Monday, August 27, 2007

Anser Birding Finland 7-13 June 2007 trip report

Anser Birding Finland Trip Report, June 2007

The trip was organised by Anser UK with one night’s guiding from Peter Uppstu and three days with Matti Sillanpää, the latter a Finnature guide. The main target of the trip was to catch up with the Finnish specialities, particularly the northern owl species. We spent our first night birding around the Tampere region with Peter, and the rest of trip was based further north in Oulu and Kuusamo with Matti.
Thanks to Graham for writing up this excellent trip report and for adding his images from the trip, it was great to hear that he had such a wonderful birding experience, I also enjoy Finland with every visit and find Matti and Peter to be superior guides, so helpful and friendly as well as being quite excellent birders. The trip was also boosted with the skills of the participants with Simon being particularly sharp as usual. Thanks to all who booked on this trip and to the guys who did the driving, a great shame I did not get to go this year; Martin McGill.

Thursday 7 - Friday 8 June 2007
We left Stansted on the Ryanair flight to Tampere and arrived in Finland at around 22.30 on the 7th. We quickly picked up the van and headed off to meet up with Peter Uppstu, who was going to show us around some of the best birding sites in Tampere. We met Peter around 23.30 and continued birding throughout the night. At Tampere there was more of a definable `night’ than further north, the sun did actually set here unlike in Oulu and Kuusamo, but with dawn almost immediately following dusk it was still entirely possible to carry on birding throughout the night.
First stop was Ylöjärvi; here we had our first Blyth’s Reed Warbler with a bird in full song but obscured. Hobby was hunting the fields and Thrush Nightingale singing from a distant copse. Finally a Corncrake was also seen extremely well down to a few feet having been lured closer.Then on to Lielahti, this was the darkest point of the night so birding was done in shadows with more listening than watching. Another Blyth’s Reed was singing and so was Marsh Warbler, a staggering mimic with over 20 other bird calls included in the song, including Bee-eater. Our first owl of the trip, Long Eared Owl, was watched briefly hunting while the ubiquitous Redwing and Fieldfare joined the dawn chorus. By 03.15 it was light and at Hömeenkyrö we had our best views yet of Blyth’s Reed Warbler with one bird singing in full view down to 3m. A nearby River Warbler was also in full song but showy it was not. Other birds here included our first Common Crane and Common Rosefinch of the trip, and on our departure those in the front of the van had a brief flight view of Black Woodpecker.
Blyth’s Reed Warbler

Sarkklanjörvi was the place to see Citrine Wagtail, two of our group had brief views of a probable, but the rest of us had to be content with the thunbergi Yellow Wagtails that graced the edges of the marsh. From here we returned to Leilahti, to see if in better light a Thrush Nightingale that had been in full song earlier could be made out from within the tangle where it sang. It was still singing and only an odd metre from the path, but still not visible. The adjacent lake had 2 superb Red-necked Grebe and our only Little Grebe of the trip. Birding stopped around 09.00 and after breakfast and a few hours sleep it was time for the long trip north to Oulu.
Friday 8 - Saturday 9 June 2007
We arrived in Oulu at 18.30 and met up with Matti, who was our Finnature guide for the next 3 days, and an absolute star. After introductions, itineraries were the main focus, and the news was that catching up with the owls should be our priority. Chicks had fledged and the vole population had begun to crash, which made Matti concerned that staked out birds could soon disperse. We decided to go for it and attempt all the owls that night.
First stop was Kenimaa in the Lapland region, we arrived at 22.00 and it didn’t take too long for Matti to locate the female Great Grey Owl that was nesting here, one juv was still in the nest and still looking very young, not showing any adult feathers. We watched the female in flight and perching up, never far from the nest - humbling, truly humbling. Still in Lapland, and this time in search of Hawk Owl. The juv was located first, all yellow eyes and white face flashes, with the female arriving shortly afterwards perching on top of a pine in that classic Hawk Owl pose and watching us intently.

Hawk Owl and Great Grey Owl

Back in Oulu the next owl was Tengmalm’s. At this particular nest site the chick had fledged and the adults were away. With amazing good fortune one of the group picked up the juv concealed within bushes just 1-2 metres off the ground, almost in adult plumage except for some down to the head and nape. Good one Simon. On a roll, we headed for our fourth owl, Pygmy Owl. With chicks still in the nest we just got the head sticking out of the nest box hole with this one, bright yellow glaring eyes with the sternest of expressions that any headmaster would happily die for.
Eagle Owl was nesting on the rubbish dump at Oulu and it didn’t take too long to locate the nest and the two juvs, but picking out the female who was sitting surprisingly close to the nest took us much longer. Other birds had begun to become active and we had our first Green and Wood Sandpiper of the trip as well as Little Ringed Plover. The tip was full of Baltic Gull (fuscus Lesser-black backed gull) and some of us had brief glimpses of probable Heuglin’s Gull.
At Siikajoki we had just one owl to go, Ural Owl. The nest box was empty but a mobbing Jay led us in the direction of the female, a beautiful bird with big black eyes and a deceptively gentle expression. While watching the female we stumbled on the chick that was well hidden in ground cover, still in downy plumage. We took a few quick photos and left them both in peace. It was time for breakfast and sleep. We had seen all of our hoped for owls. Life was good.

Back in the van by 15.00, we arrived in Kuusamo around 18.00; a brief stop at a lake just outside the town gave us our first Black-throated Diver and Smew of the trip and a large feeding group of Artic Tern and Little Gull.

Sunday 10 June 2007
Out birding by 03.00 in Oulanka National Park and our first stop was a walk up Konttaisnen. Northern Bullfinch fed around the car park feeders and Hazel Grouse were everywhere, not that we could see any, but the shrill whistles seemed to echo from every corner. Singing Brambling was in good numbers and Black Grouse could be heard too, along with displaying Green Sandpiper. It wasn’t long before we had our first Red-flanked Bluetail, singing from the tops of conifer. We had at least two males at this site. Some of us had the briefest of glimpses of what was probably Pine Grosbeak here. The views from the top looking out into the Russian taiga were mighty impressive accompanied by the calls of Three-toed Woodpecker some distance away.
At Virkkulan Tie (still in Oulanka N.P.) we had superb views of a male and female Black Woodpecker feeding along the roadside trees and then bounding over our heads. Two or three Waxwing sang from the same trees and a nearby lake held 2 Black-throated Diver and a pair of Smew. Northern Willow Tit fed amongst the conifers alongside Goldcrest (it was surprising how uncommon Goldcrest was). Our last stop was at Konttais-Järvi, the rogue Willow Grouse duly performed, attacking us all with sideways lurches and coming within centimetres. Once again, by 09.00 birding was finished and it was back to the hotel for breakfast and some of that precious stuff known as sleep.

Black Woodpecker

In the afternoon we visited Nissinvaara for Siberian Tit. A pair was nesting in one of the specifically designed nest boxes and one bird showed very well. From here we drove to Valtavaara, which is just opposite Konttaisnen, in Oulanka N.P. With more singing Red-flanked Bluetails, at least another two, we had our brightest bird yet. From the top we could watch Red-throated Diver on the lake below and admire the Russian scenery once more. One of our group flushed a female Capercallie from a nest while walking, and after giving her an hour to return and feel secure we returned and got close but obscured views of her incubating her clutch of nine eggs. Common birds at Oulanka included Crossbill, Redpoll, Brambling, Redwing, Fieldfare, Redstart and Common Rosefinch, with the odd Crested Tit whispering from conifers but always reluctant to show. Driving back to the hotel we had a family party of Whooper Swan, 2 adults and five chicks, on a small pool at Helilampi with Red-breasted Merganser, Little Gull and Artic Tern also present.

Capercallie nest

Monday 11 June 2007
Another very early start in the hope of catching up with displaying Broad-billed Sandpiper at Koujärvi, It did give bouts of the flight display call but remained out of view. Willow Grouse and Black Grouse could be heard and displaying Spotted Redshank gave some excellent views.
At Kurkijärvi those in the front of the van were lucky to see Siberian Jay fly across the road and into woodland. A mad dash out of the van and only I managed a few brief views before it dropped to the ground and was lost. After a tip off from a passing birder that nearby Oüjuslouma was worth trying for both Pine Grosbeak and Siberian Jay we headed straight there, but had no luck with either.
Next stop was Väkäranperä, a splendid male Little Bunting showed beautifully in full song with three Ruff on the nearby lake. On the drive back through Virkkulantie at least six Hazel Hen flew across the road in front of the van but none could be located when we stopped to search. Fortunately, most of the group had their best views of Hazel Grouse at Ivaara later on, with brief glimpses of Crested Tit here for a few of us. Back at Helilampi the Whooper Swan family were not being as photogenic as yesterday (now we all had our cameras ready). Birding stopped late afternoon as we made the journey back to Oulu.

Tuesday 12 June 2007
First stop today was Siikäjoki for Three-toed Woodpecker. Great views were had of the male and female making non stop sallies to the nest. One of my favourite all time woodpeckers, it is difficult to beat three-toed. In the same area we had our first Ortolan Bunting of the trip and also our first Elk, a mother and calf. A pair of Woodlark feeding in the open sandy fields was a good find, with other birds including Whinchat, Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Rosefinch. The bubbling of a Black Grouse lek could be heard here too. We had heard Black Grouse lekking at most sites during our trip but never managed to pick them up.

The lake at Oulunsalo, Papinjarvi, was without hyperbole simply enchanting. Maternal groups of Common Scoter tended to their chick nurseries and flocks of Little Gull elegantly scooped midges from the surface water. A pair of Black-throated and Red-throated Diver were also here with Smew, Red-breasted Merganser and good numbers of Goldeneye. Best bird for many was the juv Goshawk that decided to take a bath and then dry off on the bow of a fishing boat, superb. Equally impressive were the 500+ Common Crane feeding in the roadside fields at Kempele, Tupos.
From now on the birding was coastal. At the Hietasaari Terek watchtower we had no Terek but did have Little and Common Tern, Redshank, Ringed Plover and a large group of Baltic, Common and Argentatus Herring Gull. At Liminka Bay we did our first hide birding of the trip, and took part in a Finnish twitch, although the distant Great Egret was a not a patch on many of the other birds we had already seen that week. These coastal marshes were alive with displaying waders and the air was full with calls of Blackwit, Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. Wildfowl were in good numbers here, particularly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler and there was a few wild Greylag too. Marsh Harrier quartered the reedy areas and we had more Thunbergi wagtails, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Ruff and Little Ringed Plover. Best birds for me here had to be the displaying Montagu’s Harrier pair.

Wednesday 13 June 2007
Our last day, and with just enough time to squeeze in a few hours birding for the long drive back to Tampere, Matti decided to stay with us to help us in the search for the elusive Terek Sandpiper ‘not as a guide but as a friend’. Back at the Hietasaari watchtower our luck was still out but we all managed to get some views of the Wood Warbler that had been singing here yesterday. From here Matti took us to another area in the more industrialised area of Hetasaari where Terek was known to hangout. First bird to be picked up was a Temminck’s Stint in full breeding plumage feeding along the rush lined edged of a small bay, and there on the opposite side of the same bay was our quarry, Terek Sandpiper. It was the last bird of the trip, and what a bird to end on.

Other wildlife
Brown Hare was probably the most common mammal of the trip, although Reindeer was reasonably numerous too, with many emergency stops made to allow family groups to pass nonchalantly across the road. Red Squirrel were seen at several sites, so was the odd Mountain Hare, but I was surprised that we only had the one sighting of Elk. The only other mammal was a single Red Fox.

With birds being the main focus of this trip chasing butterflies was low priority and there were several that got away as we focussed our attention on the birds that we had come to see. Green Hairstreak was at several sites and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was seen at Siikajoki. In the heat of the day we would probably be sleeping, so we saw few odonata except for the colony of White-faced Darter that was present in the small pool next to our cottage in Oulu.

Plant wise we didn’t keep a list but one of the group was good on the plants with a few pointed out, Artic Bramble being my own personal favourite.

Quite simply, you have to go. The owls will probably remain in my top ten list of all time great birding experiences, right through to my death bed.
Species List

Graham Jones 2007


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