On the southernmost inhabited island of Finland- Utö

In the end of July we were planning a trip to Kemiönsaari Morgonlandet, a small island in southern Finland. When we had only a week to our trip we got a message that the man who was supposed to get us there by boat wasn’t free so we had to change our plans and decided to go to the southernmost inhabited island of Finland to Utö. Kalle Larsson, a president of Finnish twitchers association was making planning the trip and also his friend Jani Laaksonen was invited to the trip.

On the 4th of August after my work day, we left toward south. In Lappeenranta Heimosilta we stopped to check how much a Siberian Stonechat had changed its plumage in 3 weeks.

Then we continued to Espoo Laajalahti where we tried to find Citrine Wagtails as a month-tick. There was again nice selection of waders: Ruffs, Little Ringed Plovers, Wood Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers, Greenshanks, a Dunlin, a Spotted Redshank and so on and finally after 30 minutes searching we found a female Citrine Wagtail and 1 or 2 young birds. Then we called to Kalle that we would continue to his place to Salo so he knew to wait for us to come.

After an hour driving we parked to Kalle’s garden and soon we were having a good meal with him and Jani. After sauna we still were talking a lot and went to sleep very late, maybe 1:30 a.m.

On the 5th of August Kalle and Jani had already left to Turku to work very early but we woke up only at 9 a.m. We checked Halikonlahti but didn’t see anything special before we also continued to Turku. There we ate with Kalle, did some shopping and at 3 p.m. we picked up Jani, did some more shopping and started our way towards Länsi-Turunmaa.

There was surprisingly little traffic on the costal road so we managed to get to Nauvo sooner than we had thought. Soon we drove to Pärnäinen harbour where our Eivor ferry left at 8:15 p.m.

The weater was perfect so we stayed up on the deck and watched the beautiful sea with hundreds of islands! Only some birds were seen like Eiders, a nest of Ospreys but we really enjoyed! At 8 p.m. we stopped briefly in Nötö and a half an hour later in Aspö.

The we got outer to the sea where were fewer islands and at 9:30 we stopped in Jurmo where is a ringing station. But we still had more than an hour to go to Utö. At 11 p.m. we finally made it to Utö and soon we’re carrying our luggage to a motel Fågell from where we had 2 rooms. Luckily the Fågell was only 100 metres from the harbour so soon we got to sleep.

On the 6th of August we woke up at 5 a.m. and a half an hour later we were out and walking to the lighthouse from were it was good to do some morning seawatching. We met birders Kari Kaunisto and Pipsa Lappalainen who had been on the same ferry there and soon also Jorma Tenovuo who lives most of the year in Utö came there to seawatch. Unfortunately there was almost nothing to see but a Black Guillemot, 16 Razorbills, some Arctic Skuas and almost all other birds too were species that we can’t see where we live. The weather was also nice even though the wind was pretty strong.

After a couple of hours seawatching we decided to make a short walk to the eastern meadows and shore to see if there were something better to find. Some common waders were found but soon we had to continue to the hotel where we had planned to have a proper breakfast. Then it started to rain very heavily so we had to stop under a couple of trees to wait. After the heaviest rain we continued to the hotel and saw an extremely wet Common Whitethroat on the way – it really didn’t look like a Common Whitethroat but unfortunately nothing else either.

After the breakfast it was still raining so we had time to see Jorma’s and Markus Varesvuo’s beautiful bird-pictures that were in the hotel hallway. Then we decided to go to sleep for an hour before we had to change our luggage to another place as there had been room for us for only this night in Fågell.

At midday we woke up and the rain had just stopped. We packed our luggage and right then Jorma called us and told that a Crested Lark that had been on the island for a week already had been relocated again. We decided to go to twitch it before carrying our luggage to the other place. Luckily the bird was found easily and after some photographing, we were able to continue with our moving to Helkala cottage which situated right next to the lighthouse.

After we had made nice Helkala cottage our home, we left to walk and get familiar with the island. With Hanna we walked around the southern and eastern shore but only birds we found were a couple of pairs of Slavonian Grebes, 4 families of Velvet Scoter, a family of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Cuckoo. Kestrels were hunting on the sky and Icterine Warblers were calling strangely on the bushes. Not many other passerines were found at all! But in a beautiful weather we found also several species of dragonflies and butterflies. At 4 p.m. we walked back to Helkala where Kalle and Jani were already preparing lunch.

In the evening Hanna and Kalle went to photograph waders from Kalle’s hide to the eastern cost. With Jani we decided to hammer the eastern meadow. No Great Snipes were found but a Grasshopper Warbler was a nice surprise. Then we decided to keep on seawatching as the weather was good for Sandwich Tern which I still haven’t seen in Finland. Only a couple of White-tailed Eagles and Whimbrels were seen.

At 8:30 we gathered to Jorma’s beautiful garden where we checked what everyone had seen during the day. Hanna and Kalle also came soon and they had been really lucky with wader-photographing. We really enjoyed the views from Jorma’s back-yard and were happy to be in Utö, it was so different than at home!

At night we still photographed some Bedstraw Hawk-Moths before went to sleep.

On the 7th of August we woke up at 5 a.m. again and soon walked to the lighthouse for seawatching. The wind was now weaker and soon it was very warm. Almost the same birds were seen than on the previous morning, just some more Razorbills and Common Guillemots.

After a proper breakfast on the hotel again Hanna and Kalle continued to hide and I and Jani climbed to the lighthouse. A couple of Rock Pipits were seen, which was a year-tick! Only other new passerines I saw in the island were a Robin, a Fieldfare, Wheatears, Greenfinches, Linnets, White Wagtails, a Yellow Wagtail, Sand and House Martins and Swallows ( + those I have mentioned already).

When Hanna and Kalle came back from the hide where they hadn’t been lucky, we still went to see the southernmost geological pothole in Finland and there we saw a Bar-tailed Godwit flying over us.

At 1 p.m. we ate rest of our food, packed everything and soon started to carry them to the harbour. We had seen 61 species in Utö – and we knew this really wasn’t the best time to visit the island but for sure we are coming back one day!

At 2:30 p.m. Eivor left back towards Pärnäinen. We stayed on the deck until Jurmo but then went in to rest; we had a long day to come. At 7:30 we were in Pärnäinen and as there were lots of other people getting away from the island, we had to wait for a ferry in Nauvo for some time. Once we got back to inland we still had 500 kilometres to drive back home.

We were in Parikkala finally at 2 a.m. and after some hours sleep it was awful to wake up and go to work. Anyway the weekend trip had been very refreshing! Even though not many good birds had been seen, we had managed to visit one of the most famous birding places in Finland and met several new birders that had became friends for us! Now it’s easier to wait for the next trips…

J.A.