Because of COVID19 the borders were closed and there was no possibility to make traditional summer trip abroad, we had been planning to go to Lapland. But after busy spring we had been too tired to make any plans. When I surprisingly heard that my nephew was having his confirmation parties in Kemijärvi, we decided to go. There was only one problem, I got the information about the parties less than a week before them and I had no holiday asked. Luckily my boss understood that this was a right time to go to Lapland and I got holiday.
Hanna’s sister Elissa had also planned to go to Lapland to see birds, so we asked her to join us to make the trip of course cheaper but also more fun because of Elissa had never been in Lapland in summer so she had several species to see as lifers there.
So in the 18th of June after I had finished at work, we packed our car, drove to Tarvaslampi to pick up “Elli”. Somehow we managed to squeeze her stuff into the car too and started driving towards north.
It was raining and even stormy but anyway we did a stop in Saari Pohjanranta where only a couple of Ruffs were seen. When we got to North Karelia we started to keep trip-tick list. The weather also cleared and in Kitee we saw a Red-backed Shrike and a Barnacle Goose along the road. Then we stopped in Kontiolahti Linnunsuo for an hour and saw a Spotted Redshank, Long-tailed Tits, Yellow Wagtails and so on.
We drove a long way until Sotkamo Talvivaara where we climbed up along a steep track to the top next to a mast and once we parked and got out from the car, we immediately heard a couple of Red-flanked Bluetails singing. So soon we had gathered our ringing-stuff and were putting up a mist-net into the forest. And it didn’t take long when we had a stunning adult male bluetail in the mist-net. As it seemed to be so easy, we soon tried to catch the other bird too but it had stopped singing and we didn’t see or hear it at all anymore. But the bird with a ring kept on singing all the time.
Soon we had the tents up and after we had eaten we were ready to go to sleep. We had lots of sleep debt with Hanna because of a busy spring and we thought there would be more during this trip.
On the 19th of June we woke up before 1 a.m. and both bluetails were already in full song. Soon we had a mist-net up again and in a minute even more beautiful adult male Red-flanked Bluetail on our hands.
Soon we were walking in Talvivaara forests carrying our ringing-equipment and after some walking we heard again a bluetail. And soon it started to feel that there was always a new bird in every 300 or 400 meters. We tried to catch almost every bluetail we found but only one adult male was hitting the mist-net but escaping. Young males were much more suspicious and they were getting close to the mist-net slowly from the heights so they probably saw the net. We also found one alarming female but after all we couldn’t catch a single bird even though during the whole morning we had heard 13 bluetails.
Other birds we found were 4 Greenish Warblers which 3 of them were singing very close to each others, some Wrens, a Crested Tit, Common Crossbills, Bullfinches and a Green Sandpiper. And there were mosquitoes – enough mosquitoes!
Once we were back in our camp we slept a few hours and then hit the road again.
In Ristijärvi we saw a Honey Buzzard and once we had decided where to go next, we finally turned to Puolanka Kuirivaara and soon were searching a suitable place for camping.
We couldn’t really see the hill and forests from our camp so we didn’t know what to expect. There were amazing numbers of mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers and only bird we saw in the evening was a Common Buzzard.
On the 20th of June we woke up at night again and soon were climbing up towards the forests. It didn’t take long when we heard a familiar song of a Red-flanked Bluetail and soon we were ringing one more adult male.
We walked until the morning was getting too hot to continue and found altogether 9 bluetails and all birds we had seen were young males. And they were really tricky to catch but after all we managed to catch 2 of them.
We also found a Tree-toed Woodpecker, some Chiffchaffs and Bramblings, a Black Woodpecker, a Wood and a Green Sandpiper and a Treecreeper.
After sleeping a few hours again we continued to Pudasjärvi Syöte to my brother Riku’s cottage. It was good to see his family for a long time. So the evening was spent while chatting and eating well. We also went jogging with Riku.
On the 21st of June we went to early morning run with Riku’s wife Pirjo. And surprisingly the first bird we heard while running was a Red-flanked Bluetail in Aurinkokallio. It really seemed that there were more bluetails than ever!
During the day we started driving towards north again and most of Riku’s family followed us with their brand new camper. Finally we were in Kemijärvi and my other brother Pirkka’s home. His younger son Veikka was having his confirmation party. Parties were of course because of the situation quite small-scale but it was maybe even more fun for us as there were almost only close relatives.
During the parties we saw some birds too as a Common Rosefinch was visiting the feeder and in the evening a Woodcock was flying over us while we were putting up the tents to the back-yard.
On the 22nd of June we did a short morning trip with Pirkka in Kemijärvi but in mid-summer there weren’t much to see. Some Red-throated Divers and Red-necked Grebes, a Hen Harrier and a Rough-legged Buzzard were the best birds.
After a morning run with Pirkka we started to drive towards north again. The next stop was made in Pelkosenniemi Sokanaapa where some Yellow Wagtails and Waxwings and a Black-throated Diver were seen and then the next stop was made in Sodankylä Ilmakkiaapa where we saw more Yellow Wagtails and an Osprey.
Inari Ivalo Mellanaapa
After a brief stop in Sodankylä Porttipahta we twitched a Grey Wagtail in Inari Laanila. We also saw a Stoat crossing the road and then finally after a long driving day were in Inari Ivalo Mellanaapa. Soon we met Olli Osmonen who had set up a ringing station to wastewater treatment plant. Quite a few ringers have been visiting the site and with fresh ideas the place had became surprisingly working station. Together with Olli we walked around the area to see the mist-net places and as we were the first visitors this year (most ringing is usually done in autumn), there were some work to do with some fallen poles and so on. So after we had seen all the places, Olli left and we began to work. And in hour or so we had all the poles up and mist-nets ready for the next day.
It was already late so soon we had the camp ready and we went to sleep for a couple of hours.
On the 23rd of June we woke up again too early. Soon we had opened the mist-nets with Hanna and as the round to check all nets was very long, we decided that I will check nets around the pools and Hanna and Elli would check nets around the buildings. Then Hanna would ring the birds around the station-building.
Elli had already heard a Jack Snipe into her tent but luckily it was displaying also later during the morning. On the first round we caught some Reed Buntings but the second round was so quiet that we went twitching with Elli. We drove some 10 minutes to Ivalo beach and immediately heard a singing Arctic Warbler from the other side of the river. Surprisingly there was also a 2nd c-y Grey Heron on the beach with a herd of Reindeers. Because of the Arctic Warbler was moving further and it wasn’t easy to hear anymore, we were soon driving back towards Mellanaapa.
Some 400 meters before the gate we stopped and right away heard a Little Bunting singing. We also managed to see the bird briefly on the top of a perch but then it flew further and as there were too many mosquitoes, we decided to keep on going to ringing station. Elli had really had a good morning as in 1.5 hours she had heard her first ever lekking Jack Snipe and got two lifers.
Hanna hadn’t done any rounds so we left to check the nets right away. But as expected it was pretty quiet this time of year. After many round and many walked kilometres I slept an hour or two and finally at midday we closed the mist-nets. We had caught a Yellow and a White Wagtail, 2 Common Redstarts, a Song Thrush, 9+2c Willow Warblers, a Brambling, a Bullfinch and 3r+2c Reed Buntings. We had also heard a Bluethroat, a Broad-billed Sandpiper and seen a Common Ringed Plover, some Waxwings and Common Crossbills and so on. We also had seen a couple of Elks crossing the bog.
After we had slept a few hours we continued towards north again and the next stop was made in Kaamanen 4 tuulen tupa where on the feeder we saw 7 Pine Grosbeaks and also some Tundra Voles. Unfortunately we didn’t see Siberian Jays or Siberian Tits that seemed to visit the feeder more likely in the morning.
In Ahvenjärvi we saw a male Velvet Scoter and in Basijávri a female Smew. Then in Karigasniemi we visited briefly Piesjänkä just to see if there were any good tenting places but decided to continue to Ailigas to our traditional camping place close to the gate. And soon we were putting up the tents to a place where we had really nice views to Ailigas fell.
Piesjänkä and Ailigas
On the 24th day we woke up again at 1 a.m. and after we had seen a Long-tailed Skua flying over our camp we were driving towards Piesjänkä. On the way we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard and soon we were walking towards the big bog-areas.
We found some couples of Long-tailed Skuas right away and on the first pool we saw 16 Red-necked Phalaropes and some more were found later. Also a Temminck’s Stint and a Dunlin were seen by the pool. We walked quite a long way but it was surprisingly quiet. Just some flocks of Common Redpolls were flying over us and at least a couple of them were probably Arctic Redpolls but we didn’t see them well enough. Other passerines were missing and for example not a single Lapland Bunting were seen and only a couple of Bluethroats were found.
We walked until the wet bog where we could scan also a couple of distant lakes with telescope. We found Tufted Ducks and Goldeneyes but also 3 males and a female Long-tailed Duck. As the walking came difficult, we decided to start walking back. We still had plenty of to do during the morning. Luckily Hanna found a female Willow Grouse and a Jack Snipe came to display over us and when we still found a tame Red-necked Phalarope the walk in Piesjänkä had been very good.
Soon we were up at Ailigas and by the gate where we parked the car and soon started to walk up towards the top of the fell. It was a tough climb up to the top but anyway we started immediately to walk around the top and search for birds. But there were only some Golden Plovers – nothing else.
When a couple of Long-tailed Skuas were flying over us, we decided to continue to the next top, Gaskkamusalas. I had briefly seen a Snow Bunting flying against the top, so we wanted to see at least it better.
Some more climbing was worthy as we found several Snow Buntings including a nest with eggs. But still we found no Ptarmigans or Dotterels. After some more walking around the top, we started to walk towards the road and landed lower down between the tops. And surprisingly there much lower down we first heard a Ptarmigan calling and soon saw it flying towards us. It landed quite close so we managed to see it well and got some pictures too.
We also found a couple of Long-tailed Skuas that were alarming when a Rough-legged Buzzard was flying over their territory. And while walking up and down next to the road back towards our camp we found another Ptarmigan, a flock of 20 Golden Plovers and a singing Bluethroat that was already close to our tents. And then it started to rain, so our timing had been perfect – we could go to sleep.
In the afternoon while driving again we saw a Rough-legged Buzzard in Nuoppiniemi and in Dalvadas we saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull along Teno-river on the Norwegian side of the river. It was pale-backed and huge, so it looked more like a grallsii than heuglini. After all we weren’t far from the Norwegian sea-coast. Also a couple of Ruffs were seen before we continued driving.
Finally we took a small road just before Nuvvus and found a suitable place to camp. We agreed to sleep a little bit later – until 3 a.m.
On the 25th of June we were at 4 a.m. next to Nuvvus Ailigas fell and soon started climbing along Cihkagurra towards the top. It was a tough climb along the steep and rocky hill and there weren’t many birds around. We had seen only a Willow Tit and a Bluethroat until we were already above the tree-line when we finally first heard and then saw a distant Ring Ouzel.
Then we heard strange calls that I thought it was a Dotterel but we never saw the caller. All we found visible were Golden Plovers and Whimbrels. The views were amazing to other fells and to Teno-river. And while we were photographing the views we heard a different kind of call that I didn’t identify but now we saw a Dotterel flying past us.
After we had been walking a little bit on the top, we started to walk back down. Again we saw the same Ring Ouzel briefly and when we were much lower down 2 more Ring Ouzels flew over us. We were pretty tired when we were back on our car, but still we went to parking place to listen one more Ring Ouzel singing and we also heard a distant Dunnock.
The weather was getting worse while we were driving towards Utsjoki. So the raptors weren’t flying and it wasn’t a surprise that only a single Rough-legged Buzzard was seen on the way. In Utsjoki we visited a shop and after all decided not to drive any more north towards the northernmost village of Finland, Nuorgam, but turned towards south. We had a tight schedule after all…
Self-found Arctic Warblers
Our next stop was made in Skalluvaara where we walked some time in a boggy area and found a Rough-legged Buzzard, 12 Red-necked Phalaropes, a Spotted Redshank, some Bluethroats, a Great Grey Shrike and finally also a single Lapland Bunting which only I saw well enough to get a trip-tick. I wonder were all buntings were as it should be very common bird.
While driving back towards the main road we heard an Arctic Warbler through open windows. We stopped and found out that there were 2 birds singing. We tried to see the closer bird and saw 2 birds briefly. Maybe there was one more bird that wasn’t singing?
We continued towards south and did a couple of stops along rivers close to Kevo and some hills later but saw only a couple of Peregrines that we twitched. Also a Kestrel was seen there and later a Hen Harrier in Inari. Then in 4 Tuulen tupa we saw only a single Pine Grosbeak. When we were driving again we saw a female Smew on the first small pool.
We continued until Toivoniemi bird-tower where we put up the tents into the forest and saw briefly a Willow Tit chasing a Siberian Tit. I visited the tower from where were extremely nice views but soon we had to go to sleep. We agreed to sleep a few hours but after all we were sleeping five hours while Elli had awaken a couple of hours earlier. She had been listening weird high calls for some time until from the tower she saw a Hawk Owl and realized that the callers were Hawk Owl fledlings. Finally we woke up too and together we went to search the young owls that 2 of them were quite easy to find while 3 more were heard.
We visited the tower and photographed the views and I heard a Common Redshank calling in distance. And soon we had packed our car again and started driving.
It was already late when we drove through Ivalo where we saw a Woodcock displaying. In Sodankylä Madetkoski we saw a Short-eared Owl and in Ilmakkiaapa I heard a Broad-billed Sandpiper calling shortly.
Finally we stopped in Vuojärvi Kantola where an Ortolan Bunting had been for some time. After some waiting it started to sing and it sounded as weird as it had sounded in Olli’s recording that we had listened in Mellanaapa. It sounded more like a Cretzschmar’s Bunting, but unfortunately there had been good pictures of the bird and it was an Ortolan for sure. Also we saw the bird chasing a couple of Yellowhammers and the identification was straightforward. Later we heard that there are Ortolan Buntings singing like this bird in Northern Sweden.
Then we continued to Kemijärvi where had been a very rare summer visitor – a Yellow-browed Warbler on the previous morning. We were there in good time early in the morning but in an hour we couldn’t hear or see it. And after all nobody found it anymore. We did hear a Lesser Whitethroat there.
While we were driving towards Kuusamo I got an idea to turn to Salla. After some extra driving we stopped in Ruuhijärvi where a long straight track was going along the lake and there were bushy bog on both sides of the road. Immediately we heard a Rustic Bunting singing and soon we had mist-net up again. The bunting wasn’t interested of the tape so Hanna stayed by the net and I walked a little bit more along the track. I soon found a Little Bunting singing but it stopped and disappeared very soon. When I was walking back I noticed that Hanna had changed the tape to play Little Bunting’s song and there was a Little Bunting hanging on the mist-net.
We stopped about every 200 meters along the road and found several more Little Buntings and managed to ring one more bird. Also one couple was seen. But there were no more Rustic Buntings so after all we turned back and made another try to catch a Rustic Bunting too. After all there were 3 birds flying around but they never came close to the mist-net, maybe because of the wind that was getting quite strong.
We heard a Merlin calling and several Whimbrels and some other bog-species too but then we started to feel too tired to go on. We drove to a small parking place of Termusjärvi bird-tower and soon had tents up. We still walked to the tower which was quite far. So we didn’t bring our scope with us and that’s why we couldn’t identify any of the distant ducks we saw. A tame Three-toed Woodpecker was seen along the path and I still saw a female Willow Grouse before we went to sleep.
We woke up when it was getting too hot in the tents. After we had eaten we started driving towards Kuusamo. It was already midday when we arrived at Oulanka where we first tried to find some orchids. We found some Lady’s Slippers but Fairy Slippers weren’t found, it was probably too late. A couple of Parrot Crossbilles, a Crested Tit and a Chiffchaff were heard. Then we walked to Kiutaköngäs rapid where we photographed the stunning views and also saw 2 males and a female Grey Wagtail. Also a Wren was singing there.
In Käylänkoski we found a young Dipper hiding along a small ditch as the river was flooding. Then we still visited new Oivanki wetland where we heard again a couple of Parrot Crossbills.
Then we started a long drive towards south. I had decided to drive as long as possible to make the last day of our trip easier. We also would have plenty to do on Sunday in Parikkala on my last day of holiday. In Taivalkoski Siltasuo we saw a Short-eared Owl and of course we stopped to see Hiljainen kansa. In Hyrynsalmi Hoikkajärvi a female Capercaillie almost flew against our wind-screen and while Hanna and Elli were sleeping I continued driving. There were lots of Hares along the road! Finally in Sotkamo it seemed that there was very big storm in front of us, so we decided to stop to one parking place to sleep in a car and wait the clouds to move.
I couldn’t sleep at all so after an hour I started driving towards still cloudy south. Luckily we managed to avoid the storms and finally were in Kontiolahti where we turned towards Kolvananuuro which we had decided to be our target-place in the morning. When we had parked, it took some time to find suitable tenting places and once the tents were up, a thunder was coming right over us.
Very good last morning
Anyway we slept very well for several hours and about 8 a.m. we started walking to Kolvananuuro. We soon found a couple of White-backed Woodpeckers and then found passerines alarming in a top of one pine. After some waiting it wasn’t a surprise to see a Pygmy Owl escaping the flock of attacking passerines. And after some more walking we heard Ural Owl youngsters begging for food and soon found one bird visible while 2 more birds were calling around us.
After we had heard a distant Greenish Warbler we started walking down to Kolvananuuro. There we walked along rocky bottom for quite a long time which was very hard because of rocks were still wet and slippery. But there were so many birds around that it really didn’t matter – we heard lots of Wrens, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers and some Chiffchaffs. There were also lots of Phoxinus fish on the pools between the rocks. Finally the track started to climb back up and after hard climbing we started to walk back towards our car.
We had already walked the whole round when we heard familiar calls which I couldn’t identify first, but then we heard rattling and of course, there was a family of Red-flanked Bluetails, a female and at least 2 fledlings. Hanna managed to get some pictures of a young bird.
Finally we were back at our tents, we packed everything and luckily tents were already dry. And soon we started to drive towards south.
Our last stop was made in Kitee Puhos where had been a female Siberian Stonechat for several days. We found it easily and Hanna managed to get very good pictures of it. We also heard some Common Whitethroats and saw a few Linnets that were our last trip-ticks. Altogether we had seen 144 bird-species without really collecting.
Finally after 1800 driven kilometers we were back in Parikkala and in Tarvaslampi where sauna was ready for us. And after sauna we had good food! It was nice to get clean and well fed before we continued home to sleep. On the next morning we woke up at 2:30 a.m. again and went ringing birds. And in the evening we had water-bird counts in Siikalahti – quite a holiday again…
In autumn 2018 BirdFair in Helsinki we met our old friend Seppo Hjerppe and found out that he had been traveling a lot in Indonesia during the last 20 years and was actually living in Bali in winters nowadays. We discussed that we could come to do some birding with him one day and he thought that it would be fun.
About one year later we were planning out winter-trip with Hanna and contacted Seppo and asked if he was in Bali and wanted to do some serious birding around Christmas and New Year. And soon we were buying flights and in early winter when Seppo was still in Finland we met and planned the base of the trip. But we decided to make more exact plans once we were in Bali.
On the 22nd of December in the afternoon and early evening we drove to Vantaa Lentopysäköinti and soon got a ride to the airport. We were once again too early but finally our Qatar Airways flight left towards Doha at 10:40 p.m.
We watched movies and then tried to sleep as much as possible on the flight. It was surprisingly quiet in the plane and we managed to sleep quite well. Finally we landed to Doha, walked a long way to the right gate and spent time while watching outside through the windows. We saw some Tree Sparrows, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Laughing Doves, Rock Pigeons and Common Mynas.
Finally after a couple of hours waiting our flight left to Denpasar. Again we tried to sleep but also watched movies. And at 11:00 p.m. we landed to Denpasar. We queued to the baggage claim area and my bag was almost the first one that came through the line, but we had to wait for a long time before Hanna’s bag finally came. Then we walked to the lobby where we found our driver Bung who had a bi sign with our names on.
We followed Bung to the parking tunnel and waited for him while he got his car. It was extremely hot and humid in the tunnel but finally Bung arrived and we got to his air-conditioned car where we could cool down.
We started driving towards North and there was surprisingly lot of traffic even though Bung said that: ”There is no traffic”. Finally we arrived at Jukut Paku near Ubud and parked our car in front of some buildings. We found Seppo outside and soon carried our luggage along a corridor and through a gate to his garden. There we met also Kari Riipinen who had been living in this apartment for 7 years now and had been working with Seppo in the past. Their company had been selling Indonesian furniture and other stuff in Helsinki. Kari had been mostly living and traveling around Indonesia and sending shipping containers to Finland to Seppo who then tried to sell everything. In the garden we met also Topi, a Balinese dog.
A Sunda Scops Owl was calling while we chatted with our householders, but it was very late so soon we carried our luggage into a small guesthouse and soon we were sleeping – it was already Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve birding
We could’ve slept longer but when cocks and chickens started to call in the neighbor, also a Green Junglefowl started to call nearby. Soon also a couple of Greater Coucals were calling so I just had to go out. I climbed to the roof of the guesthouse which was build as a bird-tower. The view was amazing green!
It was hot already when the sun was rising. Other calls than coucals and cocks were Yellow-vented Bulbuls, but also some unidentified birds were heard. I immediately noticed that there weren’t songbirds. In Indonesia catching birds as cage-birds is a huge problem and on some islands there are more birds in cages than free! Now I heard a single Oriental Magpie Robin singing, but I couldn’t be sure if it was free or in a neighbor’s cage.
I also saw Pacific Swallows flying past very close and very fast, two kind of swiftlets were flying on the sky which most of them were Cave Swiftlets but also some Edible-nest Swiftlets were seen. Yellow-vented Bulbul and swiftlets were the easiest birds to see, but also Spotted Dove was numerous. Eastern Cattle Egrets and some Javan Pond Herons were seen flying towards the rice-fields, Scaly-breasted Munias flying on the sky and Olive-backed Sunbirds flying on the top of trees. Only very familiar call was a Wood Sandpiper that was calling in the sky shortly.
When Hanna and Seppo had also climbed to the roof we started to identify more birds. A high call that I had already heard a couple of times was a Chinese Sparrowhawk which was also seen soon. On the top of a distant tree Seppo found a Collared Kingfisher and soon a flock of Javan Munias came to the garden trees. A Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo was calling and soon landed to a top of one of the trees, a Lesser Coucal was calling somewhere along the river that was nearby and a couple of Crescent-chested Babblers were calling inside the vegetation. A Common Iora and an Olive-backed Tailorbird were singing and a small flock of Grey-cheeked Green Pigeons flew over us and landed to a top of one tree visible. A lonely Asian Glossy Starling flew over us and a Javan Kingfisher was calling nearby but we couldn’t find it. We still saw a bright red Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker but then we had to have some breakfast. We had managed to get already 13 lifers in the garden!
After long travelling we had planned to start getting familiar with Indonesian and Balinese birds quite easily. So after the breakfast we left birding to rice-fields nearby. It was nice to meet many locals that Seppo knew, people were happy to meet us too and it seemed all local people were smiling at us. It was good to be in Asia again!
Zebra Doves were calling, a Plaintive Cuckoo whistling and a Lineated Barbet burring somewhere distant. We saw a flock of Pink-necked Green Pigeons and while walking along the fields, an Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over us. Soon we found the first Wood Sandpipers, Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipes which some were identified as Pin-tailed Snipes and also the first White-breasted Waterhen was seen. After we had heard and seen some Zitting Cisticolas we found the first Golden-headed Cisticola and soon we found more of these very funny sounding birds. All of their calls were just ridiculous! Then we heard and soon saw a Plain Prinia which shouldn’t be found in Bali by the books but Seppo had found them here and there. Soon we also saw a Greater Painted-snipe that a local farmer flushed. Plenty of Scaly-breasted and Javan Munias and a single White-headed Munia, Asian Glossy Starlings and Pacific, Barn and Striated Swallows were seen too.
We continued walking towards Ubud and on the way we saw some nests of Striated Swallows under water-towers. We also saw Tree Sparrows and a couple of Brown-throated Sunbirds before we walked through the famous monkey-forest where we of course photographed tame Crab-eating Macaques. These monkeys were extremely good at stealing stuff from tourists so we hid everything into our bags and pockets but anyway one young macaque managed to steal an almost empty coca cola bottle from Hanna’s bag. It just jumped over Hanna’s bag and took the bottle from the pocket even though only the cap was visible. But this stupid monkey opened the bottle upside down and only got it’s feet wet.
In Ubud we changed local money, Rupias, and we became millionaires! 100 000 Rupias is the biggest paper money which is 7 Euros. We still did some shopping and then took a taxi back to our apartment.
During the hottest time of the day we were having siesta and in the afternoon went to birding again. We walked now towards the river nearby and immediately saw an Emerald Dove flying past us. Along the river we found a big Chestnut-breasted Malkoha perched on the tree and I thought that I had already heard it calling in the morning. Also the same Collared Kingfisher was seen again.
We continued to the fields on the western side of the village and found more Zitting and Golden-headed Cisticolas, Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipes, White-breasted Waterhens and saw a couple of Greater Painted-snipes in flight. We also heard a Plaintive Cuckoo, a couple of Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoos, a Common Flameback and a Common Iora. While we were walking back we still saw a couple of Sooty-headed Bulbuls. During the walk we also saw some big Asian Water Monitors.
In the evening we had Christmas dinner even with some Finnish salted fish and rye bread. We had small Christmas-presents to our hosts. We chatted until late evening while listening to Sunda Scops Owls calling and Black-crowned Night Herons flying over. We also climbed to the ”tower” to listen to a Red-legged Crake that was calling quite actively. There were also many other animals around the garden. Soon after the sunset very noisy crickets started to call but luckily they stopped after 10 minutes. Several different kind of bats were flying over the garden, the biggest always just flew straight inside the biggest tree. Many kind of butterflies and moths, even some hawk-moths, were seen. Smaller geckos were easily found on the walls but also Toke-geckos were calling around. Big bright-yellow sided skinks were also living in the garden where was also a small pool with fish and some frogs that started to call at night. The noisiest frogs weren’t welcome to the pool.
On the Christmas Day we woke up early and climbed up to the roof to revise identification of common birds. Green Junglefowl, Crescent-chested Babbler, a couple of Brown-throated Sunbirds, Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Javan Munias, a couple of White-headed Munias, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeons and so on were seen and finally a couple of Javan Kingfishers were also seen briefly. A small flock of Chestnut-cheeked Starlings flew over with some flocks of Asian Glossy Starlings and with swiftlets there were a few Pacific Swifts flying on the sky.
When Seppo has also climbed up we heard a strange bulbul-like singer that we tried to see for a long time but without luck. I took recordings of the song and later it was identified as an Orange-spotted Bulbul.
After the breakfast we left to walk and took Topi with us. We walked to the river where we surprisingly found 3 White-crowned Forktails! An Oriental Magpie Robin was calling on the tree and a Common Sandpiper was also seen. We continued to an old temple that was along the same river and found out that there were some tourists having their yoga-session. I don’t know if they were trying to find themselves but at least Topi found himself in a cool muddy ditch.
We saw one more White-crowned Forktail and a Blue-eared Kingfisher flew past us very fast. Also a Grey Wagtail was found. It was very hot so Seppo decided to go to swim to the river. It was very rapid and Topi was very worried on the shore.
After a short siesta we headed to fields where we saw again some Golden-headed Cisticolas, White-headed Munias and a Great White Egret. Then it started to look like a rain was coming soon and we headed back. But after all it was raining only some drops. Rainy season should have started already a month ago but it was still very dry. It had been raining only a couple of times and not hard at all.
On Boxing Day, the 26th of December we started serious birdwatching. At 4 a.m. Bung came to pick us up and we headed towards the mountains. Seppo had recently found a new forest-birding place which I can’t tell where it is because of bird-trappers.
When we parked our car, we started to walk along the road while Bung started to sleep in his car. We had planned to walk about 4 hours. Immediately we heard plenty of Lesser Shortwings and Crescent-chested Babblers. After a short walk we found a bird-wave where a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Sunda Warblers, Sunda Leaf Warblers and 4 Scarlet Minivets were found. Several Flame-throated Barbets were burring, a Ruddy Cuckoo-dove was first heard calling and then seen flying past the road, several Green Imperial Pigeons were calling and a couple of Sunda Cuckoos were calling. Grey-cheeked Pigeons were flying over us and soon we found the first Ashy Drongos and then also some Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. Birds seemed to be very shy, so it was difficult to see them well and almost impossible to get any pictures. Also several noisy Plantain Squirrels were heard and seen.
We continued walking and found lots of Mees’s White-eyes some Long-tailed Shrikes and Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers, a male Little Pied Flycatcher and then we found some Snowy-browed Flycatchers hiding low in the shadows. While watching the flycatchers we noticed a different-looking flycatcher female higher on the tree and identified it as a Mugimagi Flycatcher. Soon we found a few females more and then saw briefly a beautiful male Mugimagi Flycatcher too.
We stopped in one open area to search for Sunda Grasshopper Warblers that Seppo had heard earlier in the area, but we couldn’t find them. But after we had continued walking, we heard the first one and later a couple of more. But these birds were hiding in so dense vegetation that we couldn’t see them at all.
Soon we heard a Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot calling while flying over us, but it was just too fast, so we couldn’t see it. Then we heard a new kind of dove calling and I took my phone and listened to some Xeno Canto recordings that I had saved to my phone and found out that it was a Little Cuckoo-dove, a lifer even for Seppo. Soon we had another Little Cuckoo-dove flying over us.
Then we heard a strange bulbul-song very close to us and found a couple of bulbuls that we couldn’t identify. Luckily they were showing well enough to get some photos, so we knew we could identify them later. I had forgotten my book to car, so soon we kept on walking.
We forgot the bulbuls soon as we heard several Cinereous Tits singing and also saw a couple of them. And in the same time we heard several Chestnut-backed Scimitar Babblers calling and after some trying we managed to see these curvy-billed birds hiding in the shadows.
While we were walking on more open forest it was surprisingly quiet around us, only some Greater Racket-tailed Drongos were calling higher on the hillside, but then suddenly we heard a high call of a Javan Whistling Thrush, then another, a third and so on.
On open hillside we stopped to scan the sky and tree-tops and found a couple of Black Eagles soaring on the sky. We also heard a Javan Cuckooshrike calling and then right next to us a bird started to sing in a bush. Again I found the same song from my phone and I started to play it and so we managed to also see this Sunda Bush Warbler quite well.
We had already seen some flocks of starlings flying over us when I remembered that Asian Glossy Starling wasn’t supposed to occur this high on the mountain. When the next flock flew over us we noticed that the birds seemed to be shorter-tailed too, they were Short-tailed Starlings.
Our road ended but we continued along a small track inside the forest. Still there were Lesser Shortwings singing but now we heard also some Mountain Tailorbirds. Doves were sounding different again and while we were following one unidentified high-pitched caller, I found some Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons on the top of trees. While I was watching them I managed to lean towards a bush that burned my skin through my trousers so badly that it hurt continuously for several days and still burned 5 days later for a while! But at least I saw the pigeons well!
Soon we turned back towards our car and it seemed that birds were much more quiet during hot time of the day. So we saw just some flocks of Mees’s White-eyes and heard some Lesser Shortwings before we were back where Bung was waiting for us. I took my book and soon found out that the bulbuls we had photographed had been Sunda Bulbuls. Sunda Bulbul hasn’t been seen in Bali before but the biotope was correct and we were far from the place where any cage-birds were. I really think we had found the first for Bali!
We still drove to the shore of Lake Buyang but then it started to rain. We walked under a shed to check the lake with telescopes and found lots of Common Moorhens, some White-browed Crakes, Swinhoe’s Snipes, Black-crowned Night Herons, White-breasted Waterhens, a couple of Yellow Bitterns, Little Egrets, a couple of Grey Wagtails and so on. When the rain stopped we walked a little bit along the shore and found several singing Striated Grassbirds and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers. Seppo told that he had sometimes seen a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler carrying food, so I would like to know what are they really doing in Bali? Even now they were singing quite a lot and even though I am not experienced, I think they sounded a little bit different than I had expected.
We also saw a small youngsters of White-breasted Waterhen, they were really cute black furry balls. Then we heard Red Avadavat calls shortly but only Seppo managed to see them in flight.
Finally we started to drive back towards Ubud. On the way Seppo bought some strawberries but they weren’t good at all. In Ubud we saw a really bad accident where a car hit a scooter. There were immediately lots of people helping the wounded scooter-driver and then the car-driver took him to the hospital. Bung said that it was his responsibility. I must say that I would never drive with scooter in Balinese traffic. Anyway there were lots of tourists driving, some without a helmet. And after all this wasn’t the only bad accident we saw…
In the evening we went to a restaurant that was nearby. We ate very well there and pretty soon we were ready to go to sleep.
On the 27th of December Bung came to pick us up at 5 a.m. and soon we were driving towards the coast. When the sun was rising we parked along River Unda and soon we were watching White-breasted Woodswallows and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters that were flying above us. We forded across the river to cleaner side as there had lots of rubbish on the ground where we had started. And soon we were walking on the delta’s sandur-area. We immediately saw flocks of Pink-necked Green Pigeons which some were extremely orange-breasted and we first identified them wrong as Orange-breasted Green Pigeons – but they were too grey-headed, so we later corrected the identification.
On the trees nearby we saw lots of cages and in some of them there were birds inside, at least some Javan Mynas. We still hadn’t seen any mynas in freedom.
On one reed-bed we heard a couple of harsh-sounded reed warblers singing and nowadays it is known that on Bali the species is Australian Reed Warbler. We also heard a couple of Lesser Coucals and Plaintive Cuckoos and heard and also saw briefly a Sunda Pied Fantail. While following the river again we heard a Cerulean Kingfisher a couple of times but didn’t manage to see this bird yet.
From wet pools we found plenty of White-breasted Waterhens, White-browed Crakes and Yellow Bitterns. Also Intermediate Egrets were seen and a single Striated Heron too. On one reed-bed we heard Streaked Weavers calling but saw them only in flight briefly. One cuckoo-looking bird was seen in flight but it was impossible to identify as there can be several wintering species of cuculus-cuckoos.
After we had been walking between the bushes for a couple of hot hours we finally saw the first Javan Myna flying over us. Again we heard some Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers and Striated Grassbirds and saw several Collared Kingfishers. Also a couple of flocks of White-headed Munias and a couple of Eastern Yellow Wagtails were seen.
When we came close to the shore, there was lots of mangrove and Seppo knew it was a good area for a Savanna Nightjar. We were walking around the bushes for some time before we found the first bird and then there were altogether 8 birds flushed under the same bush. And soon another 8 birds were flushed again from very small area.
There was a tiny farm in the middle of the area and there we heard a Black-naped Monarch singing shortly and then next to a small pool Hanna and Seppo saw a Barred Buttonquail running under a big bush to hide. We also saw a small cuckoo landing to a top of some stick and identified it as a Banded Bay Cuckoo.
When we were on the shore we saw some waders and new trip-ticks were Common Greenshank, Pacific Golden Plover, Kentish Plover and we managed to identify a couple of Javan Plover too. Luckily they were calling. Also a dark-blue kingfisher was seen and in this biotope it had to be a Common Kingfisher, which is a very dark sub-species in Bali.
We walked until a village called Jumpai where Bung came to pick us up. We still checked the beaches and watched to the sea but found only a distant flock of Sanderlings.
To Western Bali
On the 28th of December Kari’s trusted driver Nyoman arrived to pick us up at 7 a.m. and soon we were driving up towards the mountains. We stopped shortly on view-watching place where we saw a couple of Chinese Sparrowhawks. Then next stop we made on the shore of Lake Buyan again but there were less birds now. Striated Grassbirds and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers were heard but there weren’t many other birds. Only new birds were good, a soaring Changeable Hawk-eagle and a calling Rusty-breasted Cuckoo.
We continued driving towards new places. In Munduk I noticed some big birds perching on a wire over the curvy road. When we got closer we realized that they were Wreathed Hornbills! These birds were feeding on the terrace of a hotel where were big feeders for animals. Luckily we were there in the right time. We managed to see these amazing birds extremely well before they left to fly over their home-forest.
After we had been watching mountain-views for some time, we drove down along the coast and when we were near the shore, we stopped to see if there were any birds. Some Little Egrets were feeding on the rocky shore and a couple of Brown Boobies were found from the sea. But there were no other birds at all, so soon we continued towards west.
Nyoman was driving as fast as it was possible on these narrow roads where were lots of other cars and scooters. He was overtaking cars pretty much but he was a good driver and we didn’t need to be scared at all. We saw some families driving with one scooter and usually only the driver had a helmet. It could be possible to see a headline in local newspaper:” 2 scooters crashed, 10 injured”.
Finally we were driving along the western tip of Bali and right before Gilimanuk we saw some Asian Palm Swifts. Soon we turned to parking place of Hotel Lestari. We were there so early that we had to wait for 30 minutes before our rooms had been cleaned. Actually we took better rooms than we had booked as we realized that we really needed air-conditioners.
Once we got into our rooms we relaxed the hottest couple of hours but then headed to birding. We just walked across the road and followed a path to the bushes. Seppo had been birding here before and knew which paths to follow.
It was very hot but we we walked in the bushes for a couple of hours. We saw an Emerald Dove, Lineated and Coppersmith Barbets, a Common Flameback, a couple of Freckle-breasted Woodpeckers, Collared Kingfishers, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, about 20 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Long-tailed Shrikes, Common Ioras, White-breasted Woodswallows, Black Drongos, lots of Sooty-headed Bulbuls, Pink-necked Green Pigeons, a Lesser Coucal, some Javan Mynas and finally a few White-shouldered Trillers.
When we had walked back to our hotel, we continued straight towards the sea. Once we were on the shore, we found a tern perched on a buoy. It looked strange and when it opened its wings and turned to better position, we realized that it was a Black-naped Tern. From the sea we found also some Lesser Crested Terns and 6 Brown Boobies.
We kept on walking on the beach that was full of rubbish – and we saw people carrying more and more rubbish to the shoreline. Seppo called to his old friend, a local bird-guide Iwan Melali and when we had walked until Bali Barak = West Bali National Park information center, Iwan was already waiting for us.
After some chatting we walked around the area and soon heard a Bali Myna singing and found it perched on a tree. There were some nest-boxes on the trees and altogether we found 6 Bali Mynas which at least 2 were unringed while the rest had color-rings. In this place there was a big cage where Bali Mynas were living while waiting to get free. In the past there had been only about 30 pairs of these beautiful birds but the protection had been successful and nowadays there are about 350 birds in Bali Barat. But the threat still exists as cage-birders can get rich by illegal trapping of Bali Starlings. About 10 years ago armed robbers stole all 100 birds from one cage by force. But anyway the future of Bali Starling looks much brighter than it looks for many other species that are not protected in Indonesia.
It was already getting late but we still found a couple of Scarlet-headed Flowerpeckers, saw briefly an Oriental Pied Hornbill in flight and found an Island Collared Dove. Once we had planned a little bit the next day’s schedule, we walked back to our hotel along the shore.
Hanna cooked her dinner at the hotel but we walked to the city to search a restaurant with Seppo. It was more difficult than we had thought to find a restaurant but after several kilometers walking, we finally found one. Once we were walking back on the other side of the street, we saw a couple of other restaurants that were closer.
On the 29th of December we woke up early and at 5 a.m. we met Iwan and his driver Dahlan who had arrived early. Soon we were driving inside the National Park towards mangrove. Once we had parked, we continued walking and Iwan was showing the way with his torch.
After short searching we found a couple of perched Savanna Nightjars and managed to get some pictures of them even though it was still completely dark. We also heard a Large-tailed Nightjar calling somewhere in distance.
We continued to the shore where a boat was waiting for us. This was a surprise for us. Soon we were boating towards a mangrove island in front of us.
The view was absolutely beautiful with mangroves and distant mountains and the weather was again perfectly calm. Big flocks of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters with some tens of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were flying on the sky. When we were on the island, we started to walk around it. Golden-bellied Gerygones were singing on the bushes and soon we heard the first Indonesian Honeyeaters too. It took some time to find honeyeaters visible but after all we saw a couple of birds very well.
After finding honeyeaters already our main targets were Beach Stone-curlew, Thick-billed Heron and Sacred Kingfisher. While we kept on walking Iwan was whistling Stone-curlew calls but there was no answer. All kingfishers we saw were either Collared or Cerulean Kingfishers which we now saw pretty well. While we were checking the surrounding mangrove-beaches with telescopes, we found quite a few Lesser Adjutants and Striated Herons and a single young Purple Heron.
A stunning immature White-bellied Sea Eagle flew over us and I saw briefly a couple of Woolly-necked Storks landing behind mangroves. There were amazing numbers of red crabs on the mud. They were running in front of us and dug inside the mud if we managed to get too close. Also interesting looking sea-cucumbers and sea-anemones were seen on the pools.
We saw lots of Whimbrels and Common Sandpipers on the shore but when we had walked around the whole island we still hadn’t found our targets. So we got to the boat again and continued towards the northern end of the strait. We found more Lesser Adjutants and same waders and under water we saw plenty of huge seastars and some funny-looking blowfish.
We turned back when we were close to the harbor where we saw big flock of House Swifts. But after all we were back on the beach and soon had walking back towards our car. We still found a Savanna Nightjar perched and now got really good pictures.
Next we drove along a long forest-road while watching and listening through windows. We found Grey-rumped Treeswifts and at least 11 Oriental Dollarbirds from the wires. Also a couple of Javan Mynas, Coppersmith Barbets and a Javan Cuckooshrike were seen.
The next stop was made on the shore of another mangrove-area where we met another guide with a couple of tourists. They seemed to be watching birds too, but they were all amateurs comparing to Iwan and us. Anyway we didn’t find anything really good here either; a couple of Freckle-breasted Woodpeckers, a flock of Small Minivets, some Cerulean Kingfishers, White-shouldered Trillers and a few Common Terns.
Soon we continued across the road to a forest where we walked along a small path until a dry river. There we heard immediately an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher calling. Iwan played a tape shortly and we heard it again. We climbed a bit higher to see behind the bushes and soon found a couple of Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers perched along the river. They were behind the branches and in shadows but Hanna managed to get some pictures of them.
Soon Iwan played also Javan Banded Pitta and immediately we heard a response. But it called only once and we couldn’t locate it. So after we had put some mosquito-repellent we headed deeper into the forest. But after all there were almost no mosquitoes at all, it had been so dry.
After some walking we heard a couple of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler calling above us and found one bird very well visible. Later we heard a least 8 of them altogether. Some Hair-crested Drongos were calling nearby but they were also very shy and we saw them only in flight. Also a Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher was heard singing but only shortly and we couldn’t see it. But soon we heard a couple of Mangrove Whistlers and I managed to see them surprisingly well when they were fighting almost on the ground.
We climbed higher and higher in the forest all the time and still found a flock of very beautiful Ruby-throated Bulbuls and a single Black-thighed Falconet. We also tried to find a Javan Owlet but it wasn’t found even though we knew we were on its territory.
We had walked almost around the whole path when Iwan saw something moving under the bushes in front of us. He pointed us the bird and it was amazing beautiful female Javan Banded Pitta! It was inside a dense bush but anyway we managed to see it very well. But after some time it ran deeper inside the bush. We walked carefully around the bush and managed to find it again, but then noticed that this bird had even brighter orange colors, it was a male. So there was a couple!
During the midday we rested a little in our rooms but in the afternoon Iwan and Dahlan arrived again and we headed to National Park to a forest where was the biggest cage for Bali Starlings. We didn’t go to see the cage but started walking along the road to the forest. And after we had seen a couple of Bali Starlings, our goal was to finally see some Green Junglefowls and of course other forest-birds.
Pretty soon we found the first Green Junglefowl but the vegetation was too dense to get very good views. Pink-necked and Emerald Doves were seen and a couple of Green Imperial Pigeons. More surprising bird we found was a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.
We also saw a few Oriental Pied Hornbills flying on the tops of trees where was also a big herd of Javan Lutungs, big black monkeys. Both Coppersmith and Lineated Barbets were seen and heard and a Common Flameback was calling somewhere further. Also another woodpecker was heard but it really seemed that seeing woodpeckers was impossible, so it stayed unidentified. A Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot flew over us and finally the first Black-naped Oriole was first heard but then also seen pretty well.
We continued along the road that led to a temple that was about 10 kilometers further. The road was in bad shape but anyway there were quite a few cars going to and coming from the temple. Luckily there was some silent moments and then we found more Green Junglefowls and also a Wild Boar that was walking on the road in front of us for some time.
Other birds we found were a couple of Black-winged Flycatcher-shrikes, Small Minivets, Spangled Drongos, lots of Common Ioras, some Javan Cuckoo-shrikes and White-shouldered Trillers, a flock of six Flame-throated Bulbuls, a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and an Oriental Magpie Robin.
Finally we walked back towards the Bali Starling breeding center where we went to see this big cage from where armed robbers had stolen almost 100 birds in the past. From the garden we found a Black Giant Squirrel that crossed the road along electric wire.
In the evening we went to eat to the city with Seppo. We found a restaurant a bit closer to our hotel and got very good food but the service was the slowest I have ever seen. After the dinner we went to sleep early as the next day was going to be long.
To Java and Baluran
On the 30th of December we woke up early and at 5 a.m. we were driving towards the harbor. We were lucky to drive almost straight to a ferry and were soon crossing the narrow bay towards Java. Java is the most densely habituated island in the World with more than 350 million people. Our target was luckily only Baluran National Park on the north-eastern corner of the island.
A big flock of Little Swifts was flying over the harbor and soon the sun started to rise. We saw some Lesser Crested and Crested Terns on the buoys and a lonely Grey Heron flying towards Bali, it was only the 3rd record for Seppo on Bali.
The crossing was 12 kilometers because of the ferry had to make some curves, straight line between the islands is only about 7 kilometers. Soon we arrived at Ketapang harbor and we had to walk to the pier as cars were so well packed that only driver was able to get into the car. While waiting for our car we saw an adult and a young White-bellied Sea Eagles flying over us. Soon Dahlan arrived and we started to drive towards north and Baluran.
After about 30 kilometers driving we arrived at the gate of the National Park. It wasn’t 7 a.m. yet so the gate wasn’t open, but Iwan talked us in after we had paid the entrance-fee and soon we were climbing up to the big view-tower that was nearby.
The view was really good so soon we started to scan the tops of trees with our scopes and check every other bird that we could find. First we saw only same species that we had already seen on Bali, but soon we found that with swiftlets and swallows there were also some White-throated and Brown-backed Needletails flying on the sky. More and more needletails were coming and after all there were about 50 of them altogether.
Plaintive and Rusty-breasted Cuckoos were both seen and heard and then we found a big green bird perched on a top of one tree – it was a Black-banded Barbet. Also Black and Ashy Drongos, White-breasted Woodswallows, a couple of Scarlet-headed Flowerpeckers, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeons and so on were seen, but pretty soon we had to start driving slowly along the road inside the park.
We heard many Green Junglefowls through open windows and soon also first Red Junglefowl that sounded very different than in Thailand – actually they sounded very ridiculous. Soon we saw both species very well and managed to get some decent pictures too. We also stopped to get pictures of extremely smelly Rafflesia flowers.
We stopped along the road for some times and walked a little bit and found Coppersmith Barbets, Emerald Doves, Small Minivets and then we found a Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker climbing on the branches. While we were driving again Iwan noticed an eagle perched on the top of one tree and it had a clearly visible crest – a Javan Hawk-eagle! Hanna managed to get a couple of pictures of the eagle before it flew away and disappeared behind the trees.
Most of Baluran is dry savanna but next we parked to evergreen forest to walk. Pretty soon we heard an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher calling and then saw a couple of them flying over the road. Also Collared Kingfishers were seen and heard, a Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot flew over us and Cinereous Tits were singing. When we were driving again Iwan heard a woodpecker and identified it as a Laced Woodpecker. Once we were out, we heard it again and I remembered that this species had been easy to see with a tape, so I played a couple of calls from my phone and soon we saw this beautiful woodpecker flying across the road.
With Olive-backed Tailorbirds we saw some Common Tailorbirds and also a couple of Black-naped Monarchs, a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike and heard a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. We also heard strange hawling calls that we were familiar from our childhood and zoo-visits, but this time these sounds were coming from free birds – Green Peafowls!
It was again very hot when we drove through dry savanna-area and then parked to Bekol where was a small restaurant and some other buildings. There we climbed to a hill and to another view-tower with really nice views over the savanna with mountains on the background. In Savanna there were now quite a few people stopped along the road and it seemed that they were all taking selfie-pictures. Soon ”local tourists” climbed to the tower and they were all taking selfies too. It seemed that selfie-culture in Indonesia was much worse than what we had ever seen before. Seppo was asked to a couple of pictures too, as people wanted to show that they had Western ”friends” on their pictures. There weren’t many Western tourists in Western Bali or Eastern Java.
From Bekol tower we saw big herds of Javan Rush Deer that were going to drink to an artificial pool. Also some Water Buffaloes were seen. Not many birds were found but a couple of Island Turtle Doves were calling and we also heard a Crested Serpent Eagle calling somewhere nearby but somehow we didn’t manage to see it. Finally we heard a couple of Green Peafowls calling and even though one was very close, we couldn’t find it. When one bird was calling close to a couple of buildings we hurried to try to see it. Luckily we managed to find it and got a couple of distant pictures too before it went hidden inside longer reeds.
We still went to photograph bathing Water Buffaloes and Hanna also photographed local people that were taking selfies. She got some very funny pictures. There was one group taking wedding pictures too.
After we had continued driving again, we soon arrived at Bama beach. There were lots of people and most were taking selfies again. It was very hot, so we just relaxed for some time in the shadows as far as possible from the crowd and awful music.
But soon we were walking around the area and checking all the big trees. We found plenty of Oriental Pied Hornbills, but didn’t find Spotted Wood Owl that used to live in this area. Again we saw some Island Turtle Doves, Green and Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons and heard calls of Red-breasted Parakeet.
Then we continued to walk along a small path inside a forest. We had mosquito-repellent and long clothes as this place was supposed to be full of insects, but it had been so dry that we found hardly any mosquitoes. But we found again a big herd of Javan Lutungs and there were some golden-colored youngsters too.
We heard several Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatchers and heard a Blue-eared Kingfisher before I saw something yellow and red through some branches. Luckily the birds climbed higher and came well visible and we could see that it was a Crimson-winged Woodpecker! In same time we heard strange calls inside a dense bush in front of us and after some waiting we saw a couple of Horsfield’s Babblers briefly. Then Iwan found a woodpecker from another dead tree and after all there were two White-bellied Woodpeckers! So we had seen some really good birds in a couple of minutes!
On one point along the path we could see the sea, so we scanned the sea for birds. We saw some Lesser Crested, Crested and Common Terns and then found 4 very distant frigatebirds. Luckily they came a little bit closer and we could identify them as Lesser Frigatebirds.
We still found some Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, a couple of Black-thighed Falconets and Mangrove Whistlers and several Oriental Pied Hornbills. Then we first heard and then saw briefly an Olive-winged Bulbul. Then we saw a big brown bird flushing from a top of one tree but we didn’t see it well enough. Probably it was a Spotted Wood Owl, but we couldn’t really see it well enough.
When we were back at the parking place, we started to drive back. On the savanna we were driving extremely slowly and scanning all the trees and when we found a herd of deer, we stopped to check if there were any birds following them. And almost immediately we found at least 3 Black-winged Starlings! This species is very famous cage-bird and is one of the species that might have worse future than Bali Myna.
Our hawk-eyed driver Dahlan still found a black morph Changeable Hawk-eagle perched on one tree, but it flew away too quickly to get any pictures. And we also saw a Green Peafowl hiding under a tree.
Finally we were back at the harbor and again we managed to get to an almost full ferry without any waiting. We climbed up to the deck and Iwan managed to talk us to closed part of the deck where we had best views. But anyway we saw only some terns and Brown Boobies.
It was already dark when we were back in Gilimanuk and our hotel Lestari. Hanna stayed cooking again and with Seppo we went to the same restaurant than on the previous evening. The owner was very happy to see us again.
New Year’s Eve
On the 31st of December, the last day of the year, we had planned to have a little bit easier morning, but anyway I wanted to make another try to see the species that we had missed in mangrove. So before 6 a.m. we were driving to the National Park again. Iwan had managed to talk us inside the park without surprisingly expensive payment, but we couldn’t be there whole morning. Pretty soon we were walking towards the same place where we had taken a boat a couple of days earlier.
Island Turtle Doves were calling and Golden-bellied Gerygones were singing when we were on the dock and putting up our telescopes. Again we found some Lesser Adjutants and a lonely Purple Heron, lots of Whimbrels and Common Sandpipers. After a long scanning I finally found a single Beach Thick-knee! It was walking openly on the mud for some time but soon went under the bushes and disappeared, luckily we all managed to see it. Then we saw a couple of Sacred Kingfisher landing to a boat that was close to us, so we were doing very well! But Thick-billed Heron wasn’t found, it should have been pretty easily found while fishing along the shore in low water. Anyway we were very happy that we had made another try to this place!
Pretty soon we were walking back towards our car and on the way we found some Orange-breasted Green Pigeons on the top of bushes! So finally we managed to see this species too.
We still had a couple of hours, so we headed to a beach near harbor to scan more mangroves. Some more Lesser Adjutants and waders were seen, but most interesting animals were found under the surface. Hanna found some bright blue fish and also a couple of extremely poisonous Red Lionfish. From the sea we found some Brown Boobies and a single Pomarine Skua.
The rest of the morning we spent in the information center garden and photographed Bali Mynas. We also saw a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Coppersmith and Lineated Barbets, a Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker and so on.
At 9 a.m. we headed back to our hotel where Nyoman was already waiting for us – an hour too early again. We packed the rest of our luggage, still had a cool shower and then it was time to say thanks and goodbye and of course also pay to Iwan and Dahlan. And soon we were driving back towards Ubud along the southern coastal road.
When we were very close to the shore, we decided to stop shortly to scan the sea and just relax a little bit. There were some terns and surprisingly we found a stunning Brown Noddy flying with them! And then a Lesser Frigatebird flew very beautifully right over us, so it was a good stop!
There wasn’t much traffic even though it was a New Year’s Eve and people were celebrating New Year here, even though it wasn’t an important holiday like in many other parts of the World. Nyoman was overtaking other cars always when it was possible but once again he was driving very well on these narrow and slowly roads.
While we were driving through bigger rice-fields somewhere, we saw a couple of Slender-billed Crows in flight. And soon we had a Lesser Frigatebird flying over the road quite far from the shore almost in the middle of the forest. Other birds we saw were just Intermediate and other egrets.
Finally we were back in Jukut Paku where Topi was happy to see us all again. During the day we just took it easy and enjoyed the weather and familiar birds that were seen around the garden. Then in the evening our project was to try to keep Topi happy and relaxed as it was a New Year and locals were having amazing numbers of fireworks! But it seemed that Topi understood that if we were just taking it easy and talking all the time, everything was fine. It was great to listen many stories that Kari had about religious life of local people in Bali. We were talking and talking and heard of course a couple of Sunda Scops Owls and a Red-legged Crake again. And at midnight the fireworks sounded like a world-war! Luckily the new law had been laid and the fireworks were at least mostly shot around the midnight, while in the past the war had already started a week before and continued a week after the New Year. Now at one a.m. it seemed that the war was almost over and we could go to sleep.
Relaxed first of January
The year 2020 we started easily. In the morning we were just enjoying the garden-birds and after late breakfast we walked to Ubud to do some shopping. We walked through the market street once and then it started to rain very heavily! We were standing under some roof for 30 minutes and waiting for the rain to stop, but it was just getting heavier. So we decided to walk back to the market with Hanna. We had to wade in almost knee-deep water to the sheltered part of the market. But then there weren’t other tourists almost at all, so it was easy to bargain the souvenirs in very cheap, about -70%, price.
When the rain finally stopped, we still went to eat and then visited a bigger market. After the rain traffic was awful, so we decided to walk back to Jukut Paku. While walking through the monkey forest we had to keep our baggage well tighten and bread and so on under our T-shirts, so monkeys weren’t able to steal anything.
Back to mountains
On the 2nd of January Bung came to pick us up at 6 a.m. and soon we were driving towards the familiar mountain again. On the way I saw a young Brahminy Kite flying over us.
Finally we parked to Bedugul Botanical Garden where Bung stayed in car while we went to walk around the park. When we had managed to get into the garden, we soon found a flock of birds where were Mountain Leaf Warblers, Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers, a Sunda Warbler and I saw a female Rusty-breasted Whistler briefly. Many Lesser Shortwings were singing and also some Crescent-chested Babblers were heard. Hanna saw briefly a female Mugimagi Flycatcher.
We continued walking in a very good-looking forest but for some reason there weren’t many birds. Along one river we heard a White-crowned Forktail calling, but a car that was passing scared it away and we couldn’t see it at all. A Sunda Cuckoo was calling and Dark-backed Mountain Pigeons were found from the top of trees. Also a couple of Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoos, several Flame-fronted Barbets and a few Black-naped Orioles were calling and singing and some lonely Yellow-throated Hanging Parrots were flying over us. Again we found some flocks of Mees’s White-eyes and flocks of Short-tailed Starlings were flying over us and we managed to see shortly a couple of Horsfield’s Babblers. Finally we managed to see also the third squirrel-species, a Horsfield’s Treeshrew too. We also saw a fresh corpse of a Civetcat.
There were more and more people inside the park and it was disgusting to see that people were leaving all the rubbish to the ground. People were also driving by cars inside the park, which wasn’t good.
After we had seen a Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, a Crested Serpent Eagle and heard a Mountain Tailorbird, we still went to see Orchid-garden. While we were already walking towards the parking place I finally found a different kind of flowerpecker and when I got it to my scope, I could identify it as a Blood-breasted Flowerpecker. Soon we were in the parking place where we woke up Bung and kept on going.
We continued to a camping area that was on the shore of Lake Buyan. It had been free in the past but now we had to buy tickets to get a tenting place. Then we took our luggage and started to search a good place for camping.
There were quite a few other people camping in the area and we were pretty sure that there were more people coming in the evening. We had checked the area beforehand in Google Maps and knew that there should be a good area for tenting also almost a kilometer from the real camping area. So we carried our luggage to the forest and continued to another beach where were nobody else. On the way we heard a couple of Flame-fronted Barbets and finally the first Yellow-eared Barbet. Soon we had put up our tents and it was already very hot, so we decided to have siesta.
It was too hot in the tent, so we couldn’t sleep at all, so pretty soon we decided to leave our luggage inside our tents and go birding. Already in our camp we could hear some Sunda, Plaintive and Rusty-breasted Cuckoos and saw a couple of Black Eagles soaring on the sky above the mountain.
We started to walk along track that led inside the forest. Several Flame-fronted Barbets and another Yellow-eared Barbet were calling and we also heard a couple of Rusty-breasted Whistlers singing shortly. Some Yellow-throated Hanging Parrots and Spangled Drongos were heard and a couple of flocks of Mees’s White-eyes were seen and some Cinereous Tits were singing.
We followed the track until it turned towards the shore and we decided to walk back to our camp along the shore. On the meadow we found at least 20 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, some Zitting Cisticolas, Moorhens and Yellow Bitterns. When we were back in our camp we heard a different kind of grasshopper warbler singing and it sounded exactly like Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler that we were familiar from Japan. I took my recording equipment but of course it had stopped singing and we couldn’t find it.
In the evening we had planned to walk to the forest and further to the shore to listen to owls, but we were still relaxing in our camp when we first saw a couple of Large-tailed Nightjars that came hunting insects above our camp and then heard a Barred Eagle Owl that started calling pretty close! We tried to get close to the owl and of course we wanted to see this amazing-looking bird. But unfortunately it probably saw us first and stopped calling and later we heard it calling very far. Anyway I had taken some pretty nice recordings. No other owls were heard either so after all we went to sleep pretty early. But there were big parties in the camping area and music was played extremely loud. Luckily we managed to sleep anyway.
On the shore of Buyan
On the 3rd of January we woke up a couple of times at night to listen if there were any owls calling, but heard only some frogs and White-breasted Waterhens. In the morning we woke up early and had noodle-breakfast while listening a White-bellied Sea Eagle family calling on the other side of the lake. Later we saw 2 adults and a youngster in flight too. Also a few Crested Serpent Eagles were seen and an Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over us.
We did a longer walk in the forest but not as many birds as we had hoped were found. A few Green Junglefowls, a couple of unidentified Cuckoo-doves, Grey-cheeked Green Pigeons, Dark-backed Mountain Pigeons, some Black-naped Orioles, a couple of Small Minivets and Black-naped Monarchs, some Sunda Leaf Warblers, a couple of Javan Whistling Thrushes and even 8 Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatchers and so on were found. On the shore we had again some Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers and Striated Grassbirds.
When we were back in our camp we heard a strange hurring bird or another animal calling but we couldn’t find it. Later we heard the grasshopper-species singing shortly again and I managed to get a bad-quality recording, I hope it is enough the make identification later, but it still sounded like a Middendorff’s.
During the day we rested again and then the weather started to change radically. There were very dark clouds on the sky and we heard thunder further. Anyway we headed to check the wader-part of the lake with Seppo. Hanna was tired (or clever) and stayed in the camp.
We got only just outside the camping area when it started to rain. But luckily it stopped soon so we continued walking. We reached the end of the lake and I got my telescope up when it started to rain and very hard! We got under a big dredge-tractor to get some cover. From the cover we could see egrets, Moorhens, snipes and Wood Sandpipers but then we had to try to get better roof over us.
When the rain stopped again we started to walk back wearing raincoats. We still had to get cover a couple of times when it was raining. Once we stopped in a bird-shop where luckily were mostly small parakeets on the cages, but also some bulbuls and other birds caught from the nature. There was also one huge pigeon that we had no idea what it was. And then we stopped in the shop outside the camping area before we hurried back to our camp, when it was raining again.
It kept on raining the whole evening! Some thunders came almost straight above us so it was impossible to sleep. When it was already completely dark, it stopped raining for a couple of minutes and surprisingly we heard a Barred Eagle Owl calling a couple of times.
When the rain stopped again an hour or so later it was already late, but luckily none of us was sleeping, as we heard a very harsh shriek quite close above the lake – a Buffy Fish Owl! We had been listening the call earlier from my phone and it was identical! Unfortunately it was flooding outside, so it was impossible to try to go out to search the bird visible.
Pretty soon we managed to fall asleep and luckily there were no more thunders during the rest of the night. But the parties were again on in the camping area. Locals didn’t really bother the rain…
On the 4th of January we woke up with Hanna when it was still dark and heard the same unidentified hurring call than on the previous day. We walked after it but couldn’t find anything. It seemed that there were at least 3 of them and they seemed to be on the trees but in same time we heard also different kind of “kwi” calls underneath the bushes. But also this caller seemed to be impossible to find.
Soon Seppo was up too and somehow he managed to find one of the callers from the bushes and it was a Javan Banded Pitta! Later we found out that also the hurring had been was pitta, so we had altogether had 8 Javan Banded Pittas calling almost next to our camp!
We had breakfast and because it looked like it could still start raining any time, we decided to stay near the camp. We did climb up to the temple that was nearby and on the way Hanna saw one pitta briefly crossing one narrow path. Other birds we found were a big flock of Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons, a cuckoo-dove species, a couple of Emerald Doves, a few Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatchers and a Javan Whistling Thrush.
At 9 a.m. we packed our camp and soon were carrying our stuff to the parking place where Bung was already waiting for us.
On the way back to Jukut Paku we stopped in a village where was a shop were a local man was selling beautiful birds made from wood. We bought a couple of different birds as souvenirs. Soon we were back in Jukut Paku where we took the rest of the day easy. We were trying to get all our clothes, tents and so on dry but in the afternoon it started to rain again, so we had to start packing. In the evening we went to eat to a restaurant and after that we just took it easy.
Birding around Denpasar
On the 5th of January we were ready at 6 a.m. and soon packed everything to Bung’s car and started driving towards Denpasar. The best wader-place in Bali, Serangan Island, had been closed from everyone except locals for some years, so we couldn’t get there, but we headed to as close to the island as possible, where were also some good spots to see waders. We had checked that tide was good early in the morning. While we were driving towards Serangan we already saw the first Little Black Cormorant and some Thick-billed Crows and when we parked close to the beach, we saw the first Little Pied Cormorant flying over us.
We walked to the shore and immediately saw lots of Common Curlews and Whimbrels and after some searching identified the first Far Eastern Curlews. On the pools that were under mangroves we saw flocks of Wood Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints with some Common Redshanks, Kentish Plovers and a few Little Ringed Plovers and Long-toed Stints. Both Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants were flying on the sky and then we noticed that there were also some Sunda Teals under the mangroves. We were checking all the plovers carefully and identified some Javan and Malaysian Plovers and while we were checking the curlews one more time we found a single Greater Sand Plover with them. Some Cerulean Kingfishers were flying by and when it started to rain, we hurried to get cover from some trees and saw a Barred Buttonquail running under the bushes.
While we were still waiting for the rain to stop, a guardian came to tell us that we should leave. We had no idea why we weren’t aloud to stay in the area except that there was some kind of warehouse nearby. There were also lots of construction sites everywhere in the coast, mangrove was getting destroyed a lot. It seems that it won’t be possible to look for waders in this place in the future.
Soon we drove to the other side of the bay where were even bigger construction sites, but we got a permit to walk through one of them to the shore. The light was very bad, so we couldn’t identify any of the plovers there but from a big Red-necked Stint flock we found a single Curlew Sandpiper. But then they got flushed by a Peregrine Falcon that was chasing them away.
While we were driving along the long toll-road towards Denpasar, we saw some Gull-billed Terns and a couple of Pacific Reed Herons. Soon we parked next to Nua Dusa sewage ponds, walked through the gate and got a permit to go birding by the pools. We had to write our names to a book that was inside the building next to the gate.
There were several very lush pools and quite a few birds too. Right away we found some Cerulean Kingfishers, 5 Whiskered and a single White-winged Tern and both Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants which we managed to get pictures too. Purple Herons, Little and Intermediate Egrets were seen but only a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons, not a single Rufous Night Heron – unfortunately. We had hoped to see some grebes too, but there were none. While we were walking along the road by the pools we flushed a wader that was behind the bushes, but from the call we could identify it as a Grey-tailed Tattler.
We walked around the pools to the other side and still saw about 10 Javan Mynas and Pink-necked Pigeons, a Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker, some Plain Prinias and heard some Golden-bellied Gerygones. We also saw plenty of very big Asian Water Monitors. Our feet were extremely tired when we still had to walk all the way back to the parking place.
Next we continued to Ponta Kelar beach close to the airport. There we did some seawatching and saw 30 Brown Boobies, at least 25 Lesser Frigatebirds, about 10 Pomarine Skuas, Little, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns. From the other side of the road we found a dirty reed-bed area where we still heard a Plain Prinia and a couple of Australian Reed Warblers.
Then it was time to head to the airport. The last bird we saw from the car was a Peregrine Falcon. And soon we had say thanks and goodbyes to Bung and also to Seppo. Then we carried our luggage to a pre-pack room that was easy to find. There we managed to pack our luggage well and change some clothes.
Back to home
Then we had a couple of hours time to get through check in, security check, do some shopping and just wait for our flight.
Finally at 7:15 p.m. our flight left towards Doha. We watched movies but then tried to sleep the rest of the flight. We landed to Doha 30 minutes late and then we had to get quick train to right terminal – and then wait again for a couple of hours.
Our next flight to Stockholm left also late and again we watched movies and then managed to sleep the rest of the flight. We landed to Stockholm also late but luckily we still had plenty of time before our last flight.
Our flight to Helsinki left in time and we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa airport an hour later at 10:35 a.m. I was afraid that there would be one more security check as I had forgotten my Leatherman into my bag. But it had already gone through 4 security checks and luckily there was no more checks in Finland. Our luggage came amazingly quickly so soon we were in a lobby where we met my parents. We still went to eat pizza to Caesar’s and told some storied about our trip while eating.
But finally we were walking outside in surprisingly autumn-like weather and then ordered a bus to Lentopysäköinti. And then we still had a long way to drive to Parikkala.
Our 2 weeks in Bali had been very nice! Thanks to Seppo we had for once made a trip without too much planning beforehand. We really felt relaxed as we hadn’t been driving at all either. But then we suffered from jet-lag for a week anyway. Altogether we had seen 205 bird-species which 78 had been lifers. In Bali we had seen 192 species. We are for sure going back to Indonesia one day, this was just the beginning…
On Monday the 3rd of June we drove to Helsinki-Vantaa during the day, parked to Autopysäköinti, ate in pizzeria, left our luggage to check in and then had still more than an hour to wait for our flight. Finally our Japan Airlines flight left towards Japan at 5:35 p.m. The beginning of the flight we were watching movies but then we tried to sleep as much as possible, but I couldn’t sleep much more than an hour.
On the 4th of June we landed to Narita airport, some 60 km east from Tokio. We had filled the papers ready and after a couple of queues we found our luggage soon. Then we had to walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 from where we had our next flight.
Once we were in Terminal 3 we changed local money, Jeni and got quite a pile as 1000 Jenis is about 8 Euros. We also checked if we should take a local SIM-card or some kind of USB-modem, but after all decided to survive without internet. We were a little bit worried as Amazon had canceled our map-orders just a couple of days before the trip and only maps were in my phone which has really bad battery.
Then we waited for our next flight in Terminal watching out from a window. Luckily there was some kind of park outside and we saw Barn Swallows, Carrion Crows (orientalis), White Wagtails (lugens), an Eastern Spot-billed Duck, some Brown-eared Bulbuls and White-cheeked Starlings, Tree Sparrows, a Russet Sparrow and a beautiful couple of Blue Rock Thrushes (philippensis).
Out Jetstar flight to Hokkaido and New Chitose airport left at midday. And we landed to New Chitose, some 50 km south-east from Sapporo, less than 2 hours later. We found our luggage and soon we were searching for a ride to car-rental office. After some searching we were in a bus that took us to Budget-office.
We waited and waited for our turn in the office but nothing was happening, the numbers weren’t changing at all on the screens. When the number finally changed, it jumped a lot and was much bigger than our number. So all Japanese-speaking people had been served before us! I got a bit angry as we had been travelling already more than 24 hours and we still had a long drive in front of us – and it helped, we got service immediately.
But also the service was slower than ever. We had to watch videos how to drive car in Japan and to sign many papers and so on. But finally we were walking to our car which was small but good, but the GPS was completely Japanese. We managed to change the language to English, but still all the buttons and texts were in Japanese. So we had no idea how to use it. Luckily another officer was speaking some English and she decided to give us another car that had much better GPS. It also had all buttons in Japanese but texts were in English and she showed how to use it.
And finally more than an hour behind our hoped schedule, we hit the road. We managed to put our navigator to lead us to Kushiro marshes and found out that we had 320 km to drive, but the navigator counted that it’d take more than 9 hours! We had rent the car without a tag that made driving on toll-roads easy as we had planned to avoid these extremely expensive roads, but we had no idea that other roads could be this slow!
We were already tired, but what else we could’ve done than start driving. We wanted to be in Kushiro marshes before morning. Luckily the navigator seemed to be working and soon I was practicing to drive on the left side of the road. And soon we started to understand why it could take so long – Japanese roads were good, but speed-limits were ridiculous! In bigger roads the fastest we could drive was 70 km/h and often it was only 50 km/h. And in villages and cities it was 40 or even 30 km/h! And in cities there were lots of traffic-lights that were not synchronized at all – we had to stop almost in all of them! And there were lots of trucks and other traffic, so it was impossible to drive any faster.
The good thing was that while driving along smaller roads it was possible to see more nature and also make stops whenever needed or wanted. So we saw White-cheeked Starlings, Black Kites (lineatus), Tree and Russet Sparrows, Barn Swallows, White Wagtails, Rock Doves, a Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpeckers (japonicus), Carrion and Thick-billed Crows (macrorhynchos) and also the first Bull-headed Shrike which we stopped to see better and then saw also some Oriental Turtle Doves.
Later we saw Brown-eared Bulbuls, Asian House Martins and when we stopped in a couple of very good-looking places we found a Brown-headed Thrush, heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker (jessoensis), several Eastern Crowned Warblers, a Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Black-faced Bunting (personata = Masked Bunting on some lists) and a couple of Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers. It was already getting dark when we saw a Woodcock flying very high between a couple of mountains. Then it started to rain and got very dark and we tried to avoid hitting Sika Deers that were seen along the road.
Luckily our navigator was wrong after all and we managed to get to Kushiro marshes at 11 p.m. Hanna had taken prints from satellite-maps and we turned to a small road that ended next to a meadow. There we parked and soon were putting up the tent while Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers were singing on the closest bushes. When we were ready, we still did a short walk along the meadow and heard a strange-sounding Latham’s Snipe, a Common Cuckoo, a Black-browed Reed Warbler, a Siberian Rubythroat and a Brown-cheeked Rail that was calling only very shortly.
Finally we had to get into our tent as it was already midnight and we had planned to wake up early.
On the 5th of June we woke up at 3:30 a.m., so before the sun was rising and Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers were still singing very loudly. We felt surprisingly brisk even though we had’t been sleeping much in a couple of days. New places and new birds are making wonders.
We walked a little bit just around our camp and found plenty of Eastern Crowned Warblers, more Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers, Coal Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers that sounded very much like our White-backed Woodpeckers, a Eurasian Nuthatch (clara) and a Japanese Tit. A Bull-headed Shrike visited a top of the closest bush and a flock of White-throated Needletails were flying on the sky. A couple of Japanese Bush Warblers were showing well and after the show also copulating, Common Cuckoos and Oriental Cuckoos were calling and a couple of Hawfinches flew over us.
We continued soon to the meadow and found Black-browed Reed Warblers, Siberian Rubythroats, Masked Buntings, Long-tailed Rosefinches, Stejneger’s Stonechats, a Reed Bunting (pyrrhulina) and a flock of about 10 Chestnut-cheeked Starlings that landed to a top of one tree. We also saw Carrion and Thick-billed Crows, Grey Herons, Black Kites and a couple of displaying Latham’s Snipes.
After we had packed our stuff back to the car, we drove to a nature-center nearby and found a path that was leading to the forest. Now there were also Sakhalin Leaf Warblers with Eastern Crowned Warblers. Thick-billed Crows were following us in the forest and they were almost disturbing noisy. From the forest we found Nuthatches, Olive-backed Pipits, Coal Tits, a couple of Marsh Tits (restrictus), Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a couple of Eurasian Treecreepers (daurica). Then we heard a strange song of a distant White-bellied Green Pigeon – what an amazing sound!
We walked along the path to a place where a big meadow opened in front of us. A Lanceolated Warbler was singing with Siberian Rubythroats and Black-browed Reed Warblers. Latham’s Snipes were displaying and again we saw a flock of 5 White-throated Needletails. Also Long-tailed Rosefinches and Masked Buntings were singing and Oriental Cuckoos calling. Finally we walked the same way back to the parking place where we saw a couple of Grey-capped Greenfinches which were surprisingly beautiful.
Next we drove to a big parking place where a big wooden path was leading to a meadow and a nature center nearby. Unfortunately then it started to rain very heavily, so we decided to go under a small shelter to cook. When we were cooking lots of local people joined us under the shelter which was funny as there was absolutely no-one before we went there. These people were laughing to our cooking, but for sure it was the best thing to do in that weather.
Finally the rain stopped and we headed to the path. Already on the first hillside we saw an Asian Stubtail briefly and a flock of Long-tailed Tits were flying by. Then we heard a funny song and found a Narcissus Flycatcher on the top of one tree – it was a beautiful bird! From the forest we found Treecreepers, Masked Buntings, an Asian Brown Flycatcher, a Marsh Tit and plenty of Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and so on. But when we got to the meadow, it started to rain very hard again. So after we had seen only some Japanese Bush Warblers and Stejneger’s Stonechats, we hurried back to the parking place.
The weather was so bad that we decided to start a long drive towards Cape Kiritappu. On the way the weather got better and we saw some Latham’s Snipes, Stejneger’s Stonechats and a couple of Hawfinches. When we reached the shore, we immediately stopped and found Japanese Cormorants, 4 Black Scoters and Slaty-backed Gulls. When we kept on driving we saw also a Mallard and some Pacific Swifts.
When we got to Cape Kiritappu it was early afternoon. Anyway we walked towards the cape while Latham’s Snipes were displaying and Siberian Rubythroats singing, one even on the wire. We also saw several Reed Buntings and Skylarks (japonicus) and from the rocks we found Japanese Cormorants but also some that we identified as Great Cormorants and also some Pelagic Cormorants.
On the place where we started seawatching there were some tame Slaty-backed Gulls and from the flock that was swimming below the steep cliffs there were also a couple of immature Black-tailed Gulls. On one rock nearby we saw 5 Harlequin Ducks with cormorants and a big Sea Otter was swimming in front of them. It looked very relaxed while it was swimming backstroke and floating behind the cliffs. On the sea we saw a few distant Rhinocerous Auklets, but soon we had to give up as we were too tired.
After sleeping a couple of hours in the car we were soon back on the cape and there were much more traffic on the sea. In short time we saw a couple of hundreds Rhinocerous Auklets, 2 swimming and 1 flying Spectacled Guillemot, an Arctic Skua, 5 Pacific Divers with 7 unidentified divers and a female Northern Pintail.
When it was already getting dark, we headed to Hattaushi (Hatsutaushi) bridge. On the way we saw a Raccoon Dog and almost hit a Sika Deer and saw plenty of them more, but finally we were on the bridge already before it was dark. Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler was singing and a Woodcock flew over us, but soon Hanna heard distant hooting. Luckily I heard it too and there it was – a legendary Blakiston’s Eagle Owl!
We decided to walk closer to listen to the owl better. We walked some time along a small track in the darkness, but when we stopped the owl had moved even further. So we decided to leave the owl hooting by himself. Soon we were on one of the places that Hanna had chosen to a possible place to camp and it wasn’t a surprise that this place was OK to me. When we were in the tent, a distant Long-eared Owl-kind of call was heard a couple of times and Blakiston’s Eagle Owl was also calling somewhere very far. But soon we were in sleep.
On the 6th of June we woke up and when Latham’s Snipes were displaying and several Japanese Bush Warblers singing and Common and Oriental Cuckoos calling. Pretty soon we had packed our car again and driving towards Nemuro. But the forest along the road looked so good that we started to stop in good looking places. After we had heard the first Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler, we heard also a White-bellied Green Pigeon and soon another one was perched on a tree next to the road. We managed to get some pictures of it, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light for good pictures yet. We also found lots of tits especially Coal Tits but also Marsh, Willow and Japanese Tits. Sakhalin Leaf Warblers were singing on the top of trees and also a Goldcrest (japonensis), some Wrens (fumigatus) and some Red-flanked Bluetails were heard too. We also found a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (seebohmi) that was climbing on branches with a flock of tits and soon after that we heard the first Japanese Robin. We made more stops and more loudly singing Japanese Robins were heard and we also saw some Jays (brandtii), a flock of Siskins, heard a Black Woodpecker and then found a couple of Bullfinches (griseiventris). Male Bullfinch had grey stomach but bright red throat. We still saw a female Japanese Thrush carrying food to the forest, before the forest started to get worse and we kept on driving towards the coast.
Seabirds in Ochiishi
We continued until Cape Ochiishi where we parked the car and immediately found a tame Skylark which was posing well for photographs and we saw also several White-tailed Eagles. Latham’s Snipe was again displaying right over us. After we had eaten, we walked along a broadwalk towards the lighthouse. The broadwalk was partly in pretty bad condition, but the vegetation along the path was very beautiful. There weren’t many birds though, some Wrens, Olive-backed Pipits and Masked Buntings. We also saw a Red Fox family with tiny cubs.
When we had walked to the lighthouse we started seawatching and immediately saw flocks of divers migrating. Most of the birds were Pacific Divers but also some Red-throated Divers and a couple of Black-throated Divers were identified. Then we noticed one bird migrating much higher than the others and it looked big – it was a stunning White-billed Diver! Some 20 Rhinocerous Auklets and a few Spectacled Guillemots were also seen and there were some flocks of Black Scoters swimmimg on the sea. Some gulls were flying over the sea and we found a 3rd calendar year Glaucous-winged Gull. Also a Peregrine (japonensis) was seen soaring over the sea and searching for prey.
But our schedule was tight and soon we had to walk the same way back to our car and drive to Ochiishi Nature office, from where we had booked a Nature Cruise with help of owner of Furen Lodge where we were going to stay later.
After we had filled again some papers that were once again very exact, we still had time before our cruise. But soon arrived a group of Australians, some Japanese photographers and finally also out local guide. And then after some more waiting we walked to the harbor where we climbed to the boat and while we were photographing 4 Greater Scaups that were swimming on the harbor the boat was already moving.
We had been given earpieces where we could hear our guide speaking Japanese, but when the first Slaty-backed Gulls were seen on their nests on the breakwater, also English names were used. So we decided to keep on listening to our guide.
When we got out to the sea we flushed some Rhinocerous Auklets but some stayed in the water but they always dived when we tried to get closer for pictures. Pretty soon we found the first small flock of Ancient Murrelets but they also always dived before we could get closer views. The boat was bobbing quite a lot too, so photographing wasn’t easy.
I had expected to see more bird on the sea but after all were hoping to see just a couple of species, the numbers didn’t matter. When the first Spectacled Guillemots were seen, they didn’t make the guide smile either, he also was searching for better species. But most of the others were shouting and pointing every single Rhinocerous Auklet or Black-tailed Gull. Then the guide told to them that were in the area where we were searching for Tufted Puffins. But every single bird we found was one of those we had seen already. After all we sailed around the area much longer than we had planned but we didn’t find any Tufted Puffins.
Next we continued to cormorant-rocks where on the first rocks we found Japanese and Pelagic Cormorants and a mother Sea Otter with a cub. Then from the second, bigger rocks we found also Red-faced Cormorants! They were quite far and the boat was moving a lot but surprisingly we got surprisingly good pictures of them too.
The rest of the trip we were searching for Pigeon Guillemots but even though we saw plenty of Spectacled Guillemots we found none of the better ones. Other birds seen during the cruise were a couple of Pacific Divers and a Red-necked Grebe (holbollii). But we had really hoped to see a Tufted Puffin, so after all we were a little bit disappointed.
Once we were back to our car, we woken up a Red Fox that had been sleeping on the shadow of our car. We photographed this tame “Hokkaido Dog” for some time and then continued towards Cape Nemuro.
To Cape Nemuro and to Cape Nosappu to seawatch
We continued next to Lake Chobushi and saw already on the way a big flock of Greater Scaups with one Tufted Duck and a female Common Goldeneye on one small lake. Also the first Sand Martins of the trip were seen. Lake Chobushi was quiet, just a distant flock of Greater Scaups and lots of Black-tailed Gulls coming to drink. The path that had once been good for forest-bird, was so badly overgrown that I just walked up the stairs that were in very bad shape and then back without seeing a single bird.
When we kept on driving I was just thinking when we might see one of our target-species when I noticed a couple of them right next to the road on the field. Luckily a car that was following us didn’t hit us when I stopped our car maybe a bit too quickly. And so we were photographing a stunning pair of Red-crowned Cranes that were feeding on the field. But there was too much traffic on this narrow road, so I had to move on and park the car to the next possible place. Soon we had walked back to the field but the cranes were missing. We walked a little bit along the track down towards the back of the field and there they still were. But soon another bird flew to a distant field. We decided to sit down and wait if the second bird would come any closer. The sun was shining and it was very hot but after all the crane came a little bit closer and we got some more pictures. But the haze was really bad, so the pictures weren’t very good.
When we were driving again, we saw a sparrowhawk-species flying over us and then on one small lake we saw again Greater Scaups but also a Northern Shoveler and some Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. A couple of spot-billed ducks had also ducklings.
Finally we parked to Cape Nosappu lighthouse and we knew it was the another possible place to see Tufted Puffins. On the rocks nearby we saw Japanese and Pelagic Cormorants, but also a few Red-faced Cormorants. We had planned to sleep a little before the evening seawatch, but we could see that there were already lots of birds moving further on the sea. It was only 4:10 p.m. but we had to walk to the cape and start seawatching.
Rhinocerous Auklets were moving all the time, first in smaller flocks but soon the flocks became bigger. In more than 3 hours we saw more then 10 000 Rhinocerous Auklets, but then only a few Spectacled Guillemots and one 2nd calendar-year Red-crowned Crane that was planning to go North to the sea but then turned back and when Hanna was calling “crane”, it flew right over us. So not many birds were seen but we saw plenty of mammals; porpoises, dolphins and both bigger and smaller whales, but the were all quite distant, so only an Orca was possible to identify.
Rhinocerous Auklets were moving until the dark, so in the end we could check only those flocks that we could first find with our bare eyes and soon we had to give up. No luck with Tufted Puffin. We were too tired to go anywhere anymore, so we decided to sleep in the car on the parking place.
On the 7th of June we had slept surprisingly well and it didn’t take many minutes from awakening to seawatching. Surprisingly there weren’t many birds moving on the sea and from 4 to 5:15 a.m. we saw “only” a thousand Rhinocerous Auklets, 7 Ancient Murrelets, a Spectacled Guillemot, 2 Common Guillemots and 10 migrating and 15 swimming Harlequin Ducks. Black-tailed Gulls were flying over us for whole morning so Hanna tried to get pictures of them.
After seawatching we drove along the northern road towards Furen. We saw about 10 White-tailed Eagles, a couple of flocks of Greater Scaups and in one harbor we saw a Black Scoter sleeping on a breakwater. Hanna tried to get closer to get pictures of the scoter but once it noticed us, it flew in the middle of the dock. We also saw a stint-species flying over us, but we didn’t see it very well. Red-necked Stint was the most probable option. Along the road we saw some Chestnut-eared Starling and one White-cheeked Starling on some piles of soil. And in one small lake we saw Mallards with one Common Teal and in a couple of fields we saw couples of Red-crested Cranes and one pair had a chick with them. Also some Black Kites and Russet Sparrows were seen.
We stopped to one parking place and found out that there was a broadwalk where to watch some plants. We walked around the path and met some very curious horses. One of them had been making too close companionship with a Brown Bear too, as it had scars from bear claws on its butt.
Once we were in Furen, we headed to Furen Lodge from where we had booked a room in advance. We had been contacting the owner “Take” who had helped us with participating to Ochiishi cruise too. We met Take and his wife and soon we were able to carry our luggage to our room. But we didn’t loose much time as it was still good time for birding. We walked to Primeval path that was nearby. It was nice walking in the forest where Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and a Narcissus Flycatcher were seen. We even managed to get pretty good pictures of the flycatcher. Along the coast we saw 3 Red-crowned Cranes and heard a Little Grebe (poggei).
Then we walked to Shunkunitai broadwalk where we first took a path to the forest. When we were crossing the bridge a couple of Red Foxes walked towards us. The male was shy and turned back and jumped down to the ground but the female was very brave and passed us only from some tens of centimeters when we were quiet and still. But of course also pictures were taken. The forest was quiet, only a distant Red-flanked Bluetail was heard but we could see that there was a big flock of ducks closer to the end of another path.
So we were soon walking along this “Fox-path” where we met a group of Japanese Fox-photographers. They asked if we had seen any foxes and we told about our two foxes but unfortunately they were long gone. One big man was introduced as the most famous fox-photographer of Japan or maybe the whole World.
We walked until the end of the path and I started to check the ducks with my scope. Surprisingly there were Falcated Ducks – and lots of them! I counted 300 Eurasian Wigeons, 78 Falcated Ducks, 8 Northern Pintails, 2 Northern Shovelers and 2 Mallards.
Then we decided to sleep a little in our nice and dark room before we continued to the forest of Tobai. We walked along the road for a few kilometers and found familiar forest-species. Better birds were 5 Japanese Robins, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, a White-bellied Green Pigeon and Eastern Crowned and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers. We also saw some Red-crowned Cranes which one couple had a nice chick again.
Then we had a dinner in Furen Lodge and met a group of Malaysian birders that was also staying there. They were very nice people who were speaking very good English – they were all doctors. We enjoyed our dinner, even though I had no idea about most of the food that I was eating – and I just couldn’t use Japanese chopsticks. Only oysters were really bad and I shouldn’t have eaten them at all, but I had made a decision to eat everything that is offered. Take and his wife were told in advance about Hanna’s allergies, so finally Hanna also got good food to eat.
The 8th of June. After well slept night we headed early in the morning to same Tobai forest. We walked again the same part but found almost the same birds as in the evening. So we continued by car and stopped always in good-looking places. Several Brown-headed Thrushes were heard and seen and then a beautiful White’s Thrush passed us extremely close! And after a lot of trying we finally managed to see and photograph a Japanese Robin, which was one of the ten we heard. We also saw a couple of Japanese Squirrels that were climbing on a tree next to the road. From the lake that was in the middle of the forest we found a female Goosander and a Red-crowned Crane was feeding on the shore.
Finally we had to hurry back to Furen Lodge to have breakfast. Breakfast was again almost art. It was strange to eat so many different kind of food early in the morning.
After the breakfast we headed to Shunkunitai broadwalk where we saw a few Red-crowned Cranes, same ducks again and heard 4 Lanceolated Warblers and a distant Wryneck (japonica). We also saw a couple of Red Foxes again and soon the same group of fox-photographers arrived and we photographed on of the foxes together with them.
Also in Primeval forest-path the birds were almost the same than on the previous day, but we heard and saw briefly a singing Warbling White-eye (japonicus).
During the day it came pretty hot, about 26 degrees. So we went to rest a little bit. I didn’t manage to sleep, so I went jogging and ran one and half hours and saw a flock of White-throated Needletails, a couple of Red-crowned Cranes and so on.
In the afternoon we headed to Cape Nemuro again. We had heard that on the same pool that we had found some Eastern Spot-billed Duck families there had been a Chinese Pond Heron hiding for some time. We tried to find it but without luck. There were lots of people fishing on the shore, so it was probably somewhere else. From 3 to 8:15 p.m. we were seawatching in Cape Nosappu and the last hour or so the Malaysians accompanied us. We were hoping for one single Tufted Puffin and again checked at least 10 000 Rhinocerous Auklets without luck. Or we did have luck as we saw a couple of Pigeon Guillemots which another one was a Snowy Guillemot, quite distinct subspecies. Also 5 Common Guillemots, 22 Spectacled Guillemots and a male Red-breasted Merganser that was migrating with a flock of Rhinecerous Auklets, some Harlequin Ducks and Pacific Divers and a single Arctic Skua were seen.
Finally we had to give up even though the auklets were still going. We had to hurry to have dinner. This time all food was really good but again I had no idea what I was eating mostly. We had good conversations with Malaysians and after the dinner we gave Take a T-shirt with Finnish raptors for all the help we had got.
Late in the evening we still did a short walk around the block and heard 3 Sakhalin and 2 Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers. When we were back at the Lodge we found out that the doors were locked. Luckily Take’s wife was still awake and let us in.
On the 9th of June we slept long as we knew we were going to have an extremely long day. Some Japanese had been quite noisy in the late evening so we couldn’t have fell asleep as early as we had hoped. When the breakfast was ready the Malaysians told that they had seen a Grey-tailed Tattler in the shore of Shunkunitai. The breakfast took some time again but then we hurried to see this wader but the water-level was rising and there wasn’t really places for waders anymore. And we couldn’t find it anywhere near, so we had to satisfy to a tame White-tailed Eagle that was posing on the top of a post.
Then it was time to pack the car again and start driving towards Rausu. Also Malaysians left to same direction with Take as their guide. So we made many stops in same places on the way.
First we headed to Notsuke Nosappu, a long cape where we found immediately some Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers that we managed to photograph well together with Malaysians. From the cape we didn’t find anything else except lots of Sika Deers and one Red-crowned Crane. The place looked so good for waders, but it was strange to check so many empty mudflats.
From Notsuke we continued towards Rausu and stopped in every good-looking river on the way. We met again our friends on almost every bridge and saw together some trip-ticks like a Grey Wagtail, a Common Kingfisher and then finally a Long-billed Plover. Unfortunately this shy plover wasn’t showing very well and soon flew up along the river behind the bushes. Some Brown-headed Thrushes were also seen and heard.
We still saw a Harlequin Duck couple in one streaming river, but soon after that we were in Rausu. There we found again our friends along the river and they told us that they had just seen a family of Japanese Wagtails. While talking we heard a promising call and saw a male Japanese Wagtail flying down the river. We followed it and found the rest of the family, a couple and 2 fledlings and Hanna managed to get some pictures even though these birds were extremely mobile. Soon we followed Take’s group uphill towards Mt. Rausu.
Just above Rausu-onsen camping we found Take and Malaysians again and of course we’d have known to stop in this place anyway. We followed Take uphill and soon found what we were searching for – a couple of Brown Dippers. After we had seen these birds Takes group continued uphill, but we went down back to our car as we knew this was the place for Crested Kingfisher.
While we were searching for a safe place to get down towards the river, we heard a whistling song from the hill nearby. I had a feeling that I knew what it was. I took my mp3-player and the speaker and played Japanese Grosbeak and that was it! I played the song a little bit more hoping to see the bird but it stayed singing on the same place. So when we found a path that Sika Deers had been using to get down, we used the same path. And right then we saw the Japanese Grosbeak flying across the road towards another hill.
When we were carefully landing towards the river, Hanna heard an Asian Stubtail singing. The song was so high that I had to get much closer to hear it too.
When we were along the river we found out that there were several small streams. We managed to get over a couple of them and then heard a Crested Kingfisher calling somewhere on the other side of the whole river. I still managed to get over one stream but Hanna’s shoes were lower. We still heard the kingfisher calling but it was impossible to get any closer. It was still behind a big island. I was already walking back towards Hanna when I noticed 3 big raptors on the sky. I shouted to Hanna, but found out that she was already photographing them. First we had no idea what they were, but then realized that they were Japanese Hawk Eagles (still subspecies of Mountain Hawk Eagle).
We had seen the project-species pretty well so we decided to keep on driving up towards Shiretoko Pass, the highest point of Mt Rausu along the road. The weather seemed to be pretty good too. We stopped a couple of times in places where was lots of Dwarf Bamboo and hoped to see or hear Grey Bunting but we didn’t find any even though we played some tape. On the top we found Malaysians again and they had just seen a Japanese Accentor and a Pine Grosbeak. The had a long way back to Furen, so they left almost immediately. But now there on the top, on Shiretoko Pass there was quite thick fog and only about 100 meters visibility, so finding birds was difficult.
There were also some local photographers on the top and buses full of tourists were stopping to this big parking place all the time. We walked around the parking place and tried to find any birds from the junipers. We also played the mp3-player for Japanese Accentor but all we could find were an Olive-backed Pipit and a Masked Bunting. Finally we realized that we had to hurry back towards Rausu.
On the way down we visited Rausu-onsen camping and paid for a tenting place. Then we hurried downhill until Rausu and a little bit more towards North and soon turned to famous Washi No Yado Blakiston’s Eagle Owl photographing place.
Washi NO Yado
Take had booked us to Washi No Yado already before our trip as the keeper of the place didn’t speak any English. We somehow managed to communicate with him and understood that we had to be in hide and on our places at 7 p.m. We still had some time so we cooked in the parking place and while eating we saw a couple of Brown Dippers flying up and down the stream.
Then we went in the restaurant-building that was also the hide. There was also an old bus a little bit closer to the feeding place, but a couple of local photographers were going there. One of them kindly told Hanna about the best camera-settings and showed amazing pictures that he had got on the previous night.
Finally everything seemed to be ready. There were 2 Japanese women with their cameras with us and two photographers were already in the bus. Fresh fish had been put to a small pool in the middle of the river, so it was time to start waiting. All photographers knew how to be quiet but the owner was impossible! He was walking in and out from the building and talking a lot and very loud! And when it was already completely dark the worst possible thing happened! A big bus parked to the parking place and at least 30 local tourists walked into our hide! They were of course noisy, but the noisiest was again the keeper of the place. He was again shouting and walking in and out and slamming the door all the time! And of course the local tourists hadn’t got enough clothes, so they were moving all the time and soon they started to walk to get coffee and tea from the machine.
I was extremely frustrated and when the owner was once again shouting and walking around I asked him, if we were in a circus? I really thought that I had paid to see wild animals. Then he finally got silent and actually disappeared for some time. Also the tourists understood to stay more quiet.
But then, after an hour or so waiting, the leader of the tourists decided that they have to leave. And this big group packed their stuff and started to walk out from the hide. And some walked right to the feeding place and took pictures and selfies with their phones! And when the bus had finally gone, the owner arrived and started to close the windows in that part of the building where the tourists had been. He also moved all the seats and did everything he could to be once again as noisy as possible!
When the owner had finally gone, the weather that was already slowly changed worse, got really bad – it started to rain. We were waiting and waiting, but all we saw were a Red Fox and a Sika Deer. We kept on waiting patiently until the midnight when these 2 women had got enough and they left – luckily very quietly. The weather was again getting a little bit better, so we waited for one more hour, but at 1 a.m. we had to give up too.
I have to say that this Washi NO Yado was the worst ever nature-experiment in my life. I hope I never have to experience anything like this anymore. The facility in this place was good, but the owner was the most incompetent person I have ever seen anywhere! I know there is another place to go to see Blakiston’s Eagle Owls in Hokkaido and I really hope it is better than this!
It was 2 a.m. when we had finally put our tent up in Rausu-onsen camping. The rain had finally stopped but we had to go to sleep very disappointed – we hadn’t seen a legendary Blakiston’s Eagle Owl.
Still in Mt Rausu
On the 10th of June we woke up after a couple of hours sleeping and we felt extremely tired. Brown-headed Thrush was singing loudly right above our tent. Anyway we had to try to keep on the schedule, so soon we had packed our tent and headed to a nature-center parking place nearby. Immediately we heard a bunting song and found a couple of Meadow Buntings singing on the wire. And soon we were walking along the trail where we found a beautiful couple of Blue-and-white Flycatchers and managed to get some picture of them too. Some more Brown-headed Thrushes, a couple of Narcissus Flycatchers and many Asian Stubtails were heard. Some of the stubtails were singing right next to the path and their high song really hurt ears! When we were walking back towards the parking place, Hanna managed to pass Rausu Geyser exactly when it was erupting! And of course Hanna had her camera ready. Later we found out that this geyser was erupting about once in an hour.
We still continued to the same river-place where we had been on the previous day. Again we heard a Japanese Grosbeak, a Blue-and-white and a couple of Narcissus Flycatchers singing, but found nothing else. While we were back to our car, a car stopped and driver was this kind local photographer who had stayed in the bus. He told that they had been waiting for the owls until morning but they hadn’t arrived at all.
Then it was time to climb up to Shiretoko Pass again. On the way we stopped many times and hoped to see or hear Grey Buntings. We even walked a little bit along one really good-looking path with lots of Dwarf Bamboo, but didn’t found buntings. Again when we were getting close to the top, we found out that there was really thick fog. And on the top there were several local photographers again and they were talking very loud. So we stayed as far as possible from them and tried to find Japanese Accentors, but still we had no luck. One of the photographers showed us a picture of a Pine Grosbeak that he had just taken. We actually saw him taking the pictures, but when we walked towards him, there was no bird anymore – just fog. So after we had seen only a flying Hawfinch and heard an Oriental Cuckoo, we decided to keep on going.
Again we made several stops in good-looking places but found no Grey Buntings. It really started to feel that luck had abandoned us totally!
Meadows, fields and lakes
Our next place was Shiretoko 5 lakes and it was one more disappointment. The place was totally a tourist-place. After we had paid the parking fee, we walked to the nature center where we found out that it was possible to walk only to see on of the lakes without taking a guided tour. We had no interest joining a slowly-walking group that had a Japanese-speaking leader, so all we could do was to walk along a road-like broadwalk to see this one lake. There were lots of people on the broadwalk and then on the platforms that were around the lake, so it wasn’t a surprise that there wasn’t a single bird. Some Meadow Buntings were heard and seen along the walk and the landscape was very beautiful. The whole broadwalk had electric fences to keep Brown Bears away.
Pretty soon we were on the road again and driving towards Lake Tofutsu. On the way we stopped along some fields and finally found a single singing Chestnut-eared Bunting. Soon we were on the lake and found some Gadwalls, Eastern Spot-billed Ducks and also a funny-looking leucistic Grey Heron.
Then we had some driving again before our next destination which was Mt Io. Inland all the roads were as narrow as on the coast but they were also in very good condition and there were almost no traffic. So we could drive normally as did most of the locals too – even though the speed-limits were still ridiculous.
Mt Io was a touristic place but there were some nice forests around it. So first we went to see volcanic area with bad sulfur-smell. There were many different colors on the hillside while most of the piles were beautifully bright yellow and some of them were smoking. The surrounding of the mountain looked like Lapland with trees like downy birch and flowering marsh labrador tea.
The day was getting hot so we decided to cook on the parking place and after lunch we walked along the broadwalk through the meadow and then took a tiny path to the forest. Over the opening we finally saw an Eastern Buzzard. In the forest we found typical forest-birds like Wrens, Treecreepers, Goldcrests, Nuthatches and heard several Black Woodpeckers, pretty Finnish birds but the forest was very different.
Then we had only a short drive to Lake Kussharo where we were well before the dark. We still checked in a couple of places if there were any birds on the lake but saw just some Goosander-families. Meadow Buntings were singing here and there and then we headed to a place where we had planned to camp. But the road had a barrier so we had to search for another suitable place. It took some time but finally we found a good place along one tiny field-road. In Japan there is no everyman’s rights like in Finland where it is OK to camp anywhere, so we had to wait for the sunset before we could put up the tent so nobody can see us. And because of the Brown Bears that seemed to be everywhere, at least different kind of “Beware of bears” -signs were seen a lot, we tried to stay in field-areas and not in the forests.
On the 11th of June we woke up when Latham’s Snipes were displaying over our tent and soon we had packed everything and were driving again. We had planned to drive along the eastern shore of Lake Kussharo where were nice forests. We made some stops and heard lots of Narcissus Flycatchers and Asian Stubtails, several Brown-headed Thrushes, a couple of Japanese Robins, Common and Oriental Cuckoos and also one possible hybrid cuckoo and a few White-bellied Green Pigeons.
But when we saw a smaller road turning inside the forest, we decided to turn there. Right away on the first stop we found a couple of Japanese Grosbeaks that were alarming for some reason. They were very mobile, so we did see them pretty well but couldn’t get any pictures before they disappeared. Also one White’s Thrush was flushed from the side of the road but we didn’t hear any of them singing, we should have been there much earlier when it was till dark.
We noticed a small volcano that was next to the road and went to see this tiny smoking hill. We also followed a small path to a small but very beautiful lake where a couple of Siberian Blue Robins were singing on the shore. There were also 2 tiny ducklings swimming on the lake but their mother wasn’t there, so we couldn’t identify them and they somehow disappeared before we got any pictures.
Along the road we still heard several Black Woodpeckers and saw the first Spotted Nutcracker of the trip but when it seemed that these forests hadn’t got anything new to offer, we decided to keep on driving towards our next destination that we knew would take more time.
Along the road there were lots of really good old coniferous or mixed forests. So we stopped a couple of times on the way and on one stop next to a mountain-forest we heard a flock of Common Crossbills and saw a Dark-sided Flycatcher. Some Black Woodpeckers and Japanese Robins were heard even through open windows while driving.
When we were already driving a smaller road towards Mt Meakan we saw a beautiful turquoise lake and its name Lake Onneto sounded familiar. I had probably read some bird-observations from this lake but I hadn’t got idea that it’d be on our route. Unfortunately it was cloudy weather so Mt Meakan wasn’t visible behind the lake – it’d have been really photogenic scenery! On the shore we stopped and walked to a dock and soon I found a duck swimming on the opposite side of the lake. I ran to get my scope from the car and soon I was watching a beautiful male Mandarin Duck! There was also a Mandarin Duck couple perched on one trunk that was floating on the water and we of course tried to get closer to get some pictures of these colorful birds. But the female duck was very shy and once it saw us, this couple flew in the middle of the lake.
Once we had parked to the other side of the lake to Mt Meakan parking place, we started to walk towards the mountain. Hanna had once again her huge back full of cameras with her, so I offered to carry it.
After a couple of hundreds of meters walking the path started to climb up and very steeply! The forest around us was really good and there were Red-flanked Bluetails singing everywhere. Also many Goldcrests, some Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and a single Northern Hawk-cuckoo were heard and a couple of Bullfinches and Nutcrackers and a female Goshawk (fujiyamae) seen.
As we had already noticed locals seemed to be afraid of Brown Bears almost hysterically, but only now we saw the first hikers with huge bells that they were playing all the time while walking. We have been living a long in Eastern Finland and we are pretty used to see bear-footprints and other marks in forests and I have also seen bears several times, so we weren’t afraid of them at all. There are much more dangerous animals both in Finland and Japan like ticks and Ural Owls.
Climbing was very hard at least when carrying Hanna’s full battle kit. Finally we were on the tree line where only juniper was growing. We hoped to hear or see Japanese Accentors and stayed for a long time in this habitat but heard only once a promising song, but there were also some Olive-backed Pipits singing pretty similarly, so we just weren’t sure. Also Red-flanked Bluetails were singing even above the treeline and estimated that we had heard and seen about 40 bluetails in this 3 kilometers climb!
When we were climbing even higher we surprisingly saw and heard at least one Buff-bellied Pipit and also a Grey Wagtail seemed to be in a bit strange habitat in rocky hillside. Then we finally heard a promising call and saw a bird landing to a top of a juniper – finally a Japanese Accentor! But the bird stayed visible only for a couple of seconds before disappearing again.
When we were getting close to the top of volcano a thick cloud covered the visibility. Soon we could hear the hissing sound of the volcano and we still climbed higher to the place where should have been best view to the volcano, but we couldn’t see much. We waited for some time for the cloud to move away but we weren’t lucky. A couple of times we could see part of the volcano but not even half of the area. Finally we had to give up and start walking down, we had already spent more time than we had expected.
Getting down was luckily much faster even though there were some almost dangerously steep parts. We still tried to get a better observation of Japanese Accentor but had no luck. Lower down we heard another Northern Hawk-cuckoo but finally after 5 hours hiking we were back at the parking place.
When we were driving again we soon saw a female Hazel Grouse with at least one chick. Then we had a long drive ahead and on the meadow-areas we saw Meadow Buntings and Bull-headed Shrikes and on rice-fields more than 10 Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. We chose to drive along the northern roads where were almost no cities and it was a really good choice! Roads were almost empty so we didn’t have to drive as long as our strange navigator had counted. Finally we passed Tomakomai and turned towards Lake Shikotsu. When we were already close to the lake, we saw a female Japanese Thrush next to the road.
We were exhausted when we were searching for a good place to camp and after all just stopped along the main-road to a widener where we could get a little bit behind the trees. We hoped that the traffic would stop in the evening, but we were wrong – trucks were driving all night long.
While Hanna was cooking I went jogging and about 1 km from our camp I heard an Oriental Scops Owl (japonicus) calling, but it was quiet when I passed the place again later. Once I was back at the camp Hanna told that she had heard a Grey Nightjar shortly. After we had eaten we were ready to go to sleep, but luckily we didn’t fall asleep immediately as the Grey Nightjar came back and burred shortly right above our tent.
On the 12th of June we woke up before 4 a.m. and soon we were driving towards a hotel that situated close to the shore of Lake Shikotsu. We knew there were several nature-paths and also hides for photographing the birds. We turned to a wrong road first but it didn’t matter as we saw a couple of male Japanese Thrushes along the road. We noticed that along this road there would have been really good camping places.
Luckily we soon found the right road and then parked on the parking place of the park and hotel. While we were packing our bags we saw a local photographer hurrying to the path. Once we got to the hide we understood why he had been running, there was already one photographer who had taken place in front of one photographing-hole and this second photographer was now taking his place in front of the second and last hole that had some kind of visibility to the pool in front of the hide. These holes were wide enough for two photographer, but these men were really doing their best to take as much space as possible.
This photographer who had ran in front of us was completely amateur. He was rattling his tripod for more than 10 minutes and still he wasn’t happy. When we were sure that these people weren’t giving any space for Hanna, she had to climb to a bench and start photographing through a hole that was between the wall and the roof.
When everyone else were ready this one man still kept on rattling his equipment. When he finally was happy to his position, he started to talk loudly with this another photographer. And they really were noisy! We could hear that the first birds were already coming to visit the pool but these men were so noisy that they didn’t come visible. We could hear thrushes and some bunting calling but nothing was showing up. And of course these locals didn’t pay any attention to calls around us.
After some waiting the first Asian Stubtail came to drink and wash up and Hanna could start testing the right camera-setting. It was really dark as the pool was in the shadows of thick vegetation. Soon came an Eastern Crowned Warbler but we could easily find out that these birds weren’t those that the locals were hoping as they just checked what Hanna had started to photograph and then started to talk again and scared the birds away.
Hanna kept on photographing standing on the bench and I tried to look through one of the holes that had almost no visibility to the pool as there was bushes in front of the hole. Locals were still moving all the time and only checking what bird had arrived when they noticed that Hanna was photographing. After several Asian Stubtails, Eastern Crowned Warblers, Coal Tits, a Marsh Tit and a Japanese Tit, a female Narcissus Flycatcher came to wash up. And soon came also a couple of female-plumage Siberian Blue Robins and then also locals started to take pictures, or at least the one who know how to use a camera. The second man seemed to miss every single bird as he was always messing up with the tripod or just doing something else. Then a beautiful male Siberian Blue Robin arrived and locals were really excited – finally the colorful bird that they had been waiting for! But right away when the robin had gone, they started to talk loudly again.
After a couple of hours we really lost our nerves. We had asked politely them to be quiet for several times, so we both told them to shut up! We had still been hearing thrushes and buntings that weren’t shown up because of the constant noise. Finally they understood to be quiet at least for some time. And almost immediately a male Narcissus Flycatcher arrived, then a male Japanese Thrush and then a group of 3 extremely shy Brown-eared Bulbuls. It seemed that at least the better photographer realized that it was possible to see more birds while being quiet so the atmosphere got a little bit better. But the second man was still walking in and out the hide. So it wasn’t a surprise that he missed the situation that we had been waiting for whole morning – first we heard ticking calls and then a male Grey Bunting came to drink! Finally we saw this species that we had been searching for in so many places.
The rest of the 5 hour photographing session was really good. Even the locals understood that we preferred to photograph birds that empty pool – we had been watching empty pools enough during this trip. So Hanna still managed to get pictures of Warbling White-eyes, a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker and more pictures of all birds that were coming to drink or wash up again. All birds came to visit the pool at least twice except the Grey Bunting.
After we had left from the hide, we walked a little bit around the area, but it seemed that other paths were very overgrown and most of them completely closed. So we walked a little bit in the garden where we saw same species that we had seen by the pool. We also went to check the lake but there were no birds at all. So soon we decided to drive to a more remote place to pack our luggage and clean our car.
While packing our stuff we heard a drumming White-backed Woodpecker (subcirris) and saw a couple of Japanese Grosbeaks flying over us. Finally we started to drive towards New Chitose and there we managed to leave our car to Budget easily.
We got a bus-ride to the airport from where we walked to a railway-station that was underneath the airport. There we bought tickets to Tomakomai and soon we were in a train. And it didn’t take long to Tomakomai where we took a taxi to the Tomakomai West ferry-terminal.
Long-waited ferry trip
In the harbor Hanna went immediately to Tokai Kisen office to make sure that our reservation was OK and she got our tickets to Tomakomai-Oarai ferry, more than 18 hours ferry-trip between Hokkaido and Honshu.
We still had a long wait before our ferry was leaving, but at least I managed to sleep several hours on the bench. Luckily we got to the ferry early and there weren’t many passengers, so we got a cabin for 4 persons to ourselves. So we were asleep already a couple of hours before our Salvia-Maru called ferry left at 1 a.m.
The 13th of June. We slept extremely well and woke up once again at 3:30 a.m. And soon we had climbed up to the deck and were ready see seabirds!
And soon we started to see birds. In the beginning it was still quite dark, so identifying was very difficult and it took some time to realize that dark, petrel-looking birds that we had had been seen were actually Fulmars – they were surprisingly dark around here, even though we were quite south. We also saw several dark shearwaters but they were quite distant so we couldn’t identify them. We knew there were Short-tailed, Sooty and Flesh-footed Shearwaters around and we had experience only on Sooty so we really needed to see these better.
It didn’t take long until we saw the first albatrosses too, they were also all dark-looking and far. But some got loser we got them identified and they all were Black-footed Albatrosses. We also saw single storm-petrels and the first 2 we identified as Leach’s Storm-petrels, then 2 birds were seen too far and the last one was a Band-rumped Storm-petrel type of bird. Also shearwaters were finally coming closer and the light was getting better too, so we managed to identify 6 Short-tailed Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and 2 Flesh-footed Shearwaters.
We had been sailing for a long time already when we saw the first Streaked Shearwater and soon after that we saw a stunning pink-billed Short-tailed Albatross! This species was close to extinction in the past but recently the numbers have increased. Soon we saw also another pink-bill which came closer to the ferry and Hanna managed to get some pictures of it. Later I still saw an adult Short-tailed Albatross when I was checking the other side of the boat – it was swimming with wings funnily open.
In the first half of the ferry-trip we still saw 6 South Polar Skuas, a flock of 5 Red-necked Phalaropes, one Rhinocerous Auklet and some Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls. We had also counted 33 Fulmars, 21 dark albatross sp:s and 11 dark shearwater sp:s.
The sea was getting very calm and there were long periods with almost no birds at all. Then suddenly we saw amazing 70 Black-footed Albatrosses swimming, more than 30 in the biggest flock! So our Black-tailed Albatross number was more than 130 birds! We also saw some mammals: Steller’s Sea Lions, dolphins, whales and porpoises.
On the second half of the trip we saw Streaked Shearwaters – lots of them, and finally also some Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were identified too. Only a couple of single dark shearwaters were also seen and finally we saw the only Laysan Albatross of the trip too. But after all we were almost bored to see only Streaked Shearwaters and when there was once again pause that there wasn’t even them visible, we decided to go to rest. There was no restaurant on the ferry, but there were lots of different kind of machines where to buy noodles or other warm food. I had taken noodles with me, so I just went to get hot water from coffee-machine.
We rested from 3:30 to 5:10 p.m. and then climbed back to the deck to watch Streaked Shearwaters. After all we estimated that we had seen more than 1000 of them. When we were already getting close to Oarai we still saw an Intermediate Egret, a Pelagic Cormorant, a cormorant species and an Osprey.
Finally we were in Oarai harbor exactly on the schedule at 7:30 p.m. We had planned to take a bus to Mito, but we should have been waited for the bus for more than 30 minutes, so we decided to take a taxi. Taxi wasn’t cheap (actually most of the prices in Japan were about the same than in Finland), but at least we got to Mito much faster now.
So soon we were in Smile Hotel that Hanna had booked beforehand, and it felt good to have a shower! We also went to eat to McDonalds nearby so also Hanna got something good to eat. Then it was time to go to bed.
On the 14th of June we slept long and we didn’t keep hurry at all. We went to eat again and then came back to pack our luggage. Then we took a taxi to Lake Hinuma Nature Park. Lake Hinuma was a place that Hanna had found in Googlemaps when she had been searching for a suitable place to stay for a couple of days. We had planned to stay there and do birding without a car.
From the taxi we already saw some familiar species but almost all of them were now Honshu-ticks, we had seen only a few species in the airport. We saw a Russet Sparrow, Oriental Turtle Doves, lots of Brown-eared Bulbuls and so on. Pretty soon we were on the gate of the camping area and luckily we could see that at least the park was open. Not the young worker of the camping place nor our taxi-driver spoke any English, so it took some time to understand if also the camping area was open or not. Soon our taxi left and we tried to deal with the worker. Hanna was once again drawing, speaking languages and mimicking and somehow everything was soon clear. We knew exactly where to put our tent and every other practicalities.
Soon we had our tent up and everything hidden inside. So we started to get familiar with this nature park that was owner by the city. On the Southern side of this park was Lake Hinuma that we knew was a really good place for wintering ducks and the northern side had lots of broad leaf woodlands.
Right away we started to see birds around our tent, with several Black Kites there were 2 Grey-faced Buzzards soaring on the sky, a family of Green Pheasants ran across the grassy camping area, White-cheeked Starlings were making noise, a Meadow Bunting was singing, Grey, Intermediate and Great White Egrets were flying on the sky, a Bull-headed Shrike was perched on the top of the nearest bush and a Little Ringed Plover (curonicus) flew over us. On the closest trees there was sap flowing and several big butterflies enjoying sugar.
We decided to walk to Lake Hinuma first but there weren’t many birds, very distant Common Tern (longipennis) and one Greater Scaup. On the southern shore we found some reed-beds and there we saw a Little Grebe and an Osprey flew over us. We also saw a couple of dragonfly-photographers there.
Pretty soon we walked through the Nature Park gate to the forested part of the park. There was a small pond where we saw plenty of different kind of colorful butterflies. An info-board told about a rare small damselfly, but we never found this species.
Day was getting hot so there weren’t much bird-activity, but Warbling White-eyes (japonicus) and some Oriental Greenfinches were on the top of trees and a couple of Eastern Spot-billed Ducks flew over us. When we were walking back towards our tent we saw a family of Mute Swans, a Common Kingfisher was perched on one small board and finally we saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk that flew over us.
After a short rest we headed to forests that Hanna had seen in satellite-pictures. There were a couple of paths outside the park which the first one looked very promising. This path was very overgrown but there was small opening on the left side of the path and then really good-looking forest on both sides. It was already afternoon so only Brown-eared Bulbuls were active, but after some walking we heard calls of female Lesser Cuckoo and soon saw a male flying over us. Also a flock of Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers (nippon) were seen. The second track was actually a road and it lead to a small village where the first building was some kind of temple and there were barking dogs in the village. So we didn’t plan to come back there in the next morning.
When we got back to camping area, it was completely empty. Only an old guardian came to “talk” with us. Once again we understood a local much better than he understood us. He was worried how we would survive without a car as there was no shop nearby. We tried to tell him that we had everything we needed. He offered us a ride to a shop but we managed to refuse.
In the evening I decided to go jogging because I had somehow managed to get my back in really bad condition. Usually moving is the best medication. I ran around the forest-part where were lots of up- and down-hills and surprisingly found a Japanese Scops-owl that was calling actively and flying around the play-ground.
Once I was back at the tent, Hanna told that she had heard some partridge-like calls and also a distant Japanese Hawk-owl from the forest that was behind the camp-building. She had also heard very low bittern-like hooting from the pond. We checked our book and wondered if it could have been Japanese Night-heron and right then we heard a couple of Black-crowned Night-herons flying over us.
So we walked towards the pond and soon heard really low hooting. I started to record it and soon we sneaked closer. Once we were on the shore of the pond we could see that there were a couple of huge frogs that were hooting.
We soon continued to the playground where was absolutely silent. I played some Japanese Scops Owl sound and after some waiting we saw this quite bid scops-owl flying over us. But it didn’t say anything anymore and we didn’t see it again later. We also went to listen to Japanese Hawk-owl but we didn’t hear anything, so soon we were going to sleep.
On the 15th of June we woke up early and were planning to go to walk along the forest-path but then it started to rain. So we kept on sleeping. And it really rained! During the day Hanna woke me up and told that we had to move the tent. The grass-area was flooding but we managed to find a dry enough spot next to a ditch. And soon we were asleep again.
We were sleeping like babies and I had my back in really bad condition again so I really didn’t want to move at all. Somewhere in the afternoon we went to cook under one shelter and then slept again. In the evening the rain stopped shortly and I decided to go to run again. It had felt good in the previous evening so I decided to run more. I ran along Lake Hinuma to the northern end of the lake where on reed-beds I heard 8 Oriental Reed Warblers and saw a Zitting Cisticola and a Yellow Bittern, I also saw a couple of Mute Swan families, a female Green Pheasant with a couple of chicks, a Little Ringed Plover and a few Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. Hanna was sleeping about 20 hours during the day and it was late evening soon.
It was already dark when we heard a Ruddy Crake calling a couple of times from the reeds and finally we heard the “partridges” again and they were Chinese Bamboo Partridges. We went to try to listen to Japanese Hawk-owl too and after some tape-playing it responded once. And then we went to sleep once again.
On the 16th of June we woke up at night a couple of times when a couple of Ruddy Crakes were extremely noisy. I also heard a Japanese Hawk-owl calling a couple of times and when I woken up Hanna too it was quiet but then we heard a Ural Owl calling from different direction. It sounded almost ridiculous if comparing to Finnish Ural Owls but the rhythm was exactly the same.
We woke up when it was still dark and heard several Black-crowned Night Herons from the sky. We soon headed towards the forest-paths but it was clear that the vegetation was too wet so we couldn’t get into the forest at all. So we just walked along the roads but luckily there were some birds on these forests too.
We heard at least 4 Green Pheasants and saw a few more, some Lesser Cuckoos were calling and finally we heard some Chinese Bamboo Partridges well. We really tried to find some tits but all we found were Japanese Tits. But after some walking we heard a promising hoarse tit-call and found a couple of Varied Tits! These birds weren’t the most beautiful individuals because of they were completely wet but finally we had found this long-waited species.
When we had walked back to the park we headed towards the pool. I decided to play a little bit Varied Tit call and soon we had 2 more Varied Tits flying on the top of trees. It seemed to work, so I decided to play also Japanese Paradise Flycatcher song and after some seconds we heard a promising call behind us and then saw a female-plumaged Japanese Paradise Flycatcher flying over us. This bird was extremely mobile and always flew inside the tree, but once it stopped for a couple of seconds so we could see its beautiful blue eye-ring. We also heard another Japanese Paradise Flycatcher calling distant but unfortunately it never came visible, maybe it was a male which would have been really beautiful bird. But these birds disappeared soon and we couldn’t get any pictures of female either.
When we were back at the camping place we saw a couple of Grey-faced Buzzard soaring on the sky. We had to start packing our stuff, but they were all very wet. Luckily sun was now shining from the blue sky and we managed to get everything dry amazingly quickly. There were now many locals arriving to the camping area for picnic.
Finally we had packed everything and even our tent had been completely dry. Then we walked to the office to order a taxi with help of this funny worker. We had been communicating with him better and better all the time and now he started with Finnish “Moi”. And when the taxi arrived he said “Kiitos, moimoi! which means Thanks, goodbye!. While this comic-like man was waving his hand, the taxi left towards Mito railway-station.
In Mito we bought tickets to Tokyo and soon we were sitting in a train. From the window we saw a Common Kestrel (interstinctus) and some Little Egrets as a trip-tick and also one Green Pheasant.
Finally we were in Tokyo where we carried our luggage to a bench next to one park and rested a little bit, then we did some shopping and then continued to Takeshita harbor.
On the harbor Hanna went again to check that our reservation was OK and then we had again several hours to wait for our ferry. The harbor-area was very nice so we both went outside to take pictures during the day and also in the evening-light. Finally 15 minutes before the ferry was leaving we marched with other passengers to the ferry.
Hanna had booked a cabin for us beforehand but we were escorted to a big room with about 16 mattresses on the floor. Hanna had thought that we had something better booked but I had read somewhere that this was what a cabin looked like in this ferry. But luckily there weren’t many other passengers so soon we realized that we were in this big room alone. Hanna still looked at the Tokyo lights and harbor views when the ferry left but I was already sleeping.
On the 17th of June I slept extremely well even though I sensed that the sea was rough and the ferry was almost jumping. Waves were big and sharp so the bow was rising up and then crashing down. Luckily I had taken medication in the evening, so I wasn’t feeling sea-sick at all.
Alarm was waking us up at 4 a.m. and 15 minutes later we had climbed to the deck to seawatch. Surprisingly we already saw Miyakejima in horizon and not too far. There were lots of Streaked Shearwaters flying on the sea but we saw nothing else. And soon we had to go to pack our luggage as we arrived at Miyakejima already at 5 a.m. about 30 minutes early.
Endemic species on volcanic island
From the harbor we found Noda, the owner of Snapper Inn. We and a couple of local tourists got into his car and soon we were driving slowly and curvy roads towards the opposite side of the island. We saw immediately some birds along the road, after Tree Sparrows and Thick-billed Crows we saw the first Izu Thrushes and it really seemed to be a common bird as trushes were passing the road here and there. Now wonder why Izu Thrush (Akakokko) is the symbol-bird of Miyakejima. Also Warbling White-eyes (stejnegeri), Brown-eared Bulbuls and Oriental Turtle Doves were seen.
In Snapper Inn we carried our luggage to our room where were mattresses on the floor which is Japanese style. Luckily the room was big, so we could finally spread our stuff so that everything was easy to find. We had now 2 hopefully more relaxed days on this volcanic island. In history of this island has been several destructive eruptions. These eruptions have occurred about every 20th year and the latest eruption was 19 years ago, so it was about the time to visit this island. During the latest eruption the local people had been evacuated and they had been allowed to come back after 5 years! Still on the top of the island is a big area where it is not aloud to go, volcano is erupting deadly dangerous sulfur-gas.
Soon we had packed our equipment and from the back-yard we found the car that we had rented for 2 days. It was one of those funny box-like cars that were very common on Japanese roads. While we were packing the car we observed a couple of Lesser Cuckoos and first heard Chinese Bamboo Partridges and when we were driving we finally managed to see a couple of them.
We headed first towards Tairo-ike, the only lake on the island. On the way we saw Pacific Swifts, Japanese Bush Warblers, a Black Kite and Oriental Greenfinches. When we were driving down along the small road to Tairo-ike, we heard several endemic Izu Robins (split from Japanese Robin on most lists) and lots of Ijima’s Leaf Warblers.
When we had parked next to the lake we walked to a dock and saw 3 Great White Egrets on the shore and an Osprey flying over the lake. Warbling White-eyes were calling everywhere.
Soon we started to walk around the lake along Tsubota-rin path and we also made a couple of short walks in the forest. Several Wrens were singing and one tame bird came so close that Hanna got good pictures of it – and it really was dark one. Japanese Wood Pigeons were calling on the tree-tops on the hillside, but it took some time before we saw some of them flying over the lake. This species occurs in Japan only on small islands.
A couple of Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers (matsudarai) were found, one was drumming and another calling and these both sounds are ridiculous. And soon we found also family of endemic Owston’s Tits and managed to get some pictures too – unfortunately the parents of this family stayed on the top of trees but youngsters came low down.
Ijima’s Leaf Warblers were very common along the path but also more Izu Robins, Owston’s Tits and Japanese Wood Pigeons were found. Also some Izu Thrushes were singing their simple song on the hillside bushes.
When we had walked around the lake we drove to Akakokko Station that was nearby. It is local bird association office named after Izu Robin. But surprisingly the office was closed on Mondays. From the garden we found several tame birds so we tried to get some pictures. There were also a couple of local photographers and at least a young woman seemed to know what she was doing. She was the first local we saw listening calls, using binoculars to find the birds and then wait patiently the bird to come closer.
Hanna was photographing birds by the pool that was on the back-yard of the office: Izu Thrushes, Owston’s Tits, Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers and an Izu Robin. Also Ijima’s Leaf Warblers, Wrens and Japanese Wood Pigeons were heard.
We soon continued along the road towards Toga Misaki cape but stopped to one parking place that had some information-boards. While parking we heard a promising song and soon were watching a Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler! This species occurs only on a couple of small Japanese and also Korean islands. We also saw a couple of Meadow Buntings and heard several Lesser Cuckoos. In this place there had been a lake that had dried during one of the eruption in the past and was now completely overgrown.
In this island there were lots of parking places and information-boards both in Japanese and English along the roads. All paths were pretty well marked and there were lots of maps everywhere along the main-road showing the closest places. There were also shelters and toilets along the road and these toilets were shining clean and local toilet-seats were quite an adventure with warmed seat and many buttons that I didn’t dare to test.
In Toga Misaki we saw a Slaty-backed Gull and heard at least 3 Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers. On the fence next to the lighthouse we saw also a female Blue Rock Thrush briefly and the sea was full of Streaked Shearwaters.
When we continued driving around the island we saw some Barn Swallows and another Blue Rock Thrush and then we made next stop in Yakushi-do temple-forest. Day was getting hot and suddenly I started to feel extremely tired. So we just laid down on the road next to the temple and listened to same forest-birds that were common on this place too. Pretty soon we continued again.
In Izu Cape we cooked on the shadow of the lighthouse and saw again lots of Streaked Shearwaters. 5 Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing around us. One of them was singing openly and we managed to get really good pictures of it. Also some Pacific Swifts and a Great White Egret were seen.
Finally we had driven around the whole island and it was good to rest a little in our dark and air-conditioned room. Hanna tried to sleep a little while I went jogging and I saw some pretty good endemic species.
In the evening we had agreed to do a short trip with our host. Also a Japanese couple joined us and soon we had driven to a parking place that was under the hillside where were many dead tree-trunks standing.
It was already completely dark when we walked to the forest and soon Noda showed us what we had been came to see – glowing mushrooms. These tiny mushrooms were growing on the holes on tree-trunks especially under fallen trees and we found them a lot. We were photographing these mushrooms for an hour or so while a couple of Japanese Hawk-owls were calling actively nearby.
On the 18th of June we drove early in the morning to Toga Misaki to seawatch but pretty soon we were bored to see only Streaked Shearwaters. We saw a couple of thousands of them and only other bird seen was an Osprey. So soon we drove to Akakokko Station but for some reason there were less birds now and the only ones were high on the tops of trees. Only Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers were showing well.
We decided to have a more touristic day and soon we were walking on the shore of Kamakata where we saw a small volcano, walked on a black beach and also then we headed to Ako path that went around a school that had destroyed on the lava-stream in 1980. During the walks we saw and heard plenty of Lesser Cuckoos but these birds were extremely difficult to see well. We never got a single photograph of this species. We also saw lots of different kind of big butterflies which some species were photographed.
On the second visit of the day to Akakokko Station the information center was open, but the guide didn’t speak any English. She showed us a way to see the pool from the other side than we had been earlier but there weren’t many birds visiting. We also followed a video about the latest eruption that the guide showed to a local group of tourists. It was of course all Japanese. Then we continued again to Izu Cape to cook while Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing and sea was full of Streaked Shearwaters.
When we were back in Snapper Inn we slept a little but then drove once more to Izu Cape to see more Streaked Shearwaters and listen to Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers. One dark shearwater was also seen but too distant.
It was already dark when we still did a short walk near Snapper Inn and we photographed frogs and heard a couple of Japanese Hawk-owls and a call of a Grey Heron.
On the 19th of June we slept longer and during morning we just walked nearby. We found out that all the target-species could be found in this small area, even a Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler and a couple of Izu Tits and an Izu Robin were found.
After I had been running we cooked along one small road and then went to pack our luggage. Then Noda drove us and a couple of Japanese women to the harbor and pretty soon our ferry arrived and then left towards Tokyo.
We of course climbed to the deck to seawatch. The sea was very calm so maybe that was the reason why we didn’t see any storm-petrels, petrels or albatrosses. But Streaked Shearwaters were seen enough, again one single dark unidentified shearwater and then one Bulwer’s Petrel. All the floating things were checked but we didn’t see any Japanese Murrelets, just plastic bottles and other rubbish. The best observation was one big shark that was slowly swimming next to the ferry for some time. Still in Tokyo-bay we saw some Streaked Shearwaters and when we were already in the harbor-area we saw a Black-crowned Night Heron and an Osprey.
When we were in the harbor, we walked to the same railway-station and tried to buy tickets to Narita. It seemed to be very complicated but luckily one very kind local man helped us. He escorted us to another company’s station and helped us to buy the tickets. He told that with the first company we should have changed train 4 times and it would’ve cost more than this one that was going straight to Narita.
So soon we were in a full train where we had to stand with our huge bags. On several stations there was an empty seat freed but locals were running to sit before us. And it really wasn’t easy to stand and control all our bags. Luckily when we got further from Tokyo city we got empty seats and the rest of the trip was easier. After an hour we were in Narita and walked to Welco Hotel that Hanna had booked. It was very close and actually really nice hotel. In the evening we went to eat to McDonalds so Hanna got some proteins too and I must say that I was pretty bored to noodles too.
Twitching in Sasagawa
On the 20th of June we woke up early and soon walked to another railway-station. We had checked in the evening that there was the earliest train leaving to Sasagawa. After some waiting our train arrived and then an hour and 15 minutes later we were in Sasagawa. There we started to walk through the village towards the river.
When we reached the river we first went to a small boat-harbor but didn’t hear any of our target-species. We did see Black-crowned Night Herons, Little Terns, a Green Pheasant and heard several Oriental Reed Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas. But after we had followed the road towards east for a couple of hundreds of meters we heard the first Marsh Grassbird. And soon we heard more of them and also saw a couple of them flying display-flight up and down. But they were all pretty far. So we had to satisfy to take recordings. We walked a little bit down and closer to the reeds and then flushed a female Japanese Reed Bunting from its nest. We of course backed away immediately and then walked to record the next Marsh Grassbird.
We still heard a couple of singing Japanese Reed Buntings too but saw only two males very briefly. Altogether we heard 10 Marsh Grassbirds in very small area. Also a Black-browed Reed Warbler was seen and heard singing on the top of one bush, Meadow Buntings were also singing and one Mute Swans was seen. It had been windy whole morning but it was getting even windier and there were big dark clouds on the horizon. So we decided to start walking back to the railway-station.
Train back to Narita took an hour and then the rest of the day we took easier. We did a couple of hours walk in the city where were lots of small shops and big temple-area. Hanna even found some souvenirs. We also ate a couple of times but in the evening we had to pack everything well. And we went to sleep early, we had an early wake up again.
On the 21st of June we took the first train to Narita airport Terminal 2. Most of the shops were still closed and after check in we had to wait for some time before the security-check opened. After that Hanna still bought some souvenirs but I really found nothing. Then we changed the rest of Jenis to Euros and went to gate to wait for our flight,
Our flight left a little bit late at 10 a.m. and first we were watching movies and then tried to sleep as much as possible. Finally we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa 30 minutes before the schedule at 1:20 p.m. When I opened my phone I got a message that a Red-headed Bunting had been found in Salo only 10 minutes earlier. So our journey got still one more turn. Luckily we got our luggage and a ride to Lentopysäköinti really smoothly. So soon we were driving towards Salo. But after all we managed to get back home to Parikkala early enough, so we still went to put up the mist-nets to our ringing place and after a couple of hours sleeping we were ringing birds…
On the 23rd of December we drove to Joutseno in good winter weather. It was cold and snowing. We tried to find Marsh Tits that had been present for some time but without luck. Only better birds we saw were a Goshawk and a flock of 5 Chaffinches. The sun was already setting when we continued towards Helsinki and after a long drive we were finally in Helsinki-Vantaa airport much too early.
We ate pizza and waited for our flight that finally left towards Dubai about 30 minutes late from the schedule. It was already Christmas Eve when we tried to sleep in the plane.
Somehow it was very hot in the plane and the seats were narrow and hard. So we didn’t sleep well. I was watching mountainous Iran landscape and found out that there weren’t many people living as there we almost no lights at all. After a long flight we finally landed to Dubai.
We drove around the huge airfield by bus to Terminal 3 where we just walked to the next bus that drove exactly the same round again, passed our previous plane that was being cleaned and continued to Terminal 2. There we had a couple of hours wait for our flight to Oman, Muscat.
From Dubai airport and from the plane we could see the high buildings of Dubai, the most spectacular was 828 meters high needle Burj Khalifa. Only birds we saw in Dubai were Collared Dove, House Crow and Laughing Dove.
Our flight to Oman left again 30 minutes late but I was sleeping the whole flight. We landed to Seeb airport which was surprisingly small but very nice. We managed to get our visas easily (of course we had applied them beforehand) and soon we were waiting for our luggage. Pretty soon we found out that Hanna’s bag wasn’t coming and soon heard that it was still in Dubai. It was coming on the next flight that was 3 hours later.
So our schedule was going to change right away. But anyway we went to get our brand new Kia Sportage 4 wheel drive from Budget, got some local money (Rials), bought some alcohol to our Trangia cooker and something small to eat and drink. Finally we also could strip long underwear that we were still wearing…
From the airport windows we saw Common Mynahs, Rock Doves and House Sparrows and finally after a long waiting Hanna’s back arrived and we could hit the road.
Luckily we had our navigator with us and of course with Oman maps. We also had Oman map on my phone, so we could find away from the airport and to the right road towards the mountains.
We soon passed a small pool that had some Cattle Egrets, a Grey Heron, a Great White Egret, some Black-winged Stilts and a Marsh Harrier was flying over the reeds.
It was already getting dark when we finally turned to one big wadi. Finally we were on the right spot where we parked and got out and started to listen to owls. We had got exact coordinates to a place where some years ago found new owl-species, Omani Owl had been at least a couple of years ago.
We were surrounded by high cliffs and almost full moon was giving so much light that we could see the landscape surprisingly well. After some time we hadn’t heard a thing but then a car stopped to us and a voice asked: ”Are you searching for owls?”. The group of 3 young Spanish birders were searching for Omani Owl too. They hadn’t got so exact information about the place, but somehow they knew the area where to search. Of course we were soon listening the area together.
Spanish group had an amazing torch with them and they were scanning the cliffs with it, almost too often. Later we found out that they didn’t even know how Omani Owl was calling, like many foreign birders they just wanted to see it.
We were walking on the wadi-road for hours but heard only a possible, too distant Barn Owl an saw briefly a nightjar-looking bird in flight. We also saw some foxes and a cat that looked like a domestic one. After many hours trying, we were too tired to continue and made a camp under one tree and went to sleep to our tent.
On Christmas night we woke up a couple of times to listen but heard nothing except some crickets. Finally we woke up at 6 a.m. when it was still completely dark, but soon the sun was rising and surprisingly quickly it was shining over the mountains.
From the cliffs and trees next to our tent we could hear Striolated Bunting singing and soon we heard calls that were easy to identify as a Plain Leaf Warbler. We found the bird soon and it even started to sing. Soon we found some more Plain Leaf Warblers and the first Hume’s Wheatear high from the cliffs.
Other birds in the wadi were House Sparrows, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Pale Crag Martins and stunning semirufus Blackstarts.
We continued further along the wadi to a small plantation where we found a Red-tailed Wheatear, a Bluethroat, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, some Chiffchaffs and Purple Sunbirds and a Grey Wagtail. Soon we heard strange calls from the rocks and then saw a flock of Grey Francolines in flight. They landed to a tree nearby and we managed to see these birds quite well. And soon they started to call intensively.
When we were driving back towards the main road we stopped a couple of times on the more vegetated parts of the wadi and still found more Striolated Buntings, Plain Leaf Warblers, Black Redstarts, the first Lesser Whitethroat of the trip and a Long-billed Pipit.
Finally we were continuing towards the mountains and after we had passed a check-point where only 4 wheel-drives were passing through, we started to climb towards Saiq plateau. We were climbing for more than 20 kilometers and saw a Blue Rock Thrush, a couple of Hume’s Wheatears, a Kestrel and a Long-billed Pipit.
We continued to Wadi Bani Habib where we parked to the end of the road and walked down to well vegetated wadi. We found some Chiffchaffs (both Siberian and Common), Plain Leaf Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats. Most of the Lesser Whitethroats sounded like halimodendri, but we also heard some blythi-type of birds. Also normal-type of ”tsec” -calls were heard, but probably other subspecies can call like that too. Other birds we found were a female Common Redstart, a couple of Song Thrushes and we heard calls of Sand Partridges.
There was an old abandoned village in the wadi that had been bombed in Jebel Aghbar war. Hanna found a large shell of an old bomb there. When we had climbed the steep stairs back to the parking place, we saw an Egyptian Vulture soaring above the mountain.
Once we were back on the main road we continued higher again. But the landscape was so arid that we didn’t really know where to start birding. So we found only some more Chiffchaffs, Plain Leaf Warblers, a Kestrel and a Blue Rock Thrush and a Song Thrush. Views were great and we stopped often for photographing scenery and searching for vultures.
Finally we started to drive down along the never-ending downhills towards Birkat Al Mawz. There we started a long drive around the mountains and on the way we saw some Green Bee-eaters and Collared Doves. It was already getting dark when we turned to a small road and continued to a wadi from where we had much newer information about Omani Owl.
We were again listening for hours and finally heard something else except the crickets too. First we heard a distant Pallid Scops Owl and then also a calling Barn Owl.
There was surprisingly lot of traffic on the tiny wadi-road and some locals were driving back and forth the wadi and lightening the cliffs with huge torches. It seemed that they were hunting something. Locals didn’t bother us too much, they just shouted: ”How are you?” or ”Good evening” and kept on driving.
Finally after 5 hours waiting and walking around the wadi I decided to mimic Omani Owl and surprisingly we heard one clear hoot from the top of the cliffs. It was like answering: ”Here I am”. But then we waited for an hour more and heard nothing anymore.
It was almost 2 a.m. when we gave up and went to sleep to our tent that was right on the place where we had heard the Omani Owl.
Second mountain day
On the Boxing Day we had to wake up too soon. But when we heard Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse calling from the sky, we were fully awake. Again there were Striolated Buntings singing and also an Indian Silverbill flew over us. From the trees we found Plain Leaf Warblers, Chiffchaffs and halimodendri Lesser Whitethroats. We also saw a Long-billed Pipit and found a small flock of Desert Larks before we packed up and continued towards Al Ghubrah.
On the way we saw a Grey Wagtail and the first Indian Roller of the trip. There was a new motorway being built and it was very difficult to find the right roads towards our destination, but somehow we managed. Finally we were in Al Ghubrah plateau that was surrounded by distant cliffs. It was hard to imagine that this huge stony plateau was sometimes full of water during the rainy season.
The area was so big that again we had difficulties to decide where to start birding, but anyway we soon found some aucheri Great Grey Shrikes and Red-tailed Wheatears. After we had flushed a couple of Sand Partridges and seen also Pale Crag Martins, Green Bee-eaters, a couple of Long-billed Pipits, a female Common Redstart and Black Redstarts, we continued to the end of the road to small village of Wukan. We did a mistake and drove up to the village where was only a tiny parking place in the end of extremely steep uphill. Of course there was a car coming down just before we reached the parking place. I turned quickly to the beginning of the parking place without noticing very high boulder and got our car almost stack from the bottom. Luckily there was only a tiny scratch on the bottom even though I though the whole car was broken as the sound had been awful. We should have parked down under the village and walk the last hundreds of meters.
And after all we didn’t see any reason to stay up in the village for long as we saw only some Pale Crag Martins. So soon I wanted to drive back down as I didn’t want to have another car driving up before we go.
We still did a couple of stops on the plateau but pretty soon we were driving down again. We stopped in Al Ghubrah village, but local children were throwing stones from a hill to cars that were driving under them, so we didn’t want to leave our car parked. Luckily these children were just toddlers and their stones were too big, but probably they could have managed to hit a parked car? So after we had seen some Purple Sandbirds, Indian Silverbills and White-eared Bulbuls we kept on driving.
Car change and towards the coast
We still walked on one vegetated wadi and found some Plain Leaf Warblers, a Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of Menestries’s Warblers before continued towards Muscat. On the way we saw a Desert Wheatear and later some Indian Rollers. And again close to Seeb airport we saw the same birds by the pool plus there were now some Glossy Ibises too. We couldn’t find any place to fill our tank, but luckily gas is cheap so returning our car with half tank wasn’t expensive either.
The scratch wasn’t luckily noticed at all and soon we were in Budget office where we got now much smaller Suzuki 2 wheel drive for the rest of the trip. This car was very much cheaper than 4 wheel drive, 10 days were cheaper than 2 days with Kia.
Our Suzuki wasn’t the best car to drive but after some driving it got easier. We were happy that car trunk was spacious and all of our luggage fitted in without a problem. We had a long drive towards the western coast and Barr Al Hikman.
Soon we were driving on a desert where almost no birds were seen. Before it started to get dark we saw only bird to mention, a Brown-necked Raven. In the darkness we saw a Red Fox, a long-eared hare and some king of mouse.
Driving in darkness was pretty dangerous as Omani drivers weren’t very good. They were overtaking very badly after driving a long time far too close even though there was space to overtake. Some overtakers pushed us to shoulder as they were just keeping their speed without even thinking to change the line. And once when I was driving on the shoulder, there was suddenly a huge truck-tyre on our way! And with rental cars we couldn’t drive faster than 114 km/h as then rental cars started to beep. Once we had a truck coming towards us on our line. The driver had probable fell asleep, but luckily woke up in time and managed to get back to his line. Later there had been a very bad accident where both cars had completely burned. There was no traffic control, all cars were just driving around the crash site on the desert and trucks had to wait someone to come to clean the road. There were also camels walking along the road and speed-bumps in every village and around every police station that were plenty. Some of them were painted, some marked with a sign that almost never was on the right place and some weren’t marked at all. And most roads were 120 km/h so we really had to be careful to notice every single bump!
Finally when we were getting close to Filim, we started to search a place where to camp. The first track went to a rubbish tip but the along the second track we found a suitable place. After cooking, we ate well and were soon sleeping under extremely bright stars.
Barr Al Hikman waders
On the 27th of December we woke up again before the sunset. We packed our car and after we had seen a small flock of Desert Larks, we continued towards Filim.
We had checked the timing of tide already at home, so we knew that water-level was now rising. But when we got to the shore, we could see that water and birds were still very far.
There were lots of waders but they were still very far. So first we were mostly identifying Flamingos, Spoonbills, Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, different kind of Western Reef Egrets and Great Cormorants. There were also plenty of gulls and terns. Gulls were mostly Heuglin’s and Steppe but there were also 20 Sooty Gulls. Terns were 20 Caspian Terns, a Gull-billed Tern and the best ones 5 Saunder’s Terns.
Slowly the rising water was pushing birds closer and we started to identify waders. Curlews, Whimbrels, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey and Pacific Golden Plovers, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Black-winged Stilts, an Avocet, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Spotted and Marsh Sandpipers, about 100 Terek Sandpipers, a couple of Common Sandpipers, lots of Dunlins and Little Stints and some Curlew Sandpipers and a couple of Common Snipes were seen. But the best birds were more than 100 Crab Plovers and Great Knots that in the beginning only 3 were seen in flight but later we counted at least 70 still quite distant birds.
Other birds seen were Marsh Harriers, Ospreys, some Sommon Kingfisherrs, a couple of Citrine Wagtails, Desert Wheatears, Common Chiffchaffs, Clamorous Reed Warblers and a Bluethroat.
While the water was still rising, we tried to find a good spot where birds would be closest to the shore, but unfortunately not many waders came close. There were still some reefs in the middle of the distant shore where huge flocks of birds gathered. So after some time, we decided to change our plans and leave towards south. We had planned to stay in Barr Al Hikman area for 2 days, but as we had already seen the species we had hoped, we wanted to get one extra day for the future.
So soon we were driving through the deserts again and saw only some Brown-necked Ravens and Hanna saw a Hoopoe Lark briefly.
Finally we were in our next destination which was beautiful Khawr Dhurf. We managed to drive pretty close to the lagoon and walked to the shore. Right away we saw some Pintails, Shoverels, Teals, Gadwalls and Garganeys, Great White Egrets, Grey Herons and Western Reef Herons, Great Cormorants, 3 Pochards and a Black-necked Grebe. Heuglin’s and Steppe Gull flock had also some Slender-billed Gulls and 2 Pallas’s Gulls. Caspian and Gull-billed Terns were numerous and a Sandwich Tern was flying over the sea and again we saw 5 Saunder’s Terns. There weren’t many waders but 8 Avocets were nice and other birds seen were White Wagtails and a couple of Crested Larks and a Desert Wheatear.
It was getting dark when we continued towards south. While we were driving along the coast we saw a few Ospreys roosting on the poles along the road.
We had driven 600 km during the day when we finally arrived at Ash Shuwaimiyah. There we made a decision that we wouldn’t try to drive along the Wadi as we had no idea if it was drivable with our car. So we continued along the coast some 20 kilometers and found a rocky track towards the shore. We drove through an open gate and saw some people on the shore with head-lights. We had no idea what they were doing but we put up our tent and started cooking. We just hoped that they wouldn’t close the gate at night.
Ash Shuwaimiyah area
On the 28th of December we woke up next to a nice beach and soon we had packed and tried to drive to the shore. The track was in very bad shape so after all we had to walk. When we were on the beach we found out that the people that had been there in the evening were tourists camping in the shore and taking faked holiday pictures to Instagram.
There were huge numbers of terns on the sea but they were too distant. Most of them seemed to be Whiskered Terns but some White-winged Terns and a couple of Common Terns were also seen. Bigger terns were easier and they were mostly Greater Crested Terns but also some Lesser Crested Terns and Sandwich Terns were seen.
Along the beach we saw a couple of bigger flocks of gulls and most of them were Sooty Gulls but again both Heuglin’s and Steppe Gulls, some Caspian Gulls and a Black-headed Gulls were identified. After some scanning to the sea we found the first Masked Booby and later a few more were seen. But the reason why we had been staying in this place were Socotra Cormorants that were perched on the wall quite far. There has sometimes been tens of thousands of them but now we counted about 1000 birds. and unfortunately they were much further than we had expected.
After some time we headed towards Ash Shuwaimiyah again and on the way we saw the first Arabian Wheatear and some Desert Larks.
Luckily we noticed a khawr before turning to the wadi. There were quite a good number of birds and some better ones too as we found 4 African Pygmy Geese, some Coots and Moorhens, 2 Avocets, 2 Squacco Herons with an Indian Pond Heron, a couple of Western Cattle Egrets, some Common Ringed Plovers, a Red-necked Phalarope and some 20 ducks with the first Wigeons of the trip. Other birds seen were a couple of Red-tailed Shrikes, Clamorous Reed Warblers and a Pintailed Snipe that was identified after we had seen it a couple of times and managed to get some pictures
Next we continued to Wadi Ash Shuwaimiyah and in the beginning the track was in quite good condition but pretty soon we found out that it was impossible to continued further with our car. The best places would have been 20 kilometers inside the wadi. Anyway we stopped a couple of times to walk in this beautiful wadi and found a couple of Arabian Wheatears, Tristram’s Grackles, some Hoopoes, White-spectacled Bulbuls and a beautiful male Common Rock Thrush.
Ordinarily we had planned to stay over night in the end of the road where Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses and Desert Owls were supposed to be but 4 wheel drive would have been necessary. So now we were already driving back towards the main road and soon headed towards south again.
Next 200 km we were first driving along the coast but soon got inland to mountains where we saw a Bonelli’s Eagle, a Steppe Eagle, an Arabian Wheatear, some Desert Wheatears and Desert Larks. While we were driving up and down the mountain-road we found a beautiful oasis with palm-trees and a small pool. A Coot was swimming on the pool, Tristram’s Grackles were noisy on the cliffs, a couple of Green Bee-eaters were flying around and we also saw a Blackstart. I also saw 2 birds very briefly in flight but all I managed to notice was some amazingly bright blue on their back. I had no idea what I had seen…
When we were driving again we saw another Blackstart and a falcon that probably was a Barbary Falcn but it was seen too briefly. Near Hasik we checked a couple of khawrs but saw only a Coot and a Yellow Wagtail. Later we saw a Green Bee-eater, a Booted Eagle, a Greater Spotted Eagle and a beatifully bright-coloured lizard crossing the road.
The coastal road was very scenery and as it was local weekend there were lots of families and groups of people under big acasia-trees spending holiday and having barbecue.
Finally at Dhofar
After long driving we were in Dhofar where we headed straight to Mirbat and to Khawr Stimar. We almost immediately found a flock of 4 African Sacred Ibises and also a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that was with some waders. Also a couple of Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, some ducks with a single Tufted Duck, a couple of Marsh Harriers and Western Cattle Egrets, a Little Egret and a couple of Isabelline Wheatears were seen.
We had planned to stay in hotel for next night so we went to Mirbat Marriot to ask the prices for the cheapest rooms, but those prices weren’t for us. So after we had photographed some Common Mynahs and House Crows and got rid of our rubbish-bags, we continued towards Ras Mirbat and parked our car as close to the shore as possible and walked to do some afternoon sea-watching.
Soon Hanna started to talk about some storm petrel -looking birds that were flying only short distances very far on the sea. I tried to find them too with my scope but soon found a Persian Shearwater flying low over the sea. Luckily Hanna found it soon too and then we saw the small birds too and they were Red-necked Phalaropes. In an hour we saw altogether 6 Persian Shearwaters, 4 Masked Boobies and surprisingly 2 African Pygmy Geese flying on the sea. Also a Water Pipit was seen.
We had noticed that there was a motel next to our sea-watching place so we went to ask prices again. The French owner gave us a small discount and we got a nice room with 30 Rial. But then there was no warm water and the bathroom was full of some small flying insects. Anyway it was nice to have very good food in the restaurant, spend some time on the internet, and then sleep on a soft bed!
On the 29th of December we were sleeping too well on our comfortable bed as I had put my alarm wrong. Luckily I woke up just before the sun was rising and soon we had packed everything and heading towards the mountains and Wadi Hanna.
The instructions to Wadi Hanna were quite a mess but with navigator and printed satellite-pictures we found out that we were after all much closer to the place than we were supposed to get with our car. With the maps on my phone we could be sure where we were. So we parked our car and walked along a poor track towards the wadi and soon after we had seen the first bigger Baobab trees, we started to find some interesting birds.
We were now so south that the species were completely different than in north. So now the common bunting was a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Soon we found the first amazingly beautiful male African Paradise Flycatcher and after some walking more female-plumaged birds. A flock of Arabian Partridges flew over the track and luckily some of them stopped to the rocks and we could take some pictures of them. On the top of Baobab-trees we saw flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes and some Siberian Chiffchaffs and we also found some Blackstarts and the first Arabian Warbler.
We walked down to a small spring and found more Abyssinian White-eyes, Siberian Chiffchaffs, African Paradise Flycatchers, Blackstarts but also a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Green Sandpiper, a couple of Palestine Sunbirds, a Sparrowhawk and a Bonelli’s Eagle. We also managed to find a place where small birds were drinking so we stayed there for some time taking pictures. Once we had climbed pack to our car, we found one or two Black-crowned Tchagras.
Wadi Hanna was very nice place, but we didn’t know if all the other places were even nicer, so pretty soon we headed towards our next destination which was Tawi Attair.
When we had driven up to the mountain, we found a dead cow along the road and it was no surprise that there were lots of Fan-tailed Ravens but also 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles nearby. While we were photographing these birds we also saw a small flock of Rüppell’s Weavers on the bushes.
Finally we parked to Tawi Attair and soon found out how bad condition this touristic place now was. There had been a cafeteria somewhere in the past but now even some walls had fallen down and yard had been used as cattle feeding area. There were no signs at all either. Anyway the sinkhole was visible and there was a wooden path going towards it. But we didn’t head straight there but started to walk around the buildings and between the buildings and a farm that was a bit higher one the hillside.
Our target was a Yemen Serin that had been found in this place at 1997. This species was otherwise found only in Yemen. We found lots of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, House Sparrows, Rüppell’s Weavers, a couple of Arabian Wheatears, a few African Silverbills, a Tree Pipit and some Shining and Palestine Sunbirds. After I had seen the first male Shining Sunbird I realized what that two birds I had seen in the oasis day before had been, the electric-blue flash on these birds back was beautiful. We also saw a coupe of Bonelli’s Eagles, Eastern Imperial Eagles and Steppe Eagles, Fan-tailed Ravens and Pale Rock Martins but we couldn’t find any Yemen Serins.
So after a hot search, we headed to the sinkhole as we knew serins had sometimes been seen there too. The view was spectacular and it was a surprise that a couple of other tourist that came there started to walk towards the bottom of the sinkhole. We didn’t know it was possible to go down and it was too hot to do so anyway.
On the cliffs we saw and heard plenty of Tristram’s Grackles, one more African Paradise Flycatcher and some Abyssinian White-eyes, but still no Yemen Serins.
After some relaxed watching to the sinkhole, we walked back to check the area around the old coffee-house. And finally Hanna found a single Yemen Serin perched on the electric-wire. Luckily I managed to see it too before it flew far towards the farm.
This was enough of Tawi Attair so after we had visited shop nearby, we continued higher to the mountain. Finally we parked close to Jebel Samhan view-point next to a big communication-tower.
We had hardly managed to get out of our car when we saw a Verreaux’s Eagle falling straight down from the sky behind the cliffs. We hurried after it and saw it again falling behind the next cliffs far a way. Altogether we had seen this bird for maybe one second, but of course it had been easy ti identify.
We took something to eat and drink with us and found a good place to sit and wait for the eagle. The view was amazing and it wasn’t hot at all on the top of the mountain.
But for the next hour we only saw a couple of Barbary Falcons flying very quickly over us a couple of times. Once we had walked back to parking place, we met a Dutch couple who had just moved to Oman after many visits earlier. We were talking about birds and birding when we finally saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle flying over us and a couple of Verreaux’s Eagles came under the cliff to chase it away. Now we saw these eagles beautifully and after some flying they flew back under the cliff but another of them turned and landed to the top of the cliff almost to the place where we had been sitting earlier. So we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this stunning eagle both in flight and perched.
We were happy when we started to drive back down towards the coast. But luckily we remembered that some birders had seen some Singing Bush Larks between Tawi Attair and Wadi Darbat. We drove some time before we found a little bit greener field with dry taller vegetation. The field didn’t really look good at all but after just 20 meters walking, we flushed a Singing Bush Lark. And after all we found at least 10 of them only 100 meters from our car. So it seemed that this species is very easy to find also in the mid-winter.
When we were approaching Wadi Darbat we found out that it was a much more touristic place than any other place we had visited. On the first water-fall there were several groups of school-children and quite a few other tourists. We found easily Abyssinian White-eyes, a couple of African Paradise Flycatchers, Blackstarts and a couple of Little Egrets but soon continued along the road to a more quiet place. There we found same species but also a couple of Green Sandpipers and Garganeys and lots of Rüppell’s Weavers. And it didn’t take long before Hanna found a Bruce’s Green Pigeon hiding in an figtree. Unfortunately this bird was too shy to get good pictures and soon it flew behind the trees and disappeared.
While we were cooking we heard very funny Bruce’s Green Pigeon calling straight above us. But again when we found the bird visible, it left. After we had eaten, we walked around a couple of pools but found only a Common Snipe, a Squacco and a Purple Heron, a couple of Tawny Pipits and Turkestan Shrikes. A couple of Bonelli’s Eagles were soaring on the sky and a Kestrels were chasing each others above the cliffs. Pale Rock Martin flocks were flying over us and in one flock I saw a Red-rumped Swallow.
When the sun started to set all other people had left. And soon Arabian Scops Owls started to call. They had funny burring call. And soon they were calling all around us! We heard at least 12 birds and pretty easily managed to see one very well.
We had hoped to get to internet much better during the trip, so we didn’t know which part of this much bigger area than we had expected birders had heard Spotted Eagle Owls. Luckily our good friend Mikko Ala-Kojola helped us and sent some coordinated that were in Observation.org by SMS.
So after some listening we put up the camp to a parking place right next to the coordinates and sat down to listen. We also walked around the area and even drove a little bit to cover bigger area but didn’t hear anything else except Arabian Scops Owls and crickets. Only once we heard a Long-eared Owl -type of bird calling shortly, but it stopped too soon. It would have been a good record…
Finally we gave up and went to sleep. But at night I woke up at 3:40 to a low calls and I had to listen a couple of calls before I woke up Hanna and said: ”There it is now!”. And a Spotted Eagle Owl was calling right above our tent! We got out and found the bird on the top of a tall tree but it flushed almost immediately and flew further and didn’t call anymore.
More Dhofar places
On the 30th of December we woke up early and it was still completely dark when we packed up. A couple of Arabian Scops Owls were still calling. Soon we were driving towards Ayn Tobrok and we were there already before the sun was rising.
Around the spring we found several African Paradise Flycatchers, Abyssinian White-eyes, Rüppell’s Weavers, a Blackstart and heard calls that sounded very good, but it took a long time before I saw the bird and could identify it as a Taiga Flycatcher!
We waited for a long that our target-bird would arrive to drink to the pool, but only after a couple of hours the first birds arrived to drink and they were Chestnut-breasted Buntings. A couple of big herds of Camels came to drink to the pool and one shepherd tried to give us one litre of Camel-milk, but somehow we managed to refuse. He was speaking Arabic but we managed to understand that he also invited us to eat to his house later and told that he at least sometimes had bigger and smaller owls in his garden. We managed to refuse this offer too and finally he moved away with his Camels.
We saw some Steppe Eagles, a a Short-toed Eagle, some Kestrels and a Common Snipe but our target bird was still missing. Once we heard very promising calls from the top of the hills, but we could hear the bird or birds moving to wrong direction. Then finally I saw 2 birds flying over us. They looked perfect except they were smaller than I had expected. Hanna also managed to see these two birds flying over us and they indeed were Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks. Somehow the grosbeak-name had made me thought that these birds were bigger than they really were. But these birds never landed they just flew over the valley as far as we could see.
When we back on the coast our first place was Khawr Taqah which was completely overgrown. It was surrounded by a walk-way, but it was easy to see that this park wasn’t really used. We found some African Silverbills and Rose-ringed Parakeets from the trees and on the lagoon we saw some Flamingos, Shovelers, a couple of Moorhens and saw 2 Purple Herons in flight. A Reed Warbler was singing on the reeds.
We continued to East Khawr which was much better. But there were also lots of people, so we checked the lagoon only from the eastern shore. A couple of Greater Spotted Eagles were perched on the trees calling all the time, in a flock of waders we saw Ruffs and Black-winged Stilts and 2 Squacco Herons and an Indian Pond Heron were on the opposite side of the lagoon. We also heard a couple of Water Rails calling shortly.
We drove to the other side of the khawr but couldn’t see the lagoon any better but found a small pool where were some Ringed Plovers, Temminck’s Stints and a Citrine Wagtail.
Nearby was a park which had earlier been a regular place to see Crested Honey Buzzards, but now the park seemed to be completely closed. It was also very dry and we couldn’t see any birds inside the park even though we walked around it. Only some House Crows were on the trees outside the park. So we walked to the beach and sat for a little time on the shadow and watched to the sea where a couple of Masked Boobies were seen.
Next we drove to Al Baleed Archaeological Park where we walked behind the Fransiscence Museum and easily found about 15 Spotted Thick-knees from the shadows of the bushes. These birds were pretty easy to photograph. We also continued along the park to a big birdtower-like tower from where we could see the khawr. Moorhens, a couple of Mallards and Little Grebes, 3 Purple Herons, 2 Spur-winged Lapwings and again a singing Reed Warbler were found. Then we decided to go to visit the museum as it was the hottest time of the day.
In the afternoon we tried first to see somehow to closed Sahnawt Farm. Along the main road we couldn’t see much, just a Citrine Wagtail, about 10 displaying Singing Bush Larks, some Barn Swallows and very distant flocks of Whiskered Terns and Western Cattle Egrets. There were also Rock Doves everywhere on the farm. But in the heat of the day there was also lots of haze so visibility wasn’t very good.
From the western side of the farm we could see the area much better but all we found were 5 European Rollers, lots of Rüppell’s Weavers with one single bird in full breeding plumage, some flocks of African Silverbills and a Turkestan Shrike. From the eastern side we didn’t find any good place. some eagles were soaring on the sky, but after all we were a little disappointed that it was not possible to get inside the gates.
We continued next to Ayn Razat which was much smaller than we had expected. There wasn’t much good-looking habitat around the spring. I also forgot to use hand-brake on the parking place while we were packing our bags. Our car was stupid and it didn’t have a parking gear at all, so our car was slowly sliding to a post and once again there was a scratch in our rental car… So I wasn’t in very good mood when we started birding around the spring.
The only good-looking park was closed so we tried to see if there was something through the fence. There were plenty of Palestine and some Shining Sunbirds on the flowering bushes and some Hoopoes, White Wagtails and Water Pipits were walking on the grass.
Outside the fence we saw only lots of Rüppell’s Weavers, a several Oriental garden lizards, Short necked skink and a couple of funny tame Nile rats. On the spring we saw a male African Paradise Flycatcher catching something from the water but unfortunately it moved away before Hanna could get any pictures.
Pretty soon we continued to Ayn Hamran that we expected to be very good place but once we got there it didn’t look that amazing. There was also a small spring that was surrounded by a concrete and some trees around. But a stream continued down and there were more tree along the stream. There was also some trees and bushes higher up on the valley. But also here we soon found out that there weren’t many wintering birds and migrants. It seemed that this time f year wasn’t as good as November or February when there are more migrants. Another reason for less birds may have been autumn rains, there were much more vegetation in the desert than usually, maybe birds were just spread around?
So again we found Abyssinian White-eyes and Rüppell’s Weavers, some African Paradise Flycatchers, Shining and Palestine Sunbirds and African Silverbills easily. We walked along the stream and found a Green Sandpiper, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Turkestan Shrike and heard some Arabian Partridges. Lower along the stream we found some figtrees and there were about 20 Bruce’s Green Pigeons. Again they were extremely shy but some better pictures were finally got before they had all flight away.
We also climbed higher to the valley where we could enjoy a beautiful sunset. When there were nobody else around anymore, we put up our tent under one of the biggest trees.
Soon we heard a Wolf howling on the top of the closest mountain and then a couple of different Wolves answering from the other tops further. Then it was quiet for a long time until we heard a distant Spotted Eagle Owl. We tried to walk closer but soon found out that the bird was very far. We had thought the call of this owl is much weaker as the bird we had heard earlier had sounded so weak, but it seemed to carry a long way anyway.
Soon after we had got into our tent, an Arabian Scops Owl started to call right above us. I thought it will keep us awake all night, but luckily it stopped calling soon. At night we woke up when a herd of Camels passed our tent. And then a couple of them stayed under the tree and started eating the lowest branches. They were jumping to their back-feet to reach the branches and it was very noisy. We couldn’t make them to go away, so we moved to sleep into our car, as we were a little bit worried if camels could somehow stumble with our tent-strings. They are quite heavy animals…
We woke up a couple of times to listen and heard a couple of Arabian Scops Owls and once the Spotted Eagle Owl was calling much closer. We walked again after it, but it stopped and was later calling much further again.
Early in the morning we walked around the spring and tried to see the Bruce’s Green Pigeons better. They were as shy as before and other birds were different kind of calls of Lesser Whitethroat, a Song Thrush, a Reed Warbler and the other birds seen already in the evening. soon we packed and were driving again.
When we passed Al Baleed, we saw 3 Bruce’s Green Pigeons perched on the wire. Hanna managed to get some pictures of these not so shy individuals.
Finally we were in Raysut where we first parked along the main road and walked to the shore. There were lots of birds on the wetland: big flock of White Storks, some Glossy Ibises, Western Reef Herons, a couple of Squacco and Indian Pond Herons, an Intermediate Egret, 3 African Sacred Ibises and ducks and waders. While walking to the shore we saw a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that flew to the other side of the road too soon.
There were already some Steppe Eagles and a couple of Black Kites soaring on the sky, and an Osprey was perched on the beach. Wader-flocks had same species that we had seen earlier: Dunlins, Little Stints, plovers and at least one Wood Sandpiper. Also ducks and gulls were familiar species, but in the flock with them was a young White-fronted Goose and we also saw the first feldeggi Yellow Wagtail of the trip.
After scanning the flocks for some time, we continued towards the famous rubbish tip. Unfortunately there was no other place to watch to the rubbish tip than a side of busy road. Luckily we found a shadow of a couple of small buildings and there was a dead camel next to the road that attracted some eagles. The camel was too close to the road so eagles didn’t land, but some came to soar much lower.
But most of the eagles were already perched on the hills of the rubbish tip and lots of them were flying over us towards the hills but very high. Almost all eagles were Steppe Eagles – there were hundreds of them! Also a some Eastern Imperial, a Greater Spotted and a Bonelli’s Eagle were seen.
After we had photographed eagles for some time we headed to sewage water treatment plant where the kind workers let us drive in and walk freely around the area. It seemed that they even stopped some machines when we arrived and it wasn’t really smelling bad almost at all.
From the pools we found a big flock of 450 Abdim’s Storks, tens of Western Cattle Egrets, some Spur-winged and Red-wattled Lapwings, a Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Temminck’s Stints and a Wood Sandpiper.
We walked around all pools and found a couple of Namaqua Doves from the bushes and some Citrine Wagtails and feldeggi Yellow Wagtails.
Then we thanked the workers and let them to continue their work. And it really seemed they started to work once we left.
We headed back to the rubbish tip but found out that the Camel had been moved away and all the eagles were now flying very high on the sky, or sitting on the hills too far to photograph. So we continued to a small pool that we had found on Observation.org before the trip. After a little bit searching we found a Little Pratincole. We accidentally flushed it and it was flying around the pool where were also some Flamingos, a Marsh Sandpiper and a couple of Wood Sandpipers. We decided to leave so the pratincole was able to land back.
Then we stopped along the main road but went to walk to the other side of the road where we found a couple of small overgrown lagoons where weren’t many birds visible. It was the hottest time of the day and also the hottest day so far! Only funny observation was when we saw a flock of Little Grebes chasing a swimming snake.
We still drove through huge harbor area where were lots of construction going on. We managed to find to the shore where we climbed to a hill to do some seawatching. The time of the day was wrong and also haze was bad. So we didn’t see any seabirds but we saw a couple of Green sea turtles and a big ray swimming under us.
Once we were back in the car we decided that we had been visiting enough places around Salalah. Some of the places had been worse than we had expected so we didn’t see it necessary to start exploring places that weren’t said to be so good. So we were soon driving again towards west and Al Mughsaul.
Al Mughsaul and owling again
In Al Mughsaul we found out that driving to wadi had changed as autumn storms had broken the road for several hundreds of meters. We had to go around one mountain to get to the village. Floods had also destroyed the khawr completely so there was no reason to check it for birds. Anyway the new track to wadi was easy to find so we started to drive along it.
We knew that we should drive 6 km from the beginning of the ordinary track to get to the best area of the wadi and the first 4 km was usually possible to drive with normal car. But we had no idea what how was the track after last autumn. The beginning of the track was pretty bad but then it got much better.
We continued along the track and followed again printed satellite-picture and maps on my phone. After 4 km the track continued almost similar with some pretty soft areas, so we continued driving and after all managed to drive about 6 km to a place where it was impossible to drive further. We parked our car and Hanna started cooking and I went to walk along the track further to see how the track was changing. We had different kind of information about our target bird, it was said that it was 4 km from a place where it was possible to get with 2 wheel-drive but also that it was 2 km from a place where it was possible to get with 4 wheel-drive.
I think it was impossible to go much further with 4 wheel-drive, so I didn’t walk far and when I got back the food was ready and there was a tame Arabian Wheatear male next to our car. Female was staying much further all the time. Once this male was perched on our wind-screen and moved then to side-mirror, while I was sitting in the car.
Luckily our friend Mikko Ala-Kojola had again helped us and sent us coordinates where our target bird had been only a couple of days earlier. And surprisingly we found out that the gps-point was only 700 meters from us! We just had to hope that the point was in right place, but of course we were ready to walk along the wadi if necessary.
When we had eaten it was already getting dark. So we started to walk along the wadi and after about 600 meters when it was only 6 p.m. we heard a nice call of a Desert Owl! But right after that a herd of Camels was coming along the track and we of course moved away from the track. But for some reason all Camels got scared of something or then just started to run for some reason. And next 15 minutes there were more and more camels coming and they all started running in the same place. So we didn’t hear anything. Camels were going close to our car where shepherds had a camp.
While we were sitting on the rocks and waiting for the owl to start again, shepherds were probably counting Camels with their torches and we could see the shadows of the Camels in front of us on the cliffs. It was amazing!
After the Camel show it was completely dark and we walked to a place that was about 1.5 km from our car to sit down to the rocks. Finally Desert Owl started howling again and then it was calling for a long time and moving around the wadi. Once we heard a female type call too. An after a long wait the male was finally calling on the closest wall so we could see it pretty well with our head-lights. It was still too far to photograph, but we didn’t want to disturb the bird, so we were happy to see it well enough.
Once we were walking back to our car we saw several funny-looking frogs on the track. We had to use stones to get our tent up and when we were sitting down in the darkness, another Desert Owl started calling much closer. We could still hear also the further bird.
We were eating something good and celebrating New Year for some time listening a couple of Desert Owls. We couldn’t use any light as a huge Mole Cricket was following the light all the time.
But after all we were so tired that we went to sleep very early. So the year changed while we were sleeping, but we woke up a couple of times to listen that Desert Owls were calling for whole night.
New Year – same hassle
On the 1st of January we still heard one Desert Owl after 6 a.m. The second year-tick was Arabian Wheatear and 3rd Tristram’s Grackle.
Pretty soon we were driving back along the wadi and for some reason driving back was much more difficult. We hit the bottom of the car a couple of times and almost got stuck to the rounded river gravel. We also found that there was no plate under our car engine, so we collected lots of sand and stones with us!
Finally we managed to get to the main road and then we had some problems with our car. There were many loose but also stack stones in different places under our car that driving was very noisy. We stopped in the service station, but I could only get rid of some loose stones.
We bought some drinks and snacks and took a risk and started driving towards west from where we hoped to take a road toward north to Mudday. We had no idea what kind of road it was, but we decided to have a look.
It was good that we were soon climbing up to the mountain along very curvy and steep road as we got rid of most of the rocks and sand. Pretty soon the car seemed to work OK again. But still after several days we could hear some rocks dropping from the bottom.
The views were stunning but there weren’t many birds on the mountain. Just some Tristram’s Grackles and wheatears. Finally we were stopped at military check-point where we were asked where we were going. When we asked Mudday, they had no idea where it was. One man finally knew the place and he told us that the road is: ”Good, but not good-good”. When we asked if it has asphalt, the answer was: ”No” with a big laugh.
We didn’t want to drive 100 km more along bad roads, so we decided to turn around and it meant that we had a long drive back to Salalah, then north to Thumrait and then west to Mudday. But it wasn’t so bad as in Al Mughsaul we saw some dolphins close to the shore, while passing Raysut we saw that the big flock of White Storks and some Glossy Ibises were still present and north from Salalah we saw an Arabian Partridge standing on a rock next to the road and couple of adult female Pallid Harriers.
When we had turned towards Mudday, we were in a real desert again. It was no surprise that we saw a couple of Hoopoe Larks along the road. There was almost no traffic but right when we saw some sandgrouses along the road, there were cars coming both ways. We managed to turn back and drove slowly towards the birds, but they were shy and started flying straight away from us. Luckily we had managed to identify these 4 birds as Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses and they could be identified from our bad flight-pictures too.
After a long drive we finally made it to Mudday where we first stopped at a Camel-farm. There were lots of Collared Doves but they were extremely flighty and even though we saw several promising looking birds in flight, it took some time to find one African Collared dove perched. This should’ve been a good spot for Sand Partridge too but we didn’t find any in a short walk.
Soon we continued through the village to a small picnic-area where was a small pool surrounded with date palm-plantation. The ground was so wet that it was impossible to go to the forest, so we decided to wait next to the pool and see if there were any birds coming to drink or just showing on the trees nearby.
After some waiting we heard cat-like calls from the trees, but we didn’t see anything. Soon I saw a black and white looking bird flying towards the village but with binoculars I realized that it was actually green and yellow – a Nile Valley Sunbird. Luckily soon we found a couple of them more and Hanna got some pictures too. We also heard at least a couple of African Collared Doves calling with Eurasian Collared doves.
Once I was walking a little bit around the trees and of course then Hanna saw a Grey Hypocolius briefly. We waited for some time it to show up again, but then headed towards the village to see if there were any other good places for birds. We had driven maybe 200 meters when I saw a Grey Hypocolius flying from acasia to another one. Luckily it stayed visible for some time, so we saw it pretty well.
The day was again very hot, so pretty soon we decided to start driving again. Before Thumrait we saw again a couple of Hoopoe Larks and after some more driving we turned again towards west and Shisr.
There were already some green fields after 10 kilometers but pretty far from the road, so we kept on driving. After 75 km from the main road there were more fields and we started to see some birds. We saw an Isabelline Shrike, a couple of Montagu’s Harriers and once we were on the village we saw a Lesser Grey Shrike.
In the village we visited an archaeological site that had so poor information signs that after all we didn’t really know what place it was. Then we drove along some roads and tracks to find out where the best fields were. We still found some Tawny Pipits and a Pied Wheatear.
But sun was setting again so we concentrated to find a suitable place to camp. After all we drove a couple of kilometers along a very bumpy track to the desert where we thought would be no traffic at all.
But we were wrong. Whole night there were cars coming trough the desert as it was the short cut to Shisr from the main road. 4 wheel-drives were passing our tent very fast, but after all we slept very well.
2nd of January the night was cold, it was +9 degrees when we woke up. The whole area was in quite thick fog and our tent was completely wet.
We started birding from the palm-trees that were in the beginning of the track and then continued to check the best-looking fields we had found on the previous evening.
We found a couple of Isabelline Shrikes, an aucheri and a pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, the same Pied Wheatear, Tawny Pipits, Kestrels and Marsh Harriers. We also saw the first Skylarks, Short-toed Larks and a Red-throated Pipit of the trip and the second Tree Pipit and a male Pallid Harrier.
But pretty soon we decided to start driving towards the main road and then north. On the way we saw again a few Hoopoe Larks. We still decided to visit Dawkah Farm even though we knew it was as good place as it had used to be. Farming had almost completely been stopped but from an old abandoned field we found a flock of Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits and a couple of Desert Warblers.
When we were driving again all we saw in 150 km was a single Brown-necked Raven. Finally we were in Qitbit where we drove to a motel that was behind a service station. We were there early and probably during the praying time, but after some waiting we wound the owner. We got a simple room and right then the electricity went off. But the owner went to put the generator on immediately.
We just relaxed the hottest time of the day and it was good to have shower too. It was also good to be in a dark room so eyes got some rest too as it had been so sunny all the time during our trip.
At 3 p.m. we headed to an oasis that was nearby. It was very thick-vegetated so we couldn’t see any water but clearly there was water as there were some many animal footprints going into the bushes. We saw some Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs, a female Common Redstart, a Clamorous Reed Warbler and an Isabelline Shrike. The air smelled sulfur and we heard that many farms had quit because of there was so much sulfur in water.
In the afternoon we were checking the garden of our motel where had been many good birds during the years. But this winter clearly wasn’t good as we found only Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats (which one of them had different very nasal call), a Black Redstart, a couple of Song Thrushes and a young Pallid Harrier that was flying low around the garden.
Qitbit motel yard wasn’t nice because of truck-drivers were using it as a toilet. Otherwise the place was pretty unclean too. The restaurant nearby wasn’t very tempting, so we cooked in our room. But anyway it was good to have shower and soft bed – but internet would’ve been nice too. After all we were the only people staying in the motel, but aggregate was on whole night making electricity for us.
On the 3rd of January we woke up at 5 a.m. and visited the oasis again. We saw a couple of jumping mouse on the headlights, but not a single bird.
After we had collected our luggage from the motel, we were soon driving towards Muntasar. There were supposed to be traffic-signs but after all we had to use my phone-maps again to find the right road. Then we realized that this track was in quite bad shape and it was still more than 20 km to Muntasar. We had no idea if we could make it with our car.
But at 7 a.m. we saw the oasis and soon were walking around this big thick-vegetated area. There was water in a couple of places and also the desert behind the oasis was very green for several kilometers. It was again very humid and foggy. Surprisingly there were again some people visiting the water-pools, so we weren’t so worried anymore what would happend if our car would brake down.
Again there were the same species: both Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Clamorous Reed Warblers, Isabelline Shrikes and a loose flock of 10 Kestrels flew over us. We also saw a Crested Lark, a Desert Wheatear, 3 Bluethroats and 6 Water Pipits with one paler pipit that we never saw well – it might had been a Buff-bellied Pipit.
We were waiting for sandgrouses to come to drink. They were supposed to come after 9 a.m. and there had been hundreds or even thousands of them in the past. But some newer trip-reports told that there had been every year less and less birds coming. One year earlier only some birds had been seen landing to desert and not coming to drink at all.
After 9 a.m. Collared Doves started to arrive to drink, so at least the water was still drinkable. There were some dead Mallards and corpses of a White Stork and a Great Cormorant and the only living bird on the pools was a Little Stint. We kept on waiting and heard a Turtle Dove singing shortly.
But when 10 a.m. we still hadn’t seen a single sandgrouse, we decided to give up. Maybe there was enough water in the desert as it was so green in big area? So soon we were driving towards the main road where we managed to get without problems.
After a long drive in the north again
It was a long drive towards north and in next 500 kilometers we saw only a flock of Rock Doves on the rood of one service station, 12 Brown-necked Ravens and a couple of brief wheatear sights. When we came close to the mountains, we started to see some birds again.
After a long and exhausting drive we turned to the same wadi where we had been on the first night of the trip. We had decided to give one more try for Omani Owl as this place was reachable with our car.
In the evening we saw a Red-tailed Wheatear, a Hume’s Wheatear, a Plain Leaf Warbler, Striolated Buntings, White-spectacled Bulbuls and heard a Grey Francolin.
When it was completely dark a family of Red Foxes were making a lot of noise on the cliffs. Then we heard a Little (Lilith) Owl calling shortly from distance. We cooked again big portions of food and managed to stay up until 11 p.m. when we were too tired to continue and went to sleep to our tent.
On the 4th of January we started in the wadi and saw the familiar species like Striolated Buntings, Plain Leaf Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a Lesser Whitethroat, a couple of Purple Sunbirds, a Hume’s Wheatear, some Black Redstarts and heard again some Grey Francolins.
Pretty soon we were on the road again and as we had been out of money already for a couple of days, we needed to find a way to get some more. Our Visa-cards hadn’t been working and we had a couple of days before realized that we got only that amount of cash what was needed for gasolin to get out from the desert. So we soon stopped to a large hotel to ask information how to get money on Friday which is like local Sunday.
There were lots of Purple Sunbirds, White-eared Bulbuls and Common Mynahs on the garden and we got information that some tourists had got the same problem with us and there was one ATM that had been giving money for those with problems. And luckily soon we got money and it was good to buy some cold drinks and snacks as we hadn’t been able to bye anything for a couple of days.
We continued driving north western side of the mountains and along the road we saw some raptor movement, some tens of Steppe Eagles and an Egyptian Vulture. Later we saw a couple of Egyptian Vultures more but still we hadn’t seen any Lapped-faced Vultures which was said to be common.
It was again a long drive and we were stopped a couple of times as we were close to UAE border. But we couldn’t visit as we had Visas only for one visit. When we were finally on the northern side of the mountains there were three big motorways going side by side towards north even though there weren’t many people living there. Our destination Khatmat Malaha was surrounded by these motorways and even though there had been big signs to this village there was no proper exit to the village at all. We just had to take a sandy track from the motorway.
We found the village and drove through it to a sparsely forested semi-deserted area where we started to search for Variable Wheatears.
When we started walking around the area, we Immediately started to see some birds. There were lots of noisy House Crows, Common Mynahs and Rose-ringed Parakeets on the trees, a few Hoopoes under the trees and from bushes we found about 20 Arabian Babblers. Also Black Redstarts, Purple Sunbirds, a few Green Bee-eaters, 3 Namaqua Doves, Graceful Prinias, nasally calling Lesser Whitethroats, a Desert Warbler and an Eastern Orphean Warbler were found. But only wheatears we found were an Isabelline Wheatear and one briefly seen female Pied Wheater -looking bird that I thought there was something wrong with it, but it disappeared too soon. Luckily Hanna managed to get some pictures of it and later, when we had checked what Variable Wheatear female should look like, we could identify it as Variable Wheatear!
It was getting late when we started to think if we should camp here in this quiet area or keep on going. We decided to drive towards south as we wanted to make sure that we could find our next place as the new motorways had changed driving to many places.
Luckily we found to Shinas easily and parked to a picnic-area next to the mangroves. Unfortunately there were some other people too and a couple of groups of youngsters were so noisy that we hardly slept at all before early morning. It seems that people are using some kind of drugs in this part of world too…
Shinas and Liwa mangroves
On the 5th of January when we woke up we saw small groups of White-cheeked Bulbuls flying towards mangroves. Altogether we saw at least a couple of hundreds of them. Also Common Mynah and House Crow were numerous but after some searching we found also some Clamorous Reed Warblers and Common Kingfishers.
On the shore we found a flock of gulls where were about 30 Pallas’s Gulls and on the sea we saw plenty of Greater Crested and some Lesser Crested Terns, a few Masked Boobies and a couple of flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes.
It was very difficult to observe the mangroves and when we didn’t find any Collared Kingfishers in an hour searching, we decided to continue to Liwa which was said to be better area for this species. First we were driving along a motorway again and saw a flock of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls feeding something on the road. But soon after that the motorway just suddenly ended and we headed to a tiny village-road! Luckily we managed to continue towards the right direction and found Liwa mangroves quite easily.
These mangroves seemed to be bigger and along a canal we could see this area much better. We found again some Clamorous Reed Warblers and a few Common Kingfishers and pretty soon heard calls of a Collared Kingfisher. But it was behind the mangroves and we couldn’t see it.
It was low tide and we hoped that kingfishers might be easier to see when they were coming out from the thick mangrove to last pools along the river. But we still had to wait the water-level to get lower. So we walked to the shore where we saw some waders with Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers and 6 Saunder’s Terns, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns and at least 250 Red-necked Phalaropes on the sea. We also saw an Isabelline Shrike, a pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike and a couple of Tawny Pipits.
When the water was low, we saw 3 Striated Herons and then heard once more a Collared Kingfisher calling but it was still far inside the mangroves. So we decided to give up seeing this species and started to drive towards Muscat and Seeb.
End of the trip
We somehow managed to find to a bigger road which was surprisingly busy. Luckily after some driving it changed to a motorway and traffic was smoother.
On the way we saw several Indian Rollers and after many messy crossings we managed to find to Golden Tulip hotel where we had booked a room. The hotel was pretty close to the airport but still very difficult to find.
Surprisingly we got a big suite even though the prepaid price for the room was pretty much the same as on our previous motels.
It was great to have shower, but then we couldn’t relax yet as we had to drive to the airport to deliver our car. Somehow we managed to find right way to the airport and luckily the scratch on our car wasn’t noticed at all. Then we took a taxi back to our hotel and finally could relax in dark and cool room.
At 7 p.m. the restaurant opened and we went to eat really well. In the evening we still packed everything and then went to sleep early.
On the 6th of January we woke up very early and soon got a bus to the airport. The price of this hotel-bus was the same as taxi – so pretty expensive. After a couple of hours our flight left to Doha, Qatar. From the plane we could see the famous palm-tree -shaped island on the coast of Dubai. In Doha airport we saw Rock Doves, Collared Doves, Laughing Doves and some kind of gulls.
A couple of hours later our flight left to Helsinki and we were sleeping most of the flight. Finally we were in Helsinki and again we got information that one of our bags had disappeared. But anyway both our bags arrived which was a relief. Then we went to eat with my parents who had came to see us.
We still had a long drive to Parikkala and once again we made the only stop in Lappeenranta where we saw the familiar Eagle Owl as a year-tick.
When we were home we didn’t feel very well relaxed. We had been driving 4500 km in Oman and 700 km in Finland in 2 weeks, also had 4 flights and stayed up several night because of owls. Every day we had been birding or traveling from dawn till dusk. We both had also been sick all the time. Anyway we had managed to see 208 species in Oman which we both had got 27 lifers and 8 ”Greater WP” ticks, which is a category we won’t be collecting. We saw only few mammal species, mostly foxes, camels, some kind of desert mouses and Nile Rats. Lizard species were more numerous and we managed to photograph 2 different types of Rock Semaphore Gecko, Carters Semaphore Gecko, Short-necked Skink, colorful Dofar Agama and Oriental Garden Lizard. Butterflies and moths were surprisingly common in some places. Plain Tiger was one of the most amazing species we saw.
In beginning of winter we started to plan a trip to Northern Thailand with Mikko Ala-Kojola and Antti Peuna. Last winter we had accidentally been in same time in Central Thailand and done some birding together after Mikko and Antti had already been more than a week in north. They had enjoyed birding in north so much that they wanted to make another trip there and of course we were happy to join our good friends who already had experience of the places and birds there.
As Finnair flights to Bangkok are very popular, we had to book our flights early and then it was time to start make exact plans. Mikko was doing most work and planned a good schedule, booked a car and some of the accommodations. But some places that Mikko and Antti had found good on their previous visit weren’t answering to any emails, so we just hoped that we could book them once we get there.
The base of the trip was to fly at night to Bangkok, then take a domestic flight to Chiang Mai early in the morning. Then drive to Doi Inthanon, do birding there for 2 days and 1 morning, before driving to Chiang Dao. Then 2 days birding in Chiang Dao, drive to Doi Ang Khang where we had planned to do 3 days birding, but this was shortened to 2 days to get an extra day to use later. Then drive to Doi Lang where we used the extra day and birded for 4 days before a longer drive to Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen where we birded the evening, next whole day and then a morning before a long drive back to Chiang Mai. Then we had flight to Bangkok and Helsinki.
On Saturday the 17th of February we drove to Helsinki in a hurry. Hanna had been sick for several days, so we were able to pack our luggage only on the last morning when she started to feel better and we really were sure that we could travel anywhere. So we stopped only once to fill the tank and finally parked to Lentoparkki and got a ride to the airport where we soon met Mikko and Antti.
Our flight left almost in schedule and somehow we managed to change seats so that Mikko got a seat next to us, but Antti had to stay with a noisy drunk group. After I had watched a movie I tried to sleep, but behind us there were a couple of very noisy elder women who were speaking so loud that it was impossible to sleep. I asked kindly to be quiet but after a couple of hours I wasn’t so kind anymore. When they finally shut up, it was only 15 minutes to breakfast… So I really didn’t sleep at all.
Long 11 hours flight was finally over at 7:25 a.m. local time and surprisingly quickly we managed to find our luggage and survive a couple of long queues. So soon we were waiting for our next flight to Chiang Ma which left at 10:20 a.m. A couple of birds were seen through the windows in airport which one of them was a leucopsis White Wagtail.
The flight to Chiang Mai took only a bit more than an hour, but I was sleeping whole flight. Once we had found our luggage we headed to Avis and soon found our car from the parking place. But there was a problem with one door so we complained about it and got even bigger and better 4-wheel Toyota in a couple of minutes and soon hit the road.
To Doi Inthanon
We headed first to city of Chiang Mai and somehow managed to find both we needed – petshop where we bought mealworms for feed birds on stake-outs and pharmacy to get gas for Hanna’s cooker. Hanna had again brought all food with her as she is allergic to almost everything.
Then we headed towards Doi Inthanon National Park. In Chiang Mai we had seen only some birds, but some to mention were a couple of Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers and Plain Sparrows, some Olive-backed and Purple Sunbirds, Himalayan Swiftlets, House Swifts, and Great and Common Mynas.
When we finally got out from the city of Chiang Mai the landscape changed a bit more farmland, but still there were lots of houses along the road all the time. Some birds we saw were Rufous-winged Buzzard, Black-winged Kite and Asian Pied Starling. Slowly the road started to climb higher up towards the mountain and after some driving we realized that we were on the wrong road! We had to turn around and drive back for some 15 minutes to find the right road which luckily was much faster so we didn’t lose too much time. Anyway there was no reason to panic as on our extra-drive we had seen Grey-backed Shrike and lots of domestic Indian Elephants.
We were well in the schedule when we parked to so-called Parakeet pre-roost. There was a bird-tower that was built next a house where people were living. The view from the tower was excellent with fields in front, many bigger trees nearby and mountain behind. The main visit to this place was Blossom-headed Parakeets which gathered to trees to the mountain before leaving to their roosting place.
But there were lots of other birds too, so soon we were trying to identify many calls we were hearing from the surrounding. One familiar call was identified only when we saw the bird and it was an Arctic Warbler. Many more common birds were identified too but many calls stayed unidentified. We had been listening calls from Xeno-canto and of course loaded lots of calls and songs to our phones, but still it was once again very difficult to get grip to birding! Some identified callers were a Chinese Francolin, Common Coel, Asian Coucal, Lineated and Coppersmith Barbet and Yellow-browed Warbler. Luckily many birds were also seen, so we got lots of species to our trip-list: Chinese Pond Herons, Oriental Honey Buzzard, White-breasted Waterhens, Red-wattled Lapwings, Red Turtle and Spotted Doves, Crested Treeswifts, Little Green and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Ashy Woodswallows, Brown Shrike, Black-hooded Oriole, Black, Ashy, Hair-crested and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-naped Monarch, Racket-tailed Treepies, Red-whiskered, Streak-eared and Sooty-headed Bulbuls, Barn and Striated Swallows, Chestnut-tailed Starlings and Oriental Magpie Robins were seen before Antti found an amazing Red-billed Blue Magpie that was on the trees almost on the top of the mountain.
Then it didn’t take too long when we found the first Blossom-headed Parakeets landing to the trees. Soon there were some more of them and some were flying closer to us but they never landed close. The parakeets left pretty soon but there was still one surprise to come when a nice Collared Falconet came to hunt to the top of the trees.
Soon it was time to head towards our accommodation. On the gate of the National Park we bought the tickets to the park (300 Baht per person + car 30 Baht) and the climbed up along very curvy road to Doi Inthanon HQ-area and then turned to Mr Daengs where we had booked a nice bungalow.
We still had a tasty dinner in Mr Daengs and the made the log which still got the 55th species when a Collared Scops Owl started to call nearby. Soon we were ready to get some sleep.
Lots of lifers
On the 19th of February we woke up before the sunrise and headed to breakfast. There was already a group of British birders and they had managed to order their breakfast a bit early. So we had to wait for some time to get our food, but quite soon we were ready and headed up towards higher elevations.
Our first place was so-called km 37.5 Jeep-track. (All the distances are from Birdwatching in Thailand and North Thailand Birding sites.) We parked to Check-point 2 where our tickets were checked and then first started to walk up along the road. There were lots of birds on the trees where sun had just started to shine. Golden and Blue-throated Barbets, Davison’s Leaf Warblers and Dark-backed Sibias were calling and on one flock of birds were a Spectacled Barwing and 2 Silver-eared Mesias! On a short walk we still found Short-billed and Ashy Minivets, several flying flocks of Eyebrowed Thrushes, Yellow-cheeked Tits and a Little Pied Flycatcher.
There was soon too much traffic on the road, so we headed to Jeep-track which was quite overgrown, so finding birds was difficult. There were lots of different calls around us but in the beginning it was quite frustrating to try to see anything. Luckily Antti remembered some calls, so soon we had identified Yunnan and Rufous-winged Fulvettas and Pygmy Wren-babblers and then saw a beautiful Blue Whistling Thrush.
We met a couple of British birders along the track and they were playing tape for Green Cochoa. We didn’t have to wait long to hear a response but the bird stayed far so we didn’t see it.
After some more walking we found a strange-looking bird which we didn’t have any idea what we were looking as it was back towards us. Even though there was a male Large Niltava singing on the background, we identified this female only later from the pictures. Soon we found an easier flycatcher to identify when we first heard and then also saw a beautiful White-gorgeted Flycatcher. Other birds seen were Hume’s Treecreepers, Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls, Yellow-bellied Warblers, Verditer and Hill Blue Flycatcher. And some birds heard were Collared Owlet, Maroon Orioles, Martens’s and Bianchi’s Warbler and several Slaty-bellied Tesias.
Soon we met the British birders again and briefly saw a Slaty-backed Flycatcher with them, but soon continued along the track until we came to a place where the track almost disappeared and dropped very steeply down. There we decided to turn around after we had first seen a Hill Prinia.
We walked quickly back to our car and only new bird on the way was a singer that we now identified as a Rufous-backed Sibia.
Along the road we found some birds again and Grey-chinned and Long-tailed Minivets were together in a flock and on flowering bushes we saw several Mrs. Hume’s and Black-throated Sunbirds.
The day had warmed up and bird-activity seemed to be so low that we decided to continue to Mae Pan waterfalls. From the parking place we found a couple of Fire-breasted and Plain Flowerpeckers and along the stream we found easily the first target redstart which was a stunning White-capped Redstart. After some photographing we continued to closer Huay Sai Luaeng waterfall but which was nice but only bird there was a Grey Wagtail.
The path to Mae Pan waterfall was longer but on the half-way we met older birder-couple who had seen both redstarts and also a Slaty-backed Forktail along the stream. The path was most of the time a little bit too far from the stream but just before the waterfall we found Plumbeous Water Redstart which was a lifer for Mikko and Antti too.
We were photographing Plumbeous Water Redstart for some time and of course took pictures of the waterfall too. Then we started to walk back slowly as we still needed to find the forktail. We tried to see the stream from a couple of new places and somehow I managed to see some shape in the middle of the stream between a couple of tree-trunks. I raised my binoculars and there it was – a Slaty-backed Forktail! We tried to climb down to get better view and some pictures of the bird but it was exactly as shy as we had heard forktails usually were. So only picture we got was the one Hanna took immediately after the bird had been found.
Next we drove to km 34.5 Trail which was a bit more open than what we had been walking in the morning. But bird-life was also quieter, but still most of the species were new and Asian Barred Owlet, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Puff-throated Bulbul, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Grey-crowned and Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Claudia’s, Blyth’s and Ashy-throated Leaf Warblers and Grey Treepie were found.
After full day hardcore birding we were back at Mr Daengs in the evening and ate well and kept the log again. Amazing day had produced 81 species which 45 had been lifers for me and Hanna! It was good to go to sleep early as the first days of the trip had been quite intensive!
On the 20th of February we woke up early and skipped breakfast. We headed up until a place where we had coordinates to park along the road. We were there too early and we had to wait some time to sun first set and then start to rise to the tree-tops. After some waiting we saw the first Speckled Woodpigeon to arrive to the tree-tops and soon it was followed by some more birds.
But we were in a hurry as we wanted to be on the summit-area before there were lots of people. Doi Inthanon, which is the highest peak in Thailand (2565m) is very touristic place and locals had a habit to get up to see the sunrise, so there were usually lots of traffic already early in the morning.
Once we parked to the summit, there were already some cars but all the people were just watching the scenery from the end of the parking place. We walked a little bit around the parking area where were lots of flowering bushes with some leaf-warblers and sunbirds, but we didn’t stay there for long enough to identify almost any of them but started to walk down along Ang Ka broadwalk.
We hadn’t taken many steps on the broadwalk when we noticed a few Rufous-throated Partridges that were feeding along the path. It was still quite dark so the pictures weren’t very good, but it was nice to watch them digging ground with their feet. After a couple of more steps we saw a flycatcher landing to the broadwalk and it was easy to identify as a Snowy-browed Flycacther! There were a couple of flycatchers, but they soon disappeared to the tops of the trees.
The broadwalk landed down to a bog with huge rhododendrons. The scenery was like in a movie! There weren’t many birds active, but all of them were interesting. Bar-throated Minlas were singing and after some searching we found one visible. A flock of 4 Ashy Woodpigeons flew over us and then on a small ditch there were a couple of Blue Whistling Thrushes and Dark-sided Thrushes feeding.
In the middle of the bog there were a couple of huge flowering bushes and sunbirds were feeding on the flowers. We tried to find Green-tailed Sunbirds and were checking mostly tails of these birds but they all seemed to be Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds. There were also lots of leaf warblers, which we managed to photograph a few, but they were silent so most of them were unidentified. Ashy-throated Leaf Warblers were easy to identify but other species not if they weren’t calling. But several Blyth’s Leaf Warblers were heard. A couple of Yellow-bellied Fantails were chasing each other and gave us very good views but they were too fast to get good pictures. Then we heard several Silver-eared Laughingthrushes and after some waiting they came finally visible, so we took lots of pictures of these funny birds.
We continued along a broadwalk that turned to a small altar and then continued along a path to a small wet area. We had got instructions to find a White-browed Shortwing there. Immediately we noticed a brown flycatcher-like bird on the ground and took some pictures of it. Only from the pictures we realized that it had been a female White-browed Shortwing! We searched for some time as we hoped to see the bird again and also find a male, but saw only one male very briefly disappearing to the vegetation.
There started to be other people on the broadwalk too, so pretty soon we decided to start walking back towards the car-park. On the way we met a group of birders and while taking with them, we found a female Himalayan Bluetail.
From the parking areas flowering bushes we found again some sunbirds and finally we realized that there were quite a few Green-tailed Sunbirds too. They just had blue, not green tail! We had been fooled!
We still photographed some Rufous-winged Fulvettas and a couple of Bar-throated Minlas that were feeding on an apple. But even though we spent some time around the café, we didn’t find any Grey-sided Thrushes or Yellow-bellied Flowerpeckers.
When we were driving down, we stopped to a place where Mikko and Antti had seen a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker last year. We saw a couple of flowerpeckers but only in flight, but on top of one dead tree there was a beautiful male Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush singing.
The next stop was made on the Chedis at 41.5 km. There are huge temples Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri, one made for previous King’s and one for queens 60th birthday. Main parking place was full so we parked down along the road and bought the tickets (30 Baht) and climbed up where there was a beautiful garden between the Chedis. It was getting hot so only birds we saw were a couple of Hill Prinias and some sunbirds.
Lower down again
Then we drove down to HQ-area where we found a flock of white-eyes on a top of a huge tree. They were hiding very well to the tree but all we managed to identify were Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. Then we continued to Mr Daengs where we ordered lunch. And while waiting for our food and while eating, we were watching down to feeder. Actually the feeder was just a place where dish-water was coming through a pipe, but on this place there had been a Lesser Shortwing visiting for at least a couple of years.
A couple of times I saw something brown moving so quickly down to the pipe, that I was sure it had been some kind of vole. Once I saw it going dawn and up along the water-pipe. Finally we had been starting down for so long that we decided to try just 10 more minutes. It was exactly the time when I saw the brown thing flashing again to the pipe and after a couple of minutes it came up as quickly but it seemed to come right under us. And there it was, a Lesser Shortwing just a couple of meters from us and showing well! We managed to get some pictures before it again flashed under the vegetation.
In the afternoon we had planned to go to the upper tracks again, but we decided to check Camping are around km 30, so we could find the pool we had planned to visit in the evening easier. But there were so many birds around the camping area that we stayed there much longer than we had planned. We found lots of Hume’s Leaf Warblers, Black, Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls, saw the first Japanese Buzzard, both Grey-faced and Rufous-winged Buzzard and also some Grey Bushcats and had a briefly views to a beautiful Rufous-bellied Niltava.
Finally we realized that we had no time to go up anymore, so we decided to drive to see one more waterfall, Siribhume. The waterfall was nice but not many birds were found. On the way we saw a Mountain Hawk Eagle perched on a tree, but it was too shy, so we didn’t get any pictures.
Then it was time to drive back to the Camping area. We were there a bit too early, so we had time to try to find some more birds around the pool. There were a couple of warblers calling on the reeds but we never saw them at all. A couple of dogs came to hunt something to the reeds and they flushed a Cinnamon Bittern.
After some waiting we heard some calls of Black-tailed Crake, but we wanted to hear it call a good series of calls which was very distinctive. But once the sun was setting, frogs started to call and even though we still waited for some time, we didn’t hear any clear calls from the crake anymore.
And lower again
On the 21st of February we left when it was still dark. We drove down to km 13 where a small road turned up to the hills. Right after the cross there was a bridge where had been a Black-backed Forktail, but now there was already so much truck-traffic that it had moved somewhere else.
The road was under construction and there were more and more trucks driving all the time, but anyway we decided to go birding along the road. Right away on the first stop we heard a couple of Black-headed Woodpeckers, but they didn’t come any closer with the tape. Almost all other calls and voices were again difficult to identify, it seemed that there were totally different birds calling now as we were much lower.
We continued further and it was pretty frustrating with heavy traffic in every corner. Anyway birding was very good with 6 Collared Falconets, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, a couple of Rosy Minivets, Chestnut-vented Nuthatches and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, two Long-tailed Broadbills and several calling Red-billed Blue Magpies which only one was seen in flight briefly. Other birds heard were Large and Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes and White-crested Laughingthrushes that were calling on a hillside quite distant. After we had been driving some kilometers, we decided to turn around and drove back to the bridge.
While walking to the bridge we saw with Mikko a Black-backed Forktail disappearing behind an island. We walked along the river closer and could hear it calling behind the island but it was impossible to see. So after some trying we had to give up and hope to see this species later somewhere.
Once more higher
Next we drove to Mr Daengs to empty our rooms, so we didn’t have to be there at noon. Then we drove up to 34.5 Track and started walking.
There weren’t many birds at all and most of them were the same than on our previous visit, but from the open area we found a couple of Russet Bush Warblers.
Once we were back in our car, we still weren’t in a hurry so we decided to drive up to the summit. There we walked again Ang Ka broadwalk, but only some of the familiar birds were seen. We were happy that we had been there early in the morning on our first visit as there were now lots of people and fewer birds.
Now we saw about 15 Green-tailed Sunbirds, a couple of Yellow-bellied Fantails again and Rufous-throated Partridges were calling shortly. Only new species was Yellow-browed Tit, which were seen on the top of trees. Leaf Warblers, sunbirds, Bar-throated Minlas, same Himalayan Bluetail and again some Ashy Woodpigeons were seen flying over us.
After all we drove to Mr Daengs to have lunch and then it was time to say goodbye to the owners and also to Doi Inthanon and start driving. We passed Chiang Mai and after 3 hours driving we were finally in Chiang Dao. Mikko had booked a couple of bungalows for us in Malee’s, which was a famous accommodation amongst birders. Mikko and Antti had never been in Chiang Dao either so after the log we still had to do some planning what we would do on the next days.
On the 22nd of February we woke up early again but we were a bit slow. There had been extremely noisy frogs on a pool just under our window. But it seemed that already our garden was very good for birds so we weren’t in a hurry. We found a flock of Oriental White-eyes with a couple of Japanese White-eyes and many more common birds while we started walking towards the parking place of Wat Tamphaplong temple.
While walking we saw a couple of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Hoopoe and so on. Once we were on the parking place, we saw several pin-tailed Green Pigeons. Soon we started to climb long, more than 500 steps, stairs towards the temple.
The stairs were one of the most comfortable and good birding place where I had ever been. We were just climbing up very slowly and there were lots of birds around us all the time. We were actually climbing so slowly that one monk who was carrying some aluminum-tubes and other rolls up, passed us several times and he was laughing how slowly we were.
Now fulvettas were Brown-cheeked Fulvettas and also Pin-striped Tit Babbler was common. Streaked Wren-babbler was found hiding under the vegetation, White-tailed Robin was singing and I saw shortly a female-plumaged Siberian Blue Robin. Other better birds seen were Orange-breasted Trogon, several White-bellied Erpornis, Common and Great Iora, a couple of Blyth’s Paradise-flycatchers and Puff-throated Bulbuls, Stripe-throated Bulbul, some Dark-necked Tailorbirds, Grey-throated Babbler, Blue-winged and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Martens’s Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, a couple of White-rumped Shamas, several Common Spiderhunters and a couple of Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds.
When we were almost up we heard a couple of drumming woodpeckers that we thought they were Speckled Piculets, but soon after that we saw one tiny woodpecker which was a White-browed Piculet. Also a Purple-naped Sunbird was a new bird for us. It was emptying a spider-net, which made us thought if it really is a spiderhinter or a sunbird – it is still both if you compare different lists.
When we were on the bridge just before the temple I first found a male Siberian Blue Robin ad while watching it jumping on the shadows I also found a White-throated Fantail. The scenery to the temple and its surrounding forests was spectacular! We climbed to the temple and to the top of it and scanned the forests and skies for some time and found a flock of Brown-backed Needletails, a couple of Shikras, plenty of Mountain Imperial Pigeons and briefly one Oriental Pied Hornbill which started to call later.
While we were walking back down the forest was much quieter but still we saw a couple of Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers.
At mid-day we relaxed a little bit in our bungalow, but soon left toward Chiang Dao Cave, which especially Hanna had hoped to visit.
On the parking place we saw a molting male Blue Rock Thrush and soon we had found a local guide who led us to the cave. Our guide was an elder woman and she was carrying an oil-lamp. Right away we had to almost crawl through a small hole to get to a huge cave. There were lots of bats hanging on the top of the cave and also a couple of really big spiders were on the walls. We kept on walking deeper and deeper and through several small holes and it was quite an experience!
It was really hot in the cave and after all we walked and photographed almost an hour there. Then we tipped our guide and finally got back to the bright light. It was now really hot outside too, so we decided to eat noodles and also bought some fruits, before we started to plan what to do next.
After all we had enjoyed birding around the temple so much that soon we were climbing the stairs again. Now it was pretty quiet but some familiar birds were seen again. But after all we were up pretty soon.
When were almost up, we heard once again a strange call that we couldn’t identify. But this call was very deep and loud whistle, so even though it soon stopped I kept on wondering what it had been. When we were up on the top of the temple we heard it again and much closer. So we went as close as possible and started whistling and playing different babbler-calls back to the bird. After some trying Antti found very similar call and the bird came closer and then started to call exactly similar calls than we had been playing – it was a Large Scimitar Babbler. We kept on trying to see the bird but even though it came very close, we never saw it at all.
On the top we met one Mongolian man who had arrived to the temple to whatever pilgrimage. He told us that he had found a wounded raptor from the forest and he had tried to catch it. Hos methods had been a bit different from normal as he had been throat singing for the bird and so tried to become one with the bird. He told that he had succeeded but we disagreed as the bird had escaped anyway once he had tried to catch it. We had actually heard him singing while we had been on the stairs. But anyway we promised to help him to find the bird again, but it had now disappeared and we didn’t find it. Anyway it was nice to chat with this very interesting person and later we met him and another Danish guy who had stayed on the temple for a week and we heard some very nice stories. These were strange people, but after all we were the people we were the stranger ones here after all…
We walked along the Temple Gulley which started from the bridge for some time, but didn’t see almost anything. Finally sun was setting and we started to hope to hear some owls and frogmouths. Soon we heard one Brown Hawk Owl and then later another owl which might have been an Spot-bellied Eagle-owl but it was too distant to be sure what it was.
Once we had walked down to the parking place we heard more owls. First we heard a couple of Mountain Scops Owls and Asian Barred Owlet but then after some waiting also an Oriental Bay Owl and a distant Brown Wood Owl! And they were all heard while standing on the parking place!
The day had been long and amazing but then we realized that we had forgotten to visit the National Park office and to buy tickets to the park! We drove to Malee’s and luckily the owner told us that we could still buy the tickets from the gate. So we hurried to buy the tickets and luckily got them! So we were sure we could go birding to the mountain next morning.
Then we still had to find an open restaurant and after all we had to drive almost until Chiang Dao to find one. After all it was very late when we were back in Malee’s and ready to go to sleep.
To mountain and DYK
On the 23rd of February we woke up and carried and left our already packed luggage outside under a roof. So we didn’t pack our car yet. Then we started to drive towards Den Ya Kat substation (DYK).
We drove through the gate at 6:30 where our tickets were checked and kept on driving uphill. We knew it takes 1.5 hours to reach DYK, so we didn’t make many stops on the way. But when we saw a White-crowned Forktail flying cross the road, we had to stop as not everyone saw it. But the bird wasn’t found, so we kept on climbing soon.
The second stop was made because of there were huge flowering trees. There was an Orange-bellied Leafbird visiting another tree briefly, but it also left too soon, so not everyone saw it. Luckily soon we found a flock of Striated Yuhinas and then saw a female Red Junglefowl crossing the road.
We reached the substation a little bit before 8 a.m. and parked our car. We found immediately a large flowering tree with lots of leaf warblers. There were several Chinese Leaf Warblers, but they left quite soon, so we didn’t get pictures of them.
We had really no plan where to walk, so we just started to climb towards the hill nearby. Soon we found a small pool and on the trees there was a Japanese Tit. We followed a bigger path and after some climbing we found a female White-tailed Robin. It wasn’t seen well but we identified it from the pictures. Antti had left his bag lower while we had been chasing the robin and walked back to get it. Then he found an Aberrant Bush Warbler. Luckily the bird was calling back to the tape and soon we all saw it better. And soon there were two birds moving quickly on the bushes.
From the pine-forest we found a small flock of Burmese Shrikes. Mountain Imperial Pigeons were flying over us and some were also calling. Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes were singing, a couple of Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes and Grey-eyed Bulbuls and some Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and Olive-backed Pipits were also seen. So it was pretty enjoyable – it wasn’t too hot, no wind at all and lots of birds.
When we had climbed up to the hill we found a wide fire-trail where opened a beautiful view. We just sat down for a little and enjoyed the scenery. A Streak-breasted Woodpecker was seen and soon we started to walk back to our car.
Soon we found an oriole which we finally managed to see well enough to identify it as a Slender-billed Oriole. From the bushes next to the pool we found a Rufescent Prinia and then we sound-recorded a singing Large Hawk-cuckoo and after we had played a little bit its own song, it flew right over us.
But quite soon we understood that our schedule was tightening, so we started a long way back down. Quite soon we found a small forest-fire. We used big sticks to hit the fire and managed to extinguish the fire.
On the way down we stopped many times and saw lots of birds like Grey Treepies with one Rufous Treepie, Emerald Dove, Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoos, Crested Goshawk, Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill and also a couple of Eurasian Jays. We of course tried to find the White-crowned Forktail again and made several stops along the small stream and it was worthy as we found a couple of Black-backed Forktails! So at least all of us had now seen this species well. But still they were too shy to get pictures. After a couple of hours we finally made it out from the National Park and headed back to Malee’s to collect our luggage.
Luckily the owner of Malee’s helped us and called to Ban Luang, an accommodation place in Doi Ang Khang that we hadn’t managed to get any contact beforehand. And we managed to book bungalows for the next 2 night. So we weren’t in a hurry at all.
Chiang Dao paddies
So we had good time to head to Chiang Dao paddies, where we birded 1.5 hours and found easily more than 20 Grey-headed Lapwings and Black-collared Starlings. We also managed to find a couple of Glossy Ibises, a Siberian Rubythroat and the best bird was a Baikal Bush Warbler. Different kind of egrets, some waders like Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Black-winged Stilts, a Common Snipe, some Zebra Doves, Greater Coucals, 8 Hoopoes, some singing Oriental Skylarks, Red-rumped Swallows, 6 Wire-tailed Swallows, a couple of Zitting Cisticolas and a Plain Prinia were also found.
Then it was time to start driving towards Doi Ang Khang. And finally we were climbing up to a mountain again and there we dropped deeply down to a limestone sunk where we had our accommodation in Ban Luang. We had 2 rooms in a bungalow that situated quite high on the hill, so we still had to carry our luggage in.
Doi Ang Khang
On the 24th of February we woke up early and were having breakfast at 6:45 a.m. We knew that there were several interesting species visiting the feeder. It took some time to realize that most of the birds weren’t visiting the banana-feeder but a dump that was a bit further behind some bushes and visible only from one table. But luckily there were nobody else yet, so we changed to the best table. There were a few Black-breasted Thrushes, several Eyebrowed Thrushes and after some wait also a Grey-sided Thrush which was good to see after dipping it in Doi Inthanon. A female flycatcher was also showing very well and later we identified it from the pictures as a Slaty-backed Flycatcher. A couple of White-crowned Forktails were also seen in flight briefly but at least now everyone saw them.
After finishing the breakfast we started driving up and stopped at km 23.3. Immediately we found lots of birds from the tree-tops.
There were no new species but lots of leaf warblers. Soon our necks started to hurt as all the birds were so high, so we started to walk along the track. After some walking Antti noticed the first singing Slaty-bellied Tesia and soon we found several more and managed to seen one of these tiny birds.
After some more walking inside this dense forest Hanna found a small blue flycatcher which we soon identified as a Small Niltava. It was very difficult to photograph but after some trying we got some pictures. And soon we found a couple of more of these beautiful birds too. Then the next bird was found only because of we heard something moving inside the bushes. Everyone else saw some glimpses of it but I had really difficulties to find it. Finally it flew over the track and we could see it better – it was a Scarlet-faced Liocichla. Soon we realized that there were 2 more on the bushes, but still saw only some red flashes moving inside the bushes before they disappeared. We really hoped that we could get some pictures of this beautiful bird later.
Other birds seen along the track were a Speckled Piculet, a couple of Martens’s and Bianchi’s Warblers and a Chestnut-crowned Warbler, several Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, a couple of Silver-eared Laughingthrushes, some Brown-backed Sibias, Pygmy Wren-babblers, Hill Blue Flycatchers and so on.
When we were walking back to our car there was already pretty quiet. It was pretty warm when we headed to King’s Project gardens. The area was huge but first we headed to a stake-out that Mikko and Antti had visited year ago. Luckily the stake-out was still there so we finally used meal-worms ad soon we were photographing amazingly colorful Silver-eared Mesias, a couple of Hill Blue Flycatchers and beautiful male White-tailed Robin.
After lots of photographing we continued to gardens next to the restaurant where lots of flowering trees were. We found sunbirds, bulbuls and also lots of white-eyes. Most of them were Oriental White-eyes, but we also found some greener Japanese White-eyes.
When we had tried enough to get pictures of these very mobile birds, we went to the restaurant. There we met a group of older birders with a local guide and they were clearly looking at something on the trees behind the restaurant. We went to ask what they had seen and got an answer: ”Oh, we have seen plenty of bulbuls and leaf birds… and there is also some Spot-winged Grosbeaks on that tree”. It was like a shock as we hadn’t expected to get information like that and some of us had gone missing. But after some shouting we were all there and trying to find these birds from the tree. Luckily the guide was helping us too as these birds were hiding extremely well. But after some time we had all found the only visible female bird and soon also a male came visible. After we had got some pictures of these quite distant birds, they left. So it was time to try to order some food. It was once again difficult to order anything as nothing was in English. So it wasn’t a surprise that I got completely wrong food and at least 5 times more than I needed. It wouldn’t have been a problem but my food was pretty awful.
After the lunch we still walked behind the restaurant where earlier had been many different kind of thrushes. We also found a couple of very promising looking almost completely black thrushes hiding in the shadows, but soon we realized that they were only completely wet and dirty Black-breasted Thrushes.
Once we were driving again, we made a short stop on the camping area which had been very good spot for Giant Nuthatch earlier but now there were more buildings around. I saw briefly a couple of Crested Finchbills first in flight and then on the top of one tree, but they left too soon so not all of us saw them. We tried for some time to find them but found only a couple of Striated Bulbuls.
In the heat of the day we headed to Chinese cemetery where once we had got out from the car we found a flock of Brown-breasted Bulbuls. Then we climbed up to the cemetery and almost right away I saw a bird in flight that looked like a redstart. We knew this was an ordinary wintering spot for Daurian Redstart but the bird had gone missing. When we were climbing higher we saw the first Green-billed Malkoha of the trip. This huge bird is amazingly good hiding on the trees.
We just lied down on the top and waited for something to pop up on the forest behind the cemetery, but it was very quiet. So soon we were walking around the cemetery again. Luckily the redstart was soon found again and it was indeed a male Daurian Redstart! The bird was very mobile and gone missing again soon, but a couple of pictures were got.
It was already late afternoon when we walked back down towards the car but from the last bushes we heard promising ticking. And after playing some tape we found a Yellow-streaked Warbler visible. Soon we crossed the road and walked to the meadow on the other side. There we were walking around the meadow and hoped to find some buntings, but only one ticking bunting was seen in flight. But we found a couple of Buff-throated Warblers and several Olive-backed Pipits.
After we had been walking around the meadow we starred scanning the sky and surroundings and soon saw lots of Cook’s Swifts flying low over us. Then Antti saw something moving close to the road and when we all turned to look, a small flock of Mountain Bamboo Partridges flushed over the road but at least one of them landed so we could see it pretty well. And soon after that we saw a woodpecker-like bird flying over us and it took some time to realize that it wasn’t a medium-sized woodpecker but a Giant Nuthatch!
Sun was already setting when we saw a small flock of White-browed Laughingthrushes moving in the vegetation. They moved to a bush next to our car and we followed them. After all there were quite a big flock of them making noise in the bush but they were so deep inside the bush that we couldn’t see them almost at all.
On the way back to Ban Luang, we saw a nightjar flying over the road and we could see it so well that we identified it as a Grey Nightjar.
In the evening while having the log, we started to plan, if we would do birding in Doi Ang Khang only the next morning and leave to Doi Lang one day earlier than we had earlier planned. There still were plenty of places in Doi Ang Khang that we hadn’t visited, but we had started to think that we should stay in Doi Lang for 4 days instead of 3.
Morning still at Doi Ang Khang
On the 25th of February we were having the breakfast even earlier, but saw nothing new. White-crowned Forktails were again seen in flight, but still they didn’t land at all.
Then we headed to km 21.3 track again, but surprisingly there weren’t many birds. A flock of Striated Yuhinas was only better observation. So we soon decided to continue to Mae Phur Valley trail which took some time to find. But finally we were walking along thins wide track in a forest. There weren’t many birds either but a calling Clicking Shrike-babbler and noisy flock of quite distant White-necked Laughingthrushes were heard. Other birds seen were a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, a small flock of Yellow-browed Tits which were once again too high on the top of trees and a White-gorgeted Flycatcher.
The track was supposed to end to a stream but after some walking we heard noise of cows that were coming towards us. So we decided to turn back towards the car.
Some small problems
On the way back we met a group of Tropical Tours with 2 British leaders. They had just heard that visitors to Doi Lang were supposed to go to buy tickets to the National Park from Fang Hot Springs headquarters. It really changed our schedule as it was quite a long driving to Fang Hot Springs. So after we had photographed one male Black-breasted Thrush near our car, we drove to Ban Luang, emptied our rooms and stared driving.
We had planned to go birding to Thaton in the afternoon and evening. Thaton was the place to see roosting Yellow-breasted Buntings. But now we headed first to Fang Hot Springs. After an hour driving we were there and on the gate we were asked to buy tickets to get in to the area. Somehow we managed to explain that we were just visiting the head-quarters, so we were left in free.
In headquarters the officer seemed very surprised when we were trying to explain why we were there. Anyway after all we managed to buy the tickets that were supposed to stand for 4 days and on both sides of Doi Lang. But once we were back at the gate the guardian asked to see the tickets and he told that they were valid for 3 days. So after all we asked him to put his markings to the tickets that they would work at least those 3 days. But it really seemed that we should visit this HQ later again to get to the park on the fourth day too. It was more than 45 minutes driving from Fang where we had planned to stay.
But after all we managed to get to Thaton in the afternoon. There we soon found out that the reed-bed where Mikko and Antti had seen flocks of Yellow-breasted Buntings last year was gone! There were still several good-looking reed-beds further behind the fields, but we had no idea if there were bunting coming and to which one of them?
Luckily we soon saw the first Horsfield’s Bushlark and soon some more of them. So we understood that there were new birds for us anyway. Soon we found a couple of Striated Grassbirds which started to sing, but they were all quite distant. Then we found a female Chestnut-eared Bunting and soon we found even better bird when we saw a quail in flight which Antti managed to photograph and it was a Rain Quail! Also a stunning Peregrine was seen, so we were really having a good time!
Along the river we found some Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, a couple of Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper and also small flocks of Small and Oriental Pratincoles. Also Little Grebes, Moorhens, White-breasted and Common Kingfishers, Oriental Skylarks, a couple of Bluethroats and Siberian Rubythroats, Pied Bushchats and Siberian Stonechats, leucopsis White Wagtails, some Citrine Wagtails, a Sand Martin and a Wire-tailed Swallow, Dusky Warblers, Yellow-breasted, Grey-breasted and Plain Prinias and Richard’s and Red-throated Pipits were seen.
When the sun was setting, we saw big flocks of Chestnut-tailed Starlings gathering to trees behind the fields. Also lots of small passerines were landing to the reeds but very far from us. They mostly looked like sparrows and Scaly-breasted Munias, but there were clearly some buntings too. Mikko and Antti managed to see with their scopes a couple of Yellow-breasted Buntings landing to the top of reeds for a short time, but soon it was getting too dark to identify anything anymore. So we hurried to get closer, but found out that there was no access though the fields and reeds anywhere with any visibility to right direction. While walking we flushed a couple of buttonquails (Barred or Yellow-legged) and several Pin-tailed Snipes. But after all we didn’t see any more buntings. I had hoped to get any kind of pictures of this species that has been lost in Finland and almost in whole Western Palearctic. But you can’t always win, not even every time…
Evening had been excellent anyway so only frustration was not because of dipped buntings but because of the best reed-bed was gone and maybe the whole place would be destroyed in the future? After all, this had been a place to see Yellow-breasted Buntings easily, and this species is going towards extinction.
Once we were in Fang, we soon found the hotel that Mikko had booked already from Finland. Only problem was that we were there one day earlier than the booking. Luckily it wasn’t a problem at all, we just paid the first night with cash. So we now had a base for next 3 nights.
In the evening we still walked in Fang where the main road was closed because of market. It was nice to see local market-life. There was also a funny family-band that was playing the same song all the time we were out.
Western slope of Doi Lang
On the 26th of February we left towards western slope of Doi Lang when it was still completely dark. Our target was to find the place where Mikko and Antti had seen and photographed Mrs. Hume’s Pheasants. When we reached the gate, it was open and there was nobody asking the tickets.
When the sun was rising we were still climbing up to the mountain and trying to find the right spot. It wasn’t easy as the curves all looked the same, so after all when we had found out that so-called lower stake-out was still on the same place, we were driving up and down without a clear idea where the pheasants had been. When we finally thought that maybe we hadn’t been high enough yet and kept on driving, after one curve we saw a couple of photographers tents almost in the middle of the road and a male and 2 female Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant right in front of the tents!
We had stopped almost in panic a little bit too far from the tents and from the birds, but anyway we managed to see the birds well and even get some pictures. Mikko and Antti we apologizing that they hadn’t found the place easier but there was no reason to worry, we had eventually found the right place and also the birds much easier than I had ever dreamed! There were also Olive-backed Pipits, a flock of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers and a Blue Rock Thrush on the road with pheasants, so it was really a good start for the day again!
But we were a bit too far to get any better quality pictures, so once another car stopped behind us and a photographer even got out from his car, we decided to turn around and drive back to the lower stake-out. We could then continue higher when we thought that pheasant-photographing was over.
There were 3 local photographers on the lower stake-out too and it seemed that one of them was a guide. Right away when we found the stake-out, we saw a beautiful Ultramarine Flycatcher on the branch above us. It visited the feeder only once and then it seemed to have eaten enough for a while. So, not all of us managed to get any pictures of this gem-bird yet.
We then went to talk with the locals and found out that the guide spoke very good English. He soon asked if we had seen any Fire-capped Tits yet, and then pointed that they always came to the tree right next to us. And there they were – at least 8 birds feeding on the flowers! Only one of them was nice red-capped bird, but anyway we had got one more very good lifer.
We also got some tips for Himalayan Cutia and then soon continued driving uphill again. We stopped pretty soon when there were very big trees both sides of the road. And almost immediately we found 4 Himalayan Cutias – and this wasn’t even close to the place we had been told. The locals were soon passing us, so we stopped them and showed the birds for them too. It seemed that this was very good species for them too. Unfortunately these birds stayed all the time in bad light so we didn’t get very good pictures. On the same tree-tops we saw also a Blue-winged Minla, so we were really doing great!
And we kept on rocking as on the next stop we found some Grey-headed Parrotbills that unfortunately disappeared to the reeds too soon.
Finally we were on the upper stake-outs, where were already some other people too. Mikko and Antti knew this place well from the previous visit, so we were soon checking if there were any stake-outs without photographers. This place was easy to find because of a big sign where was told not to feed or photograph birds!
There were photographers on the first stake-out but the second one we found was empty. So we put some meal-worms to the rocks and trunks on soon had lots of birds coming! First visitor was a beautiful Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher which was performing well. Then came a female Himalayan Bluetail, Silver-eared Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers, a Flavescent Bulbul, female Rufous-bellied Niltava and also a female White-bellied Redstart!
After a long photographing session, we continued to the next stake-out that was in a reed-bed. It wasn’t a surprise that there was a Siberian Rubythroat, but also a Hill Prinia and another Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. It was after all so quiet that with Antti we left to see if we could find something new around. Hanna and Mikko still stayed on the stake-out. After some walking, we heard harsh rolling calls that we sound-recorded. We had no idea what species was calling but later we identified it as a Spot-bellied Parrotbill.
We were still standing on the same place when we heard a Rusty-naped Pitta calling very close to us, just behind the first stake-out where we had been. But the vegetation was too dense and the bird didn’t come to the stake-out.
While we were still waiting for the pitta to come to the stake-out and photographing the familiar birds again, Antti decided to go to eat something. Luckily we had our walkie-talkies on, as once he had walked to our car, he called us that the local guide and his guided couple were photographing a couple of Black-throated Bushtits! We hurried to see the birds and luckily they stayed visible. The local guide was playing tape far too aloud, but luckily the birds didn’t seem to care. They were just feeding up on the branches until they pretty soon continued further to the forest.
We still found an Eyebrowed Wren-babbler hiding along the road before continued to the top of Doi Lang until the check-point. We left the car and got a permit to walk one more kilometer along this road that goes to Myanmar border. Immediately we found some Crested Finchbills that were showing extremely well and there was also a Russet Bush Warbler singing nearby.
Soon the locals were there too and once again they were playing something very loud. We went to see what they had found and there was a Crimson-breasted Woodpecker drumming on a tree-trunk. It didn’t seem to care about the player at all either. It seems that local habit is to play as loud as possible and all the time. So birds have become deaf.
After some more walking we hear a Bay Woodpecker calling and finally managed to get a couple of pictures of a Rufous-backed Sibia. Dark-backed Sibia was common and we also took some pictures of a Grey-backed Shrike before we decided to start driving back down.
We stopped again on the upper stake-outs and photographed the familiar birds, but the activity was quite low this time of the afternoon. Only new bird was a briefly visited female White-tailed Robin.
Finally we were back on the pheasant place and Hanna put up a photographing-tent that she had brought with her and Mikko and Antti tossed a coin which Mikko won and went to the tent with Hanna, while I and Antti stayed in our car which we parked right behind the tent. Also the local couple had their tent next to Hanna’s while their guide was waiting in their car further.
Pretty soon a couple of Oriental Turtle Doves landed to the road to eat rocks and seeds. And soon came also a flock of White-browed Laughingthrushes. On Mountain Bamboo Partridge was also running on the road briefly. And it didn’t take long until the first male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant arrived but this bird was extremely shy! It just ran across the road and never stopped at all visible.
But after quite a long waiting another male came in flight and landed in the middle of the road. This bird was brave and tame and was slowly coming closer and closer but unfortunately sun was already setting and the light wasn’t very good anymore. Now also the shy bird came to feed and after all we managed to get some good enough pictures of them.
It was already getting dark, but we had to wait for the birds to go away, before Hanna and Mikko could get out from the tent and pack it. Finally birds got scared of something and we could start driving down.
Finally we were back in Fang where we went to eat to the only restaurant that we knew was open. Hanna stayed in the hotel and cooked her own lunch again.
On the top of Western slope
On the 27th of February we woke up very early again and were climbing towards the western slope of Doi Lang again in the dark. Our plan was to get up early, before there were any pheasant-photographers on the way.
Finally we parked almost to the top next to a helicopter-field when it was still quite dark. So we had to wait for some time before there was enough light to climb up the field to try to find some buntings.
Pretty soon we found a distant woodpecker on a top of one dry tree, which was easy to identify as a Lesser Yellownape. Then we walked around the grass-land, but found no buntings. I had just thought that the bushy area behind the field looked best for buntings, when we heard a soft “tup” call from the sky and saw a beautiful male Crested Bunting landing to that area. And soon there were more calls and more birds landing, but they were mostly females.
There were altogether at least 10 Crested Buntings, but light wasn’t very good for photographing yet. Soon we heard a ticking call from the bushes and found a female Chestnut Bunting which disappeared soon.
Early morning had already produced lifers for all of us, but luckily we weren’t too excited yet, and at least Mikko was still searching for more and soon said that there is some bright red bird on the top of tree. We could see that red spot with bare eyes, but with scopes it was easy to identify as a Scarlet Finch! It was a species that we hadn’t thought to see. Soon the bird flew away and only then we realized that there were also 2 female birds following it.
But still there was more to come as we found a flock of very skulking babblers which one was finally seen briefly and it was a Chestnut-capped Babbler.
Next we continued to the top again and there was still nobody on the gate. So we couldn’t go further. But luckily at 8:30 a.m. the guardian came and opened the gate and cleared the barb-wires for us. Soon we heard a flock of Mountain Bamboo Partridges calling very noisy and then I noticed black, 3 long-tailed birds flying behind the tree-tops. First we all probably thought that they were Grey Treepies as we didn’t really react enough, but soon we saw more these birds and luckily a couple of them landed to one tree-top. And they were Long-tailed Sibias – another bird that was seen on this place only very rarely according to the sites we had been reading. After all we saw at least 12 birds that soon continued towards Myanmar. It seemed that these birds had been roosting on this area.
Soon we were photographing tame Crested Finchbills again and the found a couple of amazing red Scarlet Finches feeding on the hillside. So now we managed to get pretty pictures of this bird too! And soon we saw finally a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker too, so it wasn’t a surprise anymore when we finally saw the first mammals of the trip too – 2 huge Yellow-throated Martens crossed the road in front of us!
We still photographed more Crested Finchbills and listened Russet Bush Warbler singing again before started driving back down. We of course stopped on the upper stake-out where we finally found the missing flycatcher as a male Slaty-blue Flycatcher was visiting an almost inconspicuous stake-out. Unfortunately this stake-out was in very bad light now and this bird was extremely shy, so we didn’t get any good pictures.
We found one more stake-out that we hadn’t visited yet and there was an extremely tame White-gorgeted Flycatcher which we took lots of pictures. Then we visited briefly two already familiar stake-outs and got some more pictures of familiar birds. Hanna and Mikko stayed again longer on the stake-outs and with Antti we walked a little bit along the road. And again it was worthy as we found one more stake-out where a Siberian Rubythroat was already waiting for us and soon we saw also a stunning male Rufous-bellied Niltava. Soon we were all there photographing and found also a female flycatcher which we later identified as a female Slaty-blue Flycatcher.
When we had taken enough pictures, we continued to lower stake-out and photographer Ultramarine Flycatcher for a long time as it was performing extremely well! We even took a group-selfie with this bird!
We stopped many times on the way down and found a couple of Silver-breasted Broadbills, Large and Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes, Long-tailed Minivets, Burmese Shrikes, Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, Black-hooded and Maroon Orioles, a Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher, Japanese Tits, a few Giant Nuthatch and a Orange-bellied Leafbird. When the sun was setting we flushed a nightjar from the road but couldn’t tell which species it was.
Finally we were in Fang when it had just got dark, so we managed to go to eat earlier and after the log and shopping we were ready to go to sleep earlier, which was very nice.
Eastern slope of Doi Lang
On the 28th of February we packed our car and when the sun was rising we were already driving towards the eastern slope of Doi Lang. At 7 a.m. we were on the gate and again we were let in without asking any tickets. So it really seems that National Park stuff wants to sell tickets to the park, but the soldiers that are on the gates don’t really care.
The road to the top is long and in worse shape than other roads we had been driving, but it got better after some driving. We drove straight to km 22.9 bridge where we enjoyed the views and saw some birds too but nothing special.
The second stop was made on the rise-fields at km 26.4 where we walked also in the forest and found some calling Mountain Bamboo Partridges, a female White-bellied Redstart, a Yellow-streaked Warbler, Paddyfield Pipits, Pied and Grey Bushchats and so on. Fields were really high on the mountain but anyway there were quite a few other field-birds too. Some Oriental Turtle Doves were seen too and we had seen some on the way too.
At km 31 opened a nice view to the hills and we scanned the skies for some time and found some unidentified hawk-eagles, a Booted Eagle and some Japanese Buzzards. A couple of drumming woodpeckers were identified as Rufous Woodpeckers.
After the Camping area next few kilometers were really good forest. And finally we found something new too. The situation was funny – I found a bird from the tree-tops that I couldn’t remember what it was in any language, I helped others to find it and then Antti said it was a Whiskered Yuhina. It took a couple of seconds to realize what Antti had said and no, it wasn’t that one for sure. My bird was yellow with black markings and yuhina was totally different kind of bird. But then just in case I moved my binoculars a little bit and found out that there was a Whiskered Yuhina half a meter right from my bird. I asked others to move a little bit left and then they found my bird – it was a Black-eared Shrike-babbler. These birds were both showing pretty well and the funniest thing was that they were both lifers for me and Hanna.
We moved slowly in this good forest and found some White-browed Scimitar Babblers, Pin-striped Tit-babblers, Puff-throated Babblers, a Silver-eared Measia and a Striated Yuhina. We also heard a distant Green Cochoa again. Finally we were on the Army-camp where we had to park. The gate-guardian didn’t speak almost any English but we could find out that we were allowed to go only one kilometer further from the camp. This was a big setback for us as our target-species were supposed to be possible to find much further and higher on the mountain. And we had planned to camp up here somewhere sp we could be as high as possible early on the next morning.
But anyway very good-looking forest continued after the gate anyway and soon we found out that there were several stake-outs in the Army-camp. So we started to check what birds were coming to eat our meal-worms that Hanna had successfully kept alive. And soon we were photographing Silver-eared Laughingthrushes that came immediately to the first stake-out.
While others were still photographing I was walking around and found compost I was searching for. I had heard that interesting species had been seen visiting this area in the past. There was also one more stake-out close to the compost and there was a female Himalayan Bluetail moving around on the ground, but no other birds. When I went to see the others we still found one more stake-out and immediately had several Scarlet-faced Liocichlas coming to feed! These birds were amazing!
Mikko and Antti were quite pedantic about the back-ground of the stake-outs so they once again cut some branches and then Hanna finished the show with some artistic red leafs and so on. And soon we were photographing these colorful liocichlas and Silver-eared Mesias from 3 meters.
In the middle of the day light wasn’t perfect so soon we decided to go that kilometer we were allowed to go up from the gate. This time of day it wasn’t a surprise that we didn’t find anything special. So soon we were back in the camp where we asked the soldiers, if we could put up our tent somewhere near, as this was the safest place around as this road was known to be used by drug-dealers from Myanmar.
Luckily there was now an older man too who mas maybe a bit higher on rank. And he understood English much better. So we got a permit to camp next to our car and we also managed to ask a permit to go higher to the mountain! This man was using strange name for a view-watching place and he said that we could go 3 kilometers, but we knew that San Ju view-watching place was more than 5 kilometers from the Army-base, so weren’t exactly sure until where we could go.
So we decided to make an evening trip to the mountain just to see if there were soldiers or something else stopping us before San Ju. This road was the same where we had been on the other side of Doi Lang and after all we were only some kilometers from the places we had already visited. But between these places there were bigger Army-bases too on the highest point and actually there was no exact information if the road was all the time on Thailand side of the border or not.
But after all we managed to drive until San Ju view-point where we could see lots of Burmese army-camp. There were also several forest-fires on that side of the border. We just relaxed a little bit on the parking place there and at least one of us was sleeping almost in the middle of the road. Only better bird we saw were some Crested Finchbills and a Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush that was singing shortly on the top of one dead tree.
Just in case we took a picture of the San Ju sign and once we were back in the Army camp, we asked to make sure it was OK to visit this place also early in the morning. And it was OK, so we were once again back in our ordinary plan!
We put up our tent and cooked some noodles and pretty soon we were 3 sleeping in a tent and Mikko in a car.
On the top of Eastern slope
On the 1st of March we woke up so early that soldiers were still sleeping. We packed our tent and started searching for birds around the camp. Dogs were already so used to us that we could move around the camp, so I could even go to check the compost. But no new birds were found and soon we noticed that someone had opened the gate for us. Once again we had got perfect service!
So soon we were driving towards San Ju where we parked to one more sign telling that feeding and photographing birds were forbidden. There weren’t many birds around but we found some Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, heard a couple of Bay Woodpecker and after some trying managed to see one of them in flight.
When sun started to shine to flowering bushes that were behind the parking place, there were soon several sunbirds flying quickly here and there. At least most of them were Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds but then after some time I saw a female-looking bird with red rump in flight. I shouted to others and soon Antti found a male too and this one had also red outer tail-feathers – Fire-tailed Sunbirds! This was the species we had really dreamed to see here, but we had red that patience and luck is needed to see them.
Antti managed to get a short digiscoped video of these birds before they followed other sunbirds behind the bushes and disappeared.
After some quite relaxed time in San Ju, we drove back to Army-camp where we once more decided to do some stake-out photographing. Now light was really good, so soon we were taking lots of pictures of Scarlet-faced Liocichlas again.
I gave up first again and started to check other places near the Army-camp and found a couple of Large Niltavas and a Himalayan Bluetail near the compost. Soon we were all there as we still didn’t have pictures of Large Niltavas. While Mikko And Hanna were preparing the stake-out, Antti saw a thrush landing to a branch next to us and there it finally was – a bird we had been searching and waiting for – a Chestnut Thrush! We had heard from Tero and Janne K. that this bird had been extremely tame and easy to photograph, but no, it wasn’t tame at all anymore.
But luckily it came to the stake-out with Scarlet-faced Liocichlas and soon Large Niltavas started to feed too. So we had really amazing birds to photograph! Finally we finished and went to say thanks to the soldiers and started to drive down.
A little bit lower we still walked along one very good looking path, but didn’t see much. We stopped several times and again also on the rice-fields and on the bridge. On the way down we found a Besra, 7 Long-tailed Broadbills, Black-eared Shrke-babbler, 2 Specled Barwings, 3 Striated Yuhinas, 2 Hume’s Treecreepers, a Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher and so on. But we knew that we had to hurry as we had a long drive to north-east to Chiang Saen.
To Chiang Rai
Luckily roads were pretty fast and scenery changing quite a lot, so after we had seen the first Indian Roller, we soon said goodbye to Chian Mai and arrived to Chiang Rai.
We were once again nicely in the schedule and on the way we managed to book us an accommodation too. Only problem was that we somehow managed to book them from the next day.
Finally we arrived at Yonok wetland to famous Harrier roost early in the afternoon. It was good to finally do birding on a lake-shore. Right away we found lots of Lesser Whistling-ducks, some Spot-billed Ducks, a couple of Garganeys, Great White Egrets, Purple and Grey Herons, lots of Grey-headed Swamp-hens, Coots, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks, Black-winged Stilts, a few Grey-headed Lapwings, a Black Kite and then of course Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers. All harriers were seen quite far over the wetland so we still had time to search for more other birds. And we still found a Thick-billed Warbler, a Citrine Wagtail, Eastern Yellow Wagtails, a Wryneck, some Crow-billed Drongos, some Striated Grassbirds and a Baya Weaver.
When the sun started to set harriers started to come closer and they landed to fields and reeds behind the bay. We saw altogether about 35 Pied and 20 Eastern Marsh Harriers. We also heard a couple of Ruddy-breasted Crakes before we had to continue driving.
After we had finally found to Great Mekong Resort, we managed to change our booked nights easily as it seemed that there were no other customers at all. There were quite a few people working but we didn’t see any tourists. In the evening we still heard a Large-tailed Nightjar calling nearby.
On the 2nd of March we headed early to Nam Kham hides. We had already visited the place on the previous evening so we could find the place easily. We parked the car and started walking the path where were several hides. But it seemed that these hides weren’t really attracting many birds and in some of them there were signs that using meal-worms was forbidden. The reason were Siberian Rubythroats, they’d became greedy and banish all other birds. In front of one of the hides there was a small pool that we thought birds would come to bath and drink, but now in early morning bushes and reeds were still very wet, so we thought that birds would come later. So we decided not to stay longer and so the only better bird we found along the path was a noisy Laced Woodpecker.
So soon we continued towards Lake Chiang Saen where we wanted to be before it got too warm and there was too much haze. Luckily it wasn’t a long drive and soon we parked to Nong Bong Kai NHA, some kind of nature center parking place and walked to scan the eastern side of the lake.
We soon found some Spot-billed Ducks, Little Grebes, Coots and some Ferruginous Ducks and more similar looking birds were too far on the other side of the lake. There was a short boardwalk and in the middle of it were a couple of bushes and we found 2 birds there, which one was a Black-browed Reed Warbler but another one was even better – a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler!
We continued along the eastern shore towards south and stopped a couple of times to scan the lake. We found more same waterfowl but also Black-winged Stilts and from the trees we found a Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Taiga Flycatchers and a couple of Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers.
On the southern side of the lake we had to drive along a tiny road towards the shore and then still walk a kilometer to see the lake. While walking we found a couple of Lineated Barbets and then on the last field between us and the shore we found a couple of Lesser Coucals. One of them started to sing when we played the tape for it – and it has a funny song.
From the shore we saw the ducks better but unfortunately we didn’t find any Baer’s Pochards, only Ferruginous Ducks. There had been one reported earlier in winter. A flock of 25 Pintails and a lonely female Common Teal were only new trip-ticks. Soon it started to get so hot that we walked back to our car.
Next we headed to Mekong River and firs northern side of Chiang Saen to Rim Khong restaurant. We ordered food and again I got completely different food than I ordered. There weren’t many birds along the river, I saw briefly some martin in flight, but it disappeared too soon. After we had eaten we walked along the boardwalk to the river and found several Grey-throated Martins flying around one sandy islet.
The hottest time of the day we were driving south along the river and when we were about 40 kilometers south from Chiang Saen, we finally were very close to the river so we started to make stops. And right away we found a jack-pot when Antti found a male Jerdon’s Bushchat that was on a tiny islet in the middle of the river. On the next stop we found a couple of Jerdon’s Bushchats and then still on the third stop one male. So we had found 5 birds in a couple of kilometers area! We also saw plenty of Grey-throated Martins but unfortunately only lapwing we found was a Grey-headed Lapwing, we didn’t find any River Lapwings. Only other new trip-tick was a Greenshank.
Chiang Saen again
In the afternoon we drove back to Chiang Saen Lake and this time to northern side of the lake. Near Wat Phrathatsiwiangkam we climbed to a hill where we had a good visibility to the lake. While walking we flushed a couple of Barred Buttonquails and several Richar’s Pipits. From the hill we saw at least 700 Lesser Whistling-ducks, 400 Spot-billed Ducks, 120 Garganeys and 50 Ferruginous Ducks. We also found 3 Shovelers and Common Teals, but nothing better. This place has held lots of rare wintering ducks, but unfortunately the best times are gone.
It was pretty hot but we really enjoyed scanning the lake which held lots of different birds. Different kind of egrets and herons, waders, Grey-headed Swamphens, jacanas, Racket-tailed Treepies, some Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers, Striated Grassbirds, Black-collared Starlings and a Great Cormorant were seen. When we started to walk back to our car we saw big flocks of Chestnut-tailed Starling flying over us. In one of the flocks we saw a couple of birds with white patches on wings, but we didn’t see much else. We checked bird-book and they could’ve been White-shouldered Starlings but we hadn’t seen then well enough. When we saw the flocks landing to the tops of trees nearby, we started to scan them with our scopes. And we immediately found a few different-looking birds. But there was not exactly similar in our Birds of Thailand book. So we took some pictures and videos of these birds and after all we saw at least 11 of them, maybe even more than 20.
In the evening we went to the same (only than was open) restaurant and started to make the log again. Then Mikko started to check starling-pictures from internet and he found exactly similar bird what we had seen. The bird had been photographed in China and it was a Red-billed Starling! So we googled a little bit more and found out that a few years ago there had been only 4 records of this species in Thailand. So we sent the information about the birds to some local bird-sites and trip-leaders and continued the log in very good mood. We had found the first big rarity of the trip – species that wasn’t even on the bird-book! Later we heard that there had been some records in recent years, but this was easily the biggest flock in Thailand ever and there were soon twitchers visiting the place and they saw these birds and they also thought that there were at least 20 of them.
We were finally ready with the log and drove back to Greater Mekong Lodge to sleep.
Chiang Saen paddies
On the 3rd of Marsh we had planned to drive early in the morning to Chiang Saen paddies that Tero had been told was a good place. We were already driving when we realized that the GPS-points we had were bit too far after all. We knew that Tero and Janne K. hadn’t seen anything too special there so we checked other GPS-points from internet to a site that was also called as Chiang Saen paddies. And this place was very close so soon we were walking in the middle of fields.
We found a Yellow Bittern, some Chestnut-capped Babblers, Baya Weavers, Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias and also a Pied Kingfisher flew over us. The place wasn’t very big, so pretty soon we were driving to Nam Kham as we wanted to visit the best-looking hide later in the morning.
One more visit to hide
Once we were in the hide there was no birds at all yet. We had to wait more than 30 minutes before a Siberian Rubythroat arrived and then some 15 minutes more for a Dusky Warbler. We were already planning to leave when a Baikal Bush Warbler arrived and our hopes were high that a Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler that had been seen here earlier would come to bath or drink to the pool, but after some more waiting, we understood that we really had to leave.
Long way back
While driving back to our bungalow, we saw one more trip tick – a Common Kestrel. Soon we had packed our car and started a long drive back to Chiang Mai. Antti had been driving the whole trip until now when Mikko took a wheel. I was very happy that I didn’t have to drive at all on this trip!
We were pretty tight with our schedule, so we stopped only once during the trip to buy some snacks and drinks. Finally after 4 hours driving we parked to the airport parking and soon had returned our very good car. Then we went to our gate to wait for our flight to Bangkok.
We all slept the whole flight, so it felt we were soon in Bangkok. We had a long walk to our right terminal and gate and of course we did some shopping too. We were told several times that our flight had been overbooked and in the beginning we were offered 300 € for changing our flight and in the end it was even 600 € per person. But we were just too tired! We just wanted to get into our plane and get some sleep. And sleeping in airport-hotel, early morning flight to Krabi and then from there a flight to Helsinki didn’t sound tempting.
Finally at 23:05 p.m. our Finnair flight left towards Helsinki. After I had watched one movie, I was ready to sleep. And surprisingly soon the flight was so over. We landed to Helsinki a little bit early at 5:10 a.m. and at the airport we said goodbye to Mikko and continued by a bus to Lentoparkki and soon were on the road. We dropped Antti to his home and then had a long drive to Parikkala.
When we were back at home, I wore warm clothes, took my skies and left to do winter-bird count.
Our trip to Northern Thailand had been amazing – one of the best trips ever! Our small group was perfect, which wasn’t a surprise. The schedule, places we visited and also accommodations were really good. All local people were amazing friendly, it is always good when people don’t really care about us. But when we took any contact with local people, they smiled and if help was needed, they helped as well as they could. Only minus was that it was a surprise that locals are eating so early in the afternoon that almost all restaurants were closed after the sunset when birders have time to eat.
Bird-numbers were just amazing! Even though we had made a trip to Central Thailand one year earlier, most of the birds we now saw were new. Altogether we saw 379 species and 154 of them were lifers for me and Hanna. Only mammals we saw were different kind of squirrels and a couple of Yellow-throated Marten. Several different dragonflies and lots of different butterflies were also seen, but not as many as on our previous trip.
And the weather was just perfect all the time! It was warm, but not too hot. And when we climbed high to the mountains, it was cool enough, so birds were active all the time. It was also calm and no rains at all. Only rain was seen under us when we were high on the mountain.
We have now been in Thailand twice and seen a little bit more than 500 species. But there is still much to explore, so we’ll be back!