer Mäkelä and Tatu Itkonen of Lokkisaari organization have done great job to waders, as you can see from the photo below:

Panorama photo of the Lokkisaari, please click the photo to see it in original size.
Next year again! In last photo is our information spot on the shore of the lake Ahtialanjärvi, Juha Leuhtonen is looking something with scope, Pekka Marjomaa is behind him.

19 May, 2014

Birthday gift for Roni - birding at the border in southeast Finland

My son Roni turned 15 last week and he wished for a full day birding trip to southeast Finland as a gift. Well, what could I do but agree :) On Saturday morning, 17 of May, we woke up at 5 a.m., had a quick breakfast and jumped into our car.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) at Kantelejärvi
We took the highway to south and turned to east at Hyvinkää, our first destination was lake Kantele at Pukkila. I parked the car on the south side of the lake, there was a good view to whole area. Thrush Nightingale was singing behind us, some Barn Swallows and Common Swifts were up in the sky, two Geese were flying east and lonely Whooper Swan was resting at the lake. And then I saw it! Montagu's Harrier was approaching us from the other side of the lake!

Gorgeous male, cool! Finally it came pretty close to us and we got a very good view of it :) Soon it disappeared, probably landed somewhere. We saw still a pair of Marsh Harriers, but as they are very common here where we live, we didn't pay much attention to them, time to move on!

And the trip continued further east. We stopped here and there, enjoyed the views to rivers and rapids, no hurry, we had all the day ahead. About an hour later, we arrived to Pyhtää. Few days before there had been 12 Dotterels and as it would be a lifer for Roni, we decided to to check the place where they had been. Due to highway road constructions, the access to site was bit complicated, but finally we found the route. And as we stopped in the middle of the fields, Skylarks singing around us, we soon saw 2 Dotterels, beautiful Arctic waders. And a lifer for Roni!

Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus), not the bird in Pyhtää but few days earlier in Akaa. They seem to prefer these bald fields, instead of grassy ones.
Next to Hamina. According to Tiira, there had been a Marsh Sandpiper a day before, so we just could not drive by. We arrived to Metsänkylä floods at 10 a.am., the weather was getting warmer all the time and the air shimmered already disturbingly... I got immediately worried whether we will find the Marsh Sandpiper or not. I found soon lot's of Ruffs, Wood Sandpipers, some Common Greenshanks and Common Redshanks but not the Marsh Sandpiper. I almost gave up, but then noticed a good candidate. Fortunately it made a short flight and I saw the long, narrow white wedge in the back and the long toes behind the tail. Marsh Sandpiper! Roni managed to see the bird as well, the second lifer for my son today!

From Metsänkylä we drove to Lupinlahti bird observation tower, mainly to have a short lunch break. While enjoying delicious sandwiches, we realised that Arktika (the massive migration of the Arctic waterfowl and waders) was going on and with power! Huge flocks of Barnacle Geese, flocks after flocks, all the time... During lunch we counted roughly about 10 000 geese!

Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) played the main role in Arktika while we were in  the coast. Photo: Roni Haukkovaara
In Lupinlahti we saw also Arctic Terns, heard the Great Reed Warbler and Eurasian Bittern. Perfect place for a lunch :)

Roni was anxious to see the King Eider, which had been reported from Virolahti, so we took off and drove again towards east. During low speed driving, we kept the car windows open and picked some nice species along the road from Ravijoki to Leerviiki; Icterine Warbler and Common Rosefinch, both new to my year list. We arrived soon to shore of Leerviiki, there were lot's of birders watching the Geese migration and waiting for the King Eider to show himself... but it was hiding behind a small island. Damn! Still some additions my year list, like Parasitic Jaeger and Common Eider - but where were the Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters, we didn't see any of them!

We decided to get back to Leerviiki later and headed to inland, to check the local wetlands, Vilkkiläntura and Lintulahti and easter fields, trying to find something nice like Ortolan Bunting or perhaps a Greater Spotted Eagle. Soon the Rare Bird Alert told that a Black Kite was approaching us from Ravijoki! Cool! But... it never showed up :( It must have turned slightly and flew behind the trees to Russia...

Oh, well... let's try the Ortolan Bunting from the fields of Vaalimaa.... But we took the wrong road and suddenly found ourselves from the road to Miehikkälä. I was about to make a U-turn but then remembered that someone had reported a Lesser Grey Shrike from Miehikkälä. Hmm... why not? Soon we were in Kavalanmäki, where the Shrike should be. We stopped behind other cars and asked from the birders we saw there about the Shrike. They said that the Shrike is about 200 metres behind us, but there is an unidentified rare eagle coming to our direction from Väkevänjärvi! Oh, ok! Let's wait then... But the eagle never came. Instead, we saw a male Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike and migrating Black-tailed Godwit. Nice! Especially the Golden Oriole was cool to see!

After that we went to place where the  Lesser Grey Shrike should be. And there it was! :)

Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) in Miehikkälä
Even though it was not a lifer for neither of us, it was nice to see and great addition to my year list. :)

We continued to lake Väkevänjärvi, stayed there some time and photographed local birds and plants. We were all time very close to Russia, the border zone was often right next to road.

Better not to enter to the Border Zone

And in some places the Russia is REALLY close, as you can see below!

There it is.... The Russia.

From Miehikkälä we drove back to Vaalimaa and Virojoki, trying to find something nice, like Ortolan Bunting, Turtle Dove or what ever Southeastern candies... But no, just the usual suspects. Then the Rare Bird Alert told that the King Eider is visible, so back to Leirviiki! When we got there, it was behind the same small island again. Bummer!!! Roni was very disappointed, the King Eider was number one in his wishlist... Well, let's try again later in the evening. We visited some other sites nearby, saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher, had a snack, checked the old migration watching tower, Roni was collecting stones... I already joked to Roni that we must do something to please Sendari, to get the King Eider. As there was no place to sacrifice to Sendari, nor we had nothing to sacrifice, I promised to build statue for her...

Soon after that we went back to shoreline, for the last time. I turned the scope to Heinäsaari, the small island where the King Eider had been hiding. And there it was! :)

Lifer nr 3, King Eider!
King Eider (Somateria spectabilis), not so good photo, but a proof anyway ;)

At that time it was already 20:30 and we had a long drive back to home ahead. Roni wanted to see the old quarry of Pyterlahti and the old center of Hamina, so we spent still some time in the southeast. During drive to home, we saw several Eurasian Woodcocks and huge Moose next to the road. Short evening snack at Nastola and back at home 00:10. Total kilometers 730,2.