Arctic migration and lifer twitch

The 7th of May started well when I checked Härskiinmutka early in morning and found a flock of ducks which had at least some promising looking birds. I drove closer to Moskuunniemi and soon found the flock which was now much closer. Birds were mostly Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters but there were 3 male and 2 female Steller’s Eiders too! On my lunch-hour I heard only a Thrush Nightingale and a Common Whitethroat in Siikalahti. After my work-day I saw these 5 birds in Moskuunniemi again but they were flying low towards Särkisalmi. I drove there and found the birds again and finally also some other birders managed to twitch them.

On the 8th day I saw a couple of Black-tailed Godwits migrating in Siikalahti. On the 9th day in early morning visit to Siikalahti I found a Bluethroat, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Blackcap. In the afternoon I was running in Tarvaslampi and saw a female Capercaillie. After sauna we visited Siikalahti again and found out that Nightjar had arrived to Sounio.

On the 10th of May we did a good tour to Saari. On the way we saw a couple of Cormorants in Härskiinmutka. In Akanvaara Tetrisuo we didn’t hear any Ortolan Buntings but in Pohjanranta we found a couple of Slavonian Grebes, Garganeys and Smews, 6 Bewick’s Swans and a White-tailed Eagle.

In Suurenjärvenliete floods were already quite small and there weren’t many birds either. In Jyrkilä we saw a couple of Stock Doves and in Kanavalampi floods a Little Ringed Plover. In Kanavalampi I immediately found a Great White Egret which was hiding behind some willows and perches almost inside forest as the flood was quite high. I had forgotten my phone inside car, so I started walking towards it when Hanna shouted that there was a Red-breasted Goose swimming with a flock of Barnacle Geese. So I checked it first and only then went to get my phone. Then I had to send news out from 2 rarities. Only other birds to mention were a couple of Smews.

In Tarassiinlahti we heard a Bluethroat but soon we were driving to Siikalahti. We hoped to see some migrating raptors but the weather was too hot and there was no wind at all. But there was a acrocephalus-warbler singing on a bush next to us and first it was singing like a Paddyfield Warbler but after almost an hour trying I managed to see it very briefly and it looked more like a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. After all it also started to sing more like a Blyth’s so after all it was “only” the earliest Blyth’s Reed Warbler ever in South Karelia. In the evening we checked all out Nuthatch nest-boxes, but found none breeding in them. And the only pair that is breeding is in an old nest-box that is impossible to open.

On the 11th day I did a quick water-bird count in Siikalahti and there were fewer birds than ever! Before I had to hurry to work I still checked Härskiinmutka and found 38 Scaups.

In the evening we drove to Virolahti for arctic-migration weekend. In Leerviikinniemi we saw nice duck-migration – Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters but also about 1000 Velvet Scoters. Other year-ticks were Eider, Caspian Tern, Arctic Tern and Arctic Skua which 3 of them were seen migrating. We put up our tent to Lakakallio and went to sleep when Nightjar was starting its continuous song.


On the 12th of May I climbed to Lakakallio already at 4:30 a.m. and after I had seen some Black-throated Divers Hanna and also Markus Öst arrived. Migration wasn’t very good but we counted 180 Black-throated Divers. The best bird of the morning was a White-billed Diver that I found migrating over inland with a couple of Black-throated Divers.

Geese were also migrating but I really don’t do geese anymore. But suddenly also Velvet Scoters started to move, but pretty soon the route changed too far to the sea. Anyway at least 2000 of altogether 4000 ducks were identified as Velvet Scoters. Also 650 aythya-ducks were seen but too distant.

Some other birds observed were a Bar-tailed Godwit that we only heard, a Swift, a couple of late Waxwings, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Parrot Crossbill.

Hanna’s sister Elissa arrived to Lakakallio too but then most of the migration was already gone. So pretty soon we left to check some other places nearby. In Vilkkiläntura we heard a Wood Warbler, a couple of Wrens and saw a White-backed Woodpecker, 120 Little Gulls, Ringed Plovers and a Little Ringed Plover. In Lintulahti we saw only a White-tailed Eagle but heard an Icterine Warbler.

In Elokallio we did a couple of hours raptor-watch but saw none migrating raptors. We saw only at least 5 White-tailed Eagles which was a disappointment as on the previous day there had been several rare raptors seen.

After some shopping we went to sleep to Lakakallio into our tents and then again to Leerviikinniemi to watch evening-migration. Weather was almost too good to watch tens of thousands of Common Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks migrating right over us! I was wearing T-shirt until the sunset!

On the 13th day I was again in Lakakallio at 4:30 and right away I heard a Serin singing! It was a bit behind a couple of Robins, so I tried to get closer, but either it moved or then I once again heard the direction wrong, so I couldn’t get any closer. But I heard it at least 5 times and after all it can’t really be misidentified. So it was a new self-found tick!

When the others had arrived too we saw some bigger flocks of Black-throated Divers, so altogether a little bit more than a hundred were counted. Geese were migrating inland and some birds heard were a Bluethroat and a Sylvia-warbler that sounded like a Barred Warbler but it sang only twice and never rattled and we didn’t see it at all. But luckily soon after we had agreed that we couldn’t really identify this warbler, we saw a male Golden Oriole migrating over us. It also landed shortly to top of trees, so at least we had seen something better again.

The migration stopped completely so after 8 a.m. we walked down and I was just thinking what we should do next when I got an SMS that told there had been a White-winged Lark found in Loviisa Hamnskär. All I knew that Hamnskär was an island, so I hoped to get some more information how to get there. I didn’t want to start planning a trip myself.

We packed our tents and soon drove to Hanskinranta where we saw nothing species. But then I decided that we should drive towards west and do birding somewhere on the way like in Hamina if there was any information coming about the twitch. I really didn’t want to repeat previous days birdless raptor-watch. The calm sea and warm day were perfect for an island-twitch!

We stopped in Hamina Lupinlahti and then I decided to call to my friend Juha Tuomaala if he knew any boats going to Hamnskär. He called soon back and told that he hadn’t got any good information except that one group from Helsinki was already going. Then I called to one of these twitchers and found out that my friend Mika I. Koskinen had started driving from other side of the country. I called him and found out that he was going to a boat that was leaving from Kotka at 1 p.m. He gave me one more number to call and I managed to book 3 places!
We still had some time so we drove to Kirkkojärvi where we first ate well and then heard a Garden Warbler, a Pheasant and a Great Reed Warbler. We still tried 5 minutes to hear a Savi’s Warbler but it wasn’t singing in the heat of the mid-day.

Then we headed to Kotka Sapokka where we soon met the rest of the twitchers. At 13:15 all 12 of us were in the boat and a long trip to Loviisa Hamnskär started. The boat was really good and we were soon driving very fast, so we had to wear more clothes.

Once we were out on the sea we saw the first Black Guillemot and soon also some Razorbills. Then after more driving we passed famous Aspskär and saw more Razorbills and later also one Common Guillemot.

Finally after more than an hour driving we were at Hamnskär which was a small and rocky island. We had to get to the island by a rubber-boat so after 4 rowing trips we were all on the island. Then we started to walk towards the western tip of the island where the bird had been found and where the first twitchers had seen it leaving too.

Once we got to the tip, we started to plan how to walk around the island, but first I told that we should check the spit behind us. There was some yellow hay growing that really looked like steppe. So it wasn’t a surprise that we almost immediately flushed the White-winged Lark! It landed to the next spit and we could watch it feeding with our scopes. It was only the 4th White-winged Lark in Finland ever!

After some watching we decided to walk around the island. Once we had walked to the base of the spit where the lark was it flew back to its favorite place. We didn’t find anything else so soon we were back on our rubber-boat again. Then I noticed an Arctic Skua flying over us.

Soon we were driving back towards Kotka again. Luckily someone had asked the captain to stop next to Aspskär, so we had an opportunity to see and also photograph Razorbills, but also Common Guillemots which at least 36 were seen. We also saw a Rock Pipit perched on one big stone.


The way back was soon over and there was already next group of twitchers ready to get onto the boat. The captain seemed happy that he had got some extra-customers. I think birders must be one of the easiest customers.

We still had a long drive back to Parikkala and once we were there we were very tired but also happy – our weekend had been very good!

J.A.