January surprise – a Slaty-backed Gull

After 3 day hardcore birding the normal life started and it was pretty boring. It was dark before and after work so I could do only a little birding during my lunch-hour.

On the 4th of January I saw a Treecreeper, a Coal Tit and a European Nuthatch as a year-tick and altogether 15 species included also a Whooper Swan and a Great Grey Shrike in Tyrjä. On the next day I managed to twitch a Common Kingfisher which was a new winter-species to Parikkala. Other year-ticks were Bullfinch, Willow Tit and Jay. On the 6th day I saw a Sparrowhawk and also a Black Grouse and a Goshawk, at least one Goldcrest was still alive.

On the 7th day I drove to work in Imatra and saw a Ural Owl flying across the road on the way. On the 8th day the only year-tick was a Grey-headed Woodpecker. On Saturday the 9th we saw a couple of Nuthatches that were already cleaning their nest that they had used on the previous year. But even though we did a long walk in quite cold weather, we saw almost nothing else. So I was happy to twitch a Greylag Goose that was found in Imatra Vuoksi in the afternoon. It was one more species to my list that I have seen every month. With Petri Salakka we saw also a Little Grebe and some Cormorants.

On Sunday the 10th day the only year-tick was a Chaffinch and also a Blackbird was seen on the same feeder in Kannas. In the afternoon I went running and saw a Great Grey Shrike in Tetrisuo.

On the 11th of January I finally saw a Dipper in Tyrjä but then the weather turned really cold. Even I did some birding there was almost nothing to see. Probably these cold days were too much for the Kingfisher too as nobody saw it anymore. And after a long cold period the next birds to mention were 3 Chaffinched in Tiviä on the 22nd day.

On the 23rd day we had been in a boring birding trip with Hanna and once we were back home we got amazing news – Hanna’s sister Elissa had found a possible Slaty-backed Gull in Kouvola Kuusankoski! There was only one previous record in Finland and only 8 records in Western Palearctic! I had twitched the first for Finland.

Of course we got Elissa’s pictures soon and tried to make them as good as possible but as they were phonescoped pictures the quality wasn’t really good. But luckily the bird hadn’t been too far and it really looked promising. Luckily Elissa had immediately sent some pictures to local birders who had sent them to Petteri Mäkelä who had made the first identification. Unfortunately the bird had disappeared soon and only one another birder had seen it in flight briefly. And even though local birders were searching for it in a big area it wasn’t found. But it seemed that it might have stayed in the area so there were birders going in the next morning again.

We had been planning to go to birding to Imatra or Lappeenranta anyway so it was easy to decide to do so as we were much closer to Kouvola then. But we never thought that the gull would be found on it’s ordinary place already very early in the morning. So we had just quick breakfast and started driving to Kouvola.

We got a couple of messages that the bird had disappeared somewhere but luckily it always came back to the river. And when there were already lots of twitchers they started to feed ducks and also this Slaty-backed Gull came to eat bread.

So when we arrived to Kuusankoski the bird was in flight right in front of numerous twitchers. Elissa and also Hanna’s brother Miika were there and so were many friends. The gull was showing extremely well but it was very dark day to get good pictures.

The Slaty-backed Gull was with 4 Herring Gulls but it was the bravest and only gull that came to catch bread. We also saw a female Teal and a couple of Whooper Swans there.

Finally we decided to go to see other birds in Kouvola with Elissa. Also Antti Peuna and Nicolas Ordax-Sommer followed us to the first place that was in Elimäki Ropsala where we soon found a flock of 6 Grey Partridges.

Next we continued to Koihanaho where had been a big flock of carduelis with several species. But there was only a Merlin on the field so no passerines at all. Also 2 distant Black Grouses were seen but nothing else.

Then we drove back to Kuusankoski and managed to twitch a Hawfinch in Takaharju but a Song Thrush wasn’t found in the next place. Finally we drove back to see the gull which was now perched on the ice on the opposite site of the river, so it was too far to get any pictures. When we were walking back to our car the Slaty-backed Gull flew right over us a couple of times in the middle of the city.

It was getting late when we were driving back home and in Lappeenranta we stopped in Kourulanmäki and managed still to find a flock of 4 Twites that had been there for a long time. Then we did some shopping before continued to Joutseno Anola where it was already quite dark, but the Hawk Owl was perched on the wire next to the road so it was an easy twitch. We still ate in Imatra before drove back to home. It had been a great twitching day! Thanks to Elli!

J.A.