Again autumn holiday in Säppi island

Twitching on the way

On the 13th of October I ended my work-day at 1 p.m. and at home I packed our car full of stuff. Just before 3 p.m. I drove to pick up Hanna and we still had to visit home briefly before we could start driving about 3:30 p.m.

I had been nervous in the afternoon as the same Pygmy Cormorant that I had already dipped in Espoo had been found in Kotka. It felt like Kotka was further away than ever and of course Pygmy Cormorant had disappeared but luckily it came back later and when we had only 15 minutes to drive Hanna’s brother Miika was there and promised to stay there until we arrive.

Our car had started to make strange noise but finally we parked to Kyminsuu and we met some friendly twitchers on the parking place who told us which way to go and showed us the bird already from the road. It was my Finnish-tick number 399. Pygmy Cormorant was pretty close so I hurried to get my camera too and soon we were on the beach with Miika and tried to get some pictures. And the bird really looked small while sitting next to Goosanders.

We were watching the Pygmy Cormorant for 15 minutes until it flew towards Hovinsaari and disappeared to the darkness. After we had walked back to our car, we tested that it was still working before we started a long drive – now towards right direction.

We drove until Tampere where we decided to take a room from Scandic Hotel. We got a comfy room and were sleeping soon.

In Pori

On the 14th of October we woke up early and were soon driving towards Pori with our noisy car. In Pori we had quick breakfast and then continued to Konepajanranta where we soon met Teo Ylätalo and Elissa Soikkeli who had left very early from Kouvola. It was 7:30 a.m. and still dark when we walked to the beach to watch gulls.

Our goal was to find a possible Yellow-legged Gull that Petteri Mäkelä had found. I am not expert with gulls as I don’t see any big gulls in Parikkala so we hoped that there would be some local or any other “laridist” twitching but there were nobody else. So we started scanning the gulls and surprisingly easily found the right-looking gull. We compared it to the pictures that had been taken and once also Andreas Lindén and Jyri Strandberg had arrived and were with us, we could be sure that we had the right bird.

The light was still bad but we took lots of pictures before a White-tailed Eagle arrived and most gulls were gone – the Yellow-legged Gull candidate with them. We still found a young Lesser Black-backed Gull but when more twitchers arrived the right bird was still not found (only in the evening).

With Hanna we had to visit Police as we finally were in a city in work-day and we had to get new passports. We were extremely lucky to get everything done there in 15 minutes as normally it should take hours. Luckily they had some problems with their computers but they managed to make everything we needed. So we got first on the line even though we had no reservation.

So soon we met Teo and Elli again and continued to do some birding. We started in Kaarluoto where we saw 3 Great Egrets, 2 Greylag Geese and a Hen Harrier and heard a couple of Bearded Reedlings and then continued to Teemuluoto where a Great Grey Shrike and a flock of Bearded Reedlings were seen.

Then it was time to go shopping. We had to buy more food so we would have enough for more than 2 weeks. When both cars were absolutely full, we started driving towards Kuuminainen and Salokangas harbor.

On the harbor we met Veikka Kosonen and Oskari Saunisto who had left early from Savonlinna and soon also Petteri Mäkelä and Tomas Swahn arrived. Soon Tommi Salokangas arrived to his boat and we started to fill the bottom of the boat with our stuff. We were soon ready but one car was still missing. I called to my brother Pirkka and he told that they were still 15 minutes away from the harbor. Tommi wasn’t very happy for the delay but we couldn’t do anything but wait. Finally Pirkka arrived with Ahti Ihonen and Pyry Laurikka. Pirkka had picked them up from Helsinki after the night-train had arrived there from Kemijärvi. Finally we had packed everything and the trip to Säppi begun.

To Säppi

The sea was calm and we were soon in Säppi before 4 p.m. Boat was emptied quickly but it took some time to carry everything to the station.

As there had once again been several birders cancelling there was room in station side of the building so Pyry went there with Ahti, Petteri and Tomas so we had a little bit more room on the family-side too.

Once we were all ready and the first flock of Purple Sandpipers had been seen on Ulkolasku rock, the ringers and assistants left to put mist-nets ready to Peräkulma and the rest of us started to walk around the island – as there was still time to check most of the places.

The best birds we saw were a late Whinchat and a Greenshank and several Woodcocks. Once it was already dark a small team left to catch birds with nets, headlights and a couple of thermal cameras. And they managed to catch a couple of Jack Snipes, a Woodcock and a Purple Sandpiper! Then we still caught a Tengmalm’s Owl from mist-nets that were in the garden, so the beginning had been quite good.

Hard work

But if the trip had started well, it continued very average. The days were always the same: Ringers woke up very early and they were in Peräkulma with open mist-nets half an hour before sunrise, about then also their assistants started to walk towards the nets and about then the rest of us woke up so we were ready to watch migration in Prakala 2 hours from the sunrise. And then one person didn’t really wake up at all on the first days…

It was boring on the mist-nets. On some mornings there were quite a few birds but the selection of species was very ordinary. So once the morning seawatch was over some assistants and even another ringer, Pirkka, was ready to join the walk around the island.

The island was walked around with many birders every day and we really checked every bush, but sea-buckthorn bushes were very dense and full of berries this year so they made some parts very difficult.

Better observations were a Grey Plover, a couple of Ringed Plovers, Ruffs, different numbers of Purple Sandpipers and Dunlins every day, Jack Snipes, a Stock Dove, a couple of Short-eared Owls, a few Arctic Skuas , some Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a late Lesser Whitethroat, Parrot Crossbills and the same Whinchat and Greenshank still. On a couple of day we saw corvid-migration and it was nice to see more than 100 Rooks migrating one day.

Still there was nothing better on the mist-nets but on a couple of evenings we were again trying to catch waders and on one rainy evening we caught 7 Jack Snipes, a Common Snipe and a couple of Purple Sandpipers and on the another evening 4 Purple Sandpipers.

On the 18th of October I had a Common Guillemot on the morning seawatch but it turned to fly straight away so nobody else managed to identify it. We also saw an Arctic Skua and a Peregrine Falcon. Both a Whinchat and a Greenshank were seen the last time and on the mist-nets ringers caught a Siberian Chiffchaff which wasn’t good bird enough to go to twitch. During the day Petteri left to work so there was one birder less in the island.

Something rare finally

On the next day, 19th of October, island felt even emptier and while we were walking around it I said that “as long as there are no Snow Buntings, we still have some hope”. And after maybe 20 steps we flushed a small flock of Snow Buntings. But soon after that while we were walking in Hanhisto we flushed 3 birds which 2 of them were easy to identify as a Reed Buntings but one looked interesting. I tried to tell others to follow it so I could take pictures of it but for some reason nobody else really picked it up. And soon it landed behind some reeds.

I was sure it had looked like a small lark but of course it had looked weird because of it had been flying with buntings and therefore like buntings – here and there. But I had seen pale stomach and the shape of the bird quite well. So the rest of us walked to the other side of the birds landing place and me and Veikka stayed with our cameras ready. Surprisingly the bird flushed from very different place than we expected so we weren’t ready yet to get pictures. But luckily the bird was in flight again and flew back to the place where it had been flushed and this time I managed to get some pretty good shots. And the bird was easy to identify as a Short-toed Lark which I had already in the first situation said that it could be.

Short-toed Lark was seen much better on soon and we got pretty good pictures even though it was already getting very dark. And everyone who came to try managed to see it,

When we were still watching the pictures Veikka came to tell that on the previous day they had together with Oskari seen a bird on the shore that they hadn’t identified. They had digiscoped a video and shown it to the ringer but in bright daylight and bad video it had been identified as a Skylark, but now it was easy to see that Short-toed Lark had been present already then.

Little something

On the 20th day we had some geese migration and the best bird was easy to tell as a young Pomarine Skua flew in front of us and landed to the sea. It stayed for so long that even a couple of us managed to walk from Peräkulma to see it. Luckily it was again then in flight and then after all landed further to the sea and was never seen again.

The Short-toed Lark was still present and we managed to get some more pictures of this very shy bird. Purple sandpipers feeding on algae piles were on the contrary very photogenic.

Hard work continues

On the 21st day Jani Vastamäki came to a daytrip with his own boat. But even though the weather was once again excellent, we saw almost nothing. It was so warm that gloves weren’t needs at all on the morning seawatch and while walking around the island we all had too much clothes. Dragonflies and butterflies were still flying and the best identifies species were Siberian Winter Damsel and Queen of Spain Fritillary. But all better birds were missing. We saw again a strange-looking Chiffchaff that was partly leucistic.

On the 22nd day Pirkka and Ahti left and two ringer-students arrived: Joonatan Toivanen and Riku Kangasniemi. 3 more students were supposed to arrive too but they were coming later.
If some birds have to be mentioned from these boring days – a Pink-footed Goose was seen in a flock of Bean Geese, a Shoveler was also seen migrating, some Grey Herons were seen and again a Siberian Chiffchaff was caught but still nobody was interested to go to see it as far as Peräkulma.

On the 24th day we found an unringed Siberian Chiffchaff in Kräveli and soon after that a very late Common Whitethroat in Takalahti. They both cheered us a little and in the evening we caught one more Tengmalm’s Owl and while I was taking it away from the mist-net I saw a Long-eared Owl flying above me.

On the 25th I got one more Säppi-tick when a Pine Grosbeak was seen on morning watch. Also a Short-eared Owl and a late adult Dunlin were seen. I got pretty good pictures of both Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers in Kräveli.

Still a small price

On the 26th day the same Dunlin was seen again and we counted 114 Razorbills and 9 Black Guillemots. So there was some movements on the sea in some mornings. Already the 3rd observation of a calling Tree or Olive-backed Pipit of the trip was made but this time it was finally found visible in Peräkulma and some pictures were got and it looked good for an Olive-backed Pipit. I was still wearing far too much clothes but luckily youngsters waited for me as I changed and then I followed these lifer-twitchers by running to Peräkulma. The bird had been seen flying close to the reed but after that several unidentified birds had been seen flying here and there. So we waited also Teo to join us before we walked through the meadow and flushed the bird to the trees where it stayed visible for some time moving from tree top to another. We managed to see it quite well and get some pictures too and it was a lifer for all the youngsters.

When the last birders arrived, we still managed to see the Olive-backed Pipit and later saw it once briefly on the round too.

In the evening Petteri, Juho Tirkkonen and the rest 3 ringer-trainers arrived and they went immediately to twitch the pipit but they couldn’t find it anymore.

Last days

On the 27th day Petteri still found the Olive-backed Pipit but again it disappeared before others saw it. The rest of the day was again boring even though there were maybe more birders in the island than ever on our visits. In the evening we found out that the forecast for the weekend was so awful that we had to leave already on the next day – 2 days earlier than we had planned.

On the 28th of October I had packed everything ready very early and went to seawatch one more time. With only a couple of other birders we saw a Common Guillemot and a Twite but also quite good number of Razorbills again. Soon after the watch Tommi’s boat arrived and we had to pack everything to the bottom again. Only Juho and the ringer-students were left to Säppi.

Soon we were in Kuuminainen and we packed our cars and then drove to Pori to eat pizza together. Then it was time to say goodbye and Petteri still went to help Veikka and Oskari to get a Caspian Gull as a lifer.

Again twitch on the way

With Hanna, Teo, Elissa, Pyry and Tomas we started to drive towards Helsinki. Our car was again noisy but now it had even more serious problem – it was losing power on uphills and in higher speed. So we had to drive slowly. So we told Teo to keep on driving – we were coming as soon behind as possible.

After all we managed to get to Helsinki Töölönlahti same time with the others as they had dropped Tomas to Espoo. We walked to Tokoinranta but there were almost no gulls. While Pyry was leading us, we continued towards Töölönlahti and saw plenty of birders on the other side of the bay and there were lots of gulls in front of them and with them was a young Mediterranean Gull too – a lifer to everyone else except me.

We decided to drive to the other side of the bay but all the birders and also gulls were gone. But we found a Little Grebe there which nobody had seen earlier. But I would have preferred pictures of Mediterranean Gull but we were all happy that we had at least seen it.

Slowly we drove the long way to Parikkala where we were in the evening. And the weekend went by resting. It had been hard holiday but not as good as we had hoped. Let’s see what we will do next year in the same time? Luckily our car wasn’t completely broken but it was fixed on Monday and is working again.

- J.A.