Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Siberian Tit and Arctic Warbler 18th - 20th June

I had some time to spare and decided to revisit Kiilipaa to look for Willow Grouse again, I stopped overnight on Kaunispaa and heard the Dotterel calling as I dozed around midnight. At 03:30 I climbed out of my sleeping bag, got dressed and pulled down the roof of the camper and headed for Kiilipaa. I was there by 03:50 and set off up the hill, for the third time! It was overcast but still light as I headed up the boardwalk. Before I got to the top I could see the male Ptarmigan by the side of the track. No sign of any Willow Grouse but I took some more photos of the Ptarmigan. At one point it jumped on to the boardwalk and sat there quite happily as I took photos with the 300mm lens it was just after 04:30 so I walked further up the path but still no Willow Grouse.
Ptarmigan - male, now with a few more dark head feathers

Having spent quite a bit of the morning on Kiilipaa I was still close to the Kuttura Road and decided to try again for Siberian Tit. I found a pair that were now feeding young and there was much more activity with both birds bringing food in at regular intervals. It was still very overcast but the photos came out ok and were much better than my last attempt.

Siberian Tit
On the 19th I was collecting Pam from Ivalo airport, it rained almost all day. I had time in the morning to look for divers and mergansers on Lake Inari. The birds were there but too distant to make any sort of interesting photo in the rain.
Having collected Pam and spent a night at the Kultahippu Hotel in Ivalo we drove up to Inari on the morning of the 20th to visit the Sami Museum. Having just been round the museum and received a text for Jan (Jan Nordblad); Arctic Warbler Inari 68.6503 27.5401. I put the coordinates in the GPS, it was for the Ivalo Hotel in Ivalo just a few hundred metres from our hotel! We set off back, as we drove towards Ivalo we came across a group of deer by the roadside which looked much larger than the Reindeer I had been seeing. I took some quick photos but wanted to get back to Ivalo. 
At the hotel I had a quick look round but there was no immediate sign. We decided to get a bite to eat then I would return for a more thorough search. 
After eating I started in a group of trees close to the river just north of the hotel. No immediate sign so I decided to try a tape of the song. Almost immediately a small bird flew in to the bushes and started singing. Arctic Warbler, it continued to sing and came in the closest trees to me. The song delivery was much like Wood Warbler with the head raised, sometimes almost vertical. I had amazing views as it sat out in the open both calling and delivering its rather monotonous song.

Arctic Warbler
Looking at the deer photos when I got back to the hotel they were clearly the forest race of the Reindeer which is considerably larger. I wasn't happy with the photos so we went out again and fairly quickly found a small group of 12 or 13 individuals in the forest N of Ivalo which allowed me to get some reasonable photos. The photos are still on the camera, this is one of the earlier photos and I'll add some more when I get chance.
Forest Reindeer

Friday, 16 June 2017

Karigasniemi 14th - 16th June

I had read about Karigasniemi and Mount Ailigas in Wild Wings to the Northlands and whilst I wasn't sure I would have time to get there I had hoped to do so and in the end I have!
I met a Scottish bird photographer, who was particularly interested in photographing nesting birds, at Valtavaara and he told me of his previous trips to Karigasniemi which made up my mind to go. I arrived late in the evening of the 13th June and parked up by the roadside next to a large bog. In the morning I did a short walk along the road and soon picked up a small wader feeding in the wet grassland by the roadside - Broad-billed Sandpiper, a good start! The grass was about 10cm long so the bird was always partly obscured and, having taken hundreds of photos of them in Estonia, I decided to move on.
Spring water passing by the road at Karigasniemi

Parking by the entrance to the Kevo NP I explored the area on foot. More roadside pools produced at least 7 Red-necked Phalarope and countless Wood Sandpiper which were display calling from all directions.
Wood Sandpiper

There were a few ducks on the pools; a pair of Pintail, 8 Goldeneye and a pair of Wigeon. In the bushes Bluethroats were out in force with at least 6 birds singing along a km of roadside. Brambling and Redwing were the new Thrush Nightingale and Common Rosefinch and the former were singing everywhere whilst the latter have now entirely disappeared.
There were large number of wagtails, mostly thunbergi, the Grey-headed version of our Yellow Wagtail but also plenty of White Wagtails. I attempted to photograph all the variations in Yellow Wagtails on my trip round Europe to was keen to get decent photos of both the male and female.

Grey-headed Wagtail - male upper, both sexes show variable dark upper breast markings
A new sound to me in the last few days has been the 'galloping horses' display call of the Jack Snipe, I haven't actually seen any of them but there calls can be heard across the bogs.
I decided to walk some of Mount Ailigas in glorious sunshine. On the way up through the dwarf birch scrub there were even more Bluethroat and I spent sometime attempting to get a bird doing its display flight, not perfect but a reasonable attempt I think.

Bluethroat upper male giving display flight
As I left the trees a lone Siberian Jay called and sat on one of the last bushes before returning in to the wood. 
As I ascended the track over the heather moorland, which looked a lot like home, there were few birds to see (much like home!) but a Whimbrel called and Golden Plover were about the only other bird I saw. In the past Long-tailed Skua have nested on the slopes of Mount Ailigas but no sign today.
I parked up by the spring water that flows past the road and watched the Wood Sandpipers and wagtails, a Sedge Warbler was a surprise moving through the scrub and several Sand Martin flew over. Whilst sat at the roadside a British registration vehicle passed and pulled over, it was Ewan the photographer I had met at Valtavaara. We exchanges our recent sightings and in passing he mentioned an area nearby where he had seen some decent birds last year, it was by a Sami village called Erotusaita, it sounded worth a look so off I went. Whilst we were talking I saw a movement and white in the bushes; Stoat still in ermine, another mammal for the trip.
Stoat in winter ermine
The village of Erotusaita is only occupied in the winter when the Sami people herd the Reindeer and coral them. It was a strange place, empty wooden huts that must be home in the winter and a complicated array of fences to enclose the deer when they bring them in. 

The Sami village of Erotusaita
Plus huge floodlights to light up the winter darkness, it was eerily quite when I was there but it must be entirely different in the winter with the sounds and smells of the animals being herded.
Reindeer pens at Erotusaita
I set off to walk towards the bog area to the north of the village but scanned some of the large fenced areas and was very surprised to see several Long-tailed Skua walking across the grass. As I looked further there were pools and wet areas that were teeming with shorebirds; Ruff, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, 5 Bar-tailed Godwit in bright summer plumage and several Red-necked Phalarope on the open water. 
I curtailed my trip to the bog and spent the next few hours photographing the skuas and waders.
There were 8 Long-tailed Skua and as I looked at them more closely it looked like 6 adults, and heavily marked bird that I took to be a 2nd calendar year and another almost adult like but with a slight breast band and pale bill base that is perhaps a 3rd calendar year. What superb birds they are!
Long-tailed Skua - adult
Long-tailed Skua 2nd calendar year
Long-tailed Skua adult in foreground with 3rd calendar year behind
I went back to park up for the night by the Kevo NP entrance, or for some sleep, it seems wrong to call it night without darkness just as it started to rain. It rained heavily for a couple of hours and at around 22:00 it stopped and started to clear when I heard the distinctive ringing calls of the Waxwing in the trees by the camper. They were fly catching and I guess with no berries at this time of year that's probably a significant food source at this time of year. I managed a few photos and went back to bed.
The following morning I went back to Erotusaita and completed the walk to the large lakes which was only 3 or 4 km. I finally caught sight of Willow Grouse, a fine male with rufous head and neck and which body and wings. Just as I was preparing to get his photo he was off never to be seen again. The bog areas were otherwise fairly quiet beyond the Redwings, Brambling and Bluethroats with a few Meadow Pipit added but no sign of the Lapland Bunting which also occur here. Back at the pools I photographed the Ringed Plover which here are the smaller and slightly darker race Charadrius hiaticula tundrae which pass through the UK on their migration.
Ringed Plover of the northern breeding race tundrae

I'm spending the next couple of days around Ivalo, Pam arrives on a flight on Monday and we will then be heading up to Varanger for the final leg of the journey.
the journey so far

Correction: Steve Mann has kindly pointed out that the English name for the thunbergi race of Yellow Wagtail is Grey-headed not Ashy-headed as I keep calling them. Ashy-headed is of course the Italian race cinereocapilla which I have previously featured 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Neljan Tuulen Tuppa - 10th - 12th June

What Era Eero is for Wolverine Neljan Tuulen Tuppa is for Pine Grosbeak. It is a roadside motel north of Ivalo that has bird feeders that have become synonymous with Pine Grosbeak. 
Feeders at Neljan Tullen Tuppa
In the winter there can be as many as 40 to 50 birds with many fewer in the summer but I saw at least 8 birds and there could have been more. What makes the place so good is how close you are to the birds. From the cafe the birds will feed happily just a metre or so away. It's incredibly easy to get photos on the feeder but a little harder to get them on natural looking branches and in good light. 
Pine Grosbeak top two males bottom female
As well as the grosbeaks there are Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit (although none showed whilst I was there) many Greenfinch and superb male Bramblings, Mealy Redpoll (and in the winter Arctic Redpoll) Red Squirrels also regularly visit the feeders.
Brambling - male in summer plumage

To camp it cost me 15€ with a further 8€ for breakfast which included use of the sauna. I got a bit of a surprise when coming out of the toilet in the sauna to face two naked men but that seems to be the Finnish way, many of the campsites have saunas and even some of the hotel bedrooms.

Pyhantunturi and the hills of Kiilopaa and Kaunispaa 9th/10th and 13th June

Continuing North I drove through Sodankyla and back down to the ski village of Pyantunturi, I'd missed a turning that could have shortened my journey but not to worry.
I chose a parking spot just outside the village by a lake with 50 Whoopers on it, very picturesque but I'd forgotten how noisy a herd of Whooper Swan can be and they trumpeted on and of thought out the night, by 3am I'd had enough and decided to make an early start. 
Whooper Swans - note to self - don't park overnight near them!
I was intending to walk the nature trail by the ski resort and I was glad a did, beautiful ancient pine forest gave way to wet woodland and open bog all in the space of about 5km. 
The nature trail at Pyhatunturi
At 4am it was so peaceful with just the birds and me. Wood Sandpipers displayed on the marsh and Greenshank called from the tree tops! It really was a beautiful walk but again no sign of the Rustic or Little Buntings which are sometimes found there.
Wood Sandpiper
Greenshank - calling from the trees
Back in Sodankyla and drove to Lake Kelujarvi again searching for the elusive buntings but again without success. 
My next stop were the two hills of Kiilopaa and Kaunispaa. I walked up Kiilopaa late in the day first and saw nothing, apparently an early morning visit is called for. I parked up at Kaunispaa and in a short walk around midnight had brief views of two Dotterel in flight, these were my target for the following morning. It was T Shirt weather when I arrived but the weather changed overnight and it was just above freezing the following morning with a mist on the hill. I delayed my walk until about 07:00 by which time it had brightened a bit. It wasn't long before I could hear the pipping calls of the Dotterel and I located first one pair then two more. 
What beautiful birds these are and it was a real treat to be able to sit so close and watch them. At one point the female sank low to the ground then started to rotate - she was creating her nest scrape! 
Dotterel - female making nest scrape
I watched them for several hours, occasionally there was interplay between the three pairs when one must have come too close to anothers territory resulting in a brief dispute.
I returned to Kiilopaa on the 13th June planning an early start but my phone packed in and the alarm never sounded so it was 06:30 when I rose not 04:00 as planned. Walking up the hill I met another Finnish birder who had made the early start and had been rewarded with Ptarmigan and Willow Grouse but both had disappeared. The Ptarmigan was a male still in all white plumage and with most of the snow gone he should certainly stand out if he was around. It took an hour but eventually he was located and I got some nice photos with a range of backgrounds but with a very overcast sky. 
Although I walked for a further 10km there was no sign of the Willow Grouse, but surely I'll see these further north.
On the 12th June I tried again for Little Bunting on the outskirts of Ivalo and finally with success! I located a pair just off the Murmansk Road on the outskirts of town the male was in song but the female was also present so they had perhaps not completed a nest yet.

Little Bunting
That afternoon I made another search for Siberian Tit, and I was clearly having a good day as I located several birds on the Kuttur Guhtar Road west of Kiilopaa. 
Siberian Tit
This is probably not the best time to look for them as half the population is sitting on eggs and the other half are probably less vocal then earlier in the Spring. Still it was great to finally catch up with them.

Viiksimi to Kuusamo 5th - 8th June

I had always planned to travel north via Oulu. If there had been owls around I intended to do a Finnature trip but owls were apparently almost non-existent this year. I got a message from Jan as I drove north to say one Great Grey Owl had been found in the Oulu area but I didn't fancy an organised trip for one owl.
It was overcast and cool when I arrived in Oulu and I drove straight to the Jaasalontie Road area which is famous for its nesting Terek Sandpiper, one of perhaps only 5 pairs in Finland. As luck would have it there was a British couple in a camper parked overlooking the pools where the Terek sometimes feeds. 
The famous Terek Pool at Oulu but without Terek, the little area of mud had disappearedby the following morning
The lady had seen the bird on the spoil tip area where they breed and a walk before had seen it on the pools where we were now looking. Not there now though so I walked up to the spoil heap. no sign there either.
Rather than spend the whole evening there I drove down to the Liminganlahti reserve, just down the coast, there is overnight parking, 5€ if you want electric. By now it was raining, more news from Jan that there had been several Pallid Harrier sightings in the Oulu area so I scanned the fields but without success. It was warmer, about 10C but still raining in the morning so I did I quick tour of the boardwalk to the tower hide; plenty of Ruff, Pied Flycatcher and Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes but all the geese which are here in the winter had gone north. I went back to try again for the Terek Sandpiper but in the persistent rain my heart wasn't really in it. If you want to see Terek Sandpiper go to Hong Kong or somewhere in the far east is my advice. I decided to carry on to Kuusamo.
Quite a few of the lakes were still frozen as I headed north but those that were ice free often had Black-throated Divers on them. 
Black-throated Divers were appearing on many unfrozen lakes
I drove up to the famous bird feeders at Konttainen which immediately washed away my blues from Oul, the sun was back out and within minutes of stopping I had seen Willow Tit (of the northern race borealis) at least 4 Siberian Jay, a new bird for me, but best of all a Red-flanked Bluetail singing in the woods behind the feeders.
Siberian Jay
I did my best to track the Bluetail down and eventually got sufficient views to confirm it was a second calendar year male, so brown like the female with only a cast of blue on the rump and tail. Still a Bluetail is a Bluetail so I wasn't complaining.
I slept in the feeder car park, this far north the sun didn't set so there was no darkness and I was glad of the blinds on the camper to give some semblance of night time.
I rose around 04:30 and walked round Konttainen Wood up to the top of the hill. Found the Siberian Jays at the top but couldn't relocate the Bluetail. I crossed the road to walk in the equally famous woods of Valtavaara, a female Goshawk swept past carrying prey. I went as far as the lake but without hearing anything new then walked back and drove round to the ski resort of Ruka to enter Valtavaara from the south. As I was approaching the lake again I heard the distinctive song of the Bluetail again and managed to get some photos of another second calendar year bird. 
Red-flanked Bluetail - second calendar year male
Whilst trying to get a bit closer I disturbed a male Capercaillie which clattered of from just a few metres away giving me quite a start. Back at Konttainen the male there was in full song again. There is a camp site near by but there were no signs to say it was open but apparently it was but there was only me in residence. The owner indicated that he had yet to put the sign outside which he duly did and another camper appeared, showing the importance of advertising!
Willow Tit - Poecile montanus borealis
I found a Willow Tits nest on the campsite but the light was poor and the photo results disappointing I wanted some decent shots to show how grey they are compared to British birds and as a comparison with Siberian Tit - when I finally found one.
The following morning was clear again and the temperature rose to a very pleasant 24C. I drove back down to Kuusumo to stock up on food and have a look around lake Toranki, there was still ice on the Kuusumo end but the southern end was clear and held a nice flock of 50 Goosander and my first pair of Velvet Scoter of the trip. As I was trying to photograph a pair of Black-throated Diver a Beaver swam past just metres from me but as soon as he saw me he dived not to be seen again.
Velvet Scott - male
I checked the bushes looking for Rustic or Little Bunting but without success but came across a nice Whooper Swan sat on its nest.
Back at the feeders to Bluetail was still in song, a couple of young Finnish birders thought that had had as many as 5 in the area.