13 June, 2016

SISIS 2016 bird race report by "The Snipes of Eldorado"

Jackdaws were everywhere...
SISIS 2016 bird race was held on 11th of June, from 4 am to 4 pm. Sisis is a slang word of the Finnish birders that refers to birder who lives in inland. In this case it has also a slight connection to world politics ;)

The race was held for the 2nd time and our team, "Eldoradon Kurpat" (The Snipes of Eldorado), Risto Vilpas and I, won the race in 2015 with 100 species. By the way, "Eldorado" is a nickname for the fields of Linnanen here in Valkeakoski. This time ten birders / four teams participated in the race.

In the morning the weather was arctic, just 3,5° C, later the temperature rose to 15° C, but after relatively calm morning the rest of the day was really windy with rain showers. This made the race really challenging; some warblers did not sing at all, they probably concentrated in finding insects, the sky was empty of birds as all the swifts, martins and swallows were feeding close to the water surface. Also most of the hawks were missing, they were probably sitting somewhere close to their nests, waiting for the weather to turn better.

Risto was supposed to pick me up at 03:30, our plan was to start the race brilliantly with a real rarity, Common Nightingale, which is only the second ever in the race area. I called him 03:34, he was still at home. So, Risto arrived at 04:00 and we were heading to the Myttäälä village in Pälkäne where the Common Nightingale was. But we arrived there too late, it did not sing anymore. Only two other teams got it in this race and they both were on the right spot in the right time, at 04:00...

We dipped out on common Nightingale...
 Photo by Frebeck - CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia Commons
 After we got dipped out on Common Nightingale, we picked several other night singers from Pälkäne; Thrush Nightingale, Grasshopper Warbler, European Reed Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Water Rail. Especially the last one was really cool, it started calling in the reed bed only some 10 meters from us in Nenäpää, Pälkäne and it was an ace for us i.e no other team found it!

Common Redstart, damn, it was supposed to be Black Redstart
The early morning continued well, and we got lot's of new species all the time; Winter Wren, Crested Tit, Bullfinch, Whinchat and many more. We tried a Black Redstart from the downtown Valkeakoski, no luck, just a Common Redstart in same location where the Black Restart had been.

Savi's Warbler
Photo by Sergey Yeliseev, Wikimedia Commons

From Valkeakoski we were heading to Viiala, where we tried first to find an Icterine Warbler, but it wasn't singing, damn, perhaps because of the cold morning. But instead of Icterine, we suddenly saw a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, nice - and it turned out be an ace for us.

Soon we arrived to old sewing ponds of Alkkulanlampi in Viiala. Again many new species, including a rarity; Savi's Warbler, twitched but nevertheless, nice record anyway, only the third ever for the race area! Not every team got it, some came to hotspot too late as it did not sing in the middle of day.

We got also an ace from Alkkulanlammi, a lonely Wood Sandpiper was resting on the first pond.

Next we were heading north, to Vesilahti and Lempäälä. We tried a Great Reed Warbler, no luck with it, nor with another Icterine Warbler site. After those the next stop was the famous Ahtialanjärvi and Lokkisaari. But no waders, just couple of new species like Osprey, Pochard and Tufted Duck. When we were about to leave, a male Sparrohawk rushed over the street, yet another ace for us, nice!

We tried to find also a Little Ringed Plover, but from the wrong site. We should have drove only a bit further north, but we decided to go to the Kylälammi pond, to search for the Slavonian Grebe. Kylälammi is a difficult place to observe, it's surrounded by a thick reed bed and birches. A pair of Whooper Swans were feeding in the nearby field with their nestlings (and I left my camera to car, damn!) and a flock of seven Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the birches. Risto had only hatchet shoes, I got my hiking shoes, so it was me who went wading to the quagmire - and got water inside my other shoe... but it was worth it, we found a Slavonian Grebe, and it was even an ace, we were only team who saw it in this pond!

After Kylälammi, we drove south through the big forests, stopping every here and there in hope of Grouses, Black Woodpecker, Coal Tit, Willow Tit and other forest birds. It turned out to be a waste of time, all we got was the Eurasian Jay. We tried even the Ural Owl from a sure site, but what the heck, the nest box had really seen it's best days...

Half of the floor missing, whole nest box almost dropping down, why here is no Ural Owl? ;)

Quick visit at home, I changed my wet clothing to dry trousers, socks and shoes and then we drove to big lakes, Mallasselkä and Vanajanselkä. Arctic Diver aka Black-throated Loon in couple of places, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls but no Goosanders nor Cormorants. It was already afternoon, time was running fast. We found our last ace from lake Vähäjärvi in Ritvala; a Grey Heron, nice!

Grey Heron in Vähäjärvi, our last ace.

Short visit to Iittala and lake Äimäjärvi gave us nothing but the Mute Swan. Tens of Swallows and House Martins, several Great Crested Grebes and lot's of other species we had already seen before.

Great Crested Grebe in Äimäjärvi

Strange thing was that the Common Whitethroats had been singing whole day from the dawn till afternoon but the Lesser Whitethroats were completely silent. Finally we heard one singing Lesser Whitethroat in Päivölä.

One of the tens of Common Whitethroats we saw
Kestrels, female in the nesting box, male is resting on the wall

The photo above explains a lot why the hawks were difficult; they were either in the nest like the female Kestrel in the nesting box or resting somewhere like the male Kestrel on the crack of the wall, because of  the strong wind.

15:51 - that was the time stamp for our last species, the Wood Warbler in the southern slopes of Rapola hill.

It was time to go to Mallasmaja, where the race meeting started at 16:45. There was fire outside the cottage, we grilled sausages and enjoyed beverages, cold beer tasted marvelous.

And who won? Well, it was not the Eldoradon Kurpat this year but the Peräkylän Spedet - Ilkka Hakala, Niklas Paulaniemi and Lassi Kangasmäki, they found 113 species! Congrats! Second position went to Fiinit Dudet - Jani Vastamäki and Petri Salo, with 98 species. We were third with 96 species and Pyyttömät Ponnistajat - Lasse Kosonen,  Joni Raivio and Aatu Rundgrén got 81. Total number of species in this race was 123, just one less than last year.

The day was fun, 12 hours of intense birding. We drove 264 km and spent 6 hours outside of the car. In spite of the weather I enjoyed every minute! Next year we will win again and make a new record!

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