25 June, 2016

Midsummer is offspring time - but can you identify them?

Pair of Great Crested Grebes with their three offspring today

Lot's of nestlings and fledged offspring out there at the moment. Some are still tiny and bald, waiting for food in the nest, some are already full grown juveniles. They are all easy to identify when they are with their parents, but how about lonely young birds - can you identify them?

Just for example, what is the species below? I will tell it at the end of this text.

Waterfowl, gull, tern? And which species?

Fortunately, all the young birds are easy to learn when their parents are close to them. So take some time to study them now and next year it will be already much easier.

Hint: This old book from 1980 is still worth of gold if you manage to get a copy of it somewhere.

Or you can borrow it from me if you wish.

At the same time, the variety of breeding bird species here is changing. Some decades ago we didn't have here White-tailed Eagles at all, Whooper Swans and Common Cranes were scarce. On the other hand some previously common species have now either turned scarce or disappeared totally. Golden Oriole is now rare as well is the  Rustic Bunting. And the Ortolan Bunting has disappeared totally from this region...

One of the newcomers is the Barnacle Goose. Three birds were today in Putaanvirta, right in the downtown Valkeakoski. My son Roni found them and called me while I was walking around the Riippusiltojen Lenkki (Suspension Bridge Trail). I'm not so sure if this is a good thing that these geese will settle down here... they are just too tame and tend to poop everywhere in parks and beaches..

Barnacle Goose to in Putaankari today

In the above mentioned trail, I saw also two Greenshanks, resting in small rocks in the middle of the lake. They took off soon and continued migration to south. Lot's of Mallards, Black-headed and Mew Gulls, some Herring Gulls too.

Dirty Black-headed Gull

Couple of Wood Warblers, Blackcaps and Spotted Flycatchers here and there, but no photos of them this time ,all hiding in forest canopy. Only the Chaffinch was a bit co-operative:

Chaffinch in Sointula

So, the mystery nestling? It's a Common Gull aka Mew Gull. Adult is a medium-sized gull which breeds in northern Asia, northern Europe and northwestern North America. The North American subspecies is commonly referred to as the Mew Gull, although that name is also used by some authorities for the whole species.

Happy Midsummer! Spring migration continues, autumn migration has started

European Goldfinch is getting more common every year.
24th of June, Midsummer here in Nordic countries, towns area deserted, people are more or less drunk, many of them in summer cottages. Before I opened the sparkling wine, I did a 30 km birding trip by bike, to Sääksmäki and back.

Most of the birds have got their nestlings in flight, so did the European Goldfinches, I saw three broods with adult birds. It's getting more common every year, perhaps it's one the results of global warming here.

"I'm singing in the rain... the Common Whitethroat"

Common Whitethroats were still singing actively as well as all the Thrushes and Yellowhammers. Rainshowers stopped my biking few times, but the rain did not stop birds singing. I was listening all the sounds and songs, identified all the birds I heard and saw, but nothing special today, just the ordinary breeding birds of this region.

Northern Lapwing guarding his offspring

There were lot's Northern Lapwings in the fields, adults with their offspring. A flock of 8 Black-headed Gulls was migrating south, sign of the autumn... At the same time we are still waiting for the last birds to arrive here, like the last Corncrakes and some rare Lanceolated Warblers.

Midsummer bonfire was burning in the village of Mattila, flag of Finland in every flag pole. It was very peaceful everywhere, people were barbecuing, only few cars on the road.

In Sääksmäki I turned back to home, took just another route. I stopped at Rapola, to drink some water. When I tried to continue cycling, I suddenly found myself lying on the ground with my bike. At first I didn't even realize what the heck happened, then I saw a stone on the grass and noticed that my front wheel had turned around. I had hold the handlebars only with my left hand and tried to turn my camera bag behind my back with my right hand. The front wheel had hit the stone and turned around in a second... Nothing too serious happened, some scratches in my legs and right hand is a bit aching, that's all. But the front wheel brakes got stuck. Damn! The brake cable guide was warped and the cable did not move at all. I could cycle mainly on downhills, well, also in flat, but it was really heavy to cycle, but no chance to cycle uphills...

So, I was heading home, but slowly... I stopped at Rapolanlahti for watching the Little Gulls hunting insects over the lake.

Four Little Gulls were catching insects over the bay of Rapolanlahti

Little Gull is my favorite gull, it's the smallest gull of the World, with a length of 25–30 cm (9.8–11.8 in) and wingspan of 61–78 cm (24–31 in). Underwings are black and it has a funny nasal "keck" sound. Very sympathetic small bird, in my opinion.

In the fields of Rapolanharju there was also a local Raven family, two adults and with 5 juveniles.  A bit later, in Vuohilahti fields I saw a Mountain Hare and a lonely Common Crane.

Common Crane in Vuohilahti fields.
Only few kilometers to home... I made a phone call and asked my older son to bring me some tools. He came soon and I got the front wheel rotating pretty well. The front brake did not work though, so I know what I do tomorrow...

23 June, 2016

Birding in nightless night, enjoying endless light

Orange moon rising in the fields of Linnanen
Photo by Roni Haukkovaara
Days in high latitudes are now long and you can go birding whenever you want, there's always enough light. Listening night singers between late May and early July is a traditional way of of birding in Finland. Personally I enjoy these nightless night birding trips a lot. Listening excellent singers during calm and warm nights is something that every birder and nature enthusiasts must experience at least once in a lifetime.

Last night I guided with Risto Vilpas a group of 11 birders around the countryside of Valkeakoski and Akaa, we stopped here and there, watched birds and listened to  the singers. We drove first to the fields of Linnanen, where a flock of 24 female Eurasian Curlews was resting and took off when we arrived.

Female Eurasian Curlews
Photo by Roni Haukkovaara

Here we heard also the first night singers; a Marsh Warbler, Thrush Nightingale and Grasshopper Warbler. Of those the March Warbler is an expert in mimicry with furious tempo, changing the subject all the time. Thrush Nightingale is extremely loud with over 70 dB song that can be heard over long distances, while the Grasshopper Warbler has a peculiar, continuous insect-like whirring reel.

So, this was a good start and our group was already satisfied, especially the Nightingale was a bird that they had wished.

Next we moved to Tarttila, where a Blyth's Reed Warbler was singing right next to the roadside, loud and clear. It's an other great mimic, reminds the Marsh Warbler, but it's louder and the tempo of the song is slower.

Listening and watching the Blyth's Reed Warbler
From Tarttila we drove to Päivölä and walked to the shore of lake Saarioisjärvi. Lot's of Sedge Warblers in reed beds and lonely female Water Rail calling continuously somewhere close. More Blyth's Reed Warblers in nearby fields, also a Northern Bat hunting insects in Päivölä hill.

The dusk is short and we decided to visit still one spot, the Alkkulanlammi old sewage ponds in Viiala. There we heard three more night singers; two River Warblers, Savi's Warbler and European Reed Warbler. The song of the River Warbler is like a powerful sewing-machine, while the song of Savi's is much like the Grasshopper Warbler's but differs in higher frequency and lower pitch. European Reed Warbler song instead reminds a bit of Sedge's but is "chatty" and slow-paced.

Back at home about at 02:00, long, 23 hour day behind. Off to bed and lot's of coffee next morning. Have to go still at least couple of times more to night birding trips during this summer, especially if south eastern winds bring more birds to Finland.

22 June, 2016

From blind spot to a hotspot, I hope so...

One more to my year list, Red-backed Shrike
I've been birding in Valkeakoski region already for over 40 years. I thought that I know this neighborhood like my own pockets, but obviously there are still some secret pockets... because few days ago I studied aerial photos and satellite pictures of this region and noticed something interesting in the middle of my regular birding area. The interesting spot is about size of 2,5 hectares and in pictures it was clearly an old field, which was not in cultivation use anymore. And about 500 meters south from it there seemed to be another large area which is out of cultivation use too.

So, early this morning, Aatu Rundgrén and I headed to those fields right after sunset, we arrived there at 04:15. At first we walked to the northern field (Koivumäen pakettipelto) which looked like a perfect habitat especially for night singing warblers, like Grasshopper Warbler or Blyth's Reed Warbler - or even Booted Warbler. But this time only couple of Sedge Warblers were singing there in the morning, so we should make another visit during night. Lot's of regular day time singers, like Common Whitethroats, Garden Warblers and others were singing though. So, it is a very promising place!

Yellow Flags in river Oikolanjoki

Next we walked towards south to fields of Munakas. This area looked even better! The fields are almost at the same level as the river Oikolanjoki, and they looked really wet, good for migrating waders! The whole area of Munakas is at the lower level than the surrounding fields, so it will stay more or less wet for ever.

And the birds liked this area! There were for example 20 Northern Lapwings, several Meadow Pipits which is a scarce breeding species in this region, Whinchat, Thrush Nightingale, several Sedge Warblers and many more. But the highlight of this place was the Red-backed Shrike, gorgeous male of the species which population has been declined fast.

We found three pairs of Meadow Pipits

But why these fields have been overlooked? Perhaps it's just the fact that they are in blind spot when birders are looking for birds from nearby country roads. Also many birders, including me, have noticed during years that there are flocks of birds in that area, and raptors seem to like the area too. And as almost everyone has a scope nowadays, it's not so tempting to go stomping around the fields...

But - at least I will stomp around Munakas fields and Koivumäen pakettipelto in future regularly and I'm 100% sure there will be many interesting and some rare birds waiting to be found from those areas too. Perhaps already during this autumn...

Part of the flock of 16 Curlews

After one and half hours of stomping around we jumped in to Aatu's car and drove to Linnanen, from where we found a flock 16 Eurasian Curlews and Marsh Warbler, both nice observations. Also couple of Kestrels, a family of 2 adult and two small Common Cranes and finally a Common Cuckoo flying over the fields.

That's it from the early morning, next trip late tonight as a bird guide for the participants of night singer trip of our local birding society.

19 June, 2016

Evening at Vallonjärvi, testing the Olympus LS-P2 recorder

Whooper Swan was eating Water Horsetails in front of the tower 
 After three days of summertime flu, I finally felt a bit better and decided to go for a short birding trip by bike. I cycled to lake Vallonjärvi and Heikkilänmetsä old taiga forest nature reserve. Lot's of mosquitoes everywhere, especially in the forest. But first I spent some twenty minutes in bird tower. Eurasian Hobby was chasing Swifts over the lake, with no luck. Coots had their nestlings, and so did the Whooper Swan and Common Cranes.

The Coot family
The "Ugly Duckling " with mama

Four Cranes and a Swift
Common Crane
In addition to the local Crane family also a flock of 4 + 1 non-breeding teenager Cranes visited the lake when I was there. They flew around the lake and continued somewhere to the nearby fields.

From the tower I hiked to Heikkilänmetsä forest and tested recording bird sounds with my new Olympus LS-P2. I really like it, it's small and handy, easy to use and high quality. Here's two examples; Common Chaffinch and Song Thrush. I tried to embed them to this blog but damn Google prevented it...

In the forest there were also lekking Eurasian Woodcocks, singing Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, Blackcaps and many more. Just too dark in the cloudy evening to take photos of them. Soon it started raining and I decided to get back to home. Nice evening though!

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!