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Japan 3rd to 21st of June 2019

Travelling

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.

Driving Hokkaido

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.

Bull-headed ShrikeBlack Kite (lineatus)

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.

Kushiro marshes

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.

Masked BuntingJapanese Bush Warbler

BushesWe 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.

Long-tailed Rosefinch Stejneger's Stonechat

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!

On the pathEurasian NuthatchWe 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.

JanneBlack-browed Reed Warbler

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.

Latham's SnipeThe 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.

Cape Kiritappu

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.

KiritappuSlaty-backed Gull

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.

Hattaushi area

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!

Tenting placeWe 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.

White-bellied Green PigeonCoal Tit

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.

Japanese SkylarkThick-billed CrowVehkaRed Fox

Sika Deer

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.

Towards lighthouseSeawatching

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.

CruisingWe 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.

Rhinocerous Auklets

Ancient Murrelet

Spectacled GuillemotGuide

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.

SeabirdsSea OtterRed-faced Cormorants

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.

Red-crowned CraneWhen 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.

LighthouseFinally 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.

Red-crowned CraneJapanese Cormorant

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.

Rhinocerous Auklets

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.

Black-tailed GullBlack-tailed Gull

Black ScoterAfter 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.

Chestnut-eared StarlingBlack Kite

 

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.

Japanese IrisFishers Orchid

Furen

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).

Red-crowned Crane

Narcissus FlycatcherJapanese Pygmy Woodpecker

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.

BroadwalkRed Fox

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.

Ducks

 

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.

Forest-roadRed-flanked Bluetail

 

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.

Lake

Japanese RobinJapanese Squirrel

 

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.

Lanceolated WarblerAfter 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.

Red-crowned Crane

 

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.

Pelagic CormorantSlaty-backed GullSeabirds

 

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.

White-tailed EagleSika Deer

Towards Rausu

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.

Sika DeersMiddendorff's Grasshopper WarblerLong-billed Plover

 

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.

Rausu

Japanese WagtailWe 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.

RiverWhile 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.

Shiretoko PassThere 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.

Washi No YadoThen 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

Rausu pathOn 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.

Blue-and-white FlycatcherRausu Geyser

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.

Curvy treesThen 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

5 lakesOur 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.
5 lakesEastern Spot-billed Duck 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.

…and mountains

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.

Sulfur

Mount IoMount Io

Forest-pathThe 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.

Field-viewThen 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.

VolcanoWe 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.

Small lake

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.

OnnetoWhen 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.

Mandarin Ducks

 

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.

Red-flanked BLuetailMt Meakan

Eurasian BullfinchAs 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.

Mt Meakan

 

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.

Mt MeakanMt MeakanGetting 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.

Shikotsu

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.

HideLuckily 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.

PoolThis 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.

Asian StubtailEastern Crowned Warbler

 

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.

Narcissus FlycatcherSiberian Blue RobinNarcissus FlycatcherSiberian Blue Robin

Grey Bunting

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.

Japanese Pygmy WoodpeckerJapanese TitWarbling White-eyeSiberian Blue RobinJapanese Thrush

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.

Black-footed AlbatrossIt 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.

Short-tailed AlbatrossWe 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.

South Polar SkuaBlack-footed Albatross

Seabirds

Seawatching

On the second half of the trip we saw Streaked Shearwaters – lots of them. 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.

Sun setting

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.

Hinuma

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.

Hinuma Naturepark

Green PheasantRight 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.

ButterflyDamselflyPretty 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.

HinumaDay 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.

TentCooking

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.

Varied TitWe 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.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

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.

Everything packedFinally 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.

To Miyakejima

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.

Tokyo lights

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.

Snapper InnIn 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.

Tairo-ike

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.

Ijima's Leaf WarblerOwston's Tit

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.

Izu Thrush

Owston's TitIzu Robin

Meadow BuntingWe 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.

Blue Rock Thrush

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.

TempleWhen 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.

Izu CapeStyan's Grasshopper Warbler

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.

MycenaIn 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.

Brown-eared BulbulOn 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.

VolcanoButterfly

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.

Izu CapeWhen 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.

Frog

Chinese Bamboo PartridgesOn 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.

Streaked ShearwatersWe 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.

Sasagawa

Oriental Reed WarblerWhen 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.

ViewTrain 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.

NaritaNarita

Back home

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…

J.A.

View

Oman 24th of December 2018 to 6th of January 2019

To Oman

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.

Flag of OmanOur 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.

Owling

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.

Mountain birding

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.

Plain Leaf WarblerHume's Wheatear

Other birds in the wadi were House Sparrows, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Pale Crag Martins and stunning semirufus Blackstarts.

Grey FrancolinWe 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.

Bani HadidWe 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.

Omani Owl

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.

Indian RollerOn 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.

Red-tailed WheatearPale Crag Martin

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.

Al Gubrah

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.

Waders

Filim

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.

Crab Plover

Desert WheatearWhile 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.

Khawr Dhurf

Gull-billed TernKhawr DurfFinally 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.

Cliffs

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.

Socotra CormorantsAlong 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.

Gulls

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

Asian Pygmy GoosePintailed Snipe

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.

WadiOrdinarily 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.

Wadi

Towards Dhofar

OasisNext 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.

Coast

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.

African Sacred Ibises

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!

Lifer-day

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.

Baobab TreesWe 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.

Cinnamon-breasted BuntingAbyssinian White-eyeAfrican Paradise FlycatcherAfrican Paradise Flycatcher

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.

Black-crowned TchagraArabian WarblerWadi 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.

Eastern Imperial EagleWhen 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.

Bonelli's Eagle

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Arabian Wheatear

Shining Sunbird

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.

Sinkhole

Yemen SerinAfter 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.

Verreaux's EagleWe 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.

Cliff

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.

Verreaux's Eagle

Singing Bush LarkWe 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.

Wadi DarbatWhen 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.

Rüppell's WeaverBruce's Green Pigeon

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.

Owling again

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.

Arabian Scops OwlSo 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.

Camels

Blackstart

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.

Spotted Thick-knees

Spotted Thick-kneeSpotted Thick-knee

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.

Palestine SunbirdRüppell's Weaver

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?

African SilverbillSo 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…
Ayn Hamran

Raysut

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.

Bruce's Green PigeonEarly 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.

Ibises and egretsAfrican Sacred IbisPheasant-tailed Jacana

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.

Raysut

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.

160 eaglesBut 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.

Steppe Eagle

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.

Abdim's StorkSpur-winged Lapwing
Greater Spotted EagleWe 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.

Small PratincoleWe 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.

LagoonThen 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.

Sea turtle

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

Al MughsaulIn 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.

Wadi

Arabian WheatearI 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!

Desert OwlAfter 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.

Tristram's Grackle

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.

Curvy road

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.

Mudday

African Collared DoveAfter 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.

MuddaySoon 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.

Nile Valley SunbirdGrey Hypocolius

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.

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.

Fields

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.

Great Grey Shrike aucheriIsabelline Shrike

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.

Qitbit

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.

QitbitAt 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.

Pallid HarrierIn 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.

Muntasar

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.

Toy car

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.

Water on the desert

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.

Brown-necked Raven

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.

Muntasar

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.

Tent

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.

Purple SunbirdOn 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.

Khatmat Malaha

Empty motorwayIt 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!

Variable WheatearRed-wattled LapwingDesert WarblerGreen Bee-eater

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

White-eared BulbulOn 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.

LiwaIt 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.

Saunder's TernSlender-billed Gull

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.

Summary

Rock semaphore geckoWhen 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.

J.A.

Wadi

Thailand, Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai 18th of February to 3rd of March 2018

Towards Thailand

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.

Pre-parakeet roost

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.

Chestnut-tailed StarlingCollared Falconet

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.

Golden-throated BarbetLittle 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.

Fire-breasted FlowerpeckerWhite-capped Redstart

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.

Plumbeous Water Redstart

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.

WaterfallSlaty-backed Forktail

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.

Lesser Racket-tailed DrongoAsian Emerald Cuckoo

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!

Summit area

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.

Rufous-throated PartridgeSnowy-browed Flycatcher

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.

Yellow-bellied FantailBroadwalk

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.

hanna
Himalajansinipyrstö

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!

Green-tailed SunbirdBar-throated Minla

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.

Chedis

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.

Lesser Shortwing

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.

Blue Whistling ThrushAshy-throated Warbler

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.

Chiang Dao

Sunrise
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.

Stairs

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.

Streaked Wren-babblerBlyth's Paradise-flycatcher

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.

temppeliWhite-browed Piculet

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.

Cave

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.

Yellow-bellied WarblerVelvet-fronted Nuthatch

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.

Japanese Tit

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.

Firetrail

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.

Large Hawk Cuckoo

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.

Emerald Dove

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

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.

Black-collared StarlingGrey-headed Lapwing

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.

Eyebrowed ThrushGrey-sided Thrush

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.

Small Niltava
Hill Blue Flycatcher

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.

Silver-eared MesiaWhite-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.

Mrs. Gould's SunbirdJapanese White-eye

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.

Oriental White-eyeSpot-winged Grosbeak

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.

Striated Bulbul

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.

Daurian Redstart

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!

View

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

Black-breasted Thrush

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.

Thaton

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!

Horsfield's BushlarkChestnut-eared Bunting

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.

MarketIn 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.

Mrs. Hume's Pheasant

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.

Ultramarine Flycatcher

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.

Fire-capped Tit

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!

Himalayan CutiaGrey-headed Parrotbill

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!

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

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!

Silver-eared LaughingthrushWhite-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.

Black-throated Bushtit

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.

Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblerEyebrowed Wren-babbler

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.

Crested FinchbillCrimson-breasted Woodpecker

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.

Rufous-backed Sibia

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.

Oriental Turtle DoveWhite-browed Laughingthrush

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.

Mrs. Hume's PheasantMrs. Hume's Pheasant

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.

Crested BuntingCrested Bunting

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.

Long-tailed Sibia

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.

Scarlet Finch

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.

Slaty-blue Flycatcher

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.

Siberian RubythroatWhite-gorgeted FlycatcherRufous-bellied NiltavaSlaty-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!

Ultramarine FlycatcherUltramarine Flycatcher

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.

Fields

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.

Black-eared Shrike-babblerWhiskered Yuhina

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!

Scarlet-faced Liocichla

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.

Burma

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.

Scarlet-faced Liocichla

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.

Chestnut ThrushLarge Niltava

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.

Harrier roost

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.

Harrier roost

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.

Chiang Saen

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!

ViewWe 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.

Tickell's Blue FlycatcherLesser Coucal

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.

Mekong

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.

Jerdon's Bushchat

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.

Chestnut-tailed StarlingRed-billed Starling

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.

View

Chestnut-capped Babbler
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.

Dusky WarblerBaikal Bush Warbler

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!

J.A.

Fuerteventura, Canary 24th to 31st of December 2017

Christmas Eve traveling

We spent our Christmas Eve less traditionally by travelling very early in the morning to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. On the last days it had been quite a storm but luckily roads were in surprisingly good shape even though it had been snowing a lot.

Our flight was a little bit late but left at 11:50 a.m. towards Fuerteventura. We managed to sleep a little bit in the beginning but the rest of the flight we were watching landscapes as we flew over Alps, Pyrenees and Atlas Mountains. Finally we had managed to catch the schedule and landed in time to Puerto del Rosario airport.

Passport weren’t checked at all during the whole trip so soon Hanna was collecting our bag while I went to get our car that we had pre-booked from PayLess. We got a Jeep Renegate 4 wheel-drive which had been much cheaper on this company than on others. And we were happy to find out that it was even almost a new car.

Birding right away

After I had managed to put the right place to my navigator, we started driving. The traffic was easy so we could make the first bird-observations soon. Rock and Collared Doves, Yellow-legged Gulls (atlantis), Berthelot’s Pipits and Southern Grey Shrikes (koenigi) were seen before we parked along a road to rubbish tip. We unpacked a little bit and soon we had everything ready for serious birding.

We walked through a semi-desert area to Barranco de Rio Cabras and while walking saw our first Ravens (canariensis) (the birds seen until this were the most common ones on this island), Trumpeter Finches (amantum) and a couple of Egyptian Vultures that were soaring high on the sky. When we reached the cliff we could find Spanish Sparrows and then saw that there was a pool on the bottom of Barranco. Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Ruddy Shelducks, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Moorhens, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Common Snipes and a Green Sandpiper were all shy and flushed when they saw us walking down. When we reached the bottom, we saw an Osprey flying over us.

Southern Grey ShrikeEgyptian Vulture

We were searching for a huge rarity – a Dwarf Bittern that had been found 3 weeks earlier and like ordered 2 days after we had booked our trip. Luckily there had been lots of reports from twitchers since that and the bird had been seen still at least a couple of days earlier. I had also got an exact GPS-point to the place, but not much other information about how the bird had been acting or how it was supposed to find. And now when we saw how big the area was it started to feel that finding a tiny bittern could be more difficult than we had been told.

Barranco de Rio Cabras

I did one mistake and hadn’t got my GPS yet with me do I couldn’t check the exact spot for the bird, but we thought that this pool and its surroundings should be the place. It just looked perfect especially above the dam where was a stream with several small pools under the bushes. So we decided to stay on the dam and watch to both sides of it, to the pool and to the stream.

We waited for almost an hour but didn’t see the bittern. Other new birds weren’t seen many either, but a couple of endemic Fuerteventura Chats that were moving quickly on the rocks higher in the cliff were good to see this early on the trip. Also a couple of Chiffchaffs and Hoopoes, a Greenshank and of course some more of the species that we had already seen earlier were seen.

Soon the sun started to set behind the cliffs, so we decided to walk around the bushes if the bittern was hiding somewhere under them. The bottom of the valley was muddy and soon we had muddied our shoes and I had managed to get my trousers muddy too. But the bittern wasn’t found! I still decided to walk to upper side of the pool to check if there were more pools and found out that there was quite a good-looking stream and a couple of small pools right under the next dam. But Dwarf Bittern wasn’t there either. So it seemed that we had missed the bird, but of course we were coming back!

While we were climbing up, I already sent a couple of SMS to a couple of Finnish birders that I had recently found out that they had been twitching the bittern. Even though it was Christmas Eve both Hannu Palojärvi and Seppo Järvinen answered soon and they told that Dwarf Bittern had mostly been right under the upper dam that I had visited only briefly in the end.

It was already getting dark when we drove towards Lajares. We hoped to find an open shop or service to buy something to drink and also to eat on the field. We had prepared that there might not be anything open during Christmas holidays and had food for several days with us. Luckily there was a service open in La Oliva and we managed to buy some drinks and snacks.

At 7 p.m. we were in Lajares where Hanna had booked an apartment for us. It was a little bit like former garage, but very comfortable. The owners were living just behind the wall. Soon we had carried our luggage in and after we had unpacked and put everything necessary ready, we started to prepare delicious can-food Christmas-dinner.

At 9 p.m. we were ready to sleep, but as expected our neighbors hadn’t got the same plan for their Christmas Eve evening. So we were listening to their celebration for some time before we luckily managed to fell asleep.

Christmas celebrations

On Christmas Day we woke up at 6 a.m. and soon we were in dark parking place packing our car. A Stone Curlew (insularum) was calling somewhere nearby.

We headed first to La Oliva plains where still was quite dark and all we saw were a couple of Rabbits crossing the road. Soon the sun started to rise but only a couple of Berthelot’s Pipits and a small flock of Linnets (harterti) were seen. So soon we decided to continue to Tindaya which was our main target-place in the morning.

In Tindaya we drove through the village and continued to the desert towards the sea. We were driving slowly and scanning the desert and stopped pretty often to check it more carefully. We soon saw a couple of flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks which landed pretty close to the road but they were camouflaged so well that we couldn’t find them before they were flying again, so only poor pictures were got.

After about 15 minutes searching Hanna noticed the first Houbara Bustard! And behind it there were 2 more! Two of them walked soon further and disappeared but one was walking slowly from bush to another and feeding something from the bushes.

We managed to get slowly closer to the bird by car and then stopped the engine and started to take pictures. Soon the bird turned straight towards us and kept on walking towards a bush that was just next to our car! It was on halfway, less than 10 meters from us, when it decided otherwise and continued towards another bush on the same distance from us. We got really good pictures and soon when the bird kept on walking; we drove in front of it to another road that crossed nearby. It walked just in front of our car and stopped to another bush on the other side of the road. So we managed to get pictures n different light and angle.

Houbara BustardHoubara Bustard

Finally we left the bird to feed and continued the “main-road” towards the sea. But quite soon the road got worse and we decided to turn back, as we didn’t want to get flat tire, at least not yet.

When we had driven back to the same crossroads again, we found one more Houbara which was walking quite far on the desert. Then we decided to turn to this smaller road that seemed to go through the desert to Faro de El Toston lighthouse on the North-Eastern corner of the island.

The track was in good condition so 4 wheel-drive wasn’t needed. But there weren’t many birds – just some Ravens, Yellow-legged Gulls and Berthelot’s Pipits.

In Faro de El Toston there were quite a lot of tourists watching the sea and lighthouse and visiting fishing museum. We were walking a bit on the black rocky shore and found a few trip-ticks: a Whimbrel, a couple of Ringed Plovers and a Little Egret.

Then it was time to head towards Barranco de Rio Cabras again. On the way we saw the first Kestrel (dacotiae) of the trip in Tetir and after some more driving we parked to the same spot as on the previous afternoon.

Now there were much more birds on the rubbish tip; mostly Yellow-legged Gulls, but also some 20 Common Buzzards (insularum) and 8 Egyptian Vultures. Once we reached the cliff, we decided to stay up and scan down where we could now see quite big area, but not until the upper-dam. We had got information that the Dwarf Bittern had usually been above the upper-dam in the afternoon, so we didn’t need to hurry to get there. Instead we decided to wait if we could spot it on its other favorite spots and someone had even seen it flying from distance to the dam, so not all its visiting places were known at all.

Fuerteventura Chats were now performing well and we managed to get some pretty good pictures of one couple. Down by the pool we saw a couple of Moorhens, Black-winged Stilts, a Black-headed Gull, a White Wagtail and the same waders again. Trumpeter Finches and Spanish Sparrows were flying in small flocks and a Spectacled Warbler was calling on the bushes.

Fuerteventura ChatFuerteventura Chat

About after an hour waiting we started to plan what to do next. Of course we needed to go to check the surroundings of the upper dam, but should we go there by walking on the cliff and then climb down or follow the Barranco along the stream? Then suddenly Hanna said: “There!” And less than 10 meters from us there was a tiny bluish bittern flying high but still against the cliffs towards the upper dam! Dwarf Bittern was still around and it was a huge relief to finally see it!

Dwarf Bittern

It seemed that Dwarf Bittern had landed somewhere near the upper dam so we decided to walk along the cliff to the other side of the dam and then climb down. There we walked slowly closer to the dam and then crawled the last meters and there it was right under us feeding on the pool!

Unfortunately the bittern saw movement and flew inside a bush next to the pool and disappeared inside the bush, but Hanna had already managed to get a couple of pictures.

We decided to lie down on the dam and wait if the bittern comes back to the pool. But the bird was extremely shy and it took more than 30 minutes before it started to move under the bush and after 15 more minutes it finally climbed to a rock and was showing extremely well! Then it started to move again and came to the stream and started fishing and our cameras were clicking! We were following and photographing the bird for almost 30 minutes and then my muscles started to hurt too much as we were laying on very hard dam. So I had to move back and again the bittern got scared and moved to the bush.

Dwarf BitternDwarf Bittern

Hanna decided to stay with the bittern and climbed down under the dam and hid behind the rocks but I decided to go to see what I could find up from the upper-dam?

I hardly took 20 steps when I heard tit-like calls from the nearest bigger bush and after some whistling an African Bluet Tit (degener) came visible. But it was moving too fast and always inside the bush, so I couldn’t get any pictures. There was also its couple but it didn’t bother to come visible almost at all.

I did walk a couple of more dams higher along the now completely dry stream and found a couple of pairs of Fuerteventura Chats and some Spectacled Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Common Buzzards but nothing else.

When I had walked back to so called upper-dam the bittern was still hidden inside the bush, so Hanna also gave up. We still walked along the stream to the pool, where a couple of Fuerteventura Chats were showing extremely well! Then we were happy enough and decided to climb up and walk back to our car.

Plain Swift

When we were at our car I noticed a couple of swifts that were flying above the gate of the rubbish tip. We drove a little bit closer and managed to see and photograph these birds and even though they were both molting their tail-feathers, we could identify them as Plain Swifts.

Cream-colored Courser

It was still just early afternoon so we decided to drive back to Tindaya as we had heard that Houbara Bustards often gathered to bigger flocks in the afternoons. We drove again the same road but managed to find only one Houbara Bustard that quickly walked further to the desert. We still made a couple of stops and on one stop we found 2 Cream-colored Coursers (bannermani). They were also quite mobile but Hanna managed to get a couple of pictures before they had moved too far from the road. Not many other birds were seen, so we decided to continue towards La Oliva.

Barbary Partridge

In La Oliva we checked another site than in the morning and found a flock of about 50 Lesser Short-toed Larks but nothing else. Then we still stopped at Malpais de La Arena lava-rock area. We had planned to search for some endemic plants but after all most of the area was fenced and private. But behind some rocky fences we could hear a couple of Barbary Partridges calling. I took my speaker and played Barbary Partridge from my phone and soon one of the birds came visible, but it disappeared behind the rocks too quickly so no good photographs were got. While we were walking back to our car we still flushed one Stone Curlew. And soon we were back in Lajares.

In the evening I went jogging while Hanna prepared some can-food again. It was nice to run in warm temperature with normal shoes (not ones with spikes like I use in Finland in winter). I also saw some birds: a Sardinian Warbler, a Chiffchaff, a Hoopoe and a Kestrel and heard some Stone Curlews.

A tour to western side of the island

On Boxing Day we woke up very early. While Stone Curlews were calling we drove through Lajares and then stopped to an open area without any lights nearby. Hanna had once again checked the schedules of ISS and after some waiting the space-shuttle came visible over us. Hanna took some pictures while a couple of Barbary Partridges started to call on the background.

The sun was rising when we passed La Oliva and Tindaya and continued south-east. After some more driving we turned toward Los Molinos dam. We stopped at a goat-farm where some Trumpeter Finches and Spanish Sparrows were perched on the fences but soon continued to the dam where we parked the car. Los Molinos reservoir was told to be the best birding place in Fuerteventura and already before we had got out from the car, we saw a Fuerteventura Chat perched on the fence on the dam.

Soon we were walking along the reservoir and I was of course carrying a telescope. From the banks of the reservoir we soon found about 20 Little Egrets, some Grey Herons, Black-winged Stilts, Common Sandpipers, Common Snipes, Greenshanks and White Wagtails. On the water there were lots of Ruddy Shelducks and Coots, about 20 Teals, 3 male Mallards and a female Tufted Duck. A Black-headed Gull was flying around and soon we heard the first Black-bellied Sandgrouse calls from the sky and saw a flock of 4 birds flying over us. Later we heard lots of call of sandgrouses but didn’t find them from the sky or flying against the surrounding mountains.

Ruddy ShelduckBlack-bellied Sandgrouse

Soon we saw a Cormorant flying over us and it landed to a rock on the reservoir. While I was scoping the lake again I found 4 Spoonbills and a female Garganey. A lonely Black-tailed Godwit was also found and while I was scoping the bushes there was a Common Stonechat and some Linnets.

We walked until the end of reservoir where we still found a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and then something flushed all Ruddy Shelducks from the bigger goat-farm that was further on the desert. Soon all Ruddy Shelducks landed to the reservoir and there were at least 200 of them! Some flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls also arrived to the pool to bath and there was one Lesser Black-backed Gull with them. After some more checking we decided we had seen all the birds on the reservoir and decided to keep on driving south.

Our next stop was in Betancuria where the road dropped steeply to a valley from the mountains. Old town was quite scenery and there were lots of green trees and bushes. So it wasn’t a surprise that after some walking we found some African Blue Tits, Sardinian Warblers, Blackcaps and a Robin. Pretty soon we again continued as we wanted to go birding somewhere with less people and noise.

So soon we were in Vega de Rio Palas where we started to walk along a dry stream. Luckily the place started to look better after some walking and even though it was already early afternoon, we soon found several African Blue Tits, Sardinian Warblers and a Robin again. Then suddenly we flushed a couple of black thrushes from one bush and we of course thought that they were Blackbirds first, but when we soon flushed a couple of birds more, we realized that they were all Ring Ouzels! We hadn’t expected to find these birds here, but soon we had seen at least 6 Ring Ouzels in different plumages. Also a Song Thrush was found as a trip-tick and after some more walking we also found a Grey Wagtail. Other birds seen were only some Spectacled Warblers, Kestrels and a Common Buzzard, but it had been a nice walk.

African Blue TitRing Ouzel

Soon we were driving again along a narrow mountain-road south towards Pajara. There we parked next to the church and we had got information that there was one more surprise-species wintering on the trees around the church. After some searching we heard a familiar call and saw briefly a Yellow-browed Warbler moving on the top of the trees. It was really crazy to see this Siberian species here!

Unfortunately neither the Yellow-browed Warbler nor African Blue Tits were co-operative and we didn’t get any pictures in this very busy area. So we soon continued to Ajuy caves, where were lots of tourists. We walked until the end of the view-track where the steps led into a cave on the shore. It was possible to go inside so we of course went to take some pictures of the cave.

Cave

After some landscape-photographing we still watched to the sea for a couple of minutes and saw some hunting Gannets, but then it was time to get away from other tourists which most of them seemed to be British and German. So soon we were driving along the narrow and curvy road back.

Yellow-browed Warbler

We decided to eat in Pajara where we went to a restaurant next to the church. And while we were eating the Yellow-browed Warbler came to the closest tree where we could see it very well. So after we had eaten Hanna again tried to get pictures of it and after quite a long trying she finally managed to get some.

As we had no hurry we stopped on the view-watching places where were very tame Barbary Ground-squirrels on the first one and then on the next one extremely tame Ravens and Berthelot’s Pipits. The Ravens were funny. Tourists were giving them many kind of food and they opened nuts so easily that it was clear that they had got a lot of experience.

RavenBerthelot's Pipit

Owling

Finally we turned again towards Vega de Rio Palma where we continued almost until the end of the road and parked to the valley. I had now my GPS on and we were exactly on the right place this time. The sun wasn’t set yet so I was photographing a Southern Grey Shrike and a couple of distant Barbary Partridges and Hanna was collecting handful of cochineal bugs that can be used as source of bright red dye.

Vega de Rio Palmas

Finally the sun set and I took my speaker and soon there was a horrible screaming playing on the valley. There had been an endemic subspecies (Slender-billed) Barn Owl (gracilirostris) a week earlier.

I was playing the call for a while and then we were listening and scanning the area but all we saw in the beginning were a bat and a mouse. This mouse wasn’t the brightest animal as it really wanted to climb to my shoe – while I was playing Barn Owl! It was already dark when we saw an owl silhouette flying across the valley. It was quite distant but we thought it had been too big for a Barn Owl. And soon we heard clearly an Eagle Owl calling from the cliffs! It sounded like a normal Eagle Owl not a Pharaoh Eagle Owl which is breeding in Morocco, not so far. I managed to get some poor sound-recording with my phone, but it was too distant to get anything good as I didn’t have my recording-equipment with me.

After some listening I played the Barn Owl call again and then we first heard a strange call on our right side and in same time we saw a ghostly pale owl coming straight over us! It was a (Slender-billed) Barn Owl. It was flying a couple of rounds above us but then glided towards the dry stream where we had been walking earlier. But the strange caller was still on the trees right from us and then I realized it was a Long-eared Owls call. So there were 3 species of owls together!

Soon the Eagle Owl had come closer again but still it was too far to get any better recordings. So we decided to drive up to the cliffs and try to get better recording from one of the view-points. We had no idea if there had ever been an Eagle Owl in Fuerteventura, so we had to try!

So we drove along the narrow roads up to the second view-point and there we walked with headlamps on towards the edge. It was extremely windy up on the top of the mountain, but soon we heard the owl again. I managed to get much better recordings while staying between some rocks. But then we decided to walk until the last cliff as the bird wasn’t very far. We thought that we might even see it. When we reached the edge we could hear the owl calling from the next mountain, so with our headlamps we tried to scan the rocks but it was just a little bit too far.

So after all we gave up as it really didn’t matter if we see a silhouette or not. So we walked back to our car and started a long way back to Lajares. When we were back in our cottage, I first played some eagle owl calls with poor WiFi-connection and it was clear that the bird had been an Eagle Owl. Then I did contact Eduardo Garcia del Rey, a birder who has sites for birding in different Macaronesia islands on Facebook. He answered soon that we should have contacted him immediately to save lots of efforts – our Eagle Owl was an escape from zoo…

Easier day

On the 27th of December we planned to take a little bit easier after 2 hard days. We woke up early again but the sun was already rising when we got out.

We drove just out from Lajares to a couple of volcanoes and started walking towards them. Hanna had been choosing which one to climb from the satellite-pictures, but after some walking we could clearly see that the first one didn’t have a crater at all. So we continued towards the next one and after some 30 minutes climbing we were finally on the top. And the views were really good! Not only there was a stunning crater in front of us, but behind the whole volcano there was a view to neighbor-island Lanzarote!

On vulcano

After we had walked back to our car we decided to drive to see the northernmost part of the island. In Corralejo there was again a view to Lanzarote. We walked there for some time on the rocky shore and found Whimbrels, Ringed Plovers, a Greenshank, a Turnstone, a Kentish Plover, 3 Grey Plovers, 7 Common Sandpipers, 4 Sandwich Terns and a couple of Little Egrets.

Dunes

Next we continued to Parque Natural Corralejo, which is a beautiful dune-area. But we were there too late in the morning, there were already too many tourists walking on the dunes and writing and drawing to the sand. Luckily after some driving we found a spot where the dunes were not only bigger but also cleaner with fewer footsteps. We were walking on the dunes and taking some pictures for some time before we continued along the road that went through the whole dune-area towards south. On the way we saw hundreds of tourists on the sand-beaches where red flags were indicating that it was not allowed to swim – people were just burning their skins.

We did a short stop on El Jablito harbor where we saw only a couple of Little Egrets and a Sandwich Tern and then decided to drive once again to Barranco de Rio Cabras.

Our parking place had already 2 cars, so we had to park a bit further along the road. While walking towards the Barranco we met a couple of Dutch birders which had already contacted me in Facebook as they hadn’t seen the Dwarf Bittern on Christmas Day. Now they had done exactly how we did and after some waiting the bittern had flight to the upper-dam where they had seen it very well. They also told that there were 3 Belgian birders now photographing the bittern and actually these Belgians were the main reason why we were there.

When we reached the Barranco we decided to let Belgians keep on photographing and climbed down to photograph Fuerteventura Chats. But chats weren’t performing well and there weren’t many other birds showing well either. Maybe it was siesta-time?

After 30 more minutes we decided to walk slowly towards upper-dam and surprisingly we found no-one. But then we saw Belgians hiding under one bush. They showed us to get there slowly and we did our best, but right when we were taking our last step, the bittern flushed and flew under the upper-dam again. But now we could start talking with these Belgians which 2 of them were my old friends from Corvo – Davis Monticelli and Vincent Legrand.

Fuerteventura Chat

After some talking we went slowly to upper-dam and there the bittern was again right under the dam. But once again it flushed a bit lower when it saw some movement. David still followed the bird but the rest of us stayed under the dam where a Fuerteventura Chat was now performing well.

The bittern had soon hidden again so we gave up photographing and walked back to our cars. Over the rubbish tip there were again lots of gulls, Common Buzzards and some Egyptian Vultures. Belgians were in a hurry to get their accommodation, so we said goodbyes and then decided to drive to north-east and to Faro de El Toston.

Great Skua

We were at the lighthouse too early as there were still lots of tourists and usually the best time for seawatching starts from the last hour before the sunset. Anyway we walked to the shore and started scanning the sea with scope. I had expected that there isn’t much movement on the sea in mid-winter but I had never expected it to be so empty! But when I found the first 2 birds they were Great Skuas! They had even bigger white patched on their wings than usually but unfortunately they were too far on the sea so I couldn’t see much else. Hopefully they weren’t Southern Skuas?

After an hour more seawatching we had seen only a handful of gulls and 2 Gannets. On the rocky shore and islets we saw 3 Spoonbills and of course some common waders which a Dunlin and a Redshank were trip-ticks.

We stopped seawatching a bit early as it was too boring and started driving back to Lajares. Just when we were coming to the town, a huge bird flew in front of our car! First second we had no idea what the bird was, but after all it was easy to identify – it was a Houbara Bustard. It was even stranger-looking bird in flight!

In the evening I went jogging again and after that we went to eat to a restaurant in the town. We had really good food and huge portions!

Jandia

On the 28th of December we were full of power after an easier day and we woke up already at 5 a.m. Soon after a quick breakfast we were driving towards south. We were early as we wanted to be in our target before the tourists. My navigator told that it was more than 2 hours driving to western tip of Jandia and it wasn’t lying.

When the sun was rising we were in Punta de Jable and our first bird-observation of the day was strange as we saw a flying flock of 16 African Sacred Ibises. I knew that somewhere on the island there was a population of this species, but as we aren’t very interested of category-species, I hadn’t checked where to see them. Anyway we were quite happy to see these birds flying over us. But then this was only the beginning…

Hadada Ibis

We drove only a little bit further and noticed several Hadada Ibises perched on the top of the posts. When we got out of the car we heard and soon also saw lots of Monk Parakeets. It wasn’t a surprise that there was a closed zoo nearby. Before we continued we also saw several small flocks of Cattle Egrets.

Soon after Morro Jable the road continued as a sandy track. Even here the road was in very good condition, even all the books and trip-reports have told otherwise. So the view was changing quickly while we were driving in Jandia peninsula. Finally we could see the westernmost point with Faro de Punta Jandia lighthouse, but we turned before it towards Faro Punta Pesebre where we parked next to small beacon.

We had once again information about some rare birds for Canary Islands and Macaronesia. There had been 3 Hoopoe Larks and a female Desert Wheatear for some. We knew they had been extremely difficult to find but these Dutch birder we had met had sent me coordinates where someone else had just seen these birds on the previous day.

We saw that the GPS-point was quite far from the beacon but anyway we decided to start walking towards the lighthouse. We walked quite a lot before we saw the first bird which wasn’t a surprise –a Berthelot’s Pipit. Soon after that Hanna found a very recently dead Short-eared Owl!

We kept on walking and walking and finally I saw something flying quite distant behind some rocks. I raised my binoculars but didn’t find that bird but saw another one flying towards the road and this one was easy to identify as a Hoopoe Lark. We hurried after the bird and soon were on the place I thought it might have landed, but we couldn’t find anything!

So we kept on walking around the area and then I found the bird I had first seen flying – it was the Desert Wheatear. We photographed this very flighty bird for some time and then continued walking around the other side of the road but found nothing else.

Finally I decided that I will walk back to get the car so Hanna can still stay searching for the Hoopoe Larks. It was a long way back to the car but once I was driving back to Hanna, she had already walked a long way towards me and she had 2 Hoopoe Larks running and feeding in front of her!

So we managed to get some nice pictures of these beautiful larks too before we drove to the lighthouse. There were already some tourists now and from the rocky shore we found some common waders and on the islets there were 5 Cormorants. Soon there were more and more tourists coming with different kind of noisy vehicles, so we decided to start driving back.

Desert WheatearHoopoe Lark

Jandia Thittle

The next stop was made after some driving where in a valley there were lots of endemic Jandia Thittles growing. It was a beautiful cactus-like plant and there were lots of them. While we were photographing the scenery our Dutch friends stopped by and they were going to try to find Hoopoe Larks and Desert Warbler already for the second time. I gave them very fresh GPS-coordinates but later I heard that they had found only the wheatear even though they had been searching for several hours!

Monk ParakeetRose-ringed Parakeet

When we were back in Punta del Jable we were walking a little bit outside the closed zoo and found lots of Monk Parakeets, some Rose-ringed Parakeets and again some Hadada Ibises. Near the lighthouse we saw a couple of swifts in flight by they disappeared too soon.

In Morro Jable we saw a couple of Black-headed Gulls in the harbor and in Playa de La Barca we went to see a lagoon that was in the middle of huge sand-beaches. There were far too many people but we managed to see 15 Dunlins, 4 Sanderlings, 20 Ringed Plovers, 5 Kentish Plovers and an Egyptian Vulture.

Some Siberian birds again

Soon we continued to our next target which was a Park in Costa Calma. I had once again a GPS-coordinate to the Park but as I didn’t have any maps on my GPS, we happened to park our car a bit far. Anyway soon we were walking towards the park and already found a Song Thrush on the way.

It was already afternoon and there were lots of people in the park, but anyway we managed to find soon a good place where birds came to drink to a hose. There were lots of Spanish Sparrows and a couple of flocks of Linnets and Goldfinches (parva) and some Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Also at least 4 Red-vented Bulbuls were seen, which was one more category-bird that we knew were somewhere on the island – and only now we knew where.

After some waiting Hanna noticed 3 Olive-backed Pipits walking on the shadows under one of the bushes. They were hiding very well so we couldn’t get any better pictures until something flushed them to the trees. I managed to find one bird from the tree and got some better pictures but soon they landed to the ground again and even though we saw them several times, we couldn’t get any better pictures.

Red-vented BulbulOlive-backed Pipit

Little Bunting

So after all we gave up and started walking towards north and after a couple of hundred meters we found a female Chaffinch feeding on the ground. It was nominate subspecies from Europe. Next to the Chaffinch there was a flock of Linnets that flushed soon as they always did, but one bird was left behind – and it was a Little Bunting!

The Bunting also got scared when someone was walking past us, but it landed to a bush in front of us. Then we realized that there were several of these buntings calling around us. We found at least 3 of them but probably heard a couple of more – there had been 5 earlier but only one birder had seen these birds before us. After some waiting a couple of these Little Buntings were feeding shortly on the ground but they were also all the time in shadows so we didn’t get very good pictures, but at least we had found both species we had been searching for.

Finally we started a long drive back to north. We stopped on the way still in Salinas del Carmen where we didn’t see a single bird and then nearby in Barranco del Torre. It was possible to drive in barranco but the place didn’t look too promising. We stopped a couple of times in the places with more palm-trees and found 2 Egyptian Vultures, 2 Common Buzzards, a flock of 20 Starlings, lots of Collared Doves, 4 Laughing Doves and a flock of 6 Barbary Partridges. The Barranco was big but it was already getting late, so we didn’t continue further.

We still had a long drive to Lajares and it was already completely dark when we finally were back there. We ate once again can-food and went to sleep very early!

Checking some places again

On the 29th of December we woke up early but still while having breakfast we didn’t know what to do during the day. We knew that we had been birding in the most important areas of the island and then we had also heard that some of the places that we had planned to visit didn’t exist anymore. Some pools were now completely dry.

I already joked (half-seriously) that we could visit neighbor-island or even Gran Canary where the most serious twitchers had been ticking a new split Gran Canary Blue Chaffinch. Some birders had recently been on Canary Islands only for a couple of days and ticked Dwarf Bittern and this chaffinch. Anyway we had a very comfortable apartment and perfect car booked here so of course we decided to make another trip to Gran Canary somewhere in the future. But as Hanna wanted do to some more photographing; we decided now to go to a place where are lots of birds. So we were soon driving towards Los Molinos.

When we were passing the goat-farm there were again some Trumpeter Finches and Spanish Sparrows on the fences. But soon we were walking along the reservoir where were mostly the same birds as on our previous visit. Hanna climbed down to the shore to do some photographing but I continued to the end of the reservoir and still walked a bit along the Barranco, where I found some more waders and Teals.

Trumpeter FinchSpanish Sparrow

Ruddy Shelduck

I counted the birds now more carefully and altogether we saw 300 Ruddy Shelducks, 3 Mallards, 32 Teals, a Garganey, a Tufted Duck, 35 Little Egrets, 3 Grey Herons, 4 Spoonbills, 63 Coots, 40 Black-winged Stilts, a Little Ringed Plover, 2 Kentish Plovers, 2 Greenshanks, 4 Common Sandpipers, 3 Common Snipes, 2 Black-headed Gulls, 40 Lesser Short-toed Larks, 20 White Wagtails, 100 Trumpeter Finches, 2 Spectacled Warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Fuerteventura Chat and a Common Stonechat. Flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouses were flying around most of the time and we managed to see about 50 birds and of course heard even more. Some sandgrouses were seen feeding with goats, buzzards and some Egyptian Vultures in a bigger goat-farm.

Hanna wasn’t very successful with photographing so pretty soon we continued to Los Molinos village. There on the mouth of Barranco were some Muscovy Ducks but not a single real bird with them. But the landscape was very nice.

After some planning, we decided to drive north along north-eastern tracks towards Faro de El Toston. There were lots of surfers but also some waders on the rocky shores. We counted 20 Kentish Plovers, 25 Ringed Plovers, 10 Sanderlings, 3 Dunlins, 8 Whimbrels, 3 Grey Plovers, 5 Turnstones, a Common Sandpiper, 2 Greenshanks, a Redshank and the only new trip-tick for the day – a Curlew. Also 8 Little Egrets, 4 Sandwich Terns and a Lesser Black-backed Gull with of course many Yellow-legged Gulls were seen.

We were again at the lighthouse too early and again there was nothing moving on the sea even though the wind was now stronger. But we met Daniel and his friend again, Vincent had already left home. After talking with our Belgian friends we still stayed seawatching for some time until we got bored and decided to drive back to Lajares. I went running again while Hanna prepared some food.

On the 30th of December we decided to go to walk more to Barranco de Rio Cabras. We knew it is possible to walk until the airport, so maybe there was still something new to be found?

On the way we saw a couple of Fuerteventura Chats in Tetir and when we had parked to the same place again, I noticed 2 White Storks on the rubbish tip with flocks of gulls.

Two couples of Ruddy Shelducks were chasing each others over the Barranco and now there were 3 Black-headed Gulls flying over the pool and stream. When we had climbed down, we started to walk down along the stream. The same waders were found again but soon we started to find new couples of Fuerteventura Chats too.

We walked about 30 minutes or so until there started to be more rubbish than birds on the Barranco. We still found a Meadow Pipit and a Grey Wagtail, but then we decided to start walking back as the view wasn’t so pleasant anymore.

Dwarf Bittern

When we were back by the pool, we decided to walk until the upper-dam where the Dwarf Bittern was found again. It was now feeding quite openly along the stream and climbing on the rocks, so maybe last days photographing had made it a little bit more used to twitchers? We were photographing it for almost an hour and then we were sure that we wouldn’t get any better pictures of this bird with our equipment. While we were climbing up, a Laughing Dove flew over us.

We didn’t have idea what to do next, so we decided to go to check one pool that was mentioned in one of our books and that we thought nobody else had visited recently. Surprisingly this Rosa de Taro pool still existed and it was easy to observe along the road. We found 2 Ruddy Shelducks, 2 Teals, a female Tufted Duck, 6 Moorhens, 2 Common Snipes, a Common Sandpiper and on the reeds we saw a couple of Chiffchaffs and some Linnets. Some flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls came to bath to the pool and there were 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them.

We drove back to Lajares along a new road for us and saw a Catlle Egret in Casillas del Angel. We were back in Lajares already in early afternoon and decided to spend the rest of the day there. So I went running again and Hanna was searching for lizards (which we had hardly seen at all during the whole trip) and plants and so on from the back-yard of our apartment which was already half-desert. In the evening we went to eat to the restaurant which we really enjoyed.

The last day

The last day of the year was also our last day on Fuerteventura. We had already packed most of our things in the evening so after early breakfast we were ready for some birding. We decided to head once more to Tindaya where we drove 3 different roads towards the sea and back and found 5 Houbara Bustards but they weren’t very photographable this time. One of the birds was already very active and running across the desert but unfortunately not displaying yet. Some flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks and Trumpeter Finches were also seen but nothing else. We also visited the shore which was the first time that our car was a little bit tested but still 4 wheel-drive wasn’t needed.

Tindaya

Red-throated Pipit

Next we headed to La Oliva fields which we thought to be very dry. But surprisingly behind the school there was a sewage-water pool with very good surroundings too. We found 4 Ruddy Shelducks, 36 Moorhens, a Grey Heron, 5 White Wagtails, 10 Spectacled Warblers and on the small fields nearby we saw 5 Meadow Pipits and a Red-throated Pipit. A Corn Bunting was also seen flying past us and a flock of 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouses was flying in distance. So after all this had been a worthy place to visit.

Once we were back in our apartment we packed the rest of our things and ate the last food. Then we just relaxed and a Redwing that flew over our house was the last trip-tick number 82.

Finally it was time to drive to the airport where we had a couple of hours wait before our flight back to Finland. Our flight left a little bit late but because of the back-wind we landed in time. It was 00:40 a.m. but unfortunately it was so cloudy that we saw only a couple of fireworks.

When we got our luggage we got a ride to Lentopysäköinti where we had only a short drive to a hotel which we had booked. On the next morning we had an early wake up to twitch some First of January -ticks!

J.A.

West-Kazakhstan 7th to 13th of June 2017

On the 6th of June we had been already a couple of days in Southern Finland. We’d been shopping, birding and just relaxing. We’d stayed in Hotel Pilotti and the last we had early dinner with my parents in Kirkkonummi before we headed to Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

At the airport we met Kari Haataja who had asked us to join him to Western Kazakhstan already in the last autumn. He had been contacting to our Russian contact Denis Lebedev who lives in Samara which is quite far from Western Kazakhstan, but anyway he had been guiding a few Western Palearctic ticker-groups in the last few years. A couple of Finnish groups had also been there already so we had got some tips from them.

Finally at 8:55 p.m. our Aeroflot plane left towards Moscow, where we landed to Šeremetjevo international airfield (Аэропорт Шереметьево) after a couple of hour flight. Then after 2.5 hours waiting the next flight left to Atyrau.

On the 7th of June we had managed to sleep a little bit during the flight and finally at 5:40 a.m. we landed to Atyrau. Locals rushed to passport-control and while queuing we had to fill small papers. It took some time but finally we were the last ones to get out from the airport and luckily we found Denis Lebedev soon. He had already been worried if we had lost the plane or something.

We changed some money with Kari even though we had no idea what was the currency of local Tenge. Soon we were packing our luggage to Denis’s Pajero and that’s when I noticed a strange passerine perched on a wire – it was a female Desert Finch, a new European-tick for us! Also Caspian Gulls and some other species were seen around the airport so Kari started to keep record of species and also some numbers to his quite big log-book.

HaarahaukkaSoon we were heading towards north and right away once we got out of Atyrau, we were on steppes So most birds were steppe-species, except the most common ones which were everywhere – Rooks. Isabelline Wheatears, Ruddy Shelducks, Black Kites, 2 Black-eared Wheatears, a Roller, a Steppe Eagle, some Long-legged Buzzards and so on were seen.

We did the first stop after about 150 km driving along River Ural. Already while we were parking we saw a male Black-headed Bunting on the top of a bush. Soon we were walking along the river-bank and almost immediately I flushed a huge bird – an Eagle Owl! Luckily it landed to Asian side of the river so we managed to watch it well with my scope. Then we spread around to bushes and I soon found the first Red-headed Buntings. I went to find Kari as it was a lifer for him and luckily one of the birds was still singing on the same place. With Hanna we had already seen Red-headed Buntings on our trip to South Ural in Russia a couple of years earlier. Actually this Orsk Area wasn’t too far from where we were now – only some hundreds of kilometers North-East.

UraljokiHuuhkajaHietatiira

The first walk was pretty good and we found some Little Ringed Plovers, a Long-eared Owl, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Kari managed to see a Pallas’s Gull flying by. Soon we drove a little bit and stopped again in a more wet area where the river was flooding. So it wasn’t a surprise that we found a Caspian Penduline Tit and also a Cuckoo, Golden Orioles, a Chaffinch, a Lesser Grey Shrike and saw 4 Gull-billed Terns flying over us. We also heard a Moustached Warbler singing in a thick reedbed. After these visits in the bushes we found lots of ticks from our clothes! They were found still on the next day, but probably they were all from this place.

ValkosiipitiiraWe filled the tank near Inderbor and saw a male Black-eared Wheatear and a couple of Crested Larks around the station. Soon we turned to steppe and started to follow a tiny track towards Dzhangala that was about 100 km North-West. Actually the track had been used a lot as it was the only road to this quite big village from East, but still it was good we had a proper 4-wheel-drive and Denis was driving very well!

At midday it was 32 degrees so we didn’t bother to stop, we just kept on going and tried to see as many birds as possible from the car that was moving a little bit too fast. Anyway we saw plenty of Calandra Larks, Isabelline Wheatears and Short-toed Larks, even 80 White-winged Larks, and some Lesser Short-toed Larks. When there were some pools on the way, we made some brief stops and saw Great White Egrets, Ruddy Shelducks, Red-crested Pochards, a Demoiselle Crane couple with 2 youngsters, Little, Black, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Caspian Gulls, a Lapwing, a Green Sandpiper, Little Stints, Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards and even 15 Montagu’s Harriers but no Pallid Harrier at all. In a couple of reedbeds we heard Great Reed Warblers and saw the first Yellow-headed Wagtail (lutea).
ArokiuruKiuru

Finally at 4:30 p.m. we stopped in the middle of steppe in the same place where Denis had been staying with our friends David Monticelli and Vincent Legrand on the previous week. While we were unpacking the car I saw the first male Black Lark in flight! It was a WP-tick for us all and so Kari left immediately to take some pictures. We still chose a good place for our tent and then left after him. Kari had found altogether 3 males and a female Black Larks but only one male was still there. While getting closer we found a couple of Syke’s Warblers which was a lifer for Hanna, so Hanna stayed photographing them while I managed to get some pretty good pictures of the Black Lark.

Aroa

aavikkokultarintamustarkiuru

RuskopääsirkkuWe still walked around the camp in the evening and about 1 km away we found an old graveyard. There had been a family living still some tens of years ago. We saw some Sand Martins, Skylarks, a Tawny Pipit, a Northern Wheatear family, a Willow Warbler and a few Red-headed Buntings. When the sun was already setting, we still photographed Red-headed Buntings and Syke’s Warblers and found also a family of Twites which was a big surprise for us.

It was already quite late when Denis had prepared a tasty dinner and then we still had to put up our tents. Then it was nice just to sit down and talk with Denis and enjoy the quietness of the nature. It finally started to feel that we might really enjoy this trip! We had already seen the target number one – Black Lark, so everything else would be just extra.

kansainvälinenavaruusasemaHanna still photographed, 3rd summer in a raw on Urals, international space-station that was flying over us while Nightjar and Stone Curlew were calling on the background. It was already 11 p.m. when we finally went to sleep – we had really had a long day!

485A0557On the 8th of June we woke up at 4 a.m. and at 5:30 we were walking around the camp again. All the Black Larks were still around but they were very shy and didn’t let us to get close at all. Also all the other birds were the same as in the evening, only new bird was a Syke’s (beema) Yellow Wagtail.

We had breakfast at 8 a.m. and soon the car had been packed again and we headed towards Dzhangala again. Soon we had seen a male and a female Black Lark, a few Montagu’s Harriers, 5 Steppe Eagles, 3+2 Demoiselle Cranes and a couple of Black-winged Pratincoles.

NeitokurkiArohiirihaukka

Finally we were in Dzhangala area where were several lakes, so we had to start stopping again. There were lots of birds around and some of the better ones were 2 Dalmatian Pelicans, Common Shelducks, Gadwalls, Shovelers, Teals, Garganeys, Great White Egrets, a Purple Heron, a Spoonbill, Cormorants, Lapwings, Kentish Plovers, Redshanks, Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Curlews, a few Black-winged Pratincoles, a Pallas’s Gull, of course Caspian Gulls, a Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered and Little Terns, a couple of White-winged Larks, Black-headed (feldegg) Yellow Wagtails, Caspian (fuscus) Reed Warblers and once we had hit the road again we saw one more Demoiselle Crane, a Red-headed Bunting, a Black Lark and a Short-toed Eagle.

AropääskykahlaajaKiharapelikaani

MustakiuruKiharapelikaani

When we reached the second bigger lake (Kapzhasar), we decided to put up the camp. It was very hot again so it was not worthy to go birding, so we tried to sleep a little, but it was impossible because of the heat. So soon we were walking along the shore and counting birds. There were 25 Dalmatian Pelicans, Wigeons, a Cuckoo, Lesser Short-toed Larks, 5 Caspian Reed Warblers, a calcarata-Citrine Wagtail and several normal ones, different kind of Yellow Wagtail, a Caspian Stonechat, a Bluethroat, a couple of Syke’s Warblers and Red-headed Buntings and lots of other ducks and waders.

SitruunavästäräkkiIn the evening we were still scoping to the lake from the camp and saw more than 50 Pochards landing and a flock of 700 Starlings flying over a distant overgrown reedy lake. I still went to try to sound-record Caspian Reed Warblers but they had stopped singing. It was nice to follow a flock of 8 Spoonbills feeding on the shore. After the dinner we were very tired and went to sleep soon.

On the 9th of June at night I woke up a couple of times and heard a Spotted Crake and a Bittern calling. The alarm woke us up at 5 a.m. and soon we were all walking along the shore again. We spread around as Kari was walking faster and Hanna wanted to photograph almost everything again. We counted even 85 Dalmatian Pelicans which most of them were in flight and moving to other lakes already very early in the morning. I counted 50 Great White Egrets with my scope while a Demoiselle Crane was calling in distance.

Soon we had found also Wood Sandpipers, Little Gulls, Bearded Reedlings, a couple of Reed Buntings and Kari had seen a flock of Spotted Redshanks and I found a Pacific Golden Plover flying over me and luckily Hanna wasn’t too far, so when I shouted to her, she could see it too. Hanna was photographing Reed Warblers and she also photographed a Moustached Warbler.

After some more walking I saw Kari and soon he shouted that he had found some geese that were so distant that my scope was needed. They were 3 Eastern (rubrirostris) Greylag Geese that were resting with gulls and Ruddy Shelducks.

Once Kari had already continued towards the camp, I still scanned the lake with my scope and found about 30 very distant Red-necked Phalaropes. Soon Hanna caught me and we continued together towards the camp. On the way we found a couple of singing Syke’s Warblers that were showing extremely well. So we took pictures and also recordings of them.

Aavikkokultarinta

Rytikerttunen

Once we reached the camp we still saw 7 Pintails flying over us and the same Short-toed Eagle that we had seen in the evening leaving the post where it had stayed for night. The last scanning to the lake was still worthy as a Red-necked Grebe and 2 Tufted Ducks were seen. Soon the camp had been unpacked again and we headed towards the next lakes.

While driving through Kapzhasar village along a bumpy track, we noticed a family of extremely pale sparrows – Rock Sparrows! In the village we did some shopping – no beer was found but we got ice-cream.

After some more driving we were finally in Dzhangala, which was surprisingly big city. We had to buy some ice-cream again, but soon we hit the track again. We drove through the city and continued towards the lakes that were north from the city. We had decided to drive to the main road and then around the steppes back towards Inderbor. It meant that we wouldn’t see more Black Larks which sounded a little bit weird for me, but at least we would see some places that other groups hadn’t visited. Actually it was much longer way along the main roads but in time the way was about the same.

The first lake after Dzhangala was very good and we saw Kentish Plovers, Little Stints, Black-winged Pratincoles, a Marsh Sandpiper, a few Ringed Plovers, 2 Curlew Sandpipers and surprisingly also 4 Sanderlings. Other birds than waders were 200 Red-crested Pochards, 100 Coots, 2 Spoonbills, a Black-necked Grebe and a singing Savi’s Warbler.

järvi

After 11 a.m. we started driving towards North-East and in the beginning we still saw a couple of lakes with a Dalmatian Pelican, a Purple Heron, 2+2 Demoiselle Cranes, 2 Common Cranes, more Black-winged Pratincoles, 3 Avocets, Little Terns, some White-winged Larks and close to the last quite urban lake we saw a Rosy Starling in a flock of Starlings.

ArokotkaBut then there were more villages and the steppe was farmed. So there weren’t many birds except raptors. But raptors were exactly what we had hoped to see, so we were happy to see quite a few nests of Steppe Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards and even a nest of an Eastern Imperial Eagle! We also saw some White-tailed Eagles and Black Kites, some Hobbies, a flock of 13 Common Cranes, some White-winged Terns and Lesser Grey Shrikes and an Ortolan Bunting.

The last part of the main road to Chapaev was in very bad shape but finally at 3 p.m. we were there and turned towards South to much better road. We still saw some White-tailed Eagles, Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, Rollers, the first Red-footed Falcons and a White-winged Lark.

MerikotkaKeisarikotka

PunajalkahaukkaThe road was extremely boring as there were no curves (and of course no hills) at all, so after a long drive everyone except me started to fall asleep – even Denis who was driving. So we had to stop so those who really needed could get some sleep. While Denis and Kari were sleeping we were photographing nesting Red-footed Falcons in a small forest along the road. After 45 minutes we continued toward South again.

I had started to think that if it was possible, I still wanted to see some more Black Larks. Luckily it wasn’t a problem to anyone else either, so once we finally were back in Inderbor at 5:50 p.m., we took another sandy track to steppe again. And it was worthy as we had been driving only about a kilometer when we flushed a male Little Bustard that landed back to the ground visible. When we were photographing it, a White-winged Lark started to attack it and these two amazing birds gave us a funny show!

While driving towards west we still saw lots of Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks, Lesser Short-toed Larks, White-winged Larks, Skylarks, Isabelline Wheatears, some Syke’s Warblers and again a stunning Short-toed Eagle.

Arotasku

Pikkutrappi

SiiseliKäärmekotkaWhen we had been driving some tens of kilometers Denis started to worry why we hadn’t found any Black Larks. Along this road there should’ve been lots of them. He started to drive faster and faster and as this was once again very bumpy road, it wasn’t very funny on the back-seat where we were hitting our heads to the roof and our bags and everything in the boot was flying.

MustakiuruFinally we found the first Black Lark and this male was posing extremely well! So we got some good pictures from the car already. Denis continued a little too quickly but soon more larks were found. We also saw the first Steppe Grey Shrike. Finally we found a place where several male Black Larks seemed to be on their territories, so we decided that it was our next camping place.

After we had chosen good places for tents we spread around to check what birds we could found nearby. But unfortunately we soon found out that Black Larks weren’t that easy to approach by feet than they had been by car. So after all we managed to get only some pictures of them and other birds found were only some Syke’s Warblers and a Black-bellied Sandgrouse that flew over us calling.

While having dinner a Nightjar started singing and when Kari had already gone to sleep, a family of Red Foxes came to search food from the camp. After some searching they got some sausage with them.

The 10th of June. Night was extremely cold! It was about 5 degrees and as the weather forecasts had promised minimum 17 degrees at nights, I had only very thin sleeping-bag with me. So once again I was freezing while Hanna was enjoying in her warm sleeping-bag.

After very badly slept night we woke up at 6 a.m. and soon we were photographing and sound-recording Black Larks again. We managed to get some pretty good pictures and I managed to record song from both perched and flying birds. Usually when one Black Lark was flushed, it started to sing and soon one or two other males joined it, then they were chasing each others for some time before landing again one by one to different places. Altogether we saw about 10 Black Larks which only 2 were females, only other better birds were a flock of 3 Black-bellied Sandgrouses.

Janne kuvaa

Mustakiuru

Finally we had breakfast and packed everything to the car again and about at 9 a.m. headed towards the main road again. On the way we took some landscape pictures on the sand-dunes and saw again lots of different kind of larks. Then near Inderbor we filled the tank again and saw a family of Pied Wheatears and a couple of Crested Larks. Then we headed towards Atyrau.

Denis was driving fast as we finally were in a good road, so not many birds were seen: A couple of White-tailed Eagles and Steppe Eagles, some Red-footed Falcons, 2 Wood Pigeons and a couple of Red-headed buntings were seen.

In Atyrau we headed straight to Hotel Laeti where we had booked rooms. We had a quick shower and rested an hour or so and then went to eat to a restaurant nearby. Unfortunately it was weekend and the restaurant didn’t have their lunch-offer which Denis knew was good, so we had to order from the list. They didn’t have some food we would’ve wanted so we just took something simple. It took ages and when we finally got our food, it wasn’t very good and for sure it wasn’t enough – and after all it was quite expensive too. So we decided that this was the last time we ate in this restaurant.

PussitiainenIn the afternoon we drove to Victory Park that was very close to our hotel. This was the place where our friend Ilkka Sahi had found a Long-tailed Shrike on the previous summer. And this bird ha later got a female too and in early autumn fledlings had been seen there too! Earlier groups hadn’t seen the shrike but we knew that they might arrive very late, so we had to give it a try. But we found only some Red-backed Shrikes, a small flock of Green Finches, a Red-headed Bunting and some Pallas’s Gulls that flew over the park. It was nice to see local families spending their time in the park where were lots of activities for children.

Next we drove to walkway that followed Ural River and where were lots of bushes where Penduline Tits were breeding. They were very easy to attract with the tape so we had a good opportunity to photograph several Caspian Penduline Tits, but we also saw several European -type of birds. We hoped to find a Black-headed Penduline which had been recently split and rumored to be possible to find around Ural-delta, but unfortunately we couldn’t find any. It was good to see and photograph also some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. We also saw some Collared Doves, I saw briefly a Marsh Warbler and when it was getting late a Night Heron was flying over us.

In the evening we headed to another restaurant which was excellent! The owner lady seemed to like us and so we got plenty of extra things to taste. It was already late when we walked back to our hotel to sleep and it was awful to find out that our room was really hot.

On the 11th of June we woke up before 6 a.m. again and soon were packing our car again. The weather was surprisingly cloudy and soon when we were driving towards west, it started to rain.

We had already in the beginning had a plan to go to eastern part of Volga-delta to see Pheasants that were A-category birds, not typical plastic-birds that we have everywhere in Europe. But in the beginning of the trip Denis had told that he wasn’t very keen on going there again as the roads are in extremely bad shape. So we had made new plans and added also Steppe Horn Larks to our to-do list. So after we had been driving along the main road for about 40 minutes and seen once again plenty of larks, we turned towards inland and to steppe. It was good to get out from the main road where the locals were driving like maniacs! The road was full of holes and usually there was only a narrow line where it was OK to drive, but there was traffic to both directions! So some locals were just driving as fast as their cars were moving without caring about anyone else! So we really had to drive off the road a couple of times when some lunatic was driving on the best line straight towards us when the best line was on our side of the road! Well Denis was also driving pretty fast so we were happy to get to softer but at least as bumpy steppe-track. At least there weren’t much traffic!

It was once again quite a ride and the worst places where crossroads. The road that had been driven more on the wet conditions was deeper, so sometimes even the smallest crossing track had very deep trails and when we drove to those trails about 80 km/h it was quite an experience.

TunturikiuruFinally Denis told that we were on the area where Horned Larks but also Caspian Plovers were possible to find. Once Hanna saw a plover-like bird flushed in front of us but when we stopped, we couldn’t find it again. Then it still took quite a long time before I finally noticed a  Steppe Horned Lark perched on the road in front of us. Unfortunately we tried to get too quickly too close to the bird so we didn’t get any pictures. After some driving we found some larks more but the approaching ended with the same result. Finally we found one family of larks and flushed only 3 of them while one young bird still stayed there for us. But soon our car was moving again and it seemed that we were already driving towards the main road again.
Suolajärvi
We still saw some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Little Owl, some Steppe Grey Shrikes and on the wet roads altogether 40 Black-bellied Sandgrouses but unfortunately we were driving so fast that we just couldn’t stop before these shy birds were always flushed.

MustapäälokkejaFinally we were back on the main road and we just drove over it and continued towards Caspian Sea. Once we reached the shore there were immediately big flocks of gulls. They were mostly Pallas’s Gulls but also many Caspian Gulls and a big flock of Black-headed Gulls were seen. On the sea there were some gulls also swimming and we found a few Slender-billed Gulls and Russian (heinei) Common Gulls. Also some Caspian Terns were seen and on the sandy shore we saw a Turnstone and some Kentish Plovers. We drove along the shore a little bit and soon found a big flock of terns where were 5 different species and also some Little Gulls. On a small puddle there were about 100 Greenshanks, 70 Ruffs and a Marsh Sandpiper.

We still kept on going along the shore and found lots of pratincoles that were actually identified only from the pictures as we just photographed them from (almost moving) car, but at least one of them was a Collared Pratincole while there were also Black-winged Pratincoles.  More than ten White-tailed Eagles and more and more gulls were also seen. Finally all the tracks ended and we had to start finding a way back towards the main road. It took some time but finally we made it and then kept on going towards west on a bumpy main road.
KaspianmeriPääskykahlaajaRistisorsa

Finally after 3 p.m. we turned towards South and the eastern edge of Volga-delta. We drove through bushy area along one more very bumpy track and saw on the way a Steppe Buzzard. Then we finally stopped to a place where Denis had been with other groups earlier. We put up the tents right away and decided to try to get some sleep.

LeiriIt was extremely hot again in the tent so it was impossible to sleep. When I got out from the tent at 6 p.m. Kari was already out and scanning the surroundings with his binoculars. Suddenly he said: “There is a Pheasant!” I hurried to next to him and soon found the bird that was climbing to the bank – a darkish red male Pheasant! Hanna managed to get out from the tent soon enough too before the bird disappeared behind a bush. Soon we were walking towards the bird hoping to get some pictures. We climbed to the bank of the river and started walking slowly towards the place where the bird had disappeared. But it had been walking a little bit towards us and flushed surprisingly just in front of us! So only a couple of flight pictures were got. But it was really amazing that we had got this A-category pheasant to our lists so easily! A couple of groups had been here before but only a couple of persons had seen the birds at all – others had only heard them.

FasaaniFasaani

We celebrated a little bit and then I suddenly saw another Pheasant flying across the river quite distant. But then we walked around the bushy area for a couple of hours but didn’t see any more of them – just heard one bird a couple of times. We found some Red-headed Buntings, a few Corn Buntings and surprisingly a couple of Menetrie’s Warblers which was a Europe-tick for us.

While we were having the dinner we still saw a Night Heron and soon heard again Nightjars. There were lots of mosquitoes but we were accompanied with a flock of about 30 dragonflies that were catching all the mosquitoes even when they had already landed to stick us! It was very funny experience! But when the sun set, the dragonflies stopped flying and we had to escape the mosquitoes into our tents.

On the 12th of June I woke up a couple of times to listen if the Pheasants were calling but heard a couple of Grey Partridges calling somewhere quite distant.

Finally we woke up with Hanna already before 5 a.m. and went walking to the bushes. We heard a Pheasant calling once in every 30 minutes but other better birds were only a couple of Syke’s Warblers and Red-headed Buntings which one of them was very yellow-headed, probably a young male. A couple of Lesser Grey Shrikes were breeding in the same tree with Hobbies.

At 7:30 a.m. we were back in the camp where Kari was just leaving to the bushes. So we also decided to cross the river and walk a little bit more but nothing new was found – Kari just heard another Pheasant. After the breakfast we started a long way back towards Atyrau. The only plan was to survive from the bumpy roads.

TunturikiuruDenis wanted to avoid the horrible main-road so we planned to drive as much as possible on the steppe again. So pretty soon we were driving towards the Horned Lark area again. This time we really tried to find Caspian Plovers and it seemed that we checked every single spot where Denis had seen them with groups before as he was driving with his laptop (with satellite-pictures) and GPS all the time. Actually these both were needed most of the time outside the main roads anyway as there were plenty of tracks going on steppe and in every cross it was worthy to check which way to continue.

This time we saw plenty of Steppe Horned Larks, about 40 birds and finally managed to get a couple of pictures of adults too. But we just couldn’t find any Caspian Plovers. Of course we had seen this species before but not in Europe. Also Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Steppe Grey Shrikes and a couple of Northern Wheatears were seen, and of course plenty of Isabelline Wheatears and common larks. When we were heading back towards the main road again we ended up driving along wrong track which had no crossroads and all, so we just had to follow it for a long time to get away from it. It took really a long time before we could cross the gas-line and the railroad back to the main road.
Kamelit

Driving on the main road was again awful but as we knew it was our last long drive and the car and all the passengers were still OK, also Denis was much more relaxed and we had really good time talking about birding and guiding groups and so on. So it didn’t take long before we turned to Atyrau wastewater lake that really looked like an amazing birding place! It was easy to just drive around the lake along the bank and stop every time when there were birds to check. And there really were lots of birds! We counted 10 Glossy Ibises, 20 Ruddy Shelducks, 90 Common Shelducks, 10 Black-necked Grebes, 2 very dark morph Marsh Harriers, some Moorhens, 150 Avocets, 9 Curlews, 5 Whimbrels, 10 Black-tailed and 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Water Rail, 15 Little Stints, a Ringed Plover, several hundreds of Caspian Gulls, 8 Pallas’s Gulls, 3 Gull-billed Terns and so on.

RuskosuohaukkaAroharmaalokkiKeltavästäräkkiPronssi-iibis

Jätevesiallas

Finally we drove back to our hotel where we got the same rooms that we had had earlier. After a quick shower we rested a little bit. Luckily Kari, who had managed to lock his phone to PUK-code condition, was able to go to internet with WiFi as he found out that the Swedish WP-year-lister group had managed to find a Black-headed Penduline Tit in Atyrau! He even managed to find out the exact coordinates to the place so it was easy to decide what we would do on our last day!

In the evening we ate in the same restaurant but the owner lady wasn’t at work so we had to satisfy to ordinary portions, which were really good anyway. When we were back in the hotel, we were extremely tired but still made the days log before going to sleep.

On the 13th of June we woke up again early and at 6 a.m. we were leaving towards Ural delta National Park. After 30 minutes driving we parked next to the gate of the park and found immediately the big tree left from the gate where the Black-headed Penduline Tit had been seen. We walked a little bit around and tried to find out which side of the tree was the best for us to observe as most of the tree was still in shadow. There were so many mosquitoes that we really had to use repellent for the first time, Hanna even used net.

When we had found a good spot Denis started to play tape and almost immediately I found the Black-headed Penduline Tit from the tree! It really looked good! We had been checking every possible picture in internet and also read the Central Asia bird-book that I had with me and this bird really looked promising! But it seems that not enough is known about this species yet…

Macronyx-pussitiainenMacronyx-pussitiainen

The tit was very mobile and flew several times to the reeds along the river to collect food and then flew back inside the big tree. We stopped playing the tape and waited for some 10 minutes and then played the tape again – and after we had repeated this a couple of times, we had managed to get good enough pictures and even some sound-recordings.

Other birds seen were a couple of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Night Heron, a Syke’s Warbler and a couple of Red-headed Buntings. When we left the place we still saw a Little Owl. We still drove around the area along the tracks for some time but found nothing else than some Lesser Grey Shrikes.

The next stop was made in a small forest along the road where Red-footed Falcons had a colony. These birds were good to photograph from the car when they were still perched on the wire, but when we got out they were just flying around and never came very close. On the same forest we saw also some Collared Doves and Lesser Grey Shrikes.

PunajalkahaukkaPunajalkahaukka

After a quick breakfast in Burger King, we decided to make another visit to Victory Park. But again we found only 3 male and 1 female Red-backed Shrikes.

We really didn’t have any idea what to do next, so we decided to drive to the Asian side of Ural River. But the city continued there and further there were big industrial areas. We saw in distance a lake that we tried to reach but after all it was just a wastewater from the factories and it was very well fences. It also seemed that there weren’t many birds, so we stopped trying to see it better. But anyway driving around was worthy as we found about 20 Pied Wheatears in one cemetery and then in small pool right next to one big fenced factory area there were 2 White-tailed Plovers with Black-winged Stilts. We managed to get some pictures of the lapwings even though Denis was a little bit worried as we were so close to the guarded gates.
NunnataskuNunnatasku

SuohyyppäAs it seemed quite pointless to continue in the midday, we decided to drive back to Europe and visit one more park along the Ural River. On this place there were plenty of Great Reed Warblers in the reeds and we also saw a Syke’s Warbler and some Pallas’s Gulls.

Then we just drove back to hotel and paid everything for Denis and let him start his long way back his family to Samara. We were ready to go to sleep for some time.

In the afternoon we did some shopping and walked a little bit in the city before we went to eat to the same restaurant again. The owner was there again and we got really good food once again. Then we walked back to hotel and went to sleep early as we had an early wake up.

Kaupungilla

MoskeijaOn the 14th of June we woke up at 4 a.m. and soon we were in a taxi that we had pre-booked and drove 10 minutes to the airport. We waited for a couple of hours for our flight to Moscow which left in time.

In Moscow we couldn’t find any info about our flight but then we realized that our boarding passes were already marked to a different flight that was leaving an hour later than our cancelled flight. So we had to wait for our flight for 4 hours!

Finally our flight left to Finland and luckily we managed to sleep most of it. We landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 1:30 p.m. and my parents had wanted to come to see us to the airport, so we still went to eat all together. Then we still had a long drive back to Parikkala.

It was good to be back at home quite early in the evening, so we still went to ring a couple sets of Pygmy Owls and then to sauna to Tarvaslampi.

J.A.