Åland birdrace trip

On the 26th of February we left towards south soon after midday. We stopped once and after 4 p.m. we picked up my brother Pirkka on Helsinki-Vantaa airport. Then we continued towards Turku and stopped once on the was to try to twitch some wintering White Wagtails on the greenhouses in Piikkiö, but it was already too late. Soon we were in Turku railway-station where we picked up Mikko Ala-Kojola and after visiting a shop we drove to harbor to wait for the ferry.

Soon Viking Grace left towards Åland and there we ate extremely well on buffet. Of course we planned for the next day’s bird-race too.

After 1 a.m. we were finally in Åland and we still had a half an hour drive to Mariehamn Solhem where we had a room. We had the same room as on our previous visits and after we had prepared everything ready for the morning we were finally ready to sleep.

On the 27th of February we woke up early at 5:30 a.m. Soon we were having breakfast with 4 other teams that had arrived already earlier. After the breakfast we headed towards Jomala Kasberget where had been reported a calling Eagle Owl a couple of weeks earlier.

At 6:35 we finally heard the Eagle Owl so we had to wait for 10 minutes when the race started. The bird was moving further and there was more traffic but luckily we still heard it then! So we started our race with an Eagle Owl and Jackdaws that were also calling. Soon we were heading towards Eckerö.

We drove until the road towards Styrsingsudden and stopped there a couple of times. It was still very early, but a White-tailed Eagle was seen and Goldcrests, Great Tits and Whooper Swans heard and a couple of Common Crossbills were seen and heard singing. Soon we parked to the end of the road and walked to the shore where one team was already seawatching.

Soon we saw Goldeneyes, Long-tailed ducks, Black Guillemots, Great Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls, Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Cormorants, Jackdaws and Mallards but anyway it was pretty quiet. Only Long-tailed ducks were numerous in migration. Finally I found a distant Common Eider and soon after that also a Razorbill that we managed to get to our list before they flew too far. Then it was very quiet for some time and we had only a Hooded Crow and a flock of Tufted ducks to our list. So we gave up and continued our race.

Along the Styrs road we heard only Blue Tits and in Skeppsvik we got Coal Tits and a Crested Tit, Siskins and a Black Grouse. In Torp village we had Magpies, Ravens, Blackbirds, Tree and House Sparrows, Bull Finches, Yellowhammers, Green Finches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a flock of Waxwings. While driving towards Degersand we saw a flock of 70 Smews and a Black Woodpecker but in Degersand the light was so badly against us that we soon gave up.

In Storby we had a Chaffinch and in Postbryggan a very distant flock of 12 Common Scoters. In Käringsundby we got only a Jay. After all we continued to Hammarland where we stopped only in Hammarvallen where a Dipper and a Treecreeper were found easily.

Then we headed to Jomala where we had a Great Grey Shrike in Ödanböle and in Gottby fields we saw a Lapwing in a flock of Whooper Swans, a distant flock of 35 Snow Buntings and a lonely Fieldfare. In Kungsöbatteri we had 3 Stock Doves and a Woodpigeon. Then we headed towards Hammarudda and saw a Parrot Crossbill on the way. But in Hammaruda we had nothing new in a bad light again.

In Ramsholmen I walked along the shore while the rest were searching for Nuthatches. Luckily I walked long enough to see that the bay wasn’t completely frozen and there were lots of Tufted Ducks in bad light and very distant. Anyway I managed to find a Pochard with 3 Scaups easily and soon we had both species on our list. Soon we found also 2 Nuthatches so we continued to the other side to see the airfield where a Common Buzzard was found easily.

In Maarinahamina we had nothing in fish-harbor, but a Coot was found in Western harbor. In the city we saw a flock of 3 Rock Doves and in Solhem we had again 2 Wood Pigeons.

Then we decided to start driving towards north. We had several different options but we thought Salvik Haga fields were best of them. In the border of Jomala and Finström we saw 3 Grey Herons and in Haga fields we found immediately 34 Greylag Geese. Then we went to see if Pheasants were in the same place as 2 years earlier and luckily found one male without getting out of the car. The last 15 minutes of the race we were just driving around the fields but saw nothing new. At 5 p.m. the race ended.

Back in Solhem we ate and then the results were given. After all the winners were a local Team Falcon with 67 species. Second was also local Seagulls with 60 species and we had also 60 species but Seagulls had several “aces”, species that no other teams had seen. Anyway we were the best team from the continent and it really seemed that these 2 local teams had done lots of preparations for the race!

So we were extremely happy and we really had done well and most importantly we had really had fun! Anyway soon after the results were given we had sauna and were ready to go to sleep.

On the 28th of February we left after very early breakfast towards Eckerö again. We had got some tips from other teams, so we started twitching a Common Snipe and also saw a Wren in the same place.

Soon we were in Styrsingsudden again and there was the same team again with a couple of twitchers that had came to try to get a Common Guillemot as a winter-tick. It was pretty similar morning again but after 9 a.m. more Razorbills started to move. Then after 8 Razorbills Pirkka noticed a couple of auks in front of us migrating partly behind the waves and when I found the birds I immediately shouted that the second bird was a Common Guillemot! Birds were difficult to find and unfortunately Hanna and another twitcher missed the right bird.

We still continued for some time and saw altogether 20 Razorbills, 3 Greyag Geese, 2 too distant geese, a Common Scoter, a few Common Eiders and about 1000 Long-tailed ducks.

Then we headed near Storby to twitch a Woodcock but managed to find only footprints from the race – both the winners team’s and bird’s footprints. But while searching we saw a stunning young Golden Eagle, a Redpoll and heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker.

Next we headed to Gottby again but saw only 145 Whooper Swans. In Kungsöbatteri we saw 6 White-tailed Eagles in a flock and heard a Stock Dove calling. In Hammarudda we turned to a road the lead to the fields where had been a Mistle Thrush for whole winter. We soon found a flock of Fieldfares and then the Mistle Thrush with them. From the shore we saw a couple of Teals and a distant Goshawk. We also saw a ringed Black Woodpecker there.

On the ordinary place in Hammarudda we saw only 5 Smews and a Great Grey Shrike than was on a tiny island in the middle of the sea. We also saw an amazing early butterfly but didn’t manage to identify the species as it disappeared too soon!

While driving back towards Mariehamn we saw a couple of Grey Herons in Jomala Fagerkulla and once in Solhem the sun had already set. Pirkka anyway went to the beach and soon called that we should come there. He had found a Little Grebe! And even better, the bird started to call and it was the first time I heard this species in Finland!

It had been a great day again and soon we headed to the city to have good pizza. And soon we were ready to go to sleep again.

The Leap day, the 29th of February: A day that is every 4th year is of course a day to try to see as many species as possible. Many birders are keeping their Leap day lists in Finland, so as we were in the best place in Finland for seeing good number of species, we had to give a try. So after an early breakfast we were once again heading to Styrsingsudden. Most of the other teams had already left on the previous day, but anyway there were all familiar faces in Styrs.

There were now more Long-tailed Ducks migrating but otherwise it was very quiet. Of course almost all species were new Leap day ticks. Black Guillemots we only few and the saw only one Razorbill leading a flock of Long-tailed ducks. The best bird was a Peregrine that Jyrki Normaja found. Other birds were 4 Common Scoters, 8 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Crested Tit and a Parrot Crossbill along the road when we continued elsewhere.

After a Goldcrest and Coal Tit we twitched the same Common Snipe and Wren and saw also a Black Woodpecker. Then we headed to Degersand where we now had good light and luckily saw a flock of 100 Purple Sandpipers easily.

On the way to Käringsundby we photographed a White-tailed Eagle that was perched on ice and saw also a couple of Grey Herons. On the feeder we saw only lots of Blackbirds so soon we continued to try a Dunnock that winner-team had seen in Marby. But only a Wren was heard singing shortly there.

In Gottby we saw a flock of 40 Redpolls and in Kungsöbatteri we saw 3 Stock Doves, a Great Grey Shrike, Waxwings and a Lapwing. Then we headed to Hammarudda where on the first fields there was a Greylag Goose with Whooper Swans and on the coastal fields we found Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush again. Also some Gold Finches were seen and a Treecreeper was heard.

In Ramsholmen we found even 3 Common Buzzard which one of them was a nice migrating “börringe”. Then we heard calls of Bearded Reedlings and soon saw a male with 2 females! On the forest we found 2 Nuthatches again but the bay was almost completely frozen so only some tufted Ducks were seen.

So we drove to the other side of the bay to Möckelö where we climbed to the rocky shore to see to the sea. We found good flocks of Tufted Ducks but only one Scaup and one Smew but no Pochard. A Grey Heron and a Gold Finch were seen too.

Then we headed to Mariehamn where a Woodpigeon flew over us and in Berggatan we managed to twitch a Collared Dove. Also a flock of 12 Rock Doves were seen in the harbor. In Western harbor we saw 5 Coots and lots of Tufted Ducks with only one Scaup.

In Solhem feeder we saw another Nuthatch and then Jyrki called us and told that there had been a Yellow-legged Gull near the harbor. Of course it sounded crazy but we hurried there. The place was actually in the middle of the city and we found no gulls nearby either. There was actually no age or any other info about the bird so soon we let it be.

Then it started to get dark so we headed to have pizza again. So after all we were back in Solhem soon and managed to go to sleep early as the next day would be very long.

Altogether we had seen 60 species which 30 of them were new Leap day ticks to me.

On the 1st of March we had decided to have a little bit easier day. There were no more new month-ticks or Leapday-ticks so we had breakfast at 7 a.m. and then left towards north. In Gällby we saw 2 Lapwings on the field and in the border of Finström and Sund we saw 600 Mallards on ice. Soon we parked to the parking place of Kastelholma castle. We walked around the castle tasking some pictures but soon walked to check the reedbeds. We saw 4 Gold Finches, a Pheasant and a Grey Heron but nothing else. So soon we headed towards Salvik Haga fields again.

In Haga we found 48 Greylag Geese and counted altogether 128 Whooper Swans. Other birds we found were a Great Grey Shrike, a Treecreeper, 2 Woodpigeons, 2 Stock Doves and a flock of 106 Fieldfares with a single Starling. Then we headed back to Mariehamn again.

We still had some time so we headed south to Lemland Järsö but saw nothing there or on the way. Then we relaxed a bit in Solhem before headed to the ferry-harbor.

On the terminal we saw a flock of 22 Rock Doves which is probably a record number in Åland. Once we got to Viking Grace, we climbed to the sun-deck but the ferry was already moving so we missed the Pochard that had been on the flock of Tufted Ducks on the previous day.

We didn’t see many birds from the deck but before Lemland Nyhamn I saw the only Black Guillemot of the day and then in Nyhamn we saw a flock of 54 Razorbills! In Vitfågelskär we saw a Shelduck that Jyrki’s group had found on the previous day. Unfortunately it wasn’t that good bird anymore, it was March now.

We stayed on the deck for some time but saw almost nothing. So once we gave up, we went to eat well and the rest of the long trip we just relaxed and did some shopping. Finally at 8 p.m. we were in Turku where we dropped Mikko to the railway-station and continued towards Helsinki. There we dropped Pirkka to a hotel next to the airfield and then continued with Hanna towards Parikkala. In Imatra I saw a Ural Owl flying over our car and finally after 2 a.m. we were back at home and I had only some hours before going to work – Hanna still had holiday for the rest of the week.

We had really enjoyed our short holiday in Åland. The weather had been perfect and we had seen even 77 species there. Now it’s easier to wait for the spring to arrive!

J.A.