16 January, 2016

Winter birding, from oasis to oasis

Hooded Crow
Birding in winter is like birding in desert, you better find an oasis to see birds. The oasis here can be for example a feeding place, stream with open water, and old forest, or any other place that attracts birds. Between these hotspots, birds are very scarce.

Today I went birding with my friend Aatu Rundgrén. He is a rather new birder, enthusiastic and learning fast. I kind of envy him, he get's lifers still quite often. Hmmm, I should probably go to Amazon to get that feeling of finding and learning new birds again... ;)

Just before Aatu arrived, I got a new species to my year list; Black Woodpecker was calling few hundred meters away from my home. It was #47 in my year list 2016.

We headed to Rauttunniemi, as there is a feeding place inside forest by Juha Leuhtonen. Nice deciduous forest, good for woodpeckers and many others. Distance from car to to feeding place is about 500 meters. There were no birds between these two spots... But when we approached the feeding place, we first saw a male Blackbird, the two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, soon some Blue Tits and Great Tits and heard the calls of Long-tailed Tits. Not a bad start, Long-tailed Tit was #48 in my year list. When we left, we met Juha and his wife Pirjo in the forest, they brought new food for the birds.

Next to Vedentaka village, nothing special, some Tits and a flock of 100 Jackdaws plus some Hooded Crows, that's all. But hey, in Metsäkansa there's a log storage, those are widely known as good spots to find woodpeckers. Just few days ago Petri Hakosalo found 5 woodpecker species from some log storage in Pori, so why not here too... Or so I thought.

Metsäkansa log storage - no woodpeckers

No sign of any woodpeckers here.... nor any other birds. Blah...

From Metsäkansa we took the old road to Nikkarinhanko. There is still a small piece of old coniferous taiga forest in Yhteistenmäki, after large clear cuttings around it. There used to be Three-toed Woodpeckers, but after latest clear cutting in north east side, they had disappeared.  But who knows, maybe there's one now in the middle of winter as there's still lots of food available for them.
After short walk we heard a woodpecker knocking... and then it went silent. Soon we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling further away, okay, it was just it. And at the same time, behind us - knock - knock - knock - knock!!! And soon we found a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, nice :)

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Yhteistenmäki

Next we drove to Kopolantie, where it's possible see a flock of Black Grouses - but not today, actually there were no birds along the whole road. And soon we arrived to Kärjenniemi; there's another oasis, created by Kimmo Mäkiselkä, who happened to be in front of his house,  with camera, photographing birds. He has a big feeding place in his backyard, which attracts lot's bird, like some 150 Yellowhammers, also 4 House Sparrows, which is nowadays endangered species here and only House Sparrows in whole Kärjenniemi area.

Part of big flock of Yellowhammers in Kärjenniemi

After Kärjenniemi we drove to Apianvirta stream. When we approached the open water, we  heard the Dipper singing there. And it was a lifer for Aatu, congratulations man! There were also Bullfinches, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker - and there had been an Otter few hours earlier. Gotta get there tomorrow again, would be nice see the Otter for a long time.
European Dipper - a lifer for Aatu

Time to go home, to last oasis. A small surprise waited us there; 6 Great Spotted Woodpeckers! What the heck? Here has been two of them whole winter and now suddenly six!

One more surprise, in the end: Aatu gave me a bottle of 12 year old Famous Grouse to thank me for all those lifers I've found for him. Oh man, this was too much, but thank you, it was a pleasant surprise and tastes excellent! :)

10 January, 2016

Birding in -25° C, looking for woodpeckers

New year, time to start the year list from zero, once again. And that's a good reason to go for a walk in taiga forests, or actually, in last remaining pieces of them. We have lot's of forests here, but majority of them are so called "tree fields" i.e. commercial forests or clear cuttings which are far from original taiga forests.

Heikkilämetsä nature reserve, notice the fallen trees which makes it difficult to walk outside trails

On 8th of January, I thought it was a last freezing day for a while... Temperature was about -25° C i.e. -4° F. I walked to Heikkilänmetsä nature reserve, it's on old taiga forest, only couple of kilometers from my home. I was looking for woodpeckers, weather was perfect for this, no wind at all. Only noise came from cars that drove by at the distance of some 500 meters. Oh, and cold weather caused snaps, cracks and bangs in trees all the time. I was walking slowly in the forest, stopping every 20 meters and listened. Soon I heard repeating snaps - a woodpecker. But... in old taiga forest it's not easy to walk outside trails, as there are so many fallen trees. It took about 10 minutes to walk about 100 metres... And then I saw the male Three-toed Woodpecker, gorgeous male with yellow crown. And right after that another woodpecker in same spruce; White-backed Woodpecker, female! Cool, two new species to my year list! Also Eurasian Treecreeper in the same tree. Not a bad walk... even though the forest was so dark that I could not get good photos, as you can see below...

Three-toed Woodpecker in Heikkilänmetsä
Female White-backed Woodpecker in Heikkilänmetsä

The freezing weather continued whole weekend... Tomorrow the temperature will raise but so will the wind and the result of windchill will make the weather about as cold as it's now, -20° C aka -4° F.

Today I made a short walk to another small remaining piece of taiga forests, the Kaskelankorpi. My plan was to find Hazelhen aka Hazel Grouse to my year list. But soon when I was inside the forest, I heard a soft "kick - kick" and knocking. Definitely not a Great Spotted Woodpecker but something better... And soon I found it, White-backed Woodpecker female! Cool!

White-backed Woodpecker, female in Kaskelankorpi

I continued my walk and soon I found the Hazelhen, a gorgeous male, but it was too fast, could not get a photo of it. Shame. After I walked some 150 - 200 meters, I heard intense knocking and saw another woodpecker - what the heck, White-backed Woodpecker again! I really wonder how many White-backed Woodpeckers we have here in Finland now?? During last autumn we had a big influx of White-backed Woodpeckers from Russia, most of these birds must be from there as the Finnish population is only about 150 pairs.

Great Spotted Woodpecker in my backyard

While walking back to home, I found a Fieldfare, which is rather scarce here this winter due to lack of berries. Great Spotted Woodpecker was in our backyard, like it's every day, and so were the Bullfinches. One of the Bullfinches surprised me positively, the male was enjoying the rays of sun and started singing, this was the first sign of the spring 2016!

The first sign of the spring 2016, male Bullfinch was singing in maple tree