Saturday, 15 June 2013

Finland.. without the aid of a safety net!

Exactly a year ago I was in Shetland battling a birdless North wind, and finding very little out of the norm. This year I was determined that Spring would prove a more fruitful season, and so far, the birding, mainly along the Hampshire coast has been pretty good. Certainly as good as Shetland!

And so, on a spur of the moment decision, I looked into heading to Finland to try and find Red-Flanked Bluetail, a species I have always wanted to see. Cheap flight routes weren’t easy to come across, but I eventually settled on Ryanair from Stansted to Tampere, then a hire car for the 5 days. Simple!

My original plan was to head up to Vaaltavaara, and wait there until I saw a Bluetail! However, the 10 hour drive put me off, and I stumbled on some other good Bluetail sites about 6 hours from Tampere in the North Karelia region of finland. This together with reports from Siikalahti, “the best bird lake in Finland” and my itinerary was pretty much made up. The weather was quite windy when I touched down in Tampere, so I decided on the bird lake first, and the Bluetail hunt hopefully in milder conditions.

Wednesday 5th June
The drive from Tampere to the wetlands at Siikalahti was pretty heavy going. Several hours, with quite a few roadside breaks. Also a multitude of Speed cameras and seemingly severely slow speed limits on empty roads kept catching me out!
One roadside stop South of Jyvaskyla proved to be memorable with a Grey Headed Woodpecker seen briefly, then later heard calling. On closer inspection I noted Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, plus Snipe and Green Sandpiper, and something else hooting which I later realised was a Tengmalm’s Owl! Also, a Black Woodpecker over the road.

Arrived at Siikalahti fairly late in the evening, and opened the car door to a wall of birdsong. This was to continue throughout the five days ,and was a magical aspect of the holiday. Thrush Nightingale, and Bittern were the most obvious birds calling here, but it didn’t take long to add Whooper Swan, Rosefinch, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Corncrake, Sedge Warbler, Willow warbler, and Reed Bunting all to the “heard only” list. Birds seen included Slavonian Grebe, Red Necked Grebe, Little Gull, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, proving this site lived up to it’s “best lake in Finland” claim.
I slept in the car for a few hours, then walked around pre-dawn but couldn’t add anything more exotic to the previous night’s tally, a bit disappointing as I would have thought Spotted Crake, would have made an appearance here.

Thursday/Friday, I drove another fairly long haul up to the Patvinsuo National park, where Bluetails have several well publicised territories. A roadside break proved successful with Rosefinch and Blyth’s Reed Warbler both showing well. Another roadside comfort break got me a Black Throated Diver. I found somewhere to stay for two nights, but the shower facilities were the nearby lake which I didn’t fancy!

I tried Autiovaara Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, but was ultimately unsuccessful with the Bluetail, but did however find a whole host of other Forest specialities including Capercaillie, Three-Toed Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, Tree Pipit, Crossbills, and Siskins, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, plus a singing Red-breasted Flycatcher which I couldn’t pin down, and a Pine Marten. I also heard another Tengmalm’s Owl here.

Spent the afternoon checking out another Bluetail site: Hamnivaara which was similar hilly woodland but with wider tracks, and better visibility. I decided I had a better chance of actually seeing a singing bird here. One of the highlights of the trip was a roadside Hawk Owl watched for several minutes near here, plus excellent views of a Red Breasted Flycatcher.

Saturday, I headed to Hamnivaara, by this time I was working nightshift getting up at 2am and birding til 10am!
The birding was still pretty tough with no Bluetail in sight. Plenty of the commoner species, plus a Black Woodpecker seen fairly well. No camera though, as I was pretty knackered by this time just staggering round with my binoculars! Also the persistent mozzies, 24 hour daylight, and lack of shower facilities were starting to take their toll and I gave up on finding the Bluetail. It was on my return to the car that I decided on one last walk up a track I had checked first thing, not sure why I chose this path, but 200 yards along I started to hear a Bluetail singing! Then followed one of those magical moments, the bird was singing distantly and just visible through a gap in the trees. I had a few minutes watching it then returned for my scope. Sod’s law the bird had moved deeper into the forest when I got back, but after working out where it was I eventually caught a glimpse of it fly down to eye level where I had a fleeting glimpse of the orange flanks, before it returned to the tree canopy. The holiday was now pretty much complete! No more getting up at 2 am.

Sunday, I decided to return to the same area at 6am the following morning hopefully for a better look of the Bluetail, but no luck. I didn’t improve on the previous days views, but did have a nice bonus of a Greenish Warbler singing nearby. There was also a Red-Breasted Flycatcher in the vicinity, and wolf droppings close by, making this a pretty awesome bit of forest!

Sunday afternoon, I headed back towards Tampere, and stopped the night about 100km from Tampere with a view to checking out a National park with Flying Squirrel and other goodies, but I didn’t have much success at all here.

Drove to Tampere and home.


All in all a very exciting few days with constant bird song, plus a few good self-found birds. The only disappointment being the lack of photographs (I didn’t manage a single bird shot! As is often the case, serious bird searching and photography don’t really go hand in hand).
Also, it’s hard to imagine a place in Europe as difficult for catching up with all of it’s speciality wildlife. I have spent over one month in this country over the years, and still haven’t come close to seeing everything it has to offer. So I maybe back another year for Northern Bat, Flying Squirrel, Wolverine, Lynx, Wolf, Ringed Seal, Pine Grosbeak, Two-Barred Crossbill, Snowy Owl, Lanceolated, Booted, and Arctic Warbler!
Always nice to spend time in a true wilderness. I saw very few other birders around.. a few “zombies” around Siikalahti in the dead of night!
Plus, I only recall meeting 1 pair of hikers in the forests of North Karelia over 4 days!

The Bluetail has added significance for me as it is my 450th “self-found” species in the Western Pal.

Sound recordings:
The pick of my sound recordings below. (The Bittern is quite faint, and the Blyth's Reed Warbler has a Rosefinch mixed in)

And some sonograms:

Blyth's Reed Warbler Sonogram photo blythsreed_zps6fe73743.png Greenish Warbler Sonogram photo greenishwarbler_zpsf90bd4cf.png Red-breasted Flycatcher Sonogram photo RBFly_zpsf1314308.png

Red-flanked Bluetail Sonogram photo RFB_zps3c932aa4.png Thrush Nightingale Sonogram photo Sprosser_zpsa7d7e6f2.png Tengmalm's Owl Sonogram photo tengmalms_zpsd8b1439b.png