Autumn-holiday in Säppi again

After 5 days in Siikajoki Tauvo I just washed some clothes and on the next day, Friday the 19th of October, started Hanna’s holiday and at midday we started to drive towards Pori.

We stopped only once and still we were in Kuuminainen only 15 minutes before our boat left towards Säppi. Matti and Mimosa Mäkelä, Ari Pitkälä, Tuomas Ketonen, Niklas Paulaniemi and Lassi Kangasmäki were also packing their stuff to the boat and soon we were on the sea.

30 minutes later we were in Säppi where some of the birders who had already been on the island for some days came to help us to carry our stuff to the station. Soon we were joining Pettri Mäkelä, Markus Lampinen, Sebastian Andrejeff, Valtteri Salonen and Paavo Sallinen on the log.

Last two days had been quiet but at least there were now more birders than maybe ever!

On the 20th of October we woke up early and tired as night had been quite noisy. Markus and Hanna left to mist-nets and most of the rest of us headed to Prakala to routine seawatch.

When the sun was rising we started to count all the migrating birds and kept on counting for 2 hours like every morning. The quality of migration was good even though the numbers weren’t very big, so some stayed in Prakala even longer. So altogether we saw 49 Purple Sandpipers, 31 Razorbills, 15 Black Guillemots, flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, Common Scoters and Velvet Scoters, some Common Eiders, one mixed flock with some Scaups, a couple of Black and Red-throated Divers and a Great Crested and a Red-necked Grebe.

Just before the count was over we got a message that Markus and Hanna had seen and heard a Hume’s Leaf Warbler in Peräkulma where they were ringing. It was fa, but anyway some of us hurried there. Markus and Hanna were busy as they had mist-nets full of Redpolls and unfortunately Hume’s Leaf Warbler was already long gone and after some searching we walked back to the station.

After we had eaten something we left to walk around the island with almost everyone, except the ringers. There weren’t many birds in the island but again the quality was good as we saw 2 Jack Snipes, a Bar-tailed Godwit, a White-backed Woodpecker, a migrating Rock Pipit, 3 Twites and of course quite a good number of other more common birds.

When we were in Peräkulma, Markus and Hanna were still ringing and during the day they ringed more than 200 birds. Ari was also ringing in Prakala and also from the station’s feeder and he got 60 birds, so the daily sigma was very good.

While we were talking with Markus and Hanna, Petteri asked if they had also bunting’s “tick” –calls on the player as we had heard at least Little Bunting singing from the player. But then we saw a small passerine flying over us calling and it landed to a perch next to us. I managed to get it to my scope soon and it was a Little Bunting!

I hurried to put my mp3-player close to the mist-net, but then others already saw the bunting flying towards another net and there it was hanging!

After we had taken enough picture of Little Bunting, some decided to continue straight to the station but with Tuomas, Sebastian and Niklas we kept on towards Kräveli. From the sea-buckthorn bushes we found several Blackcaps and some saw also a late Garden Warbler.

When we were on the tip of Kräveli with Tuomas and waited for Sebastian and Niklas, we heard a Hume’s Leaf Warbler calling behind us. Soon we heard more calls but almost too clearly. And we found Sebastian and Niklas playing Hume’s Leaf Warbler. But the first calls had been a real thing and that was why they were now playing! Sebastian had managed even to record some calls.

Luckily I soon heard it calling again and together with Tuomas we hurried after the bird that seemed to follow a flock of tits that were moving quickly further from us. After some chasing I managed to see the bird a couple of times very briefly and the last views were seen in flight together with Tuomas.

I have never really liked the way how spontaneous-ticks are being counted in Finland but in most used rules I got my 300th spontaneous-tick!

In the evening we had sauna and some were up until very late even though most of them had to leave quite early on the next morning beacuse of there was a storm coming later during the day.

On the 21nd of October we headed very early to open mist-nets with Hanna. Weather was bad so there weren’t many birds coming. Markus, Valtteri, Niklas, Lassi and Paavo left early when the wind wasn’t too bad yet, so there weren’t so many birders anymore.

Young Bar-tailed Godwit was still around but nothing else really was seen during the day. Also on mist-nets we caught only common species like Goldcrest, Treecreepers, Wrens, different kind of tits, a couple of Bullfinches, a Brambling and a European Robin.

On the 22nd day it was still bad weather and quiet on mist-nets. So after a couple of hours I joined the rest that had quit the morning sea-watch and we walked around the island. We saw one migrating young Hen Harrier, even 11 Blackcaps and finally I saw also one Garden Warbler. Hanna ringed only 17 birds and controlled 4.

On the 23rd day Hanna went alone to mist-nets and soon the rest of us were sea-watching. Weather was already better and we also saw more birds. The best bird was a Short-eared Owl that came from the sea and landed to Prakala. Also a male Hen Harrier, 3 Bean Geese, 2 Red-necked Grebes, 3 Merlins, 7 Purple Sandpipers, 5 Razorbills, a Rock Pipit and a couple of Rooks were seen too.

The walk around the island produced 9 Blackcaps and even 3 Garden Warblers but nothing better. Hanna had also better day on mist-nets and she ringed more than 100 birds. Best bird was a Lesser Redpoll but also 36 Long-tailed Tits, 41 Goldcrests, 17 Treecreepers, a Blackcap and so on were ringed.

In the afternoon Petteri, Mimosa, Matti, Sebastian and Tuomas left, but Pekka and Anja Rintamäki arrived, so there were only 5 of us in the island anymore. While having the log we were joking that we should find something so rare that Petteri should come back. When Petteri sent a message that he had forgotten bag full of food to the station, we started to choose what would be the species…

On the 24th of October the weather forecast looked good so Hanna and Ari left both to Peräkulma. Pekka and Anja opened the mist-nets by the feeder so I had to go to sea-watching alone. Wind was stronger than it was supposed to be and it was pretty cold – it felt like autumn. And sea was very quiet and soon Hanna sent a message that also mist-nets were hanging quite empty.

I saw a Red-throated Diver, a Red-necked Grebe and a Purple Sandpiper. After the sea-watch I headed to the station to eat as I planned to walk around the whole island. But then I got a message from Hanna where she asked: “Are there any other species like this than a Yellowhammer? This is small!”. But the picture than she had sent didn’t show up. The internet-connection was down. So I called to Hanna (and luckily phones were now working in this island of mysterious connections) and asked them to bag this bird until I can see the picture. I told her that it could be “rutila” – a Chestnut Bunting! Then I told her to send the picture also to our Säppi WhatsApp-group.

I ate the rest of my noodles very quickly and ran towards the harbor where usually was better connection. When the picture finally downloaded Jani Vastamäki had already sent a message: “rutila?”. And the bird in the picture really looked like one! So I sent: I think it is Chestnut Bunting”.

I called to Hanna again and we decided that we would walk to Peräkulma to see the bird. Hanna and Ari still had other nets open and at least a couple of birds to ring. So I helped Pekka and Anja to close their mist-nets and soon we were hurrying towards Peräkulma.

It was a long walk, at least to Pekka who had broken his femur a couple of times in last a couple of years very badly. But finally we were there and soon I took the bird from the bag and it really was a young Chestnut Bunting!

After taking some pictures, I helped Ari to close the last mist-nets and then we planned to walk to the station to take some more measurements of the bird. There had been some discussion about the identification of the bird in internet where the first picture had already been spreading, so we wanted to make everything sure. But of course I had also handled some Yellow-breasted Buntings in my youth and this had nothing to do with it.

This bird was very small, it had nice chestnut-colored rump, almost completely dark tail with only hint of white on the outer tail-feathers. The bill was plain grey, but the base of the lower bill was pink and on the shoulders it had weird greenish tone. It really was the second Chestnut Bunting for Finland!

Hanna had seen and heard the bird flying to a juniper next to one of the mist-nets. It had sounded something between Yellowhammer and Rustic or Little Bunting, so she had decided to push the bird to the mist-net. Luckily she had succeed and while she was handling the bird, she noticed that it was small, it had streaky but yellow breast, the tail-feathers were strangely pointed and the cap looked also strange. She had first thought if Yellowhammer could in some strange plumage look like this, but then she had carried the bird to Ari who had been sea-watching nearby. Ari had mentioned Yellow-breasted Bunting but anyway they started to search if there were better options in old Svensson’s book. But as there was nothing easily found, Hanna sent a message to Janne.

While we had been photographing the bird we heard that first boats were being booked and twitchers have already begun their trip towards Säppi. Luckily father Salokangas had agreed to substitute Tommi, who was on holiday.

We were soon on the station and some more measurements were taken and then we started to plan where to release the bird. It was too long walk back to Peräkulma where was also very windy now. Prakala would have been optimal place for twitching but it was also extremely windy. So we decided to release the bird to an open area next to the harbor where sun was shining and was no wind at all. And soon Chestnut Bunting flew to a small bush where was also at least one Wren.

Then we decided to spread around the open area so we could see if the bird decided to move somewhere else. But we didn’t see anything moving and 40 minutes later the first twitchers arrived and Petteri and Matti were amongst them.

After some waiting we still couldn’t see any birds so a few twitchers walked through the open area and the bird wasn’t found. Hanna had heard something ticking once from the forest behind her and she went to see if there was something. And after some searching she flushed the bird from a small open area next to path. Hanna called me, but I couldn’t hear a thing. Then she sent a message to WhatsApp -group and soon Petteri organized the twitchers to walk slowly towards Hanna.

And soon all twitchers were behind a small rock-fence and saw Hanna sitting in the middle of the small open area and Chestnut Bunting was feeding just in front of her.

Here the bunting stayed and soon the second wave of twitchers arrived and Petteri and the first group had to leave. Petteri had his forgotten bag with him.

I walked with the second group to see the bird while Hanna still stayed with the bird. There were many friends and familiar faces again and after all the bird stayed in the same spot until all 4 groups of twitchers had seen the bird and left the island. It was feeding all the time and we still saw it at 5:27 p.m. when it flew behind a small hill and didn’t come back anymore.

In the evening a Dipper was found from the harbor by twitchers and we of course ticked this geed Säppi-tick. Later our neighbor had warmed up sauna and the atmosphere was great on the log!

On the 25th of October Hanna went to Peräkulma, Ari opened mist-nets in Prakala and Pekka and Anja on the feeder. I checked the bunting place before the sea-watch but couldn’t see it. After some sea-watching the first group of twitchers arrived and Ari kept on sea-watching while I walked to the bunting-place with the group and told everything that could help finding the bird. And of course my advice was just to wait for the bird to arrive to the familiar spot. Then I went back to sea-watching.

There were some Long-tailed Ducks, Common and Velvet Scoters, a couple of Black and a Red-throated Divers, a Black Guillemot and a Purple Sandpiper seen on the sea-watch and just before 9 a.m. we got a message that the bunting had arrived to the same place again.

So soon there was again a new boat full of twitchers coming but not all twitchers left. Some had made an agreement to stay on the island until 3 p.m. So father Salokangas would’ve to make at least one extra trip after bringing all the twitchers.

The bird stayed on the same place again almost all the time. A few times it visited rocky area and the forest but always came back to feed along the path.

After the sea-watch we walked around most of the island with Mika Teivonen and Jarmo Koistinen who were staying whole day on the island. But all we could find was one Garden Warbler.

Once we came back to bunting place the last group of twitchers had just arrived. It started to rain very hard, so I went to get more clothes. After 20 minutes I walked to the bunting place and found frustrated twitchers. The bird had walked behind some rocks just one minute before they had arrived but it had never come back.

Sooni it started to rain again and also wind was getting stronger all the time. And soon Salokangas was coming back again, so we decided that only those twitchers left, who had already seen the bird. Soon twitchers started to walk more around the area but the bird wasn’t found anymore. It had probably been feeding enough and when the weather had changed dramatically, it had decided to go somewhere to sleep.

At 4:30 p.m. the last twitchers left empty-handed and even though we still checked the bunting place in the evening and several times during the next days, it was never seen again.

On the 26th of October the weather was still colder. I went to help Hanna to put up the mist-nets but then walked to the other side of the island to sea-watch. It was very quiet on the both sides of the island.

During the day we walked around the whole island with Ari and saw a Garden Warbler and 6 Blackcaps, a Dipper again and a few Purple Sandpipers. The bird of the day was after all a Waxwing that Pekka caught by the feeder.

In the evening we saw one more Purple Sandpiper in Präälä with Hanna. In the evening we had sauna again.

The 27th day was almost similar to the previous one but there were even less birds. Only Hooded Crows were migrating, 436 altogether with one Rook on the flocks. During the walk around the island we saw a Goshawk, a Merlin, a Common Snipe and a Parrot Crossbill. Long-tailed Tits and Common Redpolls raised the ringing sigma over 50 birds and also a Blackcap and a Dunnock were caught.


On the 28th day I went to mist-nets with Hanna, Pekka and Anja were by the feeder and Ari in Prakala. It was very quiet! We caught a couple of flocks of Long-tailed Tits. I walked around Hanhisto and until Eteläkari, but saw only a Song Thrush and a Wren.

The wind was very strong so we started to take off the mist-nets early. At 10:30 a.m. we took the last ones off and walked to the station where we cleaned the building and packed everything.

We had already carried our stuff to the harbor when Ari got a phone-call that some strange sea-bird had been seen in Pori flying towards Säppi. We were soon scanning to the sea but the visibility was extremely poor. So we couldn’t find anything and soon Tommi Salokangas arrived to pick us up.

After 30 minutes we were in Kuuminainen, we packed our car and said goodbye to Pekka, Anja and Ari and started a long way back to Parikkala.

It had once again been amazing autumn-holiday in Säppi! One single bird can save the whole autumn! I had planned to go to Corvo, Azores for whole autumn, but even though I tried whole summer to get an accommodation there but it was so difficult that I gave up with the idea at least when I bought new binoculars. Of course then it was the best autumn ever on Corvo… But after Hume’s Leaf Warbler, my 300th spontaneous bird in Finland and Chestnut Bunting, my whole autumn had been saved. And I had also got my first WP-tick of the year. So after all we had really had an amazing autumn-trip again!

J.A.