Arctic-migration bird-race

On the 15th of May after I woke up early and headed to Siikalahti where I found a couple of Hazel Hens, a Great Reed Warbler, a Wryneck, an Icterine Warbler, some Wood Warblers and Garden Warbles. On my lunch-hour I still found a Common Rosefinch and a Reed Warbler.

On the next couple of days I saw mostly just migrating Barnacle Geese which I am quite bored to watch – I just check there are no white geese on the flocks. On the 17th day the first Swifts arrived and in the evening when we were checking empty owl nest-boxes, we got a message that a Black Tern had been found in Siikalahti. Luckily we managed to twitch it as it is a good year-tick. We also saw some flocks of Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters in Siikalahti.

On the 18th I woke up early and managed to find a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Siikalahti. On my lunch-hour I found out that there were even 5 Black Terns flying with Little Gulls! Finally the first Honey Buzzard was also seen.

In the afternoon I drove again to Virolahti as we were participating to Arctic-migration bird-race. But I drove straight to Kurkela, where a Booted Eagle had been found and it had been the first twitchable local bird ever. But it had started to rain in the afternoon and the bird had landed to a border-zone. I waited with many twitchers for it to start flying again for 4 hours but the weather was just too cold even after the rain. Finally I gave up and headed to Lakakallio.

In Lakakallio we planned our race a little bit with Miska Loippo and Esa-Matti Lampinen and after we had eaten well, we went to sleep.

After a couple of hours sleeping we woke up and headed to western part of Virolahti. We were in Klamila when the race started at 2 a.m. and soon we heard the first Corn Crake. In Sydänkylä we managed to find a female Long-eared Owl but other species we found were all just common ones.

Night was very cold, so bird-activity was very low, but anyway Nightjars and Thrush Nightingales were singing everywhere. We also heard a couple of distant Great Bitterns. When a Quai was reported in Kattilainen we drove there to twitch it as it was lifer for Esa-Matti and of course a good addition to our list.

In Ravijoki Harju we found a Marsh Warbler and after some waiting also a Tawny Owl. Then we drove a long way to Lintulahti of course stopping several times on the way. In Heinlahti we managed to see a Short-eared Owl.

In Lintulahti we heard a Water Rail and a Reed Warbler easily. Then we heard some dry creaking sound from the reed that sounded a bit like a Baillion’s Crake but unfortunately it was behind all the other singers and it stopped too soon. But while waiting we still heard a distant Spotted Crake.

While walking to the bird-tower we heard an Icterine Warbler and from the tower we saw a couple of Greenshanks but then only some common species. We had hoped to see more.

In Vilkkiläntura we heard a Wood Warbler and a Treecreeper and some other common song-birds. From the tower we saw some Ringed Plovers, a Little Ringed Plover, 7 Temminck’s Stints, but again there weren’t as many birds as we had hoped.

Then it was time for the arctic-migration and we headed to Leerviikinranta. On the road we had a couple of flocks of Parrot Crossbills and then on the shore where were lots of people. But it was soon clear that there was almost no migration. Just some Black-throated Diver flocks were migrating. After we had got some common seabirds, we luckily saw one migrating female Scaup and found a Red-necked Grebe swimming with a flock of Great Crested Grebes. But even though we still needed some ridiculously common migrants, we had to move on.

On the Nato-tower we found a Wood Lark easily and in Hurppu we had a couple of Canada Geese and a migrating Yellow Wagtail. Then we climbed to Kellovuori-bird-tower where we saw some Swifts, before a text-message told that the Booted Eagle was flying again and it wasn’t even 8 a.m.!

We were quite far from Kurkela and roads were small and curvy, but finally we saw the group of birders watching and photographing towards the sky. We stopped the car and rushed out and found a pale raptor just over the birders. I took my camera and started focusing towards the bird when Miska said: “What the %¤#&, it’s a Honey Buzzard”! I shouted to birders that: “Where is the right bird?” and got an answer that it had just disappeared behind the forest and we should follow it. So we turned our car and started chasing the bird. Soon we met another group of birders who had seen the bird going back to the direction where we had just been and when we got there the same had happened again!

So we decided that it was pointless to drive here and there and got out and started scanning the sky. After we had found a couple of Honey Buzzards, I finally found the right bird – a pale morph Booted Eagle was flying towards us quite far over the forest. Soon everyone had found it and there were quite a few getting Finnish-tick with me!

Booted Eagle was flying towards us but then disappeared behind the trees. Soon there were more twitchers coming and again another group reported that they had seen the bird, so some cars were driving again there. But after some waiting the bird got up in front of us again and started soaring and soon it was very high. Then it started to glide toward us and after I had sent one more message, it stayed just over us for several minutes and everyone saw it very well.

Then it was time to continue the race again. We headed to Kotola where we soon heard an Ortolan Bunting and we also found some House Sparrows there. Then we had no idea what to do next, so we headed to Huvisaari. It took a lot of time but luckily we got a Coot and finally saw also some Oystercatchers which we had somehow missed earlier.

Then we headed towards Virojoki and from the museum we got a Wryneck and from the village some Gold Finches and Green Finches. Then we headed to Kurkela again where we hoped to find any local geese. But after we had seen a Red-backed Shrike we saw plenty of twitchers that had missed the Booted Eagle which had gone missing soon after we had left – and it was never seen again. From the fields we still got a Linnet before we hurried to twitch a White Stork that was seen in Eastgate. Luckily one another team let us see the bird through their scopes, as it was very distant already.

White Stork was our last species even though we still visited Vilkkiläntura. At 2 p.m. we headed to Virojoki to eat. While eating we got a message that a Little Bustard had been found in Mikkeli and as Miska and Esa-Matti were missing the species and they were collecting Mikkeli-ticks they wanted to go to twitching. So we soon drove to Lakakallio to pack their things and then Miska and Esa-Matti left towards Mikkeli and I headed to Leerviiki.

The results were given in Leerviiki and we won the race quite clearly with our 127 species. The second had 122 and third 121. There were altogether 12 teams and even 164 species had been seen in Virolahti!

I the evening I still climbed to Lakakallio to watch migration and saw a couple of Arctic Skuas, some Brent Geese with many flocks of Barnacle Geese and a mixed flock of Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits. At 10 p.m. I was too tired and went to sleep.

On the 20th of May I climbed to Lakakallio at 4:30 a.m. and soon there were Barnacle Geese flocks migrating. Also Black-throated Divers were seen but the flocks were flying very high, so they were very difficult to find. Also some flocks of Brent Geese were seen, but nothing better was found. Altogether I counted about 5999 divers, 390 Brent Geese, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Whimbrel, 4 Tundra Bean Geese, 11 White-fronted Geese and 3 Pintails. I didn’t count any Barnacle Geese but more than 100 000 were seen but mostly very distant.

During the day I was in Elokallio but no better raptors were seen. Geese were still on the move, but at 3 p.m. I decided to give up and started driving back home. I still stopped in Lappeenranta Askola, but saw nothing special. At home I was soon ready to go to sleep.

J.A.