Leap day weekend

On Friday the 28th of February I packed my car and first just drove around Siikalahti where I saw 14 Whooper Swans and then continued towards south. In Joukio I saw a couple of Whooper Swan more and then in Rautjärvi a flock of 7 Black Grouses.

In Imatra I stopped in Kupari where on feeder I saw Siskins, 4 Long-tailed Tits, a Chaffinch, a Blackbird and a White-backed Woodpecker. On the River Vuoksi I saw a Dipper and 8 Cormorants.

The weather was changing and it really was like winter. It was snowing and windy. I still continued to Joutseno Konnunsuo where I saw a Great Grey Shrike and a Hawk Owl that was posing extremely well.

Then I had to hurry to play rinkball again. We won the game and qualified to semi-finals.

After the game I drove to Kirkkonummi where Hanna and Pirkka were already with my parents. Hanna had been shopping in Helsinki and Pirkka had arrived on the previous day. We planned a little bit our next day which was Leap day, an important day for crazy twitchers. It is quite common to collect species for Leap Day list.

The alarm was ringing at 5 a.m. but actually I hadn’t been able to sleep at all. After breakfast we headed towards west. And after more than an hour driving we parked to Salo Särkisalo Finby where on a feeder there had been a Little Bunting for 9 days already. We walked to the garden and soon more twitchers arrived. A Black Woodpecker and a A Grey-headed Woodpecker were calling and soon Blue and Great Tits started to visit the feeder.

The weather turned awful. It was snowing very much so soon there was nice snow-layer on the ground – for the first time in whole winter in this area. We waited and waited and counted 45 Yellowhammers and saw a Sparrowhawk, a couple of Blackbirds, a Treecreeper, some Common Crossbills but Little Bunting was missing.

A couple of times someone was claiming that they had seen the bunting but after all there was no message in Lintutiedotus. After more than 3 hours waiting, we decided to give up as we had planned to do a lot of birding in many places.

First we drove to Perniö where we found a wintering Crane standing in the middle of a snowy field. While we were driving again, we saw the first Common Buzzard and the next stop was made in Salo Kauniainen where we saw 8 Woodpigeons and a Pheasant. In Susi-Saari fields it was still snowing but luckily it stopped and soon we found Fieldfares, 2 Common Kestrels and also saw a Goshawk and a Sparrowhawk.

But soon it started snowing again so we continued towards Turku. On the way we saw again a couple of Woodpigeons and a Sparrowhawk and finally we parked to Uittamo where we twitched a female Pintail that was with some Mallards in a small open water area.

Our next target was the most important of the day. We parked to Raisio Tahvio and surprisingly there were no other birders. There were some people driving around with very noisy quad bikes. Soon we found flocks of Yellowhammers flying around but they landed only for a second or two and then flushed again because of the noise. Finally the bikes stopped and Yellowhammers landed to some distant treetops. The weather was finally good and the light was excellent. So after some scanning I found what we had been searching for – a young male Pine Bunting! It was a lifer for Hanna and Pirkka as all female Pine Buntings had been rejected some years ago. Soon the flock flushed again but we decided to try to see the bird still better. So we waited for some time until I found the bird again. It was now seen a little bit better and after all we were happy to keep on going. Other birds we saw in Tahvio were a flock of 9 Long-tailed Tits, a Goldfinch, a Goshawk and a Great Grey Shrike.

Our ordinary plan had been to go to Pori but we had to change our plans when we had spent so much time in the morning. So now we decided to go back to Salo where a Kingfished had been found and the Little Bunting had been seen reliably.

In Kaarina we saw a White-tailed Eagle and in Paimio Meltola we found a Merlin perched on an electric-wire. We continued to Kokkola ferry boat terminal and luckily Kingfisher was showing all the time. There we saw also 6 Black-headed Gulls. And soon we took a ferry and continued towards Kemiönsaari.

While driving we saw a couple of Willow Tits, a White-tailed Eagle and a Great Grey Shrike and after almost an hour driving we parked again in Särkisalo Finby. Soon we were looking the same feeder and junipers again.

After a long waiting we heard a Little Bunting calling somewhere on the top of trees but nobody saw it. But finally someone saw it on the bushes from where it flew up to the treetops where everyone managed to finally see it.

We still drove to Salo where we tried to see a Meadow Pipit in Halikonlahti. We flushed several Pheasants and also 2 Grey Partridges but someone has decided that partridges are not countable in Salo. I can’t see any difference between them and Pheasant.

It was getting late when we still drove to Susi-Saari again and found a Hawk Owl very easily. Then we went to eat to ABC. On the ay back to Kirkkonummi we still tried to twitch a Long-eared Owl but it was quiet. We made several stops on the way and heard an Eagle Owl in Salo Korvenkylä. When we finally were in Kirkkonummi we still tried to twitch a Tawny Owl but without luck. We were (at least I was) very tired when we were back at our parents. Anyway I had got 12 Leap Day ticks so now my list is 87 species. Next try is after 4 years.

On the next morning, the 1st of March the weather was awful in Kirkkonummi, first time snow there too. Anyway we left to Porkkala where we went to Luotsikärki which was a good decision as it was only a short walk to the shore. There were some Crested Tits and Goldcrests on the trees and on the sea we saw some flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, some Mute Swans and a single Cormorant. After some scanning the visibility got better and we could see the distant islets where a flock of Purple Sandpipers had been seen. But we still had to wait for some time before we could see them. The visibility was till pretty bad but after all we managed to see at least 5 Purple Sandpipers running on the rock.

Soon it was snowing again so we decided to continue towards Helsinki. We went to one garden where we had got information that there was already Tawny Owl youngsters outside their nest-hole. After we had seen some Fieldfares and a Treecreeper we met a kind photographer who showed us all 3 youngsters but also an adult owl. They were all sleeping on the trees and they looked very pathetic in this wet weather.

Next we continued to Porvoo Ruskis and when we parked between 2 bridges and got out the weather was again awful, now it was raining. There were some other twitchers too and we heard that Azure Tits had been seen about an hour ago. We spread to search them from a huge reedbed-area and soon heard some Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, but couldn’t find the Azure Tits. I saw a Bearded Reedling crossing the road briefly and a White-tailed Eagle was soaring on the sky once the rain finally stopped. Then also a Starling was seen flying with a flock of Fieldfares. Then someone shouted that they had seen the Azure Tits. We hurried after them but they were already gone. Finally after a couple of more rains, I finally saw one Azure tit flying with Blue and Long-tailed Tits. Then I saw one but Pirkka and Hanna saw probably another bird very briefly. And finally one bird was flying higher over the reeds, so everyone managed to see it very well.

We still saw a Reed Bunting before we decided to drive to the city to eat. Then we started a long drive back to Parikkala. Pirkka still stayed in Southern Finland on his holiday. His family was also arriving on the next day.

We made the only stop in Lappeenranta where I saw an Eagle Owl briefly in flight. We had got a hard weekend but some very good birds had been seen!

J.A.