Changing the year in southern coast

On the 30th of December I drove to Kirkkonummi. On the way I tried to find a Great Grey Owl in Lappeenranta Joutseno Kuurmanpohja but it was raining pretty hard so the owl was somewhere hiding. So I continued to my parents where I was already early in the evening.

On the last day of the year 2011 I started early and drove to Tammisaari where I left my car and continued with my good friend Kalle Larsson. We had still some 15 kilometres to drive when we got a message that our target bird number one, a Hume’s Leaf Warbler had been found again. It had already been a couple of days in Tallholmarna and soon we were there too. There were already more than 20 twitchers so the bird was easy to find with help of them. The warbler was very active and feeding under the bushes all the time. Soon another warbler, a Chiffchaff was found too – it was crazy to see two Phyllosc-warblers in the middle of the winter!

Actually winter wasn’t actually the word to subscribe the view in Hanko, but now it was a couple of minus degrees anyway. Sea was completely open and there was almost no snow at all. So soon we continued to check what birds there were on the sea.

Common Eiders were swimming close to the shore (I had never seen one in December), some Velvet Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-headed Gulls and soon I found the next target bird when a Little Gull was flying far behind one spit. Luckily soon another bird was found and also other birders managed to se this very rare mid-winter bird. And soon also an adult bird was flying over us.

Next we continued to Långören where we hammered bushes and flushed a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit. Both birds had been found on the previous day. We of course hoped that they would stay for the next day too when there would be lots of birders on their traditional 1st of January twitch!

Kalle was in a hurry to back home so we drove back to Tammisaari where I took my car and continued to Karjaa Lappträsk. There had been a Shoveler but all I found were 35 Mallards, 3 Tufted Ducks, 112 Canada Geese, 200 Mute Swans and 40 Whooper Swans. Also a Common Buzzard, a Great Grey Shrike and 10 Long-tailed Tits were seen.

I still continued to Espoo Laajalahti where I was the last hour of day-light. 5 Wigeons, 59 Coots and 15 Smews were seen. It was already dark and the first fireworks were flashing on the sky when I drove back to Kirkkonummi. There I went to sleep before the year changed.

On the 1st of January 2012 I woke up at 6 a.m. and a half an hour later I was driving towards Tammisaari again. Just before Karjaa I surprisingly saw the first bird when a Tengmalm’s Owl flew over the road.

In Tammisaari I waited for some time before Kalle and Marko Kaukinen arrived and I left my car again and we continued to Hanko. We drove straight to Långören where we met our old friends (my Kuusamo bird-race team) Vesa Jouhki, Andreas Linden and Jaakko Aarniala plus Gustaw Nordenswan. We waited for some time to get some light and then started to check the bushes. The second year tick was Mute Swan – they were easy to see from the sea as they are so bright white. But then the third species was a good surprise – a Redwing was calling from the sky. And soon a Pygmy Owl was found from a tree next to us! What a nice start!

From the bushes we heard a Robin calling but a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit were missing. We had to wait for much more light before a Meadow Pipit finally was found. They seemed to be spending the night somewhere else. Then we got a message that a Hume’s Leaf Warbler had been found again and other birders left immediately. We still waited for some time if the Skylark would be found and saw Siskins, Waxwings, Common Eiders, Tufted Ducks but soon we also decided to continue to Tallholmarna.

The Hume’s Leaf Warbler was easy to find again as there were maybe 50 birders already! I continued immediately to watch the sea as it was now pretty cols (-5 degrees) and some snow on the ground – I had a feeling that there could be anything migrating.

The visibility wasn’t good and there were fewer birds than on the previous morning. Canada Geese and Whooper Swans were migrating but almost nothing else. Long-tailed Ducks and Goldeneyes were also seen but most of them were too far on the sea. A Velvet Scoter and some Red-breasted Mergansers and on bird that probably was a Black Guillemot were seen but the last bird was swimming too far. Also 3 migrating divers were seen too far to identify. We got a message that a Little Gull had been seen in another place so we got some hope that they were still around. Then someone shouted that a Chiffchaff had been found so we almost ran to see another amazing first of January tick!

Most of the birders left after they had seen the Chiffchaff. A skylark had been found in Långören now so also Kalle who hadn’t seen this species before on the first of January left there. I was watching to the sea alone now and saw again one more diver which was close enough to identify as a Red-throated Diver. Meanwhile the birders that were still chasing the chiffchaff saw a Little Gull over the mainland but I didn’t get any information about that.

With Marko we were waiting for Kalle to come back from Långören where he had managed to twitch the Skylark when we got a message that there was a Little Gull now in some harbour. Unfortunately Kalle had some troubles with car so once he arrived it was too late again – the Little Gull had disappeared.

We still stayed for a half an hour in Tallholmarna and saw another Red-throated Diver but no Little Gulls. Then we decided that it was already so late that we had to continue towards west.

We had been riving 12 kilometres from Hanko when we got a message that there was a Little Gull flying around in Stormärsen. So we decided to make one more try. We drove straight there but the bird had already gone 10 minutes earlier. Luckily we found it after 5 minutes again and got this amazing 1st of January tick too. And we were soon on the road again.

In Tammisaari I took my car and followed Kalle and Marko to Salo where I left my car again (but now it was on my way back home). In Meriniitty we saw a Pheasant but no Wood Pigeon. Soon we continued towards Turku and saw a Great Grey Shrike in Kaarina Tuorla. We had already passed the bird when we realized that in that place there had been a “homeyeri” Great Grey Shrike! We decided to check the bird again when we come back from Turku but of course it wasn’t there anymore.

In Turku Laukkavuori we twitched a Hoopoe easily. There were also lots of birders. The bird was feeding on a green grass. Amazing! After a couple of pictures we continued again.

We had heard that neither a Greylag Goose nor a Hen Harrier had been seen during the whole day so we continued to Kaarina Piikkiö Viukkala greenhouses where we easily found 5 White Wagtails. On the way I saw a buzzard or harrier from the car window but when we stopped it had disappeared. Then we got a message that a Merlin had been seen in Paimio Paimionlahti and drove there but the bird had already disappeared a while ago. But soon I found it chasing a flock of Yellowhammers. Another good tick!

We still drove to Paimio Pitkäporras to try to see Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves but it was already getting too dark. What could we still do – of course try owls! We drove to Salo Vuohensaari where after some whistling and waiting a Tawny Owl started to call back to us!

Once we got back to my car we still continued with Vesa, Andreas, Jaakko and Gustaw to Hyvinkää Kytäjä where we tried to hear Ural or Tengmalm’s Owls for more than an hour but without luck. It was already late when I finally started my long way back home. The only bird I still saw was the second Tengmalm’s Owl of the day! Usually it is very rare to see Tengmalm’s Owls and now it had been the first and the last bird of the day!

Finally I was back at home just after midnight. It had been amazing change of the year. I had got 9 new first of January ticks but also 9 month ticks altogether!

J.A.