End of November, Independence-day bird-race and buntings

The end of November was pretty quiet. Weather was changing a lot and after several very wet days on the 25th of November there was again some open water in Siikalahti and Whooper Swans had arrived to check their territories. It seems the birds are wintering very close, probably in Simpele Kokkolanjoki and moving further only if necessary. There was also open water in Lake Simpele and I checked it from a couple of points but found only Common Gulls and Goosanders. Other birds seen were a Great Grey Shrike in Siikalahti and one of two long-staying Marsh Tits in Koitsanlahti.

During the weekend I had games in Lappeenranta on both days so I was birding there. On the 26th of November I saw 11 Cormorants in Imatra Kupari and a Wren, a Sparrowhawk and 9 Long-tailed Tits in Toikansuo. On the 27th day I was driving to Lappeenranta again and saw a Golden Eagle on the way in Rautjärvi Laikko. I picked up Sampsa Cairenius from Imatra and there we saw 16 Cormorants in Kupari and a long River Vuoksi we saw 5 Whooper Swans, a Canada Goose, 2 Long-tailed ducks, a Tufted Duck, almost 600 Mallards, Goldeneyes, Goosanders, some Common Gulls and a Black-throated Diver that is probably the same bird that was moved to the river after it had got some treatment. In Immalanjärvi we saw 18 Velvet Scoters and in Toikansuo we saw a Wren, 2 Robins, and a Chiffchaff that was back there along the ditch after several weeks. In Joutseno we still saw a flock of Waxwings and a Chaffinch.

On the 29th day I saw a Grey-headed Woodpecker in Kangaskylä and on the last day of November I still got some ticks to my Parikkala-Rautjärvi Bird Club November-race list: a Chaffinch and Goldfinch were found in Kangaskylä and Nutcracker in Särkisalmi. Altogether I saw 74 species in the race.

On the 1st of December I saw an Arctic Redpoll and a Siskin in Kangaskylä and a Goshawk in Koitsanlahdenkangas. On the 2nd day I heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker in Koitsanlahti but the feeder in Mantkanniemi was once again empty so there were no birds at all. Luckily on the 3rd day the feeder was full again and I saw the familiar 2 Marsh Tits again. In Siikalahti I saw 2 White-backed Woodpeckers and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and in Kirkonkylä I saw a Blackbird and a Nuthatch.

On the 4th of December I had again a game in Lappeenranta in the evening so we went birding together with Sampsa again. After I had stopped briefly in Vuoksi and seen a Canada Goose and a Smew, I picked up Sampsa in Joutseno and we continued to Luumäki Lepistö to twitch Lapland Buntings. There had been at least 3 birds in a flock of Yellowhammers. It was a cold morning and it took some time to find the flock but when we finally found it, there were 1300 Yellowhammers! Luckily we managed to find one Lapland Bunting almost immediately and in those 3 hours we were checking the birds, we saw at least 1 more bird. We also saw very briefly one very whitish bunting but it disappeared too soon. It really looked a bit like a Pine Bunting. And while we were there a male Pine Bunting was found in Loviisa Pernaja, but I still don’t know why we didn’t go to twitch that bird as we were only 1.5 hours from Pernaja. Maybe we were freezing too much? Or probably I was thinking that I would visit the place anyway a couple of days later in Porvoo area Independence-day bird-race… Other birds we saw in Luumäki were a flock of 9 Black Grouses, a Goshawk, a Sparrowhawk, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, 6 snow Buntings, a Chaffinch, a Common Crossbill and a Great Grey Shrike. Back in Lappeenranta we saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Mattila and a Wren again in Toikansuo.

On the 6th of December we had a traditional Independence-day bird-race in Porvoo area where I had been several years already. On the previous evening I drove to Lapinjärvi to Juha Tuomaala and in the evening we made the plan for the next day with Juha, Nette Meriluoto and Markus Keskitalo who we contacted by phone.

The wake up was before 5 a.m. and about a half an hour later we were driving towards Porvoo where we picked up Markus. And soon we were ticking the first birds as Markus knew roosting places for House Sparrows and a Pheasant. Then we continued to Juha’s friend’s garden to twitch a Tawny Owl. We were hooting there for some time without any answers, but when we were already walking back to our car, the owl started to call!

Then we drove a longer way to Loviisa where we planned to be near the nuclear-plant when the sun started to rise. We soon had some Bullfinches, a Blackbird and common tits with also Willow, Coal and Crested Tit and also saw a White-tailed Eagle before reaching the open sea. There we saw some Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, 7 Smews, quite a few Herring Gulls but no other gulls, 4 Mallards flew over us, but no Cormorants or any other ducks were seen.

A brief visit in Loviisa centrum was worthy as we saw a Goshawk. Then we started to drive towards Pernaja where the Pine Bunting had been. But there was no news about the bird in a whole day and also on the previous day it had been seen only once in the morning. It was an important species for me, as Finnish Rarity Committee had rejected all records of female Pine Buntings recently and I had seen only one female long time ago.

On the way we saw a Jay and a Black Woodpecker and finally we were in Kopparsbacken about at 11 a.m. We soon saw lots of twitchers standing along a field-track but after we had parked we soon noticed that there were familiar faces standing almost next to our car. From Markku Loippo and Vesa Väkevä we heard that the bird hadn’t been seen during the whole morning and even on the previous day only 3 of about 60 twitchers had seen it! So many twitchers were there already for second day!

We were talking with Markku and Vesa when we noticed that the big group was twitchers was moving nervously – they clearly saw something! We were quite far from them so there were two options: either start watching the birds that were now visible on trees in the middle of the field or then go to check what they were doing. I decided to start running towards them and after some running someone shouted to me that the bird was right on those trees, on the right tree and the second lowest bird. I stopped and started scanning the Yellowhammers with my scope but I was in different angle, so the bird was on the second tree from right and the lowest bird on that tree. But there it really was – a stunning male Pine Bunting! But then I realized that the bird was in very bad angle to my friends, so I started running back. And the track was extremely slippery and I fell down and broke my tripod! Luckily the birds didn’t got scared of the bang and no bones were broken even though my knee and ankle hurt pretty badly. When I got up and kept on running I saw that Markku had luckily found the bird and soon everyone in my team had seen it too!

I soon got my camera from the car and managed to take some pictures of the Pine Bunting and some more twitchers that were just arriving managed to see the bird from our scopes before all buntings suddenly flushed and flew over us to the other side of the big field.

We had really managed well, exactly as we had planned on the previous evening! We had lost only 10 minutes and got an excellent race-tick! I had really been afraid that this visit in Kopparsbacken could destroy our whole race, as I really wanted to see this species…

We continued soon and saw a flock of Redpolls, 10 Goldfinches and 3 Arctic Redpolls and the next stop was in Porvoo Emäsalo bridge where we saw Common Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull. Tanssisaari feeder had got several species of woodpeckers but in a brief visit we saw nothing new. But soon Markus found a flock of Long-tailed Tits that were crossing the road while we were driving again. Then we saw plenty of Fieldfares and a Chaffinch and then we saw a few species that we had though we should use much more time without stopping at all – great Grey Shrike, Common Buzzard and Rough-legged Buzzard were seen in a couple of minutes.

Then we had to start driving towards Lapinjärvi. It was a long drive but finally we were in a big field and found a Hawk Owl easily. On the next stop Grey Partridges weren’t found but I found a young Golden Eagle flying on the other side of the field!

Soon after that we twitched a Nuthatch on one feeder and then hurried to twitch Dippers. But we had to check 4 rapids before we found 2 Dippers and then it was getting dark already. Luckily while we were walking back to our car we flushed a Hazel Hen!

We still tried to find some owls especially Pygmy Owls but without luck. Finally it was almost 5 p.m. when I said goodbye to Juha, Markus and Nette who continued back to Porvoo to hear the results of the race and I started driving back to Parikkala as the next day was a work-day.

I was already back at home when I heard the results. We had got 50 species and once again lost the victory by 1 species! We had seen 3 species that no other 13 teams had seen and because of that we came second. But this time a silver didn’t taste bad at all – we had enjoyed a perfect weather with good friends and really had a good birding day! And the most important thing for me was that we had seen a Pine Bunting which was a WP-tick for me! And the bird hadn’t been seen since that…

J.A.