Autumn holiday in Säppi Island

On Hanna’s autumn-holiday we spent 8 days on Säppi island in Eurajoki. On Friday the 20th of October we drove a long way through whole country to Pori to catch a boat in Kuuminainen at 6:30 p.m. On harbor we met Teppo Lehtola, Miska Loippo, Sebastian Andrejeff and 3 generations of Mäkelä family Matti, Petteri and Mimosa.

It took 30 minutes to Säppi and once we had loaded all our stuff to the pier, it was already dark. Luckily most of the birders that were already on the island came to help us to carry our luggage to the station. In the station we met also Markus Lampinen who had just caught a Pygmy Owl from the mist-net.

Once we had made another side of the building our home, we joined the log. There we met everyone else too: Tomas Swahn, Valtteri Salonen, Lassi Kangasmäki, Joonatan Toivanen, Niklas Paulaniemi, Paavo Sallinen and Catalan birder Nicolas Ordax.

Soon after the log we were ready to go to sleep – it had been a long day.

On the 21st of October Markus still had to go to ringing place as Teppo and Hanna were keen to twitch some rarities that had been seen on the previous days. Hanna of course wanted also to get familiar with the island before she had to be the main-ringer for the rest of the trip.

But anyway we started with routine-seawatch that is always made from sunrise for 2 hours. It was pretty quiet except numerous local Goldeneyes, Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters. Only better migrated birds were a Red-throated Diver, 2 Black-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe, 2 Red-necked Grebes, 42 Tufted Ducks, 5 Scaups, 7 Common Crossbills, 27 Snow Buntings and 528 Redpolls. It was good to see also the first Mouflons while seawatching when a couple of animals were running past us.

In the end of the seawatch some Hooded Crows were migrating and we counted 93 of them. In one flock a black crow landed to the bushes pretty far from us and it really looked like a Carrion Crow first, but some bad pictures we got showed it was after all a young Rook. But we did see some better birds too as a Purple Sandpiper landed to Säpinulkolasku-rock and a couple of Black Redstarts landed in front of us!

We still walked around Prakala hoping to find the Hume’s Leaf Warbler that Tomas had found there on the previous day as it was a lifer for Hanna, Teppo and Miska, but it was not found. After quick breakfast we went to walk around the whole island. There weren’t many birds at all except Redpolls with surprisingly many Arctic Redpolls. Pretty soon we found the first Siberian Chiffchaff which was calling very actively. I had never heard calling Siberian Chiffchaff before so this bird was well watched and photographed before we moved on.

After quite long walking we arrived to the area where a Short-toed Lark had stayed for several days already but it wasn’t found either! It’d have been a lifer for Teppo. In Peräkulma we found another Siberian Chiffchaff and we managed to push it to one of the mist-nets. Meanwhile Markus had one more Siberian Chiffchaff on his hand. After some photographing and talking we still continued our walk and found still one more Siberian Chiffchaff. On out long walk other birds we saw were 2 Grey Herons, a Jack Snipe, 3 White-tailed Eagles, 2 Black Woodpeckers, 12 Meadow Pipits, 4 Wrens, 4 Dunnocks, 6 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers and the same male Black Redstart a couple of times. Suring the day we estimated we had seen 35 Arctic Redpolls and Markus had ringed 27 more.

It was late noon when we were back at the station. In the evening sauna was warmed up and Markus tried again to catch some owls. While having the log a Tengmalm’s Owl was first heard and soon found perched on the tree which was nice as it was a lifer for Nico. We went to sleep early but for most of the people it was the last night on island so they stayed up for very late.

Sunday the 22nd of October was the day! Teppo and Hanna went to mist-nets very early, Teppo to ring and Hanna to get familiar with everything there. Some of us went to Prakala to seawatch again – but not everyone was awake so early.

Paavo managed to get first to Prakala and once I and Miska were there he had already heard Pallas’s Leaf Warbler calling on the bushes. Soon a Hawk Owl landed to the top of the same bushes and Paavo decided to go to hurry up Nico who needed Hawk Owl as a lifer. I told to Miska that soon the Pallas’s Leaf Warbler will be alarming for the owl and after a couple of Blue Tits had come to the top of the bus the Pallas’s Leaf Warbler came there too! It was showing well but only shortly as when the Hawk Owl flew past us towards the forest all the small birds disappeared to the bushes.

Luckily the owl was still found from the trees nearby and Nico got his lifer. But the Pallas’s Warbler was gone and never seen again. The seawatch was again quite boring: 2 Red-throated Divers, a Starling and 5 Snow Buntings were seen.

We were just ending the seawatch when a group of us went to check the bushes and surprisingly Valtteri found a Hume’s Leaf Warbler! It was probably the same bird that had been found a couple of days earlier but had been avoiding us on the previous day. Petteri sent a message to Teppo as Hume’s was a lifer or Teppo and Hanna and soon he got a reply that they had just caught an Olive-backed Pipit!

So it was quite a mess! There were lifers for many. So after all I decided to leave to Peräkulma with Nico to release Teppo and Hanna to twitch Hume’s. We could get birds from the mist-nets and Teppo and Hanna could ring them when they come back from Hume’s. On the way we of course wanted to see the OPB too. But somehow we managed to walk cross – there are too many cow-tracks in the forests. So after all we had to walk back to the station where Teppo was showing the OPB for everyone. We also heard that Hume’s Leaf Warbler had disappeared soon after we had left so after photographing and releasing the pipit, Teppo and Hanna went back to Peräkulma to ring. But anyway for example Miska had got 2 lifers in 15 minutes and OPB was Finnish-tick for Hanna.

After a short break we went to walk around the island’s best parts again. Right away we found the same Hawk Owl again perched on tree near the station. But not many new birds were found. We saw again a couple of Siberian Chiffchaffs and one more had been ringed, 3 Blackcaps were seen around the island and 2 Jack Snipes and a Grey Heron were also seen.

Early in the afternoon most of us had to go to pack and clean as they were leaving later in the afternoon. But luckily the Hume’s Leaf Warbler was again back in Prakala and Teppo and Hanna managed to see it too!

At 3 p.m. the boat came and only 3 Mäkelä, 2 Aalto, Sebastian and Tomas who had decided to stay for another week were left to the island.

Not many birds were seen later and so the log was made quite early and we went to sleep amazing early.

On the 23rd of October we left early to Peräkulma with Hanna. We managed to get mist-nets up before the sunrise and soon and soon there were lots of thrushes flying around. It had been several minus degrees inland so our hopes were high that there would be other new birds too. But all we could catch were 18 Bullfinches, 10 Long-tailed Tits, 9 Goldcrests, 7 Redpolls, 6 Treecreepers, 4 Blackbirds, 3 Arctic Redpolls (+1 control), 3 Bramblings, 2 Wrens, 1 Chaffinch and 2 Great Tit controls. Even though we had a couple of players playing rarities, there was nothing else and we stopped at 1 p.m. when the nets had been empty for a while.

While ringing we had seen a Goshawk and once we had enjoyed quick breakfast we joined the others and still walk quite a bit and saw a Hawk Owl, a Jack Snipe, a Willow Warbler and a Siberian Chiffchaff.

In the evening we had sauna again and after dinner and log it was quite late already.

On the 24th of October Hanna and Tomas went ringing and the rest of us sea-watching. I was there again early and some came quite late. Only better birds were 3 Razorbills and a couple of local Black Guillemots. After the 2 traditional sea-watching hours we saw the first flock of Purple Sandpipers with Petteri and we decided to keep on seawatching if there would be more of them. We stayed there until midday and saw 48 Purple Sandpipers, 3 more Razorbills, altogether 18 Red-theoated Divers, a Black-throated Diver and a Goshawk. The same Hume’s Leaf Warbler was still there and even calling very actively in a short period, but still was very difficult to get pictures.

In the afternoon we made a short walk as Matti and Mimosa were leaving and Petteri wanted of course to be in the harbor when they left. So only a Willow Warbler and a couple of Siberian Chiffchaffs were seen. Meanwhile Hanna had been trying to catch the Hume’s Leaf Warbler but the bird wasn’t seen anymore.

On the 25th of October there was snow on the ground and the weather was still stormy so we decided not to open mist-nets at all. Only I and Hanna were watching to the sea and mostly only Common Gulls were migrating. The visibility was very poor but also a couple of Razorbills were seen migrating and 3 Black Guillemots, a Black-throated Diver and a Red-necked Grebe were seen swimming and a single Purple Sandpiper was seen on a rock again.

Hanna tried to ring some tits and Chaffinches on the garden of the station but it was a bit too windy even there. A short walk around the island wasn’t good either, a couple of migrating Purple Sandpipers were seen and while we were walking back to the station we found a Tengmalm’s Owl perched on a branch above the patch.

On the 26th of October the weather was still bad so only I and Hanna were on the seawatch again. Only 5 Red-throated Divers and 5 Black Guillemots were migrating and 3 Red-necked Grebes and a Purple Sandpiper seen local.

Hanna was ringing some tits and we did a good walk around the whole island too when the weather finally got a bit better. A migrating Rough-legged Buzzard, a Skylark, a White Wagtail, 15 Meadow Pipits, a Rock Pipit and 5 Chiffchaffs were seen.

On the 27th of October the weather was good again, just a bit cold – it was minus degrees. We went to put up the mist-nets with Hanna and started to play rarities but also Redpoll from the players.

The first round was good with 5 Fieldfares and 2 Robins but during the whole day until midday we caught only a Siberian Chiffchaff, a Great Tit (+1 control) and a Blue Tit (+3 controls), a Treecreeper and 83 Redpolls and 2 Arctic Redpolls.

In the afternoon I was ready to walk around the island again even though the others had already walked a big part of the island. But then the others saw a big diver swimming very far and we all had to walk closer to see what I was. But all we found were 2 Black-throated and 1 Red-throated Diver and we weren’t sure at all if the right bird was seen at all anymore. So the only new trip-tick for the day was a Pintail that migrated over us with a flock of Goosanders.

We had also been checking the weather-forecasts and we had to book our return-boat for the next day, as there was a storm coming on Sunday. Saturday was also the only warmer day so it was much better possibility for us to drive through the country with our summer-tires. So in the evening we were cleaning the whole building, warming up the sauna again and even the toilet was emptied.

On Saturday the 28th of October it was raining so I was watching to the sea mostly alone. And when others arrived it started to rain so hard that we had to give up 30 minutes early. So only some Red-throated Divers, 14 Velvet Scoters, a Red-necked Grebe and 4 Black Guillemots were seen.

The weather was so poor that we could concentrate on cleaning the house and packing everything ready. At 2 p.m. the boat came to pick us up.

After 30 minutes we were in Kuuminainen where we said goodbye to the others and started a long drive back to home. But our car had been standing on the harbor for 8 days in very hard weather, so there was something frozen. Alarms were burning and there was no power to drive fast at all. Luckily after we had been forced to stop a couple of times, it started to work fine and there had been no problems since.

There was lots of snow inland but luckily the roads were dry until Ruokolahti, when the temperature went minus. So the last 100km was very slippery, but we managed to survive and were at home at 10 p.m. and we had already booked a possibility to change the tires on the next morning.

J.A.