Sunday, June 03, 2007

Anser Birding Finland 7-12 June 2005 trip report

Anser Birding Finland 7-13 June 2005 trip report
report by Mike King

This trip to Finland was organised by Anser UK with three days guiding from Finnature Guide Toni Uusimaki. The main purpose of the trip was to find the Finnish specialities, in particular the owls. There were eight species of owl to be had - Short-eared, Long-eared, Pygmy, Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm's, Eagle and Hawk Owl. Hawk Owl was the only one we were uncertain about, as there were no known sites this year. This was to be a two-centre break with time in the Oulu area before travelling north to the Kuusamo area and then returning to Oulu for some more relaxed birding before flying home. In the event, because it didn't get dark at all, it was extreme birding with only about 20 hours sleep all week. It was the longest day because from when it got light on the Tuesday we didn't see darkness again until we arrived back at Stansted on Sunday night.

Phil Abbott, Pete Cranswick, Steve Dark, Ernie Davis, Nick Goatman, Brian Heasman, Mike King, Martin McGill, Paul Marshall, Perry Smale, Neil Smart and Jeremy Squire.

Tuesday 7 June 2005
Weather: Warm and sunny
We left Gloucester mid-morning for Stansted Airport arriving early afternoon for the Ryanair flight to Tampere in Finland. We met with the four lads from Devon at the airport completing our party of twelve. The flight was smooth and uneventful and we arrived at Tampere at around 10pm local time. A Swallow flying around the terminal was our first Finnish bird followed by a roding Woodcock. We picked up the two minivans and headed northwards for Oulu, where we would be staying at Liminka Bay. The journey north would take around six hours with several rest and refreshment stops along the way. A few birds of note were seen along the way including singing Fieldfares at the first rest stop, a Short-eared Owl at Rantsila and then the first of many Hooded Crows and White Wagtails at Tyrnävä (Hoodies replacing Carrion Crows and White Wagtails replacing Pied in Finland). We also saw Elk at Tampere and Pikhala.

Wednesday 8 June 2005
Weather: Bright and sunny with some cloud and a cool northerly breeze
We arrived at the Liminka Bay Centre at around 6am. A few notable birds around the Centre included a Short-eared Owl, a male Pied Flycatcher, a singing male Ortolan Bunting and a couple of Whinchats. We were met by our guide Toni, a cheerful guy who was immediately apologetic that the rooms and breakfast were not yet sorted. He suggested we went out for breakfast and then went birding. We agreed readily and also that Great Grey Owl should be first on the agenda. He led us to a service area where we enjoyed the Finnish equivalent of an English fry-up. On the way here we saw our third Short-eared Owl being mobbed by a Lapwing and also three Ravens.
After this refreshing break we drove to a wooded area in Paavola where Toni led us a short distance into the pinewood. He pointed out to us the now empty Great Grey Owl nest and just a few moments later an adult Great Grey Owl was located. This was a big moment for me as it was my number one most wanted world bird. It was huge and stunning to look at. A moment later, after moving around quietly to find a better position, we realised we were within a few feet of two downy owlets sat on a rock. The difference in size was considerable. The warning grunts emanating from the adult made us quickly back off. I was able to get some great shots of the birds before we retreated to the vans.

We also had our first Willow Tit here, this northern race looking different to the British race.
Along the way to our next stop near Saarikoski on the road to Mankila we saw a male Hen Harrier and twenty Whooper Swans. We pulled up just before our destination when an owl was spotted sat beside the road in broad daylight. It was a Long-eared Owl, behaving nothing like we would expect at home. There were also two more Short-eared Owls nearby. At the site we had come to was an Ural Owl nest box and as Toni approached it we watched as an adult Ural Owl left the box and flew the short distance into some birch scrub. It resembled a large greyish, long-tailed Tawny Owl. He assured us we would get better views later. Also here we saw four distant Common Cranes, a ringtail Hen Harrier and heard a Black Woodpecker calling distantly. A Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was here too.
Our next stop was to be near Hietalanoerä where there were two pairs of Pallid Harriers (a Finnish rarity). We immediately had stunning views of the silvery male Pallid Harrier as it quartered the fields. Eventually we saw a female as well. Other birds of note included a singing male Common Rosefinch (nice to see a red one) and yet another Short-eared Owl.
We left here at 11am and moved on to Ylipää near Siikajoki. This was another Ural Owl site. Toni first showed us the nest and then after a couple of calls to a Finnish friend he staggered everyone by picking out the Ural Owl perched amongst the treetops. Very impressive, he was proving to be an excellent guide and a very sharp birder. This time we enjoyed scoped views and everyone left satisfied. The mosquitoes had also found us to their liking and we had all become unwilling blood donors. Also at this site we saw male and female Redstarts, more Common Rosefinches, including a pair mating, and two Waxwings, nice to see in their natural habitat rather than supermarket car parks.

Moving on we stopped near Karinkanta where we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of our only Red-backed Shrikes of the holiday. We then drove to Varjakka where we experienced the by now unfamiliar feeling of dipping on a Three-toed Woodpecker. Here we did have a singing male Brambling, gorgeous in breeding plumage, a flyover Mealy Redpoll, several Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and on the sea 10+ Arctic Terns and three Red-breasted Mergansers. We travelled back to Liminka Bay arriving there at 5pm, here we would have three hours to unpack, freshen up and maybe grab forty winks before hitting the trail again at around 7:30pm.
We went to the Hotelli Vihiluoto for our evening meal, which for most of us was a reindeer steak, stuffed with cheese and Lingenberries and coated with breadcrumbs, very nice. After dinner Toni led us into the grounds where he played a tape for Blyth's Reed Warbler. A warbler, which was definitely a Reed sp, responded immediately but whether it was Blyth's or not we couldn't be 100% sure. Whilst here two adult Little Gulls flew over and nearby our seventh Short-eared Owl of the day was seen.

At 10:30pm in glorious sunshine we arrived at a wood near Saninjok. After a short walk we came to a Tengmalm's Owl nest box. After Toni had given the tree a light tap the female Tengmalm's Owl appeared at the entrance and peered at us inquisitively for half an hour providing a tremendous photo opportunity. After we had all packed up the cameras and were just leaving the male Tengmalm's Owl flew in and gave stunning close views.

After another short drive and a walk along a rally track through the woods Toni led us into the dark mozzie-infested undergrowth at 11:20pm. He played a short burst on the CD player and a Pygmy Owl shot towards him so fast he had to duck. This aggressive little character was probably no bigger than a sparrow. It perched up in a nearby tree calling and I managed a couple of record shots, but a much better shot by Paul Marshall is below. We were glad to be back in the van to soothe our bites after that and were soon heading back to Oulu to a quarry that was an Eagle Owl site. We saw another Elk along the way. Unfortunately the quarry was locked up so we had to try elsewhere.

Thursday 9 June 2005
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods
It was now a new day, still daylight and we were still going. After Toni had talked to other guides we found ourselves on the A86 in Oulu, we weren't sure what we were supposed to be looking for as Toni was in the other van. However when we pulled up Toni told us there was an Eagle Owl atop a lamppost on the central reservation. We walked along the embankment and gained scoped views of this huge cat-like owl. Two Woodcock flew over whilst we were watching. We arrived back at Liminka at 2am and fell into bed. Most of us had now been on the go for 40+ hours without any proper sleep other than a snatched nap here and there.
At 6am we were back on the road and returning to the woodpecker site at Varjakka. Within minutes this time Toni had located a male Three-toed Woodpecker, a stunning bird, which showed really well and was much larger than several of us had imagined being about Great Spotted size. We drove down to the quayside for a quick look before moving on and were rewarded with a Grey-headed Wagtail, three Red-breasted Mergansers, six Goosanders, two Goldeneye, a Whooper Swan and six Arctic Terns.
Our next stop was the oil terminal in Oulu, which was terminally ugly. However this grotty piece of waste strewn habitat produced excellent birds. The best of these was a displaying Terek Sandpiper, which perched beautifully on top of a stick before anyone had a camera set up. Also here we had a brief Temminck's Stint, two Little Ringed Plovers, a Ringed Plover, two Oystercatchers and a male Wheatear. We also saw Brown Hare and Rabbits here.
After this little interlude Toni dropped his car off at his house and joined us in the vans for the journey north to Kuusamo. On the journey north two Common Cranes were at Kifina, a Wood Warbler and a Red Squirrel was at the services at Pudasjarvi and we also saw 50+ Reindeer, the first of many. Mmmm! Reindeer!
We stopped at Taivalkosk, which was a Black Woodpecker site and also had an outside chance of Hawk Owl, but we saw neither. New species here included Common Crossbills and Tree Pipit and a male Redstart showed well.
Next stop was a landfill site near Kuusamo. Here the star bird was a second-year Siberian Gull heuglini, which Toni showed us. There were also many Baltic Gulls f.fuscus, a Great Black-backed Gull and a drake Teal were new for the trip. There were many Hooded Crows and Ravens over the tip, a Grey-headed Wagtail flew over and a male Cuckoo showed well on a post.
Next a stop for Siberian Tit drew a rare blank with only a pair of Willow Tits being seen. This was followed by a stop by a lake, which was excellent as we had cracking views of five pairs of Velvet Scoters in breeding plumage, the sort of views you would never get on a seawatch. Also here were ten male Goldeneye and a drake Smew.
A final stop by yet another tree-lined lake produced two singing male Little Buntings, one seen and a second further away heard.
We checked in at our hotel where we would be overnighting. After a rest, a shower and a good meal we were heading back out at 7:30pm. From a nearby forest road Toni quickly located a gorgeous singing male Rustic Bunting. A classy bird.
We drove on to Lake Kovajarvi where we joined up with another birding group to make another attempt on Hawk Owl. In the event it was a failed attempt but the lake was very good for waders, the best of which was a singing Broad-billed Sandpiper, but sadly it remained out of view. We then took the long haul towards Valtavaara Ridge near the Russian border. En route we saw three Little Gulls on a roadside pond, another Short-eared Owl and a Fox. Toni stopped eventually after much checking of the map and declared that we were in the right spot at 11pm. Minutes later a Hawk Owl was spotted atop a fir tree. Cue much celebration, as we became the first Finnature-led group to achieve all eight owl species this spring. We watched it for over an hour as it remained on top of the tree, occasionally being mobbed by Redwings. An added bonus were seven lekking male Black Grouse in the field behind us.

Friday 10 June 2005
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods
Another day arrived with Hawk Owl becoming the first bird of the new day. Four Black Grouse remained too. We left then for the long drive back to the hotel. We stopped at Konttainen a known site for Red-flanked Bluetail and Siberian Jay on the way, but neither of them was obliging. We passed Mountain Hares and more Reindeer on the way back.
We dragged ourselves out of bed at 6am after only four hours sleep and piled into the vans for the journey to Iivaara (see pic on left- RFB at the top). On the way a Black-throated Diver flew over the car and another Red Squirrel was seen. After parking up we ascended first the boardwalk and then an ever-stiffening climb towards the summit. A singing Goldcrest was new for the trip and half way up a female Capercaillie burst from cover and flew away. As we cleared the top and descended a short way down the other side Toni said he could hear a Red-flanked Bluetail singing. Soon we found a beautiful male singing it’s Redstart-like song from a treetop. It reminded me a little of an American Bluebird and looked very different to the bluetails I have seen in Britain. On the descent we saw our first bright Northern Bullfinches of the trip and then we heard Hazel Grouse whistling thinly. It was glimpsed by one or two of the party but not me. Shortly afterwards we realised that Martin had briefly had two Pine Grosbeaks while we searched for the grouse, which were the only ones of the holiday. We returned late to an excellent breakfast at the hotel.
After breakfast we travelled back to Konttainen, seeing another Red Squirrel and more Reindeer on the way. Siberian Jay eluded us (and just about all other parties) again but I did get some nice shots of Northern Bullfinch.

We travelled on to Kansallispuisto Oulanka National Park. Toni took us straight to a nest box near the visitor centre where Siberian Tit was nesting and it duly gave excellent views within minutes. In the trees behind a male Parrot Crossbill showed well feeding two juveniles. Leaving the visitor centre we travelled a short distance to a forest road where we could hear Hazel Grouse but not see them again. Then at the next stop most of us managed short but tickable views of a Hazel Grouse in the undergrowth. Moving on we came to a café on the Russian frontier. There was a Red Squirrel on the bird table as well as a pair of Common Rosefinches. Toni showed us the rare Fairy Slipper Orchid, which grew in the café grounds.

We had to leave the café and start the long journey back to Oulu then. As we rounded a bend we ground to a rapid stop when bizarrely a pair of Hazel Grouse were right in the middle of the road. Everybody gained wonderful views of this usually shy game bird. The journey south became a procession of failed attempts at turning up the very elusive Siberian Jay, but all to no avail. At Sarkelä we saw two pairs of Waxwings, a Honey Buzzard and a Great Grey Shrike (found by Martin). Soiperoisentie produced no more than two Cuckoos and that was that, no Sibe Jay this time. As we approached the Hotelli Vihiluoto for our evening meal at around 8pm we saw a Marsh Harrier from the vans. We bid Toni goodbye at this point, we were sorry to see him go, he had been brilliant, but in return we had taught him some new English words. After a nice Salmon supper we returned to Liminka Bay where at last we got a reasonably early night – except for those who went birding, me included. From the tower we saw all the usual suspects as well as the first Shovelers, a Marsh Harrier hunting, 13 Spotted Redshanks in breeding plumage, a Whimbrel was calling but remained unseen, two Snipe were displaying and as we returned to bed a juvenile Long-eared Owl was doing the “squeaky gate” call from a small copse. A pair of Elk were also out in the bay.

Saturday 11 June 2005
Weather: Very warm and sunny with high clouds
I was up again at around 5:30am and out by 6am. I went straight down to the tower hide and spent a couple of hour’s quiet birding. The first Coot were seen, as were Pintail and Redshank. Snipe were displaying all around, both Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl were hunting, 100 Whooper Swans were out in the bay and a male Common Rosefinch showed well. I returned for breakfast and then we hit the road at 9am. We drove the short distance to Liminka Sewage Farm where as Toni had promised a Thrush Nightingale was singing. However it was a couple of hundred yards away on private land, so frustratingly it wasn’t seen. The small pond was excellent and held a breeding plumage Slavonian Grebe, some female Goldeneye with lots of ducklings, and there were flyovers by a couple of Marsh Harriers, two Common Cranes, seven adult Little Gulls and nearby a Short-eared Owl was displaying and a young male Common Rosefinch was singing. A breeze hampered photography here. The next stop was Papinjarvi, which was a little disappointing, but the lake there did have three pairs of Common Scoter and a Common Sandpiper. Next we tried another pond in Oulu, which was a Blyth’s Reed site, but although we saw a Reed sp again we couldn’t be sure it was Blyth’s. Another lake was checked and we found four female Goosanders with 12 young collectively. The next lake at Pyykhojarvi had an amazing flock of c600 Little Gulls, nearly all adults, the mass calls of the birds was memorable. Also here were 25 Arctic Terns and three Baltic Gulls. On leaving here to return for lunch we saw a male Hen Harrier from the vans.
Following lunch it was a free afternoon, several of the boys just wanted to sleep but the rest of us went to the tower. An adult White-tailed Eagle had landed on a field in the bay and remained all afternoon, occasionally flapping its huge wings. We also had an Osprey, three Marsh Harriers, two males and a female, a Goshawk and 65 Common Cranes.
At 5:30pm we all went out again first to the peat bog at Lintujarvi. Male Marsh Harrier and Camberwell Beauty butterfly were seen from the vans. At the bog a Hobby was seen, an Osprey caught a fish, two drake Smew were out on the water and masses of Black Darter dragonflies flew around.
We then all succumbed to the delights of an XL Star Burger, except Ernie and Martin probably wisely. Next carrying a little more weight we checked another of the bay’s tower hides from where we saw wild Greylags. At this point we split up for the first time, the Devon/Wales contingent went off to buy beers to take back and the Glos boys went for some more birding, after we had bought beer. We checked both Blyth’s sites to no avail and at the second four Finnish girls made Jeremy an offer he couldn’t refuse (but he did). Then we had a final look at the Oil port but could not find the Terek or the Temminck’s, just all the other species we had seen before.

Sunday 12 June 2005
Weather: Warm and humid with some light showers
At midnight we joined up with the other lads again and drank beer around the campfire until the early hours. Even this was disrupted with more birding when a Caspian Tern was found in the bay from the tower; most of us went to look.

At 8:40am I was back in the tower for the last time. The tern had gone, as had the eagle but all the usual suspects were seen. Nick and I found a Camberwell Beauty near the boardwalk as we returned to pack, this started a minor twitch. I was well pleased, as it was my first.
The long journey south started then, both groups had decided to make their own ways back to Tampere airport. We saw an Osprey near Onkineva, a pair of Whooper Swans with three cygnets at Nurmesperä, before stopping beside the lake at Vuonlahti at 2pm. This was inspired because here we had five Black-throated Divers, a Red-throated Diver and two Red-necked Grebes all in summer plumage and a female Goldeneye with 14 ducklings and another Baltic Gull. We made one final stop at another National Park where we failed to find anything new and got sent packing by the fiercest mozzies yet. The other group managed to add a booming Bittern and a Lesser Whitethroat to the trip list.
We all met up at the airport for a pleasant flight back to Stansted arriving 25 minutes early. We had totalled around 150 species between us and had all had several life ticks, in particular those magnificent owls.
Species Lists
Not all of the species were seen by everyone and I may have missed out one or two common ones.

Bird list
1. Red-throated Diver
2. Black-throated Diver
3. Great Crested Grebe
4. Red-necked Grebe
5. Slavonian Grebe
6. Bittern (Heard only)
7. Whooper Swan
8. Greylag
9. Shelduck
10. Wigeon
11. Teal
12. Mallard
13. Pintail
14. Shoveler
15. Tufted Duck
16. Common Scoter
17. Velvet Scoter
18. Goldeneye
19. Smew
20. Red-breasted Merganser
21. Goosander
22. Honey Buzzard
23. White-tailed Eagle
24. Hen Harrier
25. Marsh Harrier
26. Pallid Harrier
27. Goshawk
28. Sparrowhawk
29. Common Buzzard
30. Osprey
31. Kestrel
32. Hobby
33. Peregrine
34. Hazel Grouse
35. Black Grouse
36. Capercaillie
37. Pheasant
38. Coot
39. Common Crane
40. Oystercatcher
41. Little Ringed Plover
42. Ringed Plover
43. Lapwing
44. Temminck's Stint
45. Broad-billed Sandpiper (Heard only)
46. Snipe
47. Woodcock
48. Black-tailed Godwit
49. Whimbrel
50. Curlew
51. Spotted Redshank
52. Redshank
53. Greenshank
54. Green Sandpiper
55. Wood Sandpiper
56. Terek Sandpiper
57. Common Sandpiper
58. Little Gull
59. Black-headed Gull
60. Common Gull
61. Baltic Gull (fuscus)
Siberian Gull (heuglini)
62. Herring Gull
63. Great Black-backed Gull
64. Caspian Tern
65. Common Tern
66. Arctic Tern
67. Feral Pigeon
68. Stock Dove
69. Woodpigeon
70. Collared Dove
71. Cuckoo
72. Eagle Owl
73. Hawk Owl
74. Pygmy Owl
75. Ural Owl
76. Great Grey Owl
77. Long-eared Owl
78. Short-eared Owl
79. Tengmalm's Owl
80. Swift
81. Black Woodpecker (Heard only)
82. Great Spotted Woodpecker
83. Three-toed Woodpecker
84. Skylark
85. Sand Martin
86. Swallow
87. House Martin
88. Tree Pipit
89. Meadow Pipit
90. Grey-headed Wagtail
91. White Wagtail
92. Waxwing
93. Wren
94. Dunnock
95. Robin
96. Thrush Nightingale (Heard only)
97. Red-flanked Bluetail
98. Redstart
99. Whinchat
100. Wheatear
101. Blackbird
102. Fieldfare
103. Song Thrush
104. Redwing
105. Mistle Thrush
106. Sedge Warbler
107. Blyth's Reed Warbler (almost certainly this species)
108. Lesser Whitethroat
109. Garden Warbler
110. Willow Warbler
111. Wood Warbler
112. Goldcrest
113. Spotted Flycatcher
114. Pied Flycatcher
115. Willow Tit
116. Siberian Tit
117. Crested Tit (Heard by Toni)
118. Coal Tit
119. Blue Tit
120. Great Tit
121. Treecreeper
122. Red-backed Shrike
123. Great Grey Shrike
124. Jay
125. Magpie
126. Jackdaw
127. Rook
128. Hooded Crow
129. Raven
130. Starling
131. House Sparrow
132. Chaffinch
133. Brambling
134. Greenfinch
135. Goldfinch
136. Siskin
137. Linnet
138. Mealy Redpoll
139. Common Crossbill
140. Parrot Crossbill
141. Common Rosefinch
142. Pine Grosbeak (MMcG only)
143. Northern Bullfinch
144. Yellowhammer
145. Ortolan Bunting
146. Rustic Bunting
147. Little Bunting
148. Reed Bunting
1. Elk
2. Reindeer
3. Fox
4. Brown Hare
5. Mountain Hare
6. Rabbit
7. Muskrat
8. Red Squirrel
9. Mouse sp.
1. Common Frog
Butterflies & Dragonflies
1. Large Skipper
2. Large White
3. Small White
4. Blue sp.
5. Gatekeeper
6. Orange Tip
7. Camberwell Beauty
8. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
9. Black Darter
Our thanks must go to Toni Uusimaki, our excellent guide, who showed us all bar one of our target species.
Thanks must go to all the guys that did the driving (and I didn't) for which the rest of us are very grateful.
Finally thanks to Martin for his organisation of the holiday. © Mike King 2005
The Gloster Birder


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