Christmas magic

On the 23rd of December during the day I got a message that in North Botnia there had been one or even two Barn Owls in and outside a horse stable for at least 2 weeks! I still had to work until early afternoon but on my luch-hour I went to home to tell Hanna that our Christmas had been cancelled. We packed everything almost ready and when I still went to work for an hour, Hanna headed t o do some shopping. She managed to buy all Christmas-food to our fridge but an hour later we packed the rest of our stuff to our car and started driving.

While driving we discussed about different options how our “holiday” could go but after all we realized that there was no point as owls can be really difficult to twitch. We had prepared to try for the Barn Owl for at least 2 whole days and then do something else. There was a Pine Bunting in Kemi and an Oriental Turtle Dove in Kemijärvi and at leas the latter was a an option. I even called to my brother Pirkka that we might be in Kemijärvi on the Christmas Eve morning but he told that he as going to Ranua with his family so they weren’t there.

We started to check our phones if there was any message about the owl as there were first twitchers going after 2 p.m. I had guessed that probably nothing was going to happen begore 7 p.m. and we were going to be there at 8 p.m. Then we thought that there was no reason to worry if the bird was still missing at 10 o’clock or even at midnight. Barn Owls are real nocturnal birds after all.

Finally at 8 p.m. we parked next to horse-ranges and with my therma-camera we could see a big group of twitchers standing on the other side of the ranges. There were about 50 twitchers and most of them had been for several hours there already. It seemed that many had far too light clothes and they were really freezing. So they were moving a lot but also talking quite a lot. And soon some people started to walk to their cars to warm up and some left to eat or just spend time to somewhere. So people were really walking too much. Some even gave up already even though it was only 9 p.m.

It started to be so restless that we decided that someone should go to check the stable if the owl had managed to get in somehow without anyone noticing. But the owl wasn’t there but it was nice to talk with the owner of the stable and hear what she had seen and where and when. But soon we were back outside and standing still and waiting for something to happen.

After midnight many people left and some of them visited the stable. Later we agreed that the stable should be checked after every hour or so even though it was quite pointless. We would have seen if an owl had flight in.

There were less and less people and after all there were only me, Hanna, Mika I. Koskinen and Mika Bruun left. It was only about -5 degrees but when we started to feel extremely tired, we started to feel freezing cold too. Wind was quite heavy so every now and then we had to walk a little. After some hours we drove a couple of cars so that we could get inside to warm up in turns. I even managed to sleep for about 30 minutes.

About at 5 a.m. one group of twitchers that had been sleeping for a few hours in a hotel arrived and then also a couple of groups of new twitchers. Actually whole group of about 15 birders (except us) were top twitchers. Only twitchable Barn Owl had been in Lemland Lågskär in 1990 and only about 20 birders had seen it before it had died. It was strange that there was not a single local birder.

As we were now much smaller group we were pretty quiet – probably everyone was just too frozen to do anything? Some of us had to walk a little towards the forest edge and back to keep warm.

Most of the observations that locals had made had been made early in the morning about 6 a.m. when first worker had walked into the stable. Then the owl had flight out through the doors. No we were sure that there hadn’t been no owl flying inside so we started to feel disappointed.

But just a couple of minutes after 6 a.m. Mika Bruun said calmly that there is something coming. I didn’t hear exactly what he said but I also turned to watch towards the ranges and immediately saw a pale owl flying towards us – there it was! The Barn Owl flew beautifully against the lights of the ranges and showed really well. It continued towards the stable but then turned to the forest and disappeared. We could have taken pictures of the owl but we hadn’t got our cameras ready and those who had were just enjoying the owl and didn’t take pictures. After all the bird was seen only about 30 seconds or so. I did put the news out to Lintutiedotus and then it was time for some celebrations! It felt so good to see this magnificent owl after more than 10 hours waiting. I was already prepared to go somewhere to rest and sleep and come back for the second night.

I was so frozen that after I had celebrated a little with happy friends I decided that we had to go to warm up to our car. I checked the time and then realized that it was still quite early. So I checked how many hours drive it was to Kemijärvi and then checked what time an Oriental Turtle Dove had showed up to the feeder in the morning. I realized that we might be able to see the bird already this morning if we would leave immediately.

The Oriental Turtle Dove had been seen only between 9:18 and 9:47 in every morning. As there was no point to try to find a place to get some sleep and actually we felt quite good because of the adrenaline from the owl-observation, we decided to hit the road.

After some driving we started to feel warm and even thought we heard that the owl had been seen again very shortly, we knew that we had made the right decision. And when we realized that there were able to drive a little bit faster than out GPS had told in some roads, we really had a possibility to get to Kemijärvi in time, and if not we could stay there until the next morning. After all it was our ordinary schedule.

finally we parked to Kemijärvi Särkikangas at 9:10 a.m. and as it was very dark morning we knew that we were in right time. Soon we found the right garden where were a couple of piles of seeds on the ground and at least 5 Red Squirrels already.

At 9:28 we heard wing-beats of a dove and at 9:32 we saw an Oriental Turtle Dove landing to the seeds. It was a sub-species lifer for us. It was feeding for 6 minutes and then left. It was good that the owners of the house had promised not to get out at all between 9 and 10 a.m. so the dove could feed and twitchers could twitch it successfully. This bird had never been seen in any other place or any other time!

So our twitching trip had been perfect! Next we went to eat to a local service, then did some shopping and then went to see Pirkka and his family. We were in Kemijärvi 24 hours earlier than ordinary plan so they were still around. We even managed to sleep for an hour before we had to give Pirkka’s family time to do their packing and so on and we started our long drive back towards home.

After all we drove until 6 p.m. when we parked to hotel in Vuokatti. There we got a nice room and then went to eat pizza. At 8 p.m. we were ready to go to sleep.

On Christmas Eve morning we woke up after 7 a.m. and soon were having good breakfast. Then we still relaxed a little bit before started driving again. The weather was quite bad for driving but luckily all roads had been ploughed clean.

Finally we stopped in Lieksa where we met Mikko Järvinen and Anu Sukanen that were already searching for our next bird. While discussing I noticed that the Black-throated Thrush had landed to a perch-tree behind us and soon it landed to feed berries to garden. There was too much traffic on the road and in the garden but it was nice to meet also the owners of the house.
Black-throated Thrush
We tried for some time to get some pictures of the thrush but after all we had to give up as because of the Christmas Eve there really was too much happening. We still went to see on Eurasian Nuthatch nearby and identified it as an asiatica-subspecies. Then we started driving towards Parikkala where we were finally after 4 p.m.

At home we luckily had Christmas-food that Hanna had bought and then it was time to drive to Tarvaslampi to spend Christmas Eve with Hanna’s family. We had sauna and changed presents so our Christmas hadn’t been cancelled after all!

Marsh titOn Christmas Day I did winter-bird count. I skied and walked 17 kilometers around Siikalahti and saw a Hazel Hen, 24 Black Grouses, 5 Rock Doves, 2 Grey-headed, 6 Great Spotted and 1 White-backed Woodpecker, a Blackbird, 4 Goldcrests, 70 Blue, 125 Great, 1 Coal and 4 Willow Tits, 2 Eurasian Nuthatches, 2 Treecreepers, 4 Jays, 11 Magpies, 18 Jackdaws, 7 Hooded Crows, a Raven, 19 Tree Sparrows, 66 Greenfinches, 40 Common Redpolls, 43 Bullfinches and 20 Yellowhammers. The weather was extremely tough as there was already so much snow. I was absolutely tired after the count but still headed to Moskuunniemi where I managed to see the Marsh Tit once again even though it hadn’t been visiting the feeder during the day at all before that 2:45 p.m. And on the next day it wasn’t seen at all. MAybe it had started to visit some other feeder or then it had started to eat stocks.

Great Grey ShrikeOn the Boxing Day we went to Siikalahti where we first color-ringed a Nuthatch with a trap. Then we out up a mist-net and ringed 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a surprise Great Grey Shrike, 5 Great, 10 Blue and 10 Long-tailed Tits.

Then it was time for normal work-days again. We were already planning out traditional the first of January trip – but we had no plans to go anywhere too far – 1625 kilometers Christmas trip had been such a success.