Monday, June 30, 2008

Karelia, Finland

This trip was planned around connecting with some late migrant passerines and some Finnish specialities, hopefully including some good insects. I got the impression some thought going to this part of Finland at the end of June without a guide would be unproductive; they were wrong.

Day 1 - Wednesday, 25 June

Ryanair got us from Stansted to Tampere on time at about 22:30 and with baggage reclaim and car hire out of the way in record time we were heading east within the hour through the perpetual sunset/sunrise of a Finnish 'night'.

The first bird of the trip was a Woodcock and this was to be a regular sight on the long overnight drive along with occasional Brown Hares by the roadside.

Day 2 - Thursday, 26 June

The slow dawn revealed gulls, Fieldfare, Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Hooded Crow, Woodpigeon and singing Corncrakes at various points before we reached the Parikkala area at about 04:00. Brief song from a Common Rosefinch couldn't be relocated.

This famous reserve close to the Russian border at Parikkala was our first major site and we spent about 5 hours here from 4-9. Whitethroat, Fieldfare, Skylark, Great Tit, Hooded Crow, Chaffinch, Jackdaw, Magpie and Garden Warbler were all present straight away but the bird tower was the main attraction.

A very close Slavonian Grebe was swiftly followed by Red-necked and Great Crested Grebes. The Slavs had young and there was at least one Red-necked on the nest.

Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus

Another early sighting was a Muskrat swimming between the small islands often carrying reeds and a White-backed Woodpecker flying to a block of trees to the right was the first major target of the trip. Views were unfortunately brief and only for half the team and it failed to show again.

Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus

Whooper Swans (Finland's national bird) were calling much of the time and there were small numbers of cygnets, often very close. Other highlights: single Cranes flying by and heard calling; adult Little Gulls; distant Ravens; a Honey Buzzard; up to 3 Ospreys, a pair of Marsh Harriers; Spotted Crakes and Water Rails calling; and 3 distant Divers in flight.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Whooper Swan young Cygnus cygnus

Along the boardwalk were a pair of Red-backed Shrikes, 2 Whinchats, a pair of Pied Flycatchers, Ruby White-faced Darters, Northern Damselflies and a Large Wall Brown butterfly.

Northern Damselfly (Spearhead Bluet) Coenagrion hastulatum

Northern/Ruby White-faced Darter Leucorrhinia rubicunda

Large Wall Brown Lasiommata maera maera f. borealis

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

Common Gull Larus canus

White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba

Back at the carpark a Thrush Nightingale showed very briefly several times before coming out to feed on the path through the wood in full view; another trip target and lifer for some in the bag.

The drive north produced the only Black Tern of the trip briefly from the car, a couple of Jays and a Raven. There were few birds at the Puhos bird tower but a pair of Whinchats showed very well nearby and a small dark mammal with a very short tail running across the track turned out to be a Wood Lemming.

It was rather disturbing to come across a Racoon Dog in a large trap here but after a bit of coaxing the animal ran off strongly when released. Not sure what it's fate was to be otherwise.

Racoon Dog (Tanuki) Nyctereutes procyonoides ussuriensis

Karjalan Helmi
Just after 14:00 we were being welcomed by the very friendly folk at Karjalan Helmi, which was to be our home for the next few days. We snatched a couple of hours sleep in the comfortable apartment before ticking off the Pied Flycatcher and Common Rosefinch present and heading off again towards the Russian border.

Värtsilä Niirala
We picked up some food and an Osprey and Little Gull (at Päätyeenlahti bird tower) on the way and arrived at Värtsilä at 20:00 to find another UK team, lead by the intrepid Lee Evans, already in place. They had not seen the bird well the previous day so we considered ourselves fortunate that the Swinhoe's Snipe started displaying just ten minutes later.

It treated us to about 15 minutes of its extraordinary display before giving good but distant vews sitting on a barn roof calling. By 21:00 it was displaying again but we left it after another 10 minutes. We'd also picked up Honey Buzzard, Whinchat, Tree Sparrow and the many Corncrakes singing while we were there.

Swinhoe's Snipe Gallinago megala

A drive around before the nocturnals got going netted us a female Hen Harrier and corking views of a Canadian Beaver feeding by a bridge where a pair of Common Sandpipers were singing away as well. A Bittern was booming near the village.

Canadian Beaver Castor canadensis

Savikon Pellot
A wait for Great Snipe lekking at Savikon Pellot on the northwest side of Lake Saaperi was frustrated by the continual noise from silage harvesters but, despite the lack of lek, there were other distractions. A Blyth's Reed Warbler sang nearby along with the only Grasshopper Warbler of the trip.

Another Blyth's Reed Warbler was singing and showing well in the half light at 01:00 as we headed beck along the road to Niirala.

Back at the apartment after 02:00 we were serenaded by a chorus of Redwings and a Corncrake at the end of a remarkable 24 hours birding.

Sunrise and sunset over Orivesi

Day 3 - Friday, 27 June

Karjalan Helmi
After a fairly strenuous day we took it easy this morning. The plan was to head back to the Lake Saaperi area for some general birding but first the area around the accommodation needed a bit of exploring.

Redstart, Rosefinch, Whitethroat and Corncrake were all singing; a pair of Pied Flycatchers, a few Siskins and White Wagtails were close to the apartment. As we headed off a dark Honey Buzzard drifted south over the causeway and a little further down the road a pair of Red-backed Shrikes and a Great Spotted Woodpecker performed well.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio

Kaurila Värtsilä

Just east of Tohmajärvii a female Hen Harrier again showed by the main road no more than 100m from where it had appeared the evening before. Nearby at Simola we took the turning to Patsola (I think), crossed the railway line and about 1km after that took a track off to the left into the forest marked Lammakko on the map. We searched the tracks and heaths here coming across what must have been the same female Hen Harrier accepting a food pass from a male but taking it from above (obviously Finnish females like to be on top).

Siskins, Tree Pipits and the only two Common Buzzards of the trip were the only bird interest here but the area clearly had potential so we aimed to return at night. We did later but added nothing more than a few more Woodcock and a possible brief Nightjar song heard only by Will. Heath Fritillary butterflies and Common Clubtail dragonflies were welcome additions here.

Common Club-tail Gomphus vulgatissimus

Heath Fritillary Melitaea athalia

Uudenkylänlampi Pellot

Lee's team had tipped us off about a couple of birds so we followed the directions to a sumptuous area of scrubby woodland south of the church where there were Common Rosefinch, Yellowhammer and Spotted Flycatcher breeding, plus the ubiquitous Fieldfares and Whinchats, but nothing more exciting. Common White-faced Darter was an addition here.

Sääperi Lintutorni

Our next stop was the birding tower at the southwest corner of the lake. The approach path was about 800m but the area was rich with birds. We had very good views of Common Rosefinches, Tree Sparrows at the main road, a Green Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank, Curlews, a family party of Goldeneye in or near the ditches, plus Pied Flycatchers and Tree Pipits in the carr woodland.

Swallow Hirundo rustica

Large-flowered Hemp-nettle Galeopsis speciosa

Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus

From the tower itself a party of up to 8 Black-throated Divers were the highlight with yet another distant Honey Buzzard patrolling the Russian border area.

Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

A tour of the roads and tracks around the north and west of the lake netted us more good views of Red-backed Shrikes before we returned to the track where we had located the Blyth's Reed Warbler the night before. Here both Blyth's Reed and Booted Warblers showed very well with one of each tussling together briefly at one point.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra

Värtsilä Niirala

As evening came we found ourselves drawn inexorably back for second helpings of the Swinhoe's Snipe and what a monumentally good decision that turned out to be. The bird was not to display during our visit that evening but it had been located at roost behind one of the houses and the stunning close views were sensational. To top it all we met the finder who turned up with his family. None of this would have been possible however without the good will and tollerance of the owners of Marjamaa and Lopotti, who welcomed us into their garden for this once in a lifetime experience, so a massive thankyou to them.

Swinhoe's Snipe Gallinago megala

Day 4 - Saturday, 28 June

Autiovarra Nature Trail

A tour of the National Parks of Northern Karelia was on the cards for the day and we started at the Autiovarra nature trail just southwest of the Patvinsuo National Park. This was typically frustrating woodland birding with long periods seeing and hearing very little. But this is excellent habitat and no doubt at a time of year when the birds are more active it would be a worthwhile walk. The highlights here were a flyover Goshawk calling, singing Wood Warbler, a pair of Spotted Flycatchers at the nest, Red Squirrel, Beautiful Demoiselle and Azure Hawker. Eulia ministrana and Pearl-bordered Fritillary were among the lepidoptera.

Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo

Azure Hawker Aeshna caerulea

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris

Eulia ministrana

Patvinsuo National Park

Here we took the trail starting at Suomu where House Martins were breeding at the carpark and the only Crested Tits of the trip were heard calling near the start of the trail.

Slow, heavy drumming drew our attention to an altercation between two woodpeckers. One was a Great Spotted but the other was a male Three-toed Woodpecker that went on to give great views as it preened, recovering from the spat. Otherwise a singing male Redstart, Wood Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher nest with four eggs and frustratingly brief views of a silent Red-breasted Flycatcher. Insects here included White-faced Darter, Four-spotted Chaser and Northern Emerald.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus

We had neither the time nor the legs to do justice to this area, which is criss-crossed by long trails through some amazing habitat. Worth a couple of days at least.

Koli National Park

This is another large area with many trails but we stuck mainly to birding from the road running north through the park from Koussa. At Herajoki there were 5 female/immature Goosanders, 2 Goldeneye, 2 Common Sandpipers singing and a Spotted Flycatcher at the fast flowing stream.

Further along we were astonished to see a Hazel Hen with several young by the road. The adult perched up on a stump in full view before flying to a branch still giving great views. Not much further on a singing Greenish Warbler had us stopping again and this bird showed very well too. Northern Bullfinch were calling and seen here.

At the north of the park we stopped at the funicular lift to the summit hotel where another Greenish Warbler sang briefly and we picked up a Robin. The views from the top over Lake Pielinen were stunning. We encountered our only Arctic Hare of the trip near here.

The drive back south through the park was also eventful. At Lake Jero there was a pair of Black-throated Divers with one young bird and these could be heard calling from some way off. A male Black Woodpecker flew across the road here landing close by to give good views and not much further along a Badger lingered by the roadside.

Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica

Day 5 - Sunday, 29 June

Koli National Park

We felt the Koli National Park deserved more attention so returned there picking up a cracking close Honey Buzzard on the way near Jakokoski.

Before getting to the park we took a minor road which proved very rich in birds and insects. Butterflies included Wood White, Orange-tip, Black-veined White, Map, Northern Chequered Skipper, Large Skipper, Large Wall Brown, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Brimstone and Green Hairstreak. The highlights however were another family party of Hazel Hen and a female Capercaillie with young flushed from the side of the road.

Wood White Leptidea sinapis

Northern Chequered Skipper Carterocephalus silvicola

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria selene

Back in the National Park proper we stopped again where the first Greenish Warbler had been the previous day. Relocating this we also encountered a singing male Red-breasted Flycatcher which gave stunning close views while we were being eaten alive by the most ferocious mostquitoes of the whole trip.

Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva

The long drive back to Tampere produced just a Red-necked Grebe near Jyväskylä but we stopped about 20km northeast at Onkijärvi. We had close views of Red Squirrel, 2 Wood Warblers and a Common Sandpiper in the trees here and a pair of Black-throated Divers had two young on the lake.

Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos