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.

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