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Ireland 2nd to 8th of January 2017

To Ireland

On the 2nd of January my father drove us to Helsinki-Vantaa airport and at 7:50 a.m. our Finnair plane left towards Dublin. The weather was really freezing, so the wings of the plane were well washed before we left.

We were sleeping most of the flight and finally at 8:55 a.m. local time we landed to Dublin. We found our luggage and walked to Sixt office to do the paper-work. We also rented a WiFi to our car as I couldn’t get internet work to my phone. Then we got very Irish accent instructions how to find our car. So we didn’t understand most of it and after some searching in parking halls, we realized that there was a Sixt shuttle outside that took us to another parking place that was a few kilometers from the terminal. There we found our Toyota Yaris and soon hit the road.

Towards Galway

It was horrifying to drive on the left side of the road and there were lots of roundabouts but finally we made it to motorway and then it was easy to start driving towards Galway.

There were quite a few birds, mostly thrushes, corvids, Starlings and Skylarks flying over the road and Common Buzzards were perched on the fences and poles very close. Most surprising bird was a Green Sandpiper that was flying above one field.

After some 1.5 hours driving we turned towards Loughrea and visited a serving station to buy something to eat and we also bought a good road-map of Ireland. We had been quite lazy planning this trip and we had only planned to do birding around Galway for 2 days and then the last 2 days of the trip we would stay in Dublin without a car. But in between we still had a couple of days to do something. Of course we had Lonely Planet Ireland and Finding birds in Ireland books with us too.

Loughrea

Anyway our first target was Loughrea where a Lesser Scaup and also a Ring-necked Duck had been in flocks of other ducks for some time already. I had joined to Twitter to get some Tweets from local Irish birding groups and so I knew the Lesser Scaup had been seen on the SE corner of the lake in last 2 days. We parked our car to the only place where the Lough was well visible and started scanning the lake. There were huge numbers of Pochards and Tufted Ducks far on the opposite side of the lake but also about 100 birds on the SE-corner. This smaller flock was in very bad light but anyway we started scanning the birds very carefully. After some searching I found the Lesser Scaup! It was surprisingly easy to identify but it took some time before Hanna also found it as it was swimming all the time and also diving a lot. We followed it for some time until it swam close to the reeds behind some sleeping Tufted Ducks and swimming Coots and Little Grebes.

And then we found the Ring-necked Duck too, which was only some 20 meters from the Lesser Scaup. Unfortunately both of these birds were so far and in so bad light that we didn’t even try to get any pictures of them. Anyway we had got the first lifer of the trip and at least my target had been 2 lifers for whole trip, so the beginning had been great!

We continued to Turlough Rahasane which was pretty difficult to find but finally we managed to find a place where we still had to go to a pasture to see this very good flooded field which had amazing numbers of birds! There were also some other people walking with dogs, so we thought it was OK to stay in this place and soon we met one of the land-owners who was very kind and told that he had never seen so many Whooper Swans there before. There were about 150 Whooper Swans, but for us much more amazing was the number of ducks! There were hundreds of Shovelers, Wigeons and Teals and also quite a few Pintails and 3 Gadwalls. On the shores there were lots of waders and while someone was canoeing on the other side of the “lake” big flocks of Dunlins, Lapwings, Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews and Redshanks were in flight. We also saw several Grey Herons and 2 Little Egrets and a Long-tailed Tit came to catch some insects right above our heads.

Turlough Rahasane

Whooper SwansBirds

But when the flocks landed they were mostly behind small grassy hills, so soon we decided to continue to Galway city.

Nimmo’s Pier

We drove through Galway city to famous Nimmo’s Pier. I had got information that there had been 2 Ring-billed Gulls and at least one of the birds was the same that had been there for many years. I had got instructions to get some bread with us and throw it for the gulls and usually this Ring-billed Gull is the first one to arrive. So Hanna started throwing bread and suddenly there was one bird landing right in front of our feet while all the others were flying, it was an adult Ring-billed Gull!

Ring-billed GullRing-billed Gull

We were photographing the gull for some time and found also a young Ring-billed Gull, but there weren’t many big gulls at all, just some Herring Gulls. We had hoped to see white-wingers, but it seemed they hadn’t arrived yet. So soon we walked to the tip of the pier and started scanning the sea. We knew there had been reports of a Forster’s Tern around the bay and I hoped it might arrive to roost somewhere close to the pier.

Ring-billed GullRing-billed Gull

The visibility to the calm sea was amazing and we of course got lots of trip-ticks. Great Northern Divers, alcids, Cormorants, female Scaup and so on were seen before I found 4 or 5 terns that had arrived feeding close to one lighthouse. They were far but it was easy to say that there were both adult and young Sadwich Terns but one of the birds looked different. We hadn’t really studied how to identify a distant Forster’s Tern in flight so I opened my Collin’s App and after some 30 minutes we had seen the bird well enough to say it really was a Forster’s Tern! Unfortunately it never came closer so we couldn’t see the color of its feet, but everything else fit perfectly!

Our hotel

Soon the light started to get worse so we left the terns and started driving towards Barna. Hanna had checked that there was a hotel Twelve close to the shore there and once we got there they had only one double room left, so we took it even though the price was a bit expensive for us (115€).

We ate in the hotel restaurant which was extremely crowded! But the food was delicious and it was nice to see locals enjoying their evening with their families while eating and having the first Guinness of the trip.

Once we got into our room, I found out in Twitter that someone had photographed the Forster’s Tern somewhere in Galway Bay earlier during the day. I tried to get more info about where it been, but not even a couple of contacts I had couldn’t tell me more than probably it had been somewhere close to Nimmo’s Pier.

Birding around Galway Bay and other places nearby

On the 3rd of January we had a huge breakfast which was for me of course “Full Irish”. Then we decided to stay in the same hotel for another night too as we really enjoyed the place and the food. After all we were on holiday!

Barna Pier

We started birding on Barna Pier which was very close to our hotel. Forster’s Tern had been seen also in this place earlier. We had decided to start checking the whole bottom of Galway Bay during the day.

The weather was again amazing and the sea was completely calm! Barna Pier was an excellent place to start as there were lots of birds. Already on the pier we saw some Pied Wagtails, a small rarity a Black Redstart which we didn’t know it had been found a couple of days earlier, some Stonechats and lots of Rock Pipits.


Stenochat
Rock Pipit

On the sea we saw several Great Northern Divers, alcids, some very distant Gannets, 2 Kittiwakes and so on. Along the shore there were some flocks of waders and Hanna found a Purple Sandpiper that was in one flock of Dunlins. Also a Common Sandpiper was seen shortly.

Silverstrand

Next we continued to Silverstrand where we took some view photos before started scanning the sea. With Comrorants there were quite a few Shags and on small rocks there were some Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers and a couple of Knots.

In Salthill the sea opened very well and we found lots of Great Northern Divers and some Red-throated Divers. After some scanning I found a diver that immediately looked like a small Black-throated Diver while it was swimming together with a Great Northern Diver. It was extremely far but the visibility was perfect, so we could see it seemed to be thick and short-necked, smallish-billed and it clearly had no obvious 3 white flank-patch like Black-throated Diver. But we had to follow the bird for a long time before we finally saw it really had some thin dark collar on its neck – it was a Pacific Diver! This bird had been reported only once more than a month earlier! I hadn’t really dreamed to see this bird even though I believed it is somewhere in the bay as it had been wintering there for several years already. The bird was swimming slowly further and it was clearly behind the Tawin Island where we were going later during the day, so we hoped to see the bird better later. We still saw it swimming together with a Red-throated Diver and it wasn’t any bigger.

Anyway we decided stay in our plan and headed to Lough Corrib which is the biggest lake of the republic. It was difficult to find a way to the coast but after some searching we managed to get to the southern shore. There were lots of birds but they were all too far and mostly seen only when in flight. We saw hundreds of Pochards and Tufted Ducks, 2 Scaups, 10 Goldeneyes and some Moorhens but nothing better really.

Lough Corrib

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

So we decided to continue straight to Tawin Island. It was a long and narrow road which went past some nice birdy bayous and a couple of pastures before we had to park our car and started walking to the shore. But unfortunately it had started to wind pretty much and we could found only some Great Northern Divers behind the waves. A flock of about 250 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were seen in flight shortly and a Peregrine was chasing wader-flocks.

We were a bit disappointed as we had seen both of the rarities so badly, so we decided to drive to Nimmo’s Pier for the evening hoping to see the Forster’s Tern better.

Feeding gulls

There were no Ring-billed Gulls this time so we went to scan the sea. We found soon a couple of Sandwich Terns perched far on the bay, but they weren’t flying at all. The tide was rising and after 30 minutes waiting the terns were in flight, and soon there were 10 of them flying around. After some checking we found the Forster’s Tern again and even though it was much closer now, it was impossible to see its feet. We were following it for a long time and slowly it came closer. I tried to compare it with the Sandwich Terns and it was easy to see that when Sandwich Terns were getting up from the water after a dive, the feet were completely black, but in this bird they looked just dark. It was already getting darker when a couple of tern started to fly straight towards us and luckily another one was Forster’s Tern! I was watching it with my scope while Hanna followed it with her camera. After a couple of dives I could clearly see the red feet and surprisingly they were visible also in some Hanna’s pictures!

Forster's Tern Forster's Tern

In the evening we met Harry Hussey who was my Facebook friend and quite famous birder. We met in Eyre Square and it was nice to chat about Irish birds and also about everything else too. But pretty early we were back in our hotel and after a great dinner we were ready to go to sleep early again.

Jay

Bull Finch

Coal Tit

On the 4th of January after the breakfast we headed to the SE side of Galway Bay to Coole Park. We walked through a nice forest until a Turlough but there weren’t many birds at all. But the forest was really nice! There were lots of Bullfinches and Long-tailed Tits and also exactly those birds that we had hoped to see local sub-species of Coal Tits and Jays.

Next we drove to Kinavara where from the pier we tried to twitch a Green-winged Teal that had been there for some time. There were some Teals but some of them were sleeping in that kind of position that it was impossible to identify them. And as it wasn’t in our top-priorities to find this American duck, we soon continued to Traucht. We hoped this beach to be the place to see our Pacific Diver better.

The sea was again completely calm and we found amazing numbers of Great Northern Divers. I counted 80 of them in one count and there were 22 in one flock! I also found a flock of 5 Black-throated Divers and the looked much slimmer than the bird we had seen earlier. I once found a small diver swimming far on the bottom of Tawin Bay but it was too far to say anything and it disappeared too soon after it dived.

Great Northern DiverGreat Northern Diver

On Flaggy Shore we were on County Clare, but the birds were still the same, lots of Great Northern Divers, but also a flock of 4 Black-throated Divers. We also saw a flock of Common Scoters but there were no other scoters with them. A Long-tailed Duck was seen in flight and a Common Sandpiper was seen again. The visibility was so good that a Grey Heron was possible to see from Galway which was more than 10 kilometers away!

Calm sea

In Bell Harbour we saw 15 Shelducks, but soon we were continuing along the shore towards Black Head. While driving we could see more and more Great Northern Divers all the time! In Black Head we were watching a real Atlantic Sea and there were lots of alcids, Gannets, seals and porpoises.

Cliffs of Moher

Then we drove a bit longer to Doolin where we saw there was a parking place to Doolin Cave. We had no plans to visit this place but as it was so close, we went to ask, if it was possible to visit the cave. Unfortunately the next guided tour was at 3 p.m. which was too late as we had to hurry to the Cliffs of Moher.

There had been a Snowy Owl in Doolin but as we didn’t know the exact place and we didn’t see it from a moving car, we continued straight to the parking place of the Cliffs of Moher.

We walked past the information center and turned towards the cliffs on the left when a Black Redstart jumped in front of us to the fence. Later we heard it is a rare bird in Clare. From the cliffs we saw a couple of Fulmars flying against the sea and on the grasses there were 2 Choughs with Rooks.

Cliffs of MoherCliffs of Moher

We also climbed to see the views from the cliffs on the other side of the information center and I must say that they were spectacular!

Cliffs of Moher

Our hotel

We drove past Liscannor Bay when it was already getting dark and continued inland to search a place where to stay. It took some time as most of the hotel and B&B’s were closed and one that was open was full. After all we had to drive to Ennis city and big Temple Gate hotel which was once again a bit too classy to our taste (109€). We went to eat to a kebab-place nearby where local teens were so noisy that owner had to kick them out so we could enjoy our food.

I the evening I found out in Twitter that the Pacific Diver had been seen during the day from Tawin Island. I sent messages to a couple of contacts and Niall Keogh gave us instructions where the bird had seen and it wasn’t a surprise that it had been less than a kilometer from where we had seen it.

Clare places

On the 5th of January we started in Ballyallia Lake where were quite a few Little Grebes, 3 Gaddwals and the first Reed Bunting of the trip. Then we went to check a couple of other lakes Lough Atedaun and Inchiquin Lough which the first one was pretty good. We saw 17 Gadwalls, a female Scaup, a Goldeneye and a female Hen Harrier.

Then we drove a longer way to huge Fergus Estuary which we had decided to check from Ing. We had timed our visit well as the tide had just made all waders to move to the grassy area that was in front of us. There were a couple of thousand Golden Plovers and hundreds of other waders, but once again the place where we were was on pasture and we weren’t sure if it was OK to look for birds there.

Fergus Estuary

Waders

Anyway all birds were again very far, so we decided to skip a couple of other places in Fergus Estuary and drove straight to Shannon Airport Lagoon. Unfortunately the traditional parking place had been blogged, so we had to park to golf parking and walk along the shore-bank towards the lagoon. But the reedbed was just too thick and wide so we couldn’t see the lagoon well at all. And there weren’t many birds at all. It was again pretty windy too so it was pointless to start scanning the empty looking sea either.

We were a bit disappointed to the places we had visited in Clare, so we decided to drive straight back towards Galway. At least it was easy driving along the motorway which of course started close to the airport.

Again in Tawin Island

And so after an hour of driving we were back in Tawin and driving towards the island. On the way we saw a Kestrel and a male Pheasant and soon we were walking towards the tip. Unfortunately it was quite windy and for some reason we found only a few Great Northern Divers, most of them must have been swum further to the sea.

After some scanning I found a young Glaucous Gull that was swimming with a couple of Herring Gulls. It was the first Glaucous Gull for the autumn in Galway. Soon after that we found an Iceland Gull flying with other gulls behind a fishing ship.

We were accompanied with a Paidi Cullinan who had been trying to twitch the Pacific Diver already during the morning for 4 hours without luck. We were scanning the sea and we should have found much more divers but they were somewhere else. A couple of small flocks, together 7, Long-tailed Ducks were seen but no Pacific Diver.

After a couple of hours Paidi decided to give up and he had walked already 50 meters when I found a diver swimming behind the tip. It wasn’t far and I clearly saw it was a Black-throated Diver type of bird. But it was swimming away all the time. I shouted Paidi back and soon we were all looking at the bird. It wasn’t diving at all but swimming away all the time! In about 15 minutes it turned only a couple of time and with Hanna we could see pretty clearly the neck-collar, but Paidi had no zoom in his scope so he suffered not to see it. Of course everything else fitted to Pacific Diver too, but anyway I let him to look at the bird with my scope. It had been swimming away for a long time already and was quite distant but finally it turned for a couple of seconds again and also Paidi could see it well. It was a lifer for him too, so the atmosphere was great!

We were talking with Paidi while walking back to our car and he told that he had seen a couple of Spotted Redshanks on the bayous along the road. It was already dark when we stopped there but with scope we could easily wind them as a trip-tick.

Hanna found with her phone a possible place to stay and soon we parked to Oranmore Lodge hotel parking place. Again the room was a bit too good, but soon we were ordering dinner in a restaurant. I must say that this place is in very good location for birders.

Towards Dublin

On the 6th of January the weather was windy and also rainy. In the morning we visited Belclare Turlough where we watched a flooded field from the hide but there wasn’t enough water yet. There was no flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese with a Canada Goose either that had been seen there a couple of times. There were lots of ducks but they weren’t well visible from the ditches.

So we continued soon to Loughrea to try to see the scaups better but once we got there it was raining very hard. I quickly checked but there were almost no birds in the SE corner at all, so we decided to move on towards Dublin.

Brú na Bóinne

On the way we decided to drive to Meath to see one of the most famous tourist-places of Ireland Brú na Bóinne. It was still raining when we got there but at least there weren’t too many other tourists. So we managed to get to the first shuttle that drove us to Newgrange tomb. This 5000 years old large circular mound has an inner stone passageway. The entrance is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, when sunlight shines through a “roofbox” and floods the inner chamber.

Brú na Bóinne

From Brú na Bóinne we drove to the ring-road and to the airport where we parked to the rental car park. There we found out that we should had checked the car with an officer before we had left there, but when we told that we had taken photographs of every corner of the car and there were no new scratches, we were soon free to go. Luckily the rain had also washed the car…

From the airport we took a bus to Dublin city and got out in St. Stephen Park where we had booked a hotel already before the trip. Stauntons on Green was an old hotel very close to the city center, so soon we were walking along the main shopping streets and found a good restaurant.

In Dublin

On the 7th of January we slept longer and after a huge Irish breakfast we walked to National Museum where we saw lots of golden and other treasures. Then we visited also Natural History Museum where the best find was an Eskimo Curlew!

During the day we rested a bit and then decided to go twitching again! I had got perfect instructions to twitch a local subspecies of Dipper from Niall Keogh, so we took a green line tram from St. Stephen Park and got out about 10 minutes later in Milltown. There we walked to Dropping Well Pub and behind the pub there was a streaming river. We walked to a bridge nearby and immediately found a Dipper and a couple of Grey Wagtails! Hanna got good pictures of the Dipper and we also saw a strange looking wagtail that is maybe a hybrid between Pied and Grey Wagtail. Soon we were going back towards our hotel as the pub was a bit too crowded to visit.

Strange wagtail Dipper

In the evening we went to eat to the same restaurant again and then it was time to go to sleep very early as we had really early wake up.

Back to home

On the 8th of January we woke up before 5 a.m. and a half an hour later we were sitting in a bus that drove us to the airport. Our flight left at 8:55 and I was a sleep already before the takeoff!

We landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 14:40 local time and my parents were there already waiting for us. We ate well in a restaurant in the airport and as my parents had decided to continue to some museum by train, we were soon driving towards Parikkala.

We were finally at home in the evening and I must say that once again we had been very lucky on our trip! And for once we had also been resting enough on our holiday!

J.A.

Azores pelagic 28th of August to 3rd of September 2016

Slowly travelling

I had been dreaming for years of joining a pelagic trip to somewhere far WP corner. I had always enjoyed seeing sea-birds and I still had some species missing on my list. Autumn pelagics have been arranged from Madeira, Lanzarote, Graciosa on Azores, Northern Spain, Portugal and Scillies in England. Azores trips have been organized by Archipelago Choice and my friends Rich Bonser and Peter Alfrey which was one of the reasons to join it. Of course one reason was that there had been some incredible rare birds like Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel every single year and even one South Polar Skua. And the third reason was that on Graciosa there was possible to see and study Band-rumped Storm-Petrels that will be split soon to several species. It is possible to see Graciosa endemic summer-breeding Monteiro’s and winter-breeding Grant’s Storm-Petrels side by side. So I booked myself in already in early spring and the whole trip was paid before summer. So it was good to wait for the early autumn.

Finally the long waiting was over and I was waking up in Kirkkonummi where I had been already for more than a day.

The 28th of August. I hadn’t been sleeping almost at all when I woke up at 2 a.m. Anyway I had planned to sleep in the plane. Soon we were driving towards Helsinki-Vantaa airport with my father. On the way I got a text-message from TAP that my flight would be late and it was possible to check more information from their sites, but there was nothing there. So we continued driving. My father dropped me to the airport and there I soon found out that the flight had been delayed for a couple of hours. So it seemed that I would miss my second flight to Terceira which was leaving almost the same time when the first flight was landing to Lisbon.

After 4 hours trying to get any sleep on very uncomfortable benches my flight finally left, 20 more minutes late. So I had to hope that the strike, that TAP security persons had been having on early morning, was delaying also my second flight.

I was sitting in the middle seat so even though I fell asleep already before the plane took off, I woke up immediately as there was nothing to lean to. Finally I managed to get some sleep when I turned my bench as back as possible, but when I woke up, my neck hurt very bad.

When the plane finally landed to Lisbon, I opened my phone immediately and received an SMS from TAP that told my second flight was also late, but only for 20 minutes, so it was just leaving…

So in the airport there was an officer collecting all the people together that had missed their flight and we were given new tickets to next flights and 10 € food-tickets. Hooray! My flight was after 8 hours, so I had a long wait again…

I wondered around the airport and spent time and tried to sleep again a little, but without success. Only funny moment was when I realized that I was sitting next to a King! A legendary football player Eric Cantona was waiting for his flight to Paris!

I ate in Pizza Hut and walked more around, but I wasn’t able to buy anything as I was really out of money after buying a new car a week earlier.

Finally the boarding started and it wasn’t a surprise that also this flight was a little bit late. I was again sitting in the middle but managed to sleep some more and once I woke up my neck was even worse.

Twitching right away

Finally the plane landed to Terceira and after I had found my luggage, I took a taxi to Hotel Teresinha where our group was staying. We had planned to meet the leader of the tour, my old friend Josh Jones, in the hotel at 6 p.m. but it was already 8 p.m.

I got a comfortable room from the hotel and then sent once again an SMS to another old friend Pierre-Andre Crochét with whom I had planned to do birding for whole day. I should have been on Terceira already 11 a.m. and we were supposed to go birding with “PAC”, Hugo Touze and Josh.

After sending a message I went to lobby to see if there were any other from our group and found Swedish Bosse Carlsson, Hans Rudhe and Luxemburgish Guy Mirgain. They were about to go to eat something and I planned to join them as it was already getting dark outside anyway.

Long-eared Owl twitch

We walked around the pool of Paul do Praia and saw some Coots and Moorhen and also a Glossy Ibis that was walking on the grass on the shore of the pool. Then we stopped to see a couple of Long-eared Owls that were roosting on a tree in the backyard of a kindergarten.

But then PAC called me and told that they were watching a Sandwich Tern in the harbor and right away my alarms went on; that was a bird I should see! I asked if they had watched it carefully as American Cabot’s Tern had recently been splitted as an own species. And PAC told that they of course been thinking of that possibility and they had plenty of pictures and there was probably something strange in this tern. So PAC promised that they would pick me up from the hotel where they hadn’t been at all yet. And soon PAC, Hugo and Josh had taken rooms, dropped their luggage and we were driving to the harbor.

Belgian David Monticelli, who had accidentally booked a room from a different hotel, had also arrived to the harbor, but also too late. The bird wasn’t there on the wire where it had been perched together with many Common Terns and a couple of Roseate Terns. It wasn’t found from the harbor at all, so once it was getting too dark, we decided to give up. Only other birds to mention were some distant Cory’s Shearwaters and a Whimbrel.

So we visited our hotel briefly, took relaxing showers and left to search for a restaurant. Unfortunately Pescadore, which we knew was good, was closed on Sundays, so we had to continue to another one where Bosse, Hans, Guy and David were already. They had been waiting for their foods for ages already and after all it took amazing long to get anything also for us. But at least we had time to check Hugo’s tern-pictures and check everything that was possible to find about Cabot’s Tern on internet. And the bird really looked like a Cabot’s! There were only two previous records of Cabot’s Tern in Western Palearctic and they had both been found dead. Both had been ringed birds, of course ringed in America, and one had been found in UK and another one in Holland. So there were 3 happy persons in my table and one not so happy – thanks TAP!

After all some of us had really difficulties to get any food and at least one got too raw fish, but at least the octopus I had was really tasty!

It was too late when we finally walked back to hotel and got to sleep. I was too tired!

Successful morning

On the 29th of August we woke up early and headed to the harbor already at 6:30 a.m. Josh drove us, who hadn’t seen the tern yet, to the harbor first and then left to pick up the rest. With Bosse, Hans and Guy we started to scan the terns that were already visible sitting on the wire even it was still quite dark. Unfortunately they were all same size, Common Terns and a few Roseate Terns again.

We were wondering where David was when Bosse said: “The tern is there now!” It had managed to come to the wire without any of us noticing. I had been watching so many pictures of this bird, so it was easy to see darkish tertials, narrow white edges on the primaries that didn’t go around the tip of the feather, almost completely black cap-patch with only very little white in it and the size of the bird as it wasn’t much bigger than the other terns. Soon the bird was flying and we could see the darkish secondaries too.

Cabot's TernCabot's Tern

We were watching the tern for about 15 minutes and tied to call David, and finally he arrived. But then the tern was in flight again and didn’t land back to the wire but flew far towards the sea. Luckily David managed to see it well enough to tick it. But I must say that we all need to wait for the absolutely sure Cabot’s Tern tick, as the species is not very well known yet. But if the id-criteria that is now known is right, our bird fits very well!

We had really had perfect morning so we could happily drive back to the hotel to enjoy good breakfast already at 7:30 a.m.

Day-trip on Terceira

Cabo da Praia

HarborBlack-tailed Godwit

After the breakfast we met the rest of our group that had started the tour already on the previous day on Sao Miguel, where they had been birding with local guide Gerby Michielsen. I didn’t know British Brian Gregory, Dutch Barti Brieffes or Canadian Heather Pantrey before, but they all seemed to be very keen travelers. Heather was an older lady who wasn’t really a birder but had been travelling very much with nature-people in recent years, but anyway I had a feeling if she knew where she was joining as birders pelagic-trips are quite extreme birding trips. Luckily the beginning of the trip was something else than swinging on a smelly boat in the middle of the sea.

Soon our drivers arrived and we got into a van and a 4-wheel drive and of course headed once again back to the harbor first. But there were almost no terns at all, so soon we continued to famous Cabo da Praia quarry which has really good pool for waders.

There were quite a few waders in Cabo da Praia but not as many as later in the autumn in October when there are lots of American vagrants. Anyway we found 4 Semipalmated Plovers, which 2 of them were adults, a Ringed Plover, some Kentish Plovers, Sanderlings, a Curlew Sandpiper, a Little Stint, a Knot, a Ruff, Turnstones, 2 Grey Plovers, a Whimbrel, 5 Black-tailed Godwits, a Redshank and 2 Common Snipes. Quails were calling, Collared Doves flying around, a few Blackbirds and a couple of Blackcaps and Grey Wagtails, and a flock of Waxbills were also seen. The weather was perfect and I started to feel that I had packed too many warm clothes with me. Anyway you never know how much the weather can change when you are in the middle of the sea…

After we had been watching for the waders enough, we continued towards inland and made the first stop in Cabrito artificial pool. There were Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls like almost everywhere in the coast too but also a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Black-headed Gull and a Tufted Duck. There was also a very strange duck, but whatever it was, it was a domestic “plastic duck”.

Then we headed towards the volcanic mountains and walked a little bit on one hillside where local Chaffinches were calling very strangely and a couple of bigger bats were hunting over the field. Soon we continued higher to the end of the road and walked on the meadow and tried to find an endemic butterfly-species. Soon we found plenty of these Azores Greylings (Hipparchia azorina). It was a greyish-brown butterfly that was always flying too fast with the wind and landed with wings closed. So at least I didn’t get any good picture of it. Next to the parking place there was a pool where we found plenty of American damselflies Citrine Forktails (Ishnura hastate). They were tiny dragonflies, only 2 centimeters long and I would have never found them as they were flying so low between the grasses. All Citrine Forktails on Azores are females and reproduces by parthenogenesis, making this the only population of Odanata anywhere in the world known to reproduce by this means.

YHighlands

Hipparchia azorinaIshnura hastata

We had planned to visit Angra do Heroismo too, but we had spent so long on the meadows that we decided to drive back towards Praia de Vitoria. We stopped to see a Goldcrest which is a different subspecies, inermis, than what some of the group had seen on Sao Miguel on the previous day.

Ship to Graciosa

Finally we were back at the hotel where we just picked up luggage and continued to harbor to wait for the ship to Graciosa. There was a mess in the harbor and it was impossible to find any info about the ships that were leaving. Actually there was no ship at all after an hour waiting when the ship was supposed to leave, but we didn’t worry as there were so many other people too. Finally there were 2 different ships coming and the bigger and much older one was ours. Finally soon after 6 p.m. it left, more than an hour late and we of course climbed up to the deck to watch seabirds.

ShipsOn the deck

Bulwer's Petrel

In the beginning there were only some Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls, Common Terns and Cory’s Shearwaters and once we got to the sea, there was almost nothing at all. I saw briefly some flying fishes, but it really seemed that the weather was too good and the sea too calm for seabirds. Anyway we kept on trying and finally saw a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, one too distant small shearwater and then also a Bulwer’s Petrel. We also saw some whales that were jumping very far, but from the pictures we could identify them as Sowerby’s Beaked Whales (Mesoplodon bidens).

We were closing Graciosa and it was getting dark when we saw the first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. Soon we found a couple of birds more and one of them was seen a bit closer so we could see that it was molting and therefore most probably a Monteiro’s Storm-Petrel. These Monteiro’s Storm-Petrels are breeding in two islets close to the shore of Graciosa and it is still not known, if they are the only Monteiro’s Storm-Petrels of the world or if they are breeding also on other island and islets around Azores.

Finally we were in Graciosa, in Praia harbor, where we met our contact Rolando. His friend was speaking very good English and they had arranged us a late dinner in a restaurant nearby. Normally all the restaurants were closing very early and as our ship had been late for an hour; it was good to know we had a reservation. First we drove to Santa Cruz to our hotel where we didn’t have as many rooms as we expected, so we took a double room with Josh. After dropping our bags to our rooms, we drove back close to Praia to restaurant Green Light.

The chef in Green Light was a funny man and after welcoming drinks we ordered fish. We enjoyed really good dinner and had fruits as a dessert, before drove back to the hotel and finally got to sleep about at midnight.

The first pelagic day

Our boat

On the 30th of August the breakfast was at 7:30 and after some relaxing in our rooms, we took a van we had got in the evening and left towards the harbor nearby. There was not enough space for all of us, so Josh drove the first group to the harbor, where we met Rolando. But Rolando was surprised to see us as he wasn’t going to the sea with us and we were supposed to leave from Praia harbor! We had no idea about that, but luckily Rolando helped us and drove that part of our group that didn’t fit to the van to Praia, so we made it there in time.

But in Praia harbor we still had to wait for some time before our boat arrived and we met our captain, a young assistant and his girlfriend. Soon we had carried our equipment to the boat and left to the sea.

Common Bottlenose Dolphin

First we saw only the same gulls, terns and Cory’s, but after about an hour we saw the first Great Shearwater and soon also a Bulwer’s Petrel and some Band-rumped Petrels. But we didn’t want to stop yet and continued towards Bank of Fortune, a huge shallow area about 34 kilometers from Graciosa. But soon we saw a couple of dolphins which made us to stop as they were too close not to take photographs. We followed these Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) for some time before we continued again.

Soon we had the first sea-sick on the board, but surprisingly it wasn’t any of our group but the assistant’s girlfriend. So the chumming was started a bit earlier than we had thought. None of us hesitated to tell her that luckily there were only 8 or 9 hours to survive…

Finally we arrived to Bank of Fortune where is an underwater volcano and therefore a shallower sea which is for some reason a good place to see seabirds. Especially storm-petrels have always been seen in this area. Rolando and co. had arranged us a big tub full of chum, which is fish-parts in oil and bread and anything that floats. Josh and PAC started to throw this chum to the sea and soon there were the first Band-rumped Storm-Petrels coming close to us! This chum smelled incredible bad which was of course good as seabirds have really good sense of smell. Unfortunately our chum wasn’t floating very well but mostly sinking straight away. Anyway there was soon a big oil-slick around our boat. And the slick was getting bigger and bigger all the time when we were floating with the wind and waves. I must say that of course our chum was fully organic and we weren’t polluting the sea at all.

ChummingChum

Finally a couple of storm-petrels arrived nearer to the boat and we started to take pictures. Birds didn’t come as close as I had expected; mostly they were flying around and just flying quickly over the slick and picked very quickly something from the surface in flight, but always quite far from the boat. Sometimes they just quickly flew past the boat and then cameras were clicking. But the boat was of course bobbing on the waves and there were many photographers with long tubes, so it was extremely difficult to get any good pictures of these fast flying birds; at least for a beginner photographer who had his wife’s camera.

After seeing some storm-petrels, we were sure we had seen both molting and fork-tailed Monteiro’s and fresh-looking a bit paler greyish and square-tailed Grant’s Storm-Petrels. There was a slight difference in wing-length and the way of flight too but mostly we were just taking pictures and had no idea what we were photographing. We just hoped to get some sharp pictures from where we could maybe identify the birds later. But these birds are still not very well known, so for sure there can be some mistakes still found even on pictures of this story.

Monteiro's Storm-PetrelGrant's Storm-Petrel

Every now and then a Cory’s or Great Shearwater past the boat and cameras were clicking again. After some time we had floated away from the slick and we drove back to the beginning of the slick to float through it again while photographing the birds again; and this was repeated about every 30 minutes.

It was already late afternoon when once again all the birds had been missing for some time and we decided to drive around a little bit and try to find some birds. But we found nothing and soon came back to the ordinary place to the slick. The weather was incredible good, wind was mild and sun was shining hot. So PAC and Josh, who had been doing the hard and smelly job with the chum and even without any other protection from the sun than sun-cream, were swimming a couple of times. In one more quiet moment pictures were taken from a Lesser Black-backed Gull that came to the chum, but then suddenly I found a dark-looking storm-petrel flying quite distant past the boat. It took some time before the others found it, but we all thought it was completely dark and clearly a storm-petrel. But it never came any closer and soon disappeared behind the small waves. We just didn’t see it well enough to identify it 100% sure as a Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel!

After a frustrating dark storm-petrel it was again quiet for some time, before PAC finally shouted: “Wilson’s Storm-Petrel!” I found the bird immediately and there was a shorter-winged storm-petrel with a bigger white rump and long feet flying low towards us. It soon turned around and disappeared, but soon it was flying past the boat but quite distant. And in the same time there was also a Sooty Shearwater flying past the boat! I had got a lifer that I had been expecting.

Wilson's Storm-PetrelSooty Shearwater

After some more Band-rumped Storm-Petrels PAC found another dark-looking bird that was flying away from us. We tried to catch it but it was impossible. We managed to follow it for some time, but never got any closer. Hugo managed to get a couple of pictures and it seemed to be a Bulwer’s Petrel after all.

It was already getting late, so we had to start driving back. We still stopped to take pictures of a swimming Great Shearwater and then suddenly saw some big blows not too distant! We drove closer and found a couple of Sperm Whales! We followed these big whales, which can be even 16 meters long, for some time and it was amazing to hear the blows! And still it was not enough as we soon found also a couple of Cuvier’s Beaked Whales and again got also pictures.

Sperm WhaleSperm WhaleLesser Black-backed Gull and Great ShearwaterCuvier's Beaked Whale

Close to Praia we still drove around the Praia Islet a couple of times and tried to find a Sooty Tern that has been breeding on the island for years, but we saw only plenty of Common Terns and some Roseate Terns. After all we were back in the harbor after 9.5 hours on the sea and we had seen 15 Great Shearwaters, 4 Sooty Shearwaters, 5 Bulwer’s Petrels, 6 distant smaller skuas, a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and about 30 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. From the harbor we drove straight to Green Light to have dinner. This time we had delicious meat. After the dinner it was good to get to the hotel and go to sleep a little bit earlier.

Second day pelagic

On the 31st of August we had planned to leave to the sea earlier, but again we had some misunderstandings and we weren’t sure to which port we were supposed to go and how we could all get there with one car. Luckily everything had been arranged for us and Rolando’s English-speaking friend arrived to the parking place and we all got a ride to Praia, from where we were leaving.

Long-tailed Skua

The wind was now much harder so we drove around Praia Islet only once and still saw no Sooty Terns. Then we continued straight towards the Bank of Fortune. Already on the way we saw quite a few Great Shearwaters and also a nice Long-tailed Skua flying over us.

Our chum was now much better; it smelled much worse and it floated well, as it had much more bread and also popcorn in it. Maybe it was the bad smell together with very bumpy driving that made me feel pretty bad. I had survived the previous day extremely well as I had been using a transdermal patch behind my ear. It was supposed to last for 72 hours but anyway I decided to take some extra medicine and took also pills for sea-sickness. But after some time I still didn’t feel any better. I started to look so bad, that Guy noticed my condition and offered me also ginger-pills; and maybe it was the triple-medication or then the sea just got a little bit less rough, but I started to feel better soon. Or maybe the main reason was that we finally arrived to Bank of Fortune and started to see storm-petrels immediately once we started chumming.

It didn’t take long before there were several Band-rumped Storm-Petrel flying around the chum but now the photographing was even more difficult as the waves were big and it was very difficult to stand on the boat. Soon another Long-tailed Skua was seen and right after that Hugo spotted a stunning Fea’s Petrel flying behind the boat. Luckily it flew once very close by the boat and we all got pretty good pictures. Soon one more Long-tailed Skua was seen and after some Band-rumped Storm-Petrel photographing we noticed 2 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels that were showing us their beautiful dancing on the sea-surface. We really were enjoying the species-selection!

Fea's PetrelFea's PetrelWilson's Storm-PetrelWilson's Storm-Petrel

In the best time there were about 10 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels and Great Shearwaters were flying past the boat quite often. So cameras were clicking and even though the boat was swinging a lot, I didn’t feel bad at all anymore.

Short-beaked Common Dolphins

We also saw a pack of Short-beaked Common Dolphins that dived right under our boat. But then it was a short gap without any interesting records, until Josh shouted: “Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel!” We all found the bird easily flying straight towards us but it turned behind the boat and only I and Hugo managed to get some kind of pictures. I took mine while I was sitting behind someone and just reached my camera around him and pointed it towards the bird. Surprisingly the bird was in almost every picture and even almost sharp in a couple of them! But even though the bird disappeared very soon, the atmosphere in the boat was high! We all had got a lifer and Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel had after all been the target number one for probably all of us, as it had been seen in every Azores Pelagic before and always in Bank of Fortune!

Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel

For some time there were too happy birders in the boat to concentrate to find more new birds, but soon we were all again scanning the sea and checking every single storm-petrel and shearwater that was flying passing the boat. And again many Band-rumped Storm-Petrel pictures were taken before one Great Shearwater landed next to us and after we had taken really good pictures of it, we were ready to start a long way back towards Praia.

Great Shearwater

The Bank of Fortune had offered us about 40 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, 55 Great Shearwaters, 10 Sooty Shearwaters, a Bulwer’s Petrel and all the candies already mentioned. And one more candy was seen on the way back, when I spotted a distant petrel that was barely possible to identify a a Fea’s Petrel.

The wind was still so hard that we checked Praia Islet only briefly and were back in harbor soon. We had planned to relax a couple of hours and then head back to the sea in the evening. On the way to our hotel, we made a brief visit in Praia town and on the only fresh-water pond of the island we saw a long-staying Mandarin Duck.

In the evening the wind had dropped and the sea was calm again, so we drove around Praia Islet several times and checked all terns. We had got information that the pair of Sooty Terns hadn’t been breeding this year, but at least one bird had been seen still one week earlier, but all we found were Common Terns, some Roseate Terns, Turnstones and a Grey Heron.

We headed back to the harbor before 8 p.m. and soon were back in our hotel, where we had dinner. The food wasn’t really good and there was only one choice of meat and fish to eat. Luckily after all we all got our portions and the hunger was moved again to the future.

It was good to relax in the evening and to go to sleep a bit earlier.

3rd pelagic day

On the 1st of September Josh drove us all to Praia harbor, which meant he had to drive there twice. This time we made it to the sea in time and the rarity-hunt was on again.

Praia and Pico

The sea was very calm again and it was very warm already. Also the visibility was incredible and we could see 4 Azores islands when even Pico was clearly visible behind Sao Jorge.

On the way to Bank of Fortune we saw almost nothing but when we got there, the first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was seen immediately. And once we started chumming, there were soon more of them flying around the boat.

Once again we managed to get pictures of both Monteiro’s and Grant’s Storm Storm-Petrels, but of course only very few birds were possible to identify in the field. But almost no other birds were seen, so we had time to photograph young Azores Yellow-legged Gulls and Cory’s Shearwaters too.

Monteiro's Storm-PetrelGrant's Storm-PetrelAzorean Yellow-legged GullCory's Shearwater

We were enjoying the sun and filled our memory-cards with too many storm-petrel pictures. But then together with March, we noticed 2 storm-petrels and another bird looked completely dark – “Swinhoe’s Petrel!” I shouted, and this time the bird was flying past very nicely and all of us managed to get pictures. This time the bird stayed on chum for some time and we managed to follow it for some time and even moved a little bit closer once but then it once again disappeared like all the storm-petrels always somehow did.

Swinhoe's Storm-PetrelSwinhoe's Storm-Petrel

We saw also less Great Shearwaters than on the previous day, but again one of them landed next to our boat and started to follow us. After all we were feeding it from about 1.5 meters!

Great ShearwaterGreat Shearwater

Striped Dolphin

When we thought we had got enough pictures and too much sun, we started to drive back. Altogether we had seen about 20 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, 10 Great Shearwaters, 2 Bulwer’s Petrels, which another one was seen on the way back. During the day we had also seen a Blue Shark briefly and a pack of Striped Dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) jumping quite distant.

Close to Praia Islet we found incredible flocks of Cory’s Shearwaters swimming and while driving around the flock, we were able to get really good pictures of them. Then we drove around the islet once again but still found no Sooty Terns. We were back in harbor at 2 p.m.

Cory's ShearwaterCory's Shearwater

Once back in the hotel, I did a short walk in Santa Cruz and managed to find cold drinks from the third shop I visited. But soon we were heading back to the harbor again. We were going to check the islets once again. When we were back in the boat, we noticed that there was no chum at all, but luckily we managed to get lots of small fish with us.

The sea was still very calm and it was nice to drive around Baixo and circle around on the sea, but only birds were completely missing. Our target was to find a place where Monteiro’s Storm-Petrels were supposed to arrive before they head to these breeding islets, but we saw only 1 storm-petrel and 1 Great Shearwater. So in the end we headed to Praia Islet to try to find Sooty Terns.

Baixo

Praia

PAC and Josh were doing the dirty job again and cutting the fishes in pieces with their bare hands and throwing them for terns. And soon we had plenty of Common Terns with a couple of Roseate Terns catching their share, but no “sooties”. We had heard that the pair hadn’t been breeding this year, but at least one bird had been seen still at least one week earlier. But we had no luck. Soon our fish-box was empty and we headed back to the harbor.

We had dinner in Green Light again, where we were once again warmly welcomed. We got some drinks while we were waiting for our food which was once again good and too much. After all Rolando came once again to help us all to get back to hotel. He also brought some bad news as the weather-forecast promised storms for the next evening. It seemed that he didn’t want to take any risks and go to the sea at all on the next day. Anyway it seemed that we would meet him again on the next morning to find out what happens. Once we were back in our hotel, I was soon ready to sleep.

Graciosa sightseeing

On the 2nd of September we thought that we’d meet Rolando after breakfast. But after 30 minutes waiting we started to worry. After 1 hour waiting, Josh called him but his wife was answering and telling that Rolando had gone diving! We were a bit confused, as the weather still looked perfect to go to the sea. We had told that if it was impossible to go to the sea, we’d get another car so we could all go together somewhere in the island, but there still was no sign of anybody bringing it for us. But after 30 minutes more waiting, we somehow found out that there had been all the time a car for us in the parking place!

So we left to see what kind of island Graciosa was. We did a couple of stops on the shore nearby, but saw only some Turnstones and a Whimbrel and of course black rocky shore. Then we stopped in the lighthouse in Farol da Ponta da Barca, before we headed inland to the volcano. We drove through a tunnel to Furna Do Enxofre Caldeira and found out that it was extremely green inside the crater. There was supposed to be a small lake too, but it was now completely gone. Anyway we saw plenty of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Canaries, some Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons and heard some Robins too.

Shore

Caldeira

The most important sightseeing was a cave that was behind the information center. Most of us bought the 3.5€ ticket and climbed a long way underground to see the cave. The cave was nicely enlightened and there was also a small fumarole that of course smelt bad. Anyway I think the cave was really worth a visit.

CenterUnder ground

Cave

After I had climbed back to the center, we just relaxed a little bit after continued driving around the island. After all the small island of Graciosa was soon driven around and we had seen a few new island-ticks like Grey Wagtail, Common Buzzard and Collared Dove.

Then it was time to head to the airport. Josh went with a couple of other friends to collect our luggage and soon we were all waiting for our flights.

The plane left after 6 p.m. to Terceira where we landed very soon. There it was time to say goodbye to all those who were continuing with the same plane to Sao Miguel.

In Terceira airport Bosse and Hans, PAC and Hugo and also Marc had booked rental cars, so with Guy we didn’t need to do it anymore, there was enough space in the other cars. So we joined Marc and headed straight to the harbor once again. And once we got there, we found a familiar tern perched on the familiar wire once again. But once we got out of the car, the bird was already in flight and soon flew far to the sea and it didn’t come back in about 30 minutes that we still stayed there.

Messing up

It was already dark, when we headed to our hotels. Swedes and Guy were staying in Teresinha again but the rest of us had booked rooms in a hotel Branco nearby, which was a bit cheaper. I had booked a room with help of Marc while waiting for our flight. But once we got there to Branco, there was no room for me at all! We found out that we had accidentally booked a room from hotel Branco II and it was quite far from Praia de Vitoria! Luckily the owner was from the same family as the owners of this Branco I, and we could sort out that I went to the room with French, as they luckily had a third bed in their room.

After some refreshing in our rooms, we headed to restaurant Pescadore where PAC had booked us a table for 7 persons. The Swedes and Guy were already there and soon we had ordered food. We were already eating our delicious portions when PAC’s phone rang and someone was asking, where were we? PAC soon understood the call was from the restaurant and they were still keeping a table free for us and they had been turning other customers away from the door already as the restaurant was completely full. PAC tried to explain that we were inside and already eating. But then everything cleared, PAC had called to another restaurant called Pescadore; there was still an empty table for us on Sao Miguel! We were quite embarrassed!

Well the most important thing was that at least I got one of the best dinners I have ever had, and soon it was good to go to sleep next to my full stomach.

Moring birding around Praia de Vitoria

On the 3rd of September we woke up after a hot night and soon met everyone in the familiar place in the harbor. We were a little bit late and there were only a couple of terns left. They had gone fishing already.

It was windy and rainy weather so we went to have morning coffee to Café Europa nearby, before headed to Cabo da Praia again.

It was soon clear that there were more waders now and among the closest waders there were a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Pectoral Sandpiper. I counted 50 Sanderlings and there were also quite a few Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and so on but also a couple of new Semipalmated Plovers, 4 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 2 White-rumped Sandpipers with many birds that had already been there on our previous visit.

Lesser Yellowlegs ans Pectoral SandpiperSemipalmated SandpiperSemipalmated PloverSanderling

With Guy we had a flight in the afternoon, so Marc who still had a couple of days in Terceira, promised to drive us to the airport. We still had some time, so we visited the other parts of the harbor, swimming beach, Paul do Praia and went to twitch the Long-eared Owls, before Mar dropped us to the airport.

Paul do Praia

Praia de Vitoria

Our flight to Lisbon was in time (it was the only flight that was not organized by TAP but SATA). In Lisbon I said goodbye to Guy who had only an hour before his flight to Brussels, while I still had 3 hours to wait. I ate again and walked a lot around and even bought some souvenirs, before my flight to Helsinki finally left at 9:25 p.m.

I was in Helsinki at 3:30 a.m. 30 minutes earlier than in the schedule, but luckily my father was there already. We drove to Kirkkonummi where I went to sleep and woke up in midday. After a relaxed day, I still did some birding before started a long drive to Parikkala where I was in the evening. And on the next morning I had to go to work…

J.A.

Polar Ural, Russia 18th of June to 2nd of July 2016

Forewords

It was already late spring and we had no real holiday plans with Hanna. Luckily I found out that my old friend Pierre-André Crochet was searching participants for their trip to Russia, Polar Ural. Immediately I sent a message to “PAC” and also to Eric Didner who was also going and after a week, we knew we were in! On the previous summer we had been in South and Central Ural on a trip that we had planned with Oleg Demyanenko from Ural Expeditions & Tours and he was our contact again. We had then also been planning a trip to Polar Ural but we had discussed that it would probably be after some years. Now it was going to happen much sooner!

It was going to be quite a journey! We soon found out that we we going to use train to get there to Northern Urals and with Hanna we decided to go all the way to Moskow by train! The plan was to meet the rest of the group, PAC (WP-3), Paul Dufour and Ernest “Ernie” Davis (WP-1) in Moscow, then continue by train to Inta, do a 5 days trip towards Urals and then continue by train to Eletskaya. In Eletskaya we’d meet Oleg and Eric (who would take part only to the second half of the trip) and travel with a tank to Polar Ural and stay a couple of days there before a long train-trip back to Moscow. It would mean 11 days in the field and with Hanna we would travel almost 116 hours in train!

To Urals

Our target birds were easy to say. We all needed Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Pin-tailed Snipe. Only PAC had seen a Siberian Accentor before and Hanna needed also Black-throated Accentor. Paul who hadn’t been travelling in North, of course needed many other species too… But as we were going to a pioneering trip, we also wanted to get familiar with all other bird-life and also other animals and even some plants. And of course we wanted to find something surprising like a Pallas’s Rosefinch or Pechora Pipits…

To Moscow

On the 17th of June I could take it easy while Hanna was still packing. I had already packed on the previous days. Finally after 4 p.m. we drove to the railway station where I dropped Hanna and our luggage, drove back home and then walked back to the railway station.

At 4:37 left our train to Kouvola and about 2 hours later we were there. We went to eat with Hanna’s sister Elissa and after that at 8:20 p.m. our Tolstoi train to Moscow arrived. After passport and ticket checking, we climbed to the train to different carriages. We had booked our tickets too late to get a cabin together. I had got a 1st class ticket and I was traveling together with an older Russian man. Hanna was in 2nd class with a Russian family.

The train left in time and after an hour we arrived to Lappeenranta Vainikkala border crossing place. Border guardians came to ask some questions and I also managed to get a stamp to a paper where I had listed all our more expensive equipment, so I could proof I had got everything with me already when I came to Russia to avoid difficulties once we were coming back. It took an hour before we crossed the border and at 10:22 we stopped in Russian border crossing place in Buslovskaya. But the train continued almost immediately and then passports, immigration papers and tolls and so on were checked on the moving train. At 10:55 we were in Vyborg and once the train was finally moving again at 11:43, I prepared my bed and started to sleep.

On the 18th of June I woke up after 8 a.m. when my room-mate had been outside the cabin for some time already. The view outside looked very Russian with green, bushy and flowery meadows, lots of forest, old wooden houses and some big Soviet-style apartment buildings. Some common bird-species were seen as a trip-tick, before my breakfast omelet was brought. The last 45 minutes of the trip I was just watching outside the window while the train slowly approached Moscow.

Finally right after 9 a.m., 15 minutes early, we were in Moscow Lenigradskiy (Ленинградский) station. We decided to walk with our luggage 1.3 kilometers to hotel Ars where we had booked a room. The room was pretty good but we got a little bit worried as the older woman in reception didn’t speak any English.

After a refreshing shower and little bit resting, we tried to ask the reception to give us the registration papers that are always filled in Russia. But with a help of some woman on the phone of receptionist, we understood that there was some problems in connections and they couldn’t do the registration. And we really needed to do that as we had promised to send copies of them and also copies of our passports to Oleg to his office in Ekaterinburg. The copies were needed to get us permissions to get to protected National Park in Inta. We managed to call to Oleg who was in field with a group somewhere around Ekaterinburg and we agreed to contact him later again as the connection was very bad. So we decided to go for a walk outside.

From Red Square

We walked 3.5 kilometers to Red Square where we took lots of photographs of churches and other buildings like mausoleum of Lenin and Kreml. Moscow was full of road and building works and on the way back we did some shopping before we got back to our hotel. After some relaxing, we got a message from Oleg that we should change to another hotel as we really needed to do the registration and this hotel just couldn’t do it!

We managed to pay only for the day to Ars and I also cancelled the bookings of our other participants. Then we walked with luggage to hotel Mandarin that situated about 1.3 kilometers from Ars. While walking I sent and an SMS to the rest of our group that were just arriving by plain to Moscow and told them to come to Mandarin instead of Ars. In Mandarin the reception was speaking English and soon we had arranged everything. Soon also PAC, Paul and Ernie arrived and it was great to see old friends and also Paul who we hadn’t met before. Soon we got into our rooms, rested a little bit and after less than an hour we met in the hotel’s restaurant, ate well and planned the future.

It was a thunderstorm outside and the roads were flooding. We still visited a shop nearby before went into our room where I had to watch a couple of matched of Eurocup football as the next 2 weeks matches I would miss completely.

Train travelling

On the 19th of June we woke up at 8 a.m. and at 8:30 we were enjoying a good breakfast. PAC, Paul and Ernie had been walking for whole morning and they had visited a park nearby. My map showed that the park was pretty far and that was exactly what Ernie had also thought. Anyway they had got plenty of trip-ticks and even some goodies like Black Redstart, Greenish Warbler and Icterine Warbler. At 11 a.m. we took a taxi to Jaroslavskaja (Ярославская) railway station.

Train

We found the right train soon and it was going to be be our home for next 41 hours! Once our passports and tickets were checked, we got to a same cabin with one young local man while PAC, Paul and Ernie went to the next cabin together.

The train left at 12:50 p.m. and after a couple of short stops the first longer stop was finally in Jaroslav at 5:40 p.m. We had then found the schedule from the corridor and found out that the train was always making longer stops in the bigger cities where we could go out to do some shopping.

There was nothing much to do in the train, so we were discussing, reading, watching the view through window and of course trying to get trip-ticks. Red-backed Shrikes seemed to be very common.

At 7:17 was the next longer stop but there weren’t any shops, just old ladies selling pastries, vegetables, strawberries and so on. The journey continued and we got some more trip-ticks like Green Sandpiper, Black Woodpecker, Honey Buzzard and so on. Finally it was time to try to sleep…

On the 20th of June I woke up at 7. While we were approaching Kotlas, we started to see more birds: Hen Harrier, Greenshank and so on and on the sandy beaches of Kotlas River, we saw Lapwings, Black-tailed Godwit and some of us saw also Little Ringed Plovers. We were supposed to be in Kotlas soon after 9 a.m. but once we stopped, we realized we were on the previous stop and 50 minutes late from the schedule. So on the first stop in Kotlas we weren’t allowed to get out at all even though the train stayed there for some time. But then on the second station we were amazingly on time and got out for 40 minutes to buy some breakfast. After the stop we realized the journey was on the halfway..

About at midday I was helping Ernie to charge his phone when I accidentally noticed a message on his phone screen “Urgent Polar Ural”. It was an email from Oleg’s office and it told they still hadn’t got copies of our registration papers of passports! We had left Kotlas some time ago which was the last bigger city and our phones just stopped working. PAC had a Russian SIM-card on his phone and he managed to contact Oleg for a couple of seconds and tell him that there was nothing we could do anymore; they needed to get the copies from Mandarin from where we had sent them 1.5 days earlier.

We tried to take pictures of our passports and registration papers and send them via different ways but we had no connection. After all trying we knew it was already too late to get the permits so we felt disappointed. It was late when we finally got a message from Oleg that they still hadn’t got the copies so we needed to do all the paper-works next morning in Inta, which meant that we would lose some time. After one 20 minutes stop we started to sleep about at 8 p.m.

Inta

Inta

On the 21st of June we woke up at 5 a.m. and finally we were at Inta at 5:46 a.m. On the railway station we met Natasha and also her companion Sergei. Sergei took our passports and all other papers and left to solve the permits to the National Park and we carried our luggage inside the railway station and found out that we had to just wait there. Our driver had been stuck to some flooding river on the previous evening and Natasha had booked us an another driver who was available only almost 5 hours later. So after all we had plenty of time to get the permits too.

We had been sitting enough so after a breakfast in cafeteria, we asked if Natasha could stay with our luggage and went to a walk outside the station. The railway station situated more than 10 kilometers from the city of Inta, so it was possible to find some birds around.

We walked about an hour and found some Little Buntings, Arctic Warblers, Common Redpolls, a flock of 7 Waxwings, a few Bullfinches, 2 Common Rosefinches and so on. Once we got back to the station Natasha had to leave to sort our foods for the next 5 days, so we promised to stay with our luggage with Hanna, while the rest went back to birding.

Finally at 10:45 a.m. everyone was there. Natasha arrived first and then Sergei came with good news; he had managed to get the permits and soon arrived also our driver with a huge van! While a Bluethroat was singing on the background, we packed our car and our driver Volodja started to drive towards Ural Mountains!

We had thought that there would have been only a driver for us in Inta area, but now we had a driver, Natasha as a guide and translator and Sergei helping with everything else. Natasha and Sergei also were going to cook for us, so we were extremely happy with this situation. We were now able to concentrate only for birding!

Towards Ural Mountains

Arctic Warbler

We we driving along a track that left south-east from Inta. We passed some coal mines and gas factories and reached the forests soon. There we started to make stops. We were sitting on the back where we had a button that told driver if we wanted to get out. On the first stop we heard some Arctic Warblers, a Siberian Chiffchaff and also saw briefly one Olive-backed Pipit that was singing only very shortly.

Siberian Accentor

The second stop was made in more open area in bushy riverside. It looked perfect for a Pallas’s Reed Bunting. So PAC left immediately to walk along the river but while the rest of us were still preparing ourselves for going to the bushes, Hanna heard an accentor singing. And soon I heard it too. It was pretty weak and clear song and clearly different from a Dunnock song. But it sang only once or twice in same bush and then stopped and was quiet until it sang again somewhere else. It took a long time to find the singer but finally Paul found it and it was a Siberian Accentor! Paul shouted and we started running towards him but luckily I understood to check one bird that was perched on the top of one tree – and there it was! Hanna managed to get a couple of pictures before the bird dropped down before Ernie could see it. And then it got quiet again. It took a long time before it sang again and finally Hanna managed to help Ernie to find the bird too. The song was so weak that it was difficult for Ernie to hear it and find the bird. But finally he saw it well too! Soon the bird moved in front of me and Paul and right then PAC also arrived from the bushes, but the bird disappeared too soon. Anyway all of us, who needed the species, had seen it! Paul also got another lifer as we found a couple of Pine Grosbeaks from the bushes.

Little BuntingLong-tailed Skua

On the third stop we found Little Buntings, a Siberian Chiffchaff, some Black-throated Thrushes and heard a couple of Cuckoos. The fourth stop was made to collect some wood but we also heard a Dunnock there. Then we climbed to the mountains where were no more trees, just bushes, small willows and birches. While driving on the mountain we saw Arctic Terns, a Long-tailed Skua, a Willow Grouse, Hen Harriers, a Merlin and Short-eared Owls. After some driving PAC checked that we were as close as possible to a GPS-point that he had and we decided to stop and make a camp. Volodja drove a little bit backwards to get water while we left immediately birding. The GPS-point we had was from Antero Lindholm, who had been here 10 years ago with some other Finnisdh birders and he had found the only Pallas’s Reed Bunting of their trip there.

Little Bunting

The time of the day, late afternoon, was far from optimal, but we walked over the hill and down to the valley where we found very promising bushy areas. We walked quite a lot in the bushes and found some singing and calling Yellow-browed Warblers, 2 accentors that we never saw, but they sounded similar than the Siberian Accentor that we had heard earlier and we also saw a couple of Whimbrels and Bluethroats and Little Buntings were singing. Finally we were in the point of the GPS, but the place really didn’t look good. I remembered that Antero had written that the bird had been with some Reed Buntings but this place was in the hillside where were almost no bushes at all.

The first camp

The weather was hot and there was no wind at all, which meant that there were AMAZING number of mosquitoes! Finally we walked back to the camp and ate borsch-soup with Smetana and mosquitoes. While we were waiting for the soup to cool a little bit there were tens of mosquitoes drown to the soup to give some extra protein. Putting up the tents was quite an experience in that amount of insects, but finally we were ready to go to sleep at 9 p.m.

Pallas’s Reed Bunting

Citrine Wagtail

On the 22nd of June we woke up at 3:30 a.m. and after some tea and bread we were walking towards the river. We had found out that Antero’s bunting had after all been along the river, so we walked straight there along the road. When we reached the good looking bushy area we agreed that me, Hanna and Ernie would take another side while PAC and Paul would take the other side. There were some Citrine Wagtail couples singing and calling and soon I saw a reed bunting but too briefly. We tried to relocate it but only Hanna saw it briefly again but she thought it was only a Common Reed Bunting. Then Paul shouted that PAC had found a Pallas’s Reed Bunting! We rushed through the bushes towards PAC and got there in same time with Paul. PAC had seen the bird only briefly after it had been singing once after PAC’s tape. PAC played the tape again but nothing happened. Then after second or third try Ernie saw the bird on the top of a bush but only briefly. Then we waited for some time before PAC played the tape again and suddenly the bird flew to the bushes just in front of us! Amazing Pallas’s Reed Bunting showed very well but was a little bit too active to get any good pictures as it was still pretty dark. But the main thing was that everyone of us got a lifer!

Pallas's BuntingPallas's Bunting

We continued to check the bushes along the river and found more Citrine Wagtails, a couple of Willow Grouses, a Sedge Warbler, a Common Rosefinch, a couple of Bullfinches and I managed to flush a Great Snipe. Of course I hoped it would have been a Pin-tailed Snipe but I saw it too well… While we were walking back to the camp, we heard Golden Plovers calling and over the distant mountain tops we saw a couple of Rough-legged Buzzards. At 8:30 a.m. we were on the camp and had breakfast that Natasha and Sergei had prepared.

Car

At 10 a.m. we packed everything again and continued moving towards the higher mountains. As the weather was perfect, we decided to go to the furthest point that we had planned to visit because of at least now it was possible to cross the big Kozhym River. We could always turn back if the weather would go too bad, but in bad weather we might stuck on this side and never get over.

Hawk OwlGroup

Lady's Slipper Orchid

Before the river crossing Volodja stopped again and more wood was collected. We of course spread to different directions. Paul and Hanna were photographing Lady’s Slipper Orchids that were found next to the road, while Ernie followed some butterfly along the road. The butterfly managed to escape but then Ernie started to follow a Greenshank that was alarm calling very actively. And it wasn’t alarming without a reason – there was a Hawk Owl on the top of one dead tree! It was a good tick for all of us and Paul got one more lifer again. On the same opening we found also a Great Grey Shrike that seemed to have big white patches on its wings, but it disappeared too soon. Maybe it was a homeyri? And once we were moving again we saw another shrike through the windows.

Crossing the Kozhym River was an amazing experience! There was more than 1 meter deep but our van went over it very smoothly. And Volodja was a really good driver! After some more driving on the mountain forest, we stopped along the river to prepare lunch. There was a tunnel where water was disappearing under the mountain. Most of us were swimming on the cold and very rapid river. No wonder the water was cold as there was snow on the tops of the mountains…

Riverside

Siberian Accentor

While we were eating, we heard a familiar song again and found a Siberian Accentor singing on the top of spruce on the other side of the river. We managed to get a couple of pictures of the bird, but it was quite far and disappeared soon. We also saw a Hobby, a Merlin and a Dipper there.

After the lunch we continued a long way crossed many dry river bottoms as many bridges had collapsed and we had to just go up and down over the rivers. Finally we climbed up to the mountain and continued higher and higher along a valley passing a beautiful sacred mountain. Finally we ended up to a quartz mine village where was a tiny hotel for the workers. The place really wasn’t what we had expected it to be when we had been watching it from Googlemaps. Anyway we agreed with PAC and Paul that we would stop for an hour, so our driver could rest a little bit and the rest could have tea with the owner of the hotel. But the place looked too rocky for Pin-tailed Snipes that was our last target now. The place was also too restricted because of the deep mountains and too big river that wasn’t possible to cross by feet.

Anyway we walked a little bit and checked the nearest lakes, but in heat of the midday we saw only some Citrine Wagtails. Hanna was collecting crystal-pieces from the road that was white from them.

In this place we had the only arguments of the trip. One of us couldn’t understand why we had got there at all if we weren’t going to stay there. The rest of us tried to tell that it had been very difficult to plan the trip with Googlemaps as there had never been any western birders in most of the places. And we also didn’t have almost any clue what was the biotope for some of the species we were searching. But now we had a feeling that this wasn’t the biotope for Pin-tailed Snipe. We hadn’t got too many mornings left in Inta area to loose, so this wasn’t the place to camp now.

Holy mountain

The second camp

Anyway we had seen much better biotope on the way to the mining village and soon we were driving about 4 kilometers back until old train carriage that was on the side of the road. There was a perfect looking huge meadow under the mountainsides. It really looked perfect for Pin-tailed Snipe as far as we knew… It was already late when we prepared some dinner, but finally we were all full and happy and waiting keen for the next night as we planned to go birding soon! And that’s why we went to sleep already at 7 p.m.

Pin-tailed Snipes

We woke up at 10:45 p.m. and after some tea and bread, we were ready to go snipe-hunting. We had no idea what was the best time to find Pin-tailed Snipes, so we had to try everything and now we had planned to do birding whole night. Soon we were walking along the riverside towards huge meadows.

The 23rd of June. At midnight PAC and Paul had already disappeared to the horizon as they were walking much faster than the rest of us. At least we Finnish “podiceps” were much slower. Hanna was once again carrying two cameras, binoculars and a huge back-bag that slowed us down even more. After some time PAC and Paul found a Pallas’s Reed Bunting. We got information with walkie-talkies that I had taken with us and given another one for them. Soon we had walked there and this bunting was singing very actively! So we got very good recordings, once we understood to leave the recorder to the ground, spray lots of repellent to it and walk far enough from it with mosquitoes. Some pictures were of course taken too, but it was still pretty dark.

We were enjoying this well showing Pallas’s Reed Bunting for some time and then continued walking. I saw briefly a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat and soon we started to search a place where it could be possible to cross the river and start walking back towards the camp on the other side of the river. After some searching we managed to find a place where crossing was possible with wellingtons.

Habitat for Pin-tailed Snipe

After some walking we found a meadow with globeflowers and the beautiful sacred mountain was well visible behind the meadow. Once again a flock of Common Redpolls was flying over us when I heard some different calls behind the Redpolls. And then the sound got faster and faster and ended to an amazing chatter – a Pin-tailed Snipe! I found immediately 2 birds flying over me and Hanna managed to see and hear the birds too but they continued very quickly far and disappeared against the mountains. Luckily they came back soon with a third bird and also Ernie saw them now. They were flying a big circle and calling all the time, but the calls were very weak. Time to time they dived towards the ground and when they were close enough we heard an amazing sound they made with their tale-feathers!

Pin-tailed SnipePin-tailed Snipe

We called to PAC and Paul with walkie-talkie but they were far. It took a couple of repeats before they understood what we had found. After 15 minutes they arrived but the snipes had been lost already 10 minutes earlier. Or not completely lost as one of the birds had landed to the ground not far from us. But before we started to walk towards it, 2 birds were over us again flying towards the mountains again. After some waiting these 2 birds were displaying over the meadow and flying against the sacred mountain and time to time they came right over us. So we tried to get some pictures and recordings too! We were all extremely happy as our last project-species had been found. And we could happily agree that we had made a right decision in the previous evening.

PAC and Paul had been walking quite far on the mountain-side and they had managed to find a couple of Ptarmigans, one more Pallas’s Reed Bunting and a flock of Two-barred Crossbills. Anyway soon we were all walking back towards our camp which was still quite far.

The morning was getting very warm and my GoreTex trousers started to feel too hot. On the way we heard some Yellow-browed Warblers, one Greenish Warbler and finally saw a couple of Siberian Stonechats too. We had though that Siberian Stonechat would’ve been much more common. Once we got to the camp, we went straight to sleep.

After a couple of hours sleeping, we woke up at 8:30 a.m. when porridge was ready. Then we packed everything again, relaxed a little but as we were in no hurry anymore and then moved on again. After some driving, we stopped at 11 a.m. to a forest where we started to climb to one mountain that Natasha and Sergei had wanted to climb. As we had no birding-plans for the rest of the day, we were soon all climbing up to the mountain.

We were very tired after walking whole night in soft meadows, but anyway we climbed higher and higher. Most of us had nothing to carry, but Hanna was still carrying a lot. So after all everyone else, even PAC who had been extremely exhausted, were coming back from the top before we finally reached it with Hanna.

On the top there was a nice lake and the view to the mountains was very beautiful. But there was also very cold wind, so after some photographing, we also started to walk back down.

Mountain lake

The way down was fast and part of the hillside we were walking on the snow. Natasha and Sergei showed us a distant Narodnaya Mountain that was 1499 meters high and the highest peak of Urals. On the walk we saw almost no birds at all but finally on the forest I found a Pin-tail Snipe flying over us. And once again it was over a globeflower meadow near the hillside.

Soon we stopped on the same swimming place where we ate again. The same Siberian Accentor was seen and heard and also a Goosander and a Goldeneye were added to our trip-list. The weather was extremely hot and there were amazing numbers of mosquitoes, horseflies and other biting insects that made us feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Finally we continued to another place along the river along a very bad ”track”. Actually it was more like a river bottom, but Volodja was driving well again. There we put up the camp again to a beautiful place with river and high and steep rocky walls. I managed to sleep a little bit before the dinner and we were offered even some grayling fish that Volodja had caught. Unfortunately it was offered raw. After the dinner we were walking around the camp and enjoying the beautiful views before we went to sleep at 9 p.m.

Forest birding

Cliff

The 24th of June – Midsummer day. Last year had also been in Russia and Urals on Midsummer day. Then we were in Ural ridge and searching for the same species, Black-throated Accentor, as today.

We woke up at 1:50 a.m. and it was raining a little bit but the wind was strong. Anyway after quick tea and cookies, we started to walk up to the forest along the track. It was crazy to see how bad the track that we had been driving was. Paul was walking fast again and PAC still had something to do in a camp when we started walking. Very soon we found a couple of Pine Grosbeaks but they disappeared too soon. When PAC caught us, we still heard the male singing but it was too windy to get any recordings.

After some more walking Hanna saw a family of Siberian Jays crossing the road and luckily birds stayed next to the road. In same time we heard a Three-toed Woodpecker calling and then PAC decided to go and try to catch Paul – these both species were lifers for Paul. Soon Hanna said that she heard nestlings of Three-toed Woodpecker and disappeared to the forest. And soon she told us that she had found the nest. Soon PAC and Paul arrived and luckily also the Siberian Jays were still around. So Paul got 2 good lifers and he had been lucky to see some Two-barred Crossbills too. We photographed and recorded the family of woodpeckers before continued walking. And soon Hanna heard a distant Red-flanked Bluetail that PAC and Paul left to see this young male bird and so Paul got one more lifer. Soon we heard a couple of bluetails more but they were a bit too distant, so we didn’t try to see them. But once we walked back to the road, we saw one female collecting food along the road.

Siberian JayThree-toed Woodpecker

We continued a little bit more and saw a couple of Siberian Jay families and heard one more Red-flanked Bluetail, but then it started to look like it was going to rain soon. Paul hadn’t got enough clothes so he decided to start walking back along the road and soon Ernie made the same decision. But the rest of us, we decided to walk back towards the camp along the forest. It was a bad decision, as it started to rain almost immediately and this was the first time we were all wearing walking boots and they were soon completely wet! Anyway we managed to find to the camp and there we went straight into the sleeping bags to get warm and soon we were asleep. So it was only after a couple of hours sleeping, when we heard that Paul had seen a Lynx when he had arrived back to the camp! First he had heard harsh cat-like calling and then found the Lynx on the rock on the other side of the river!

After a good breakfast we packed everything again and while visiting a bush I saw one more female Red-flanked Bluetail right behind our tent. Unfortunately the weather was still very bad so once we started driving our car windows were completely misty. And the beginning was very bumpy so soon I started to feel bad. Luckily soon the track got a little bit better but still I was almost throwing up. But anyway we kept on going as the weather was so bad that we didn’t want to stop.

After we had crossed the Kohzym River we climbed to the mountain again and there we finally made the first stop. After the stop I went to sit in front, where I started to feel much better. In rainy weather we saw plenty of Black-throated Thrushes along the road, but only other better bird was a Grey Wagtail.

Hotel

Finally we were back in Inta at 4 p.m. and headed straight to our hotel. It would have been impossible to find this hotel without locals helping. In reception that looked like any office, all our papers were checked and new ones were written and many stamps were given again. Finally we got into our rooms that were surprisingly comfortable. Shower was on the fifth floor while we were on the fourth, but we weren’t in hurry and sooner or later everyone got into shower. Then we put all wet clothes to dry and started to charge all batteries.

At 6:30 p.m. we met Natasha and Sergei and went to eat to a local restaurant. After the dinner we still went to visit Natasha’s and Sergei’s home where we watched a video of their trip with some Italians some years earlier. But at 10 p.m. we had to walk back to our hotel as we had an early wake up again.

To Eletskaya

On the 25th of June we woke up at 5:45 and soon we had packed everything again, even though some of the clothes, especially walking boots, were still wet. At 6:30 a.m. Natasha and Sergei arrived with a couple of their friends and they drove us to the railway station. We had breakfast in cafeteria again and at 7:30 our train arrived. We said goodbye to Natasha and Sergei, carried our luggage to our cabins and after 15 minutes the train left towards Eletskaya.

Cabin

I managed to sleep a little bit while Hanna was making woolen stockings that was her train-project. Surprisingly we got even some food on the train and after all short, only 5 hours trip was going fast. The train was better than the ones we had been before and we also managed to see some birds through the windows; some Heuglin’s Gulls, Short-eared Owls and Wood Sandpipers. We also saw one snipe, Common or Pin-tailed.

At 1 p.m. we were at Eletskaya and soon found our old friend Oleg Demyanenko that was going to participate to this second part of our trip to. It is probable that there will be many groups after us, so it was good for him to see what we are doing here. We also met our driver Sergei and his friend and soon we were driving to an apartment where we met also Eric Didner and Yulia Kharakhasheva, Oleg’s assistant, who had also came to join the trip. Oleg, Yulia and Eric had been flying from Moskow to Salekhardi that was on Asian side of Urals. They had then taken a ferry across Ob River and from Labytnangi they had taken a train to Eletskaya and they had arrived a couple of hours before us.

We enjoyed some tea, candies and even cream-cake as there had been birthday-parties on the previous day. It was interesting to spend some time in local home while Oleg and Sergei were making the last food shopping.

Packing the tank

We also walked a little bit outside but the landscape wasn’t nice at all, old abandoned factory-buildings, and there were not many birds around. Most of the time we were wondering the tank that we were going to use for the next 4 days! We had told we’d use a tank, but we had never understood that it really was a TANK! We had paid quite a lot (230€ per person) to get this vehicle so maybe we should have believed, it really was one…

Finally our food was also packed inside the tank and we climbed to the top of it where were 2 long seats for us. And so the journey towards Polar Urals began!

Towards Polar Ural

Full team

We did the first stop soon after the village when we reached the first good looking bushy area along the river. PAC played a little bit tape for Pallas’s Reed Bunting and immediately one bird was found! This bird was showing pretty well so Eric got an amazing start for the trip!

I must say that after a hard days in Inta area at least some of us might have been ready to take a train back to Moscow already from Inta, but now when we had a tank under us, Eric was full of energy to find some lifers and we were approaching Polar Ural, we were all full of energy again.

When we kept on going, we saw some Short-eared Owls, Rough-legged Buzzards, a Common Snipe but on the second stop along the river, we saw only a Red-breasted Merganser. Then it started to rain very hard and we decided to try to find a place to camp as soon as possible. We passed a small old abandoned factory and climbed to a hill where we found a good spot on the slope along a stream.

Luckily the rain stopped and we soon got our camp up. Then we had dinner which took time and after all we got to sleep after 10 p.m.

Project-species

On the 26th of June we woke up at 2:45 a.m. and soon after 3 o’clock we were walking towards the palsa-bog nearby. Along the ditch we flushed a Common Snipe and once we got to the pool, we found immediately a Pallas’s Reed Bunting. A male bird was moving a lot and really making himself look big with all feathers raised especially from the neck. So it wasn’t a surprise that we found also a female that was hiding well but a couple of pictures were taken of it too. Too soon the birds flew together over one hill and we never found them again.

Pallas's BuntingPallas's Bunting

On the pool we saw a couple of Teals and a Black-throated Diver, a Tundra Bean Goose flew over us and we also saw a distant Bar-tailed Godwit. Others had already kept on walking when we started to walk back towards the camp with Hanna.

Rough-legged Buzzard

At camp we only left some clothes off and continued to the other side of the railway. A couple of Rough-legged Buzzards were breeding on the top of one of the pylons but we continued to check the bushes. On the river I saw a Red-breasted Merganser and a Smew and from the bushes we found Eric and Paul that had been listening to one or two accentors, but they hadn’t seen any yet. We tried to help Eric to get one more lifer and I played some calls of Siberian Accentor from my phone. Then I saw a bird right over us and it was a Pin-tailed Snipe! So Eric got a surprise lifer! The snipe disappeared too soon, but soon we heard an accentor again and found it – a Siberian Accentor – another lifer for Eric in a couple of minutes! He had also got all three target species now! And he had got them much too easy as Ernie said…

After all we had 3 Siberian Accentors and we also heard a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Common Rosefinch. When we had walked back to the camp we saw an adult White-tailed Eagle soaring on the sky over the mountains. Then it was time to pack everything again and continue towards the next palsa-bogs with the tank.

Palsa-bog birding

We drove to check 4 different bogs and on the first one we saw a flying Whooper Swan, a Red-necked Phalarope, some Citrine Wagtails, a Yellow Wagtail and some Heuglin’s Gulls that we managed to photograph. The wind was too hard to get recordings.

Palsa-bog
Citrine WagtailRed-necked Phalarope

On the second bog we found a couple of Slavonian Grebes, a couple of female Pintails with small youngsters and a Merlin. On the third stop we saw only a couple of Citrine Wagtails, a Short-eared Owl and a Hen Harrier. When we were approaching the fourth bog, our driver tried to take a shortcut through some bushes, but we made him to stop and luckily we soon found a better way to get near the bog. We didn’t want to destroy any good habitat, but there were no any tracks in this area, so it was best to drive along the low vegetation as it was everywhere and all the birds seemed to be anywhere else than there. Actually old tracks of other tanks seemed to be very good breeding places for many birds like pipits and waders.

Palsa-bog

This last bog looked very good but we only heard a Temminck Stint and on the palsa-wall there was a tiny colony of Sand Martins. A couple of Heuglin’s Gulls were also seen but nothing else.

Heuglin's GullArctic Tern

We started to feel very tired so we continued to the top of the highland from where we saw a group of khanty-people moving towards the mountains with big pack of Reindeers. They were moving higher because of mosquitoes.

Khanty-people

Finally we decided to camp in a khanty-people old camping place where they had just left. There was a dog left behind probably because of it seemed to be absolutely exhausted. It was just resting and hardly noticed us at all. We were sure they would come back to get the dog soon.

Camping

While a Lapland Bunting was singing in flight and a Red-throated Pipit was collecting food for its nestlings, we put up the camp and soon the food was ready too. Another dog came to see us too from somewhere and they really seemed to suffer from the mosquitoes. Finally we went to sleep at 7 p.m.

Walking on palsa-bogs

On the 27th of June we woke up again at 2:45 a.m. and soon we were walking towards the closest palsa-bog. Right away we flushed a couple of Common Snipes and found a Common Reed Bunting and Citrine Wagtails singing. Soon others had somehow passed us and were walking in fort of us. It was a little bit boring to walk after other birders but pools, bogs and too dense bushes kept us on a narrow area.

Whimbrel

We walked on the area for 4 hours and saw a distant Pin-tailed Snipe against the mountains, a flock of 8 Tundra Bean Goose plus one couple, a Whooper Swan, a Long-tailed Duck that landed calling to one pool, a Wigeon that was with 3 Tufted Ducks, again a distant adult White-tailed Eagle, a sub-adult Heuglin’s Gull, a Short-eared Owl and a couple of Hen Harriers. PAC and Paul were again walking much more and they managed to get Shoveler and Common Ringed Plover as a trip-tick.

After the breakfast omelet we had already packed and continued towards Polar Ural. We were driving pretty long before anything happened, but then PAC jumped down from the roof of the tank almost before we had managed to stop it. If we wanted to stop, we had to bang the roof so loud that Sergei heard us and sometimes it was difficult as the tank was very noisy. But now PAC had seen a family a Tundra Bean Geese crossing the road and somehow he managed to catch one of the young birds. It was a cute little fella but the reason it had been caught, was that PAC took some DNA-samples of it. And soon it was released back to its family.

Then we drove again quite long before we crossed one river and decided to camp right there on the crossing place. There was nice mountain-forest not too far and we wanted to do next morning birding around there. There were ridiculous numbers of horseflies but soon we were having a bath in rapid, cold and only some 30 centimeters deep river. Hanna found a couple of Golden Eagles soaring on the top of the mountain with 2 Rough-legged Buzzards so there was a short pause in bathing.

Lunch

After a bread-lunch we took short naps. Once I woke up everyone else was already birding. I just climbed to the roof of the tank to scan the area and immediately found at least 6 Pin-tailed Snipes flying against the mountain. I walked after them to get some recordings but they stopped the active displaying once the sun was not shining against the mountain anymore. Others had got some good pictures already and we discussed that at least in this place the active display had been about from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Waxwing

Mountain climbing

On the 28th of June we woke up at 2:50 a.m. and I had already heard Tundra Bean Geese and Pin-tailed Snipes while still sleeping. After a slowly start we managed to start walking before 4 a.m. and with Hanna we decided to climb up to the mountain. Yulia had been walking there on the previous evening and she had seen Ptarmigans that we still needed to our Russia-list. It is a different subspecies and we have always tried to see new subspecies, not because they might be species one day, but to see if they are any different. Ernie was following us in the beginning but then decided to follow the forest-line as there were some interesting birds like a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a flock of Two-barred Crossbills.

We climbed to the ridge and then to second, third and fourth one before we finally saw the top of this small mountain. On this flat area we saw that PAC was already on the other side of it and we decided to go to see if he had found anything. There was almost no birds on the higher area of this rocky mountain and PAC was also watching only a very distant khanty-village on the other side of the big plateau that was opening on the other side of the mountain.

Ural

Golden Plover

We decided to climb the last uphill to the top of the mountain and PAC started to walk around the plateau. Soon he told with walkie-talkie, that I had just remembered to give to him, that he had found a Dotterel. Anyway we climbed up first, took some pictures and only then went to see if we could find the bird. Surprisingly the Dotterel was flushed already from 100 meters and only I managed to see it briefly. A few Golden Plovers were also there but nothing else was found, so soon we had to start heading back towards the camp as we had promised to be on breakfast at 8 a.m.

We were 15 minutes late but of course it didn’t matter. Others had of course seen Ptarmigans much lower than where we had been and Paul had managed to see Pin-tailed Snipe on the top of a tree and he had got really good pictures too! Finally it was time to pack everything again but it took a little bit longer than usually as the tent that Ernie and Eric had borrowed from Oleg had completely lost the door-zipper. Luckily we managed to fix it, as it would have been hard to sleep the door open with all the insects…

Tank

The journey continued and now when we were getting closer to Polar Ural there were better tank-tracks to follow. While driving on the highland the tank flushed one pipit that looked strange to some of us. Its way of flight and short-looking tail had looked like a Pechora Pipit and so we tried to find the bird but without luck. With Hanna we had seen the bird pretty well too and I couldn’t tell it from a wet Meadow Pipit. PAC and Paul were anyway walking and searching it further than the rest of us and once again they managed to see a trip-tick, a Ruff.

Soon we were walking on another similar wet highland but found nothing interesting. Once we continued a Ptarmigan was running in front of the tank and finally we also got a Russia-tick. Next we stopped to check a couple of bigger lakes and on first one there were lots of ducks. We saw at least 20 Pintails, 2 Wigeons, 2 Long-tailed Ducks and 3 Common Scoters. We also managed to get really good pictures of a Lapland Bunting.

PintailLapinsirkku

Polar Ural

Pretty soon we started to go downhill along a rocky, curvy and very bumpy track and surprisingly soon we were on Polar Ural railway-station. It had just started to rain so it was good to know we weren’t going to get too wet. But Polar Ural railway-station wasn’t exactly what we had expected, or actually the station was, but there was almost nothing else! There were some other buildings and cabins for the workers and the closest building/buildings had just been dismantled and flatted down, so the yard was like a rubbish tip. And that was where we were supposed to camp! Our tank was leaving soon back to Eletskaya so we had to camp somewhere near the station to get our luggage to the train a couple of days later.

Station

Luckily Oleg and Sergei managed to get us a permit to camp on the backyard, where were tiny patches of grass for the tents. They also got us a permit to spend time inside the waiting hall which was good if it was going to be very rainy, and there was a possibility to charge batteries too. But even better, they managed to get us a kitchen from one of the cabins and we could also carry our big bags there to the hall of the cabin. With Hanna we had all the time had all our stuff in our tent, but the rest had smaller tents, so it was really good!

Red-throated Pipit

Wood Sanpiper

It really looked like it was going to rain heavily, so we did a record of putting up the tents and after a quick bread-dinner we went inside the tents to sleep and then it was already raining hard. There was a diesel-train banging all the time on the station but anyway we slept well.

Birding on the edge – once again

Ural

On the 29th of June the alarm of my phone woke me up before at 3 a.m. again but I shut it down and waited for my watch to alarm a little bit later. Well it never did, but luckily I woke up anyway and it seemed that everyone else had also had a difficult morning as other tents were also just opening at 3:10. The weather had changed and was perfect now. We decided to go to follow the border of Western Palearctic (Europe) and Asia and also PAC came to climb along the ridge towards the mountain. While PAC was staying all the time in Europe, we were ticking birds from Asia too. There were Long-tailed Skuas, Golden Plovers, a Rough-legged Buzzard, Red-throated Pipits and Lapland Buntings seen on both sides of the border while a Velvet Scoter and a flock of Pintails were seen swimming on a lake in WP.

Long-tailed SkuaLong-tailed SkuaLong-tailed SkuaLong-tailed Skua

The border was going along the ridge and it was not easy to follow as we needed to check which direction the small streams were going. After all we turned to follow the mountain-side to Europe and walked quite a lot without new birds. We found some more Red-throated Pipits, Lapland Buntings, Long-tailed Skuas, Golden Plovers and then an Arctic Redpoll that was flying over us a couple of times. While we were walking back towards the camp between the two lakes, we still saw a Common Scoter.

We were at the camp at 8:30 a.m. and until 10 o’clock we had enjoyed breakfast and it was good to go to sleep inside the tent. We were sleeping until 3 p.m. and then I decided to go to have a bath in a pond between the lakes. After that we went to see the border-sign that was along the railway and there we noticed that Long-tailed Skuas and Common Gulls were panicking because of something and found a Peregrine flying low in front of them towards the mountain on Asian side of the border.

After the dinner Oleg had managed to arrange us a possibility to have sauna! I had already enjoyed bathing in ice-cold pool, so I skipped sauna and went to sleep. Anyway I couldn’t sleep before Hanna came back from sauna at 21:30.

Last birding day

The 30th of June was our last day in the field, so we had planned to spend it well. So we woke up at 00:30 a.m. but unfortunately it was raining. So we set the alarms 30 minutes later and repeated this a couple of times, before the weather finally looked like it was getting better at 2:30 a.m. Ernie and Eric had already left towards the mountain-side forest where others had seen quite a few birds on the previous morning.

We walked straight to the same place where we had got the Arctic Redpoll and surprisingly PAC found it again but it disappeared too soon before we or Paul, who needed it as a lifer could see it. We searched it for some time but then with Hanna we decided to keep on walking. Later PAC and Paul luckily found the bird.

We continued straight to the bushy forest and found right away several Pin-tailed Snipes displaying over the bushes and meadows. Also a Common Snipe was heard but we rushed inside the bushes to get some cover from the wind and started photographing and recording. But most of the birds disappeared and the rest moved further so I had to satisfy Yellow-browed Warbler recordings.

Siberian Accentor

We continued further following the upper forest-line and soon the snipes were displaying right over us. I went in the middle of the flowery meadow and finally managed to get perfect recordings! While recording I heard a very strange call and saw a pipit-like bird calling on the top of a bush but straight against the sun. I had never heard the buzzing call it had and once the bird disappeared I called to the others by walkie-talkie that I had got a possible Pechora Pipit.

Globe-flower meadow

When we all were there, the pipit-like bird was gone but we all enjoyed the spectacular Pin-tailed Snipe show! We all got pictures but then suddenly all the birds landed and most of them landed to the meadow where we were standing. But then there was a Siberian Accentor that was showing well and it let us to take some pictures! Only then we listened to some Pechora Pipit tape that PAC had with him, and I must say that I had heard something completely different. The description of Pechora’s calls in Collin’s Guide are all completely wrong. I do have heard the species by myself too, but I expected I might have heard an alarm call or something. Maybe it had been only a strange calling Citrine Wagtail? Alarm calls of Red-throated Pipits had also been something we had never heard before but this one had been much more buzzing and insect-like.

Pin-tailed SnipePin-tailed SnipePin-tailed SnipePin-tailed Snipe

After we had got enough recordings of Pin-tailed Snipes, we still tried to record flush-calls, but all birds we flushed stayed quiet. After that we walked for some time in the bushy forest but found nothing else new expect one more Siberian Accentor that sang only once.

WhimbrelBluethroat

Then on the way back we tried to find a Pallas’s Bunting that Yulia had photographed somewhere between the lakes on her evening walk. She had been on the top of the closest high mountain. I was playing Pallas’s Reed Bunting song from my phone and suddenly we saw a male flying over us and landing to short bushes not far from us. But we never found the bird again! Anyway we had once again seen all the target-species in one day and now found out that it was possible to find all the target-species very close to Polar Ural station too. So the future groups will have lots of decisions to make: Should they go to Inta or Polar Ural, or both?

Polar Ural

At 7:35 a.m. we were back at the camp and surprisingly soon everyone else was there too. Breakfast was made from everything we still had left and then we packed everything as well as we could. Luckily the morning had been warm and sunny so everything was dry. Our last bird-observation was a Black-throated Diver that was flying from Asia to Europe while we were already waiting for our train.

A long way back to Moscow

Time-table

Finally at 10:25 our train arrived and it was time to say goodbye to Oleg and Yulia. They were leaving some hours later and their returning trip back to Ekaterinburg was going to be even longer than ours back to Parikkala! We managed to carry luggage to our cabins very quickly as the train stopped only for a couple of minutes. We were together with PAC and Paul while Ernie and Eric had a huge and very drunk Russian in their cabin. Luckily this man was friendly but he kept on talking Russia all the time and of course Ernie and Eric didn’t understand a word. Some his friend were also in the same carriage and one of them was speaking very good English, so we could all relax as he told us to tell him if there were any problems with this drunken guy or with anything else. He also told us that it was extremely rare to see tourists in this Ural-train, and almost everyone else in the carriage kept on asking him, who we were and what he was talking with us.

We were going to spend 42 hours and 25 minutes in the train so soon we were sitting down or lying on the beds. Of course some of us kept on watching through the windows and it was nice to see places where we had been going on last days with a tank. And then suddenly there was a Gyr Falcon perched on one of the pylons! I managed to see the bird well but unfortunately Paul was sleeping so deep that it took a couple of seconds too much before he saw the bird. He just didn’t see it well enough to get a lifer.

It didn’t take long before we stopped in Eletskaya and there we still met a familiar face as Sergei, our tank-driver, was there to collect wellingtons that Eric had borrowed. Soon we were moving again and we all fell asleep and woke up when the train stopped at Inta. We ate again in familiar cafeteria. Once the train continued again some were reading, some sleeping, Hanna was making the stockings and PAC was already listening to his recordings of the trip with his laptop.

Only better bird we saw from the train was a Siberian Stonechat and then the next longer stop was in Pechora. The day was very hot and unfortunately the air-conditioning wasn’t working at all in the train so it was absolutely like in sauna! But once we had crossed Pechora River, we all started to try to sleep.

Buying food

On the 1st of July I woke up completely sweaty at 5 a.m. when we were on a station of some bigger town. I visited outside to cool down a little bit and soon continued sleeping. Finally we all woke up about at 8 a.m. and then just tried to spend time. Some trip-ticks were seen like a Sparrowhawk, a Black Kite, an Oystercatcher on Kotlas River and the first tits of the trip since Moscow, a Great Tit family.

There was nothing more to tell about the day, it was extremely hot and sweaty and after all we tried to sleep again at 10 p.m.

On the 2nd of July I woke up after 3 a.m. and soon the conductor woke up everyone else too. At 4:46 a.m. we were finally at Moscow and once we got out, it was time to say goodbye to everyone! PAC, Paul, Eric and Ernie took a taxi to the airport and we took one to Mandarin hotel. We had booked a room for a day as our train to Finland was in the evening.

Soon we were in Mandarin and we got the room cheaper as the receptionist told us to book it from internet. Then it was great to have a shower and go to sleep to a soft bed!

Kreml

Finally we woke up before at 10 a.m. and took a taxi to Tretjakov Gallery. There we were watching paintings for 1.5 hours and then walked to Red Square again. We also visited Gum shopping center, which was of course too expensive for us – everything shiny was real gold…

Then we took a taxi back to the hotel and we made a mistake as we took the taxi in front of Gum. The driver told that he was more expensive than normal taxis, but it was 10 times more expensive! I was sure that we were robbed, but I was too tired to start arguing.

After some more resting, we visited the shop nearby, ate well in hotel restaurant and at 6 p.m. we took a taxi to Leningradskiy railway station.

We still had to wait for an hour before we got into the train and now we had the first class cabin for us. After all the paper-work the train left at 7:53 p.m. and pretty soon we got a dinner. Soon after that we were ready to sleep.

On the 3rd of July we were woken up at 3:30 a.m. just before we arrived at Vyborg. Next 3 hours were spent in border-crossings and finally at 7:39 a.m. we were in Kouvola. There we were waiting for our last train for an hour which seemed shorter as there was an old train from 1940th century being prepared to leave to Heinola. It was funny to watch the steam-train driving around the station. Finally it left just before our train arrived and left towards Parikkala.

The last almost 2 hours of our trip went fast. Finally we had been almost 116 hours in trains and were in Parikkala railway station. Then we just carried our luggage to home.

Last words:

The whole trip to Sub-polar and Polar Ural was a success. We had no bigger problems, only some with hotel and also with getting permit to Inta National Park, but luckily they were solved easily, thanks to our good guides.

Travelling by train was surprisingly pleasant and trains were always in time. There was enough room to our huge luggage and to spend time and to sleep. As far as the air condition and toilets were working, everything was fine. It’s good to remember that almost no-one speaks English in Russia, only our guides.

The landscape in Inta area was pretty much like in Kuusamo area in Finland. Polar Ural was like northern Lapland. Of course mountains are twice higher. Walking was often very hard; it was soft and wet in bogs and meadows and walking in very rocky terrain is always hard. So after 11 days on field we were all totally exhausted! Rubber-boots were used most of the time, but in rocky terrain we had water-proof walking boots.

HyttysiäThe weather can be almost anything in this north in June. It can be 30 degrees or then snowing. This year the spring had come early and most of the flowers were about 2 weeks earlier than on our previous trip to Middle and Southern Urals one year earlier. This of course affects to activity of many bird-species, but also to amount of mosquitoes. On our trip we had amazing numbers of mosquitoes but also horse-flies and other biting insects. But as many travelling birders who had been in Finnish Lapland know, you just need to wear enough clothes and mosquito-hat to survive. So gloves that are thick enough are must in worst areas. Some of us thought that mosquito-hat does make seeing and hearing birds more difficult and were using only repellents most of the time. In EU-countries repellents are not as effective as they used to be, so they were using Russian version. After all they got so bad skin-problems, that mosquito-hats were uses again. My way was to use mosquito-hat all the time and Finnish repellent on my hands. I needed to put repellent to my hands a couple of times per day, so it worked fine. And of course we used long trousers and shirts all the time. I also added some repellent to my hat time to time and also to my shoulders when I was sweating and insects started to get through my shirt. Even in our trip we had to take antihistamine and cortisone pills (against adder bites) to the worst allergic reactions we got from mosquitoes.

SitruunavästäräkkiBird-life in Inta and Polar Ural were pretty much like in Lapland, but of course there are differences, after all we are some 2000 km east. Arctic Warbler and Little Bunting are one of the most common birds. In forests there are also Siberian Chiffchaffs, Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-flanked Bluetails and occasionally also Olive-backed Pipits. In Inta area Black-throated Thrushes were quite common. In best forest there were also Siberian Jays and Three-toed Woodpeckers. I am sure there are also some owls and grouses to find, but in this time they are extremely difficult. Some common birds were: Willow Warbler, Meadow Pipit, Bluethroat, Bullfinch, Brambling, Common Redpoll and so on. Citrine Wagtail was common in wet areas, Yellow Wagtail was rarer. Some flocks of Waxwings and Two-barred Crossbills were also seen. Siberian Stonechats were seen only in some places. We had thought it to be much more common.

In Polar Ural most of the forest birds were of course missing, but there were also Red-throated Pipits and Lapland Bunting. The most common gull was a Common Gull, but Heuglin’s Gulls were found on palsa-bogs. On lakes and pools there were Arctic Terns and on tundra there were Long-tailed Skuas. Waders and ducks were much less than we expected. Short-eared Owl, Hen Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard, Merlin and Kestrel were the most common raptors. Many times we had a feeling that there would be more birds in similar place in Finnish Lapland, but then this area is so much more further from the wintering grounds of many species!

Altogether we saw 141 species during the trip. 34 species were seen only in Moscow or from the train.

The must species:

SuippopyrstökurppaPin-tailed Snipes seemed to be in active display only quite short times in early morning and in the evening. We saw single birds, pairs, threes and also flocks of 6 and 7 birds. To find this species you need to find flowering meadows that are close to mountains. Usually there were also mountainside forests and rivers. The best places were globeflower meadows. The calls and display song can’t be heard very far, but the display flight is diagnostic from distance. Birds are flying a big circle, gliding time to time like Woodcocks and then diving almost to the ground when they make the strangest calls of their display.

Siberian Accentor was quite common but not easy to see! They were singing always only a couple of times and then got quiet, until they sand from a different place. They didn’t react to playing their song either. So patience and luck were needed to see the bird. Anyway sometimes they were singing on the top of the highest tree and easy to find and see. The biotope for Siberian Accentor was a “bad forest” or any bushy area, and for us they were often found close to the river, but some were quite high on the mountain-forests.

Pallas’s Reed Bunting was probably the rarest and also most difficult to find. Some birds were found on riverside bushes where were also Common Reed Buntings. But some were found in tundra, in very low willows and quite high altitude. The song was also pretty hard to notice as there were many Little Buntings, Citrine Wagtails and some Common Reed Buntings singing too. Luckily this species seemed to come easily to its song, so playing the tape makes it easier to find.

And thanks

Thanks to all the group we had: PAC, Eric, Paul, Ernie and Oleg and Yulia from Ural Expeditions & Tours and other guides Sergei and Natasha and drivers Sergei and Volodja plus other people who made our trip excellent!

J.A.

Iceland 18th to 25th of October 2015

To Iceland

On Sunday the 18th of October we left to drive towards Helsinki quite early in the morning. There was no reason to stop on the way so finally we were a little bit early Helsinki-Vantaa airway-station carrying our luggage.

Glacier

Our flight to Iceland left on time and I fell asleep almost immediately. Hanna woke me up a couple of times when she was taking pictures of amazing Turku islands, then Skandic Mountains and finally glaciers in Iceland. We even saw Jökulsárlón pretty well from plane.

We landed to Keflavik international airport about 30 minutes early and soon found our luggage. Then we took some money from ATM and tried to find a man from our rental-car company. After a half an hour waiting a man came to pick us up to the office and after he had given a car first to an Asiatic couple, he showed us our VW Caddy and gave us introduction how everything worked as this car had bed, cooker, refrigerator, tap and so on.

Soon we were ready to hit the road and first we stopped in a shop in Keflavik and then even though the sun was already setting stopped on the coast of Njarðvík, so we could plan a little bit how to start checking the coast-line on the next morning. Of course we hoped to find a White-winged Scoter that had already overwintered twice on the coast of Njarðvík and had been seen again some days before the first time for this autumn.

We managed to find some Eiders, Great Black-backed Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Glaucous Gulls and Kittiwakes and a Black Guillemot before it came too dark. While searching for a good place to stay overnight, we still saw a flock of Starlings and finally decided to stop to a big parking area on the coast, right behind the shopping street. There we arranged the beds and as it came very dark very soon, we were ready to sleep already at 8 p.m.

On the coast of Reykjanesbær

On the 19th of October we woke up a couple of times too early to realize that it was still completely dark. Finally we started to pack everything ready, changed birding clothes and after a quick breakfast we were ready start birding. While packing we had already seen Herring Gulls, some Gannets and a flock of Turnstones.

American Wigeon

We decided to go to start by the pools that we had seen last evening and after we had parked to the parking place we saw the signs that told that these Njarðvíkurfitjum pools really were a birding place. We found immediately a big flock of gulls with Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. Also Eurasian Wigeons, Mallards and a Shelduck were found and then Hanna found a male American Wigeon. I had read that there had been an American Wigeon somewhere in Iceland but I hadn’t checked the place at all. Later we found out that this was exactly the bird.

On the sea we saw some Cormorants, but then it started to rain so we decided to start searching for the White-winged Scoter. I had got a map-point from Yann Kolbeisson that showed the area where the bird had usually been seen. So we planned to start driving towards north and stop many times and then continue to Garður.

Anyway I still decided to make a stop in a harbor and check the sea there as we could see the southern part of the big bay there. First I found a Razorbill and then a very distant darkish bird with Eiders. The flock was maybe 4 kilometers from us, but I could see that the bill-shape was strange. After some waiting the rain stopped for some seconds and we could see that it was a velvet scoter species with big white streak under the eye and strange looking bill. We had no idea if there were any Velvet Scoters in Iceland so we had to see the bird better.

So we planned to drive to the other side of the bay where we saw a bright yellow house. Birds looked to be quite close to that house. It was a long drive around the bay and while getting close to the yellow house, we a pool with some Mallard and Wigeons but also a big flock of Golden Plovers on the grasses around the pool. Of course we had to check the flock for American Golden Plover but only other bird we saw was a Meadow Pipit.

White-winged Scoter

When we finally got to close to that yellow house we found a track that was on the shore. Soon Hanna found the scoter and it really was the White-winged Scoter! It wasn’t far but again it was raining pretty hard so we couldn’t get very good pictures. It was very active diver too. We also saw a Red-throated and a Great Northern Diver while watching this lifer duck. Also a Wren was hiding and calling a little bit on the walls.

Finally the scoter had swum further and started to sleep so we decided to start driving towards Garður. Now we didn’t make so many stops on the way, so soon we were closing the town where we saw first flocks of Greylag Geese. One flock was feeding on the grass of one house.

We had got tips to some birding place from Yann and soon we found the pools in Garður.There were lots of Wigeons and Mallards, a couple of Teals and a couple of hundreds Golden Plovers with a single Ruff. While I was scanning the flock in quite heavy rain again, a man with a dog came and flushed all the birds. The plovers landed behind the grassy hills, so we gave up and continued to the northern tip to Garðskagi lighthouse. Later we heard that someone had seen on the very same day an American Golden Plover in the flock that we had missed.

LighthouseWren

In Garðskagi we parked our car next to the lighthouse and soon were scanning the shore, rocks and of course the sea for birds. Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks and a Common Scoter were swimming on the sea, on the rocks we saw a Snow Bunting and some flocks of Purple Sandpipers and on the sea we saw plenty of Gannets, a couple of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers and 3 Fulmars. A couple of Wrens were hiding on the rocky wall again. Then the rain got harder again and we decided to continue along the western coast of the bay towards south. In Sandgerði pools we found again big flocks og gulls, but because of the rain the still weren’t photographed. The first Common Gull of the trip was also seen. From the shore behind the harbor we found some waders: Oystercatchers, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Redshank and a Dunlin.

On the way to Hafnir we saw the first Blackbird of the trip and in Hafnir we drove straight to harbor, where we got shelter from the heavy wind behind the rocky wall. There were lots of birds on the bay and almost immediately we found a flock of 13 Harlequin Ducks! Hanna got a lifer! Lots of Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks were seen but also 12 Great Northern Divers, 3 White-bellied Brent Geese, 2 very distant Slavonian Grebes, 2 Redshanks and a Great Skua that was migrating over the sea.

When the rain got worse again, we started to drive towards Njarðvik. There we went to see if the White-winged Scoter was still present. We found the bird again but it was much further. Anyway the rain had finally stopped, so we still took some pictures. We also saw the first Marlin of the trip.
The weather –forecast was really bad for the next day so we decided to have a museum-day. So we started to drive towards Reykjavik. On the way we saw the first Whooper Swans. But because of the museums were opening only at 10 a.m. we knew that we had some time for birding earlier in the morning. So we headed to Hrauntúnstjörn water-protection area where a Hooded Merganser had been seen in a couple of previous winters.

We checked the tiny lake already in the dark, but saw only a flock of Tufted Ducks. Then we cooked some dinner and while organizing the car again we heard some Redwings and a couple of Common Snipes and at 8 p.m. we were ready to sleep again – well I was still reading for an hour.

Museums and Blue Lagoon

On the 20th of October Hrauntúnstjörn was still without an American merganser, so we soon headed to Lake Elliðavatnin nearby. There were lots of Tufted Ducks with a couple of Scaups, but all the mergansers were Red-breasted Mergansers. .A Great Northern Diver was giving a shy call and the first Redpolls were heard too. Redwings seemed to be everywhere now!

At 10 a.m. we left towards Reykjavik and were surprised how easy the traffic was. Navigator guided us easily to a parking place near Settlement Museum and soon we were wondering this museum that had been built around a 1000th century Viking long-house. When we had seen everything and leaving, Hanna heard that our next target, National Museum was closed because of a strike. So instead we headed to Old Reykjavik where was a small lake with lots of birds. Mallards, Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Tufted Ducks, gulls and even a Pink-footed Goose were begging food there. Also some Feral Doves were seen there.

Pink-footed GooseRedwing

The weather that had been surprisingly good in the morning, was now getting really bad, so we headed to Saga Museum where we spent a half an hour listening to stories and Hanna of course watching old clothes. Then we visited a couple of shops, but as it still wasn’t too late, we decided to do still something. So we drove to Blue Lagoon!

Already the walk from the parking place to Blue Lagoon was giving as an idea what it would be. It was extremely windy and sleeting! Anyway Hanna was positive and said that at least we will get a good contrast!

Blue Lagoon

The tickets to Blue Lagoon were quite expensive so we couldn’t just go for a short visit. So we tried to survive the weather and stayed quite some time on the pool, trying to find the hottest and least windy place. Finally we found a good spot and managed to even enjoy the warmth of the water. We of course had sauna too. So it was already evening when we were walking back to our car in a very heavy rain.

We went to stay night to Krysuvík to Seltún geotermic area where we had dinner and soon were ready to go to sleep, again too early.

Lots of amazing places

On the 21st day I woke up at 5 a.m. because I heard something rustling in the car. I woke up Hanna too and she said immediately that we had a mouse in our car. Anyway we made some noise to make the mouse to stop whatever it was doing and tried to sleep again. But soon it was really scrunching something, probably Hanna’s new bag. So we just had to get out, get everything out from the car and then try to catch the mouse. It didn’t take long to find this surprisingly big mouse that was now under the back seat. But catching it was a different thing. Finally Hanna managed to push it out from the door and then I drove immediately further before we carried everything back to the car. Anyway then it was already time to start preparing breakfast.

After the breakfast we walked a short track around Seltúnin hot pools. It was even 200 degrees hot under the surface. We also climbed up to the mountain where we found some new pools and nice colors on the ground. We also had a nice view to crater-lake Grænavatn.

Seltún

Wall of lava-tunnel

Once we were back in our car we continued along the coastal road towards our next target-place. In Hliðarvatn we saw Greylag Geese, 30Teals, 100 Tufted Ducks, 7 Scaups and a Merlin and pretty soon we got to parking place of Raufarholstellir. Very close to the parking place started a 1.3 km long cave where we went into wearing head-lamps. We walked some hundreds of meters inside the cave and it was really amazing experience! The colors on the rocky walls were amazing! Anyway we missed wearing helmets and there was also so much water dropping that Hanna started to get worried about her camera. We also had too much clothes, as it was very warm!

Lava-tunnel

Harlequin Duck

Next we headed to River Sog and Lake Úlfljótsvatn which Yann had told to be the best places to find Barrow’s Goldeneyes outside Myvatn of course. Hanna had planned our trip except the birding part, but luckily all the tips I had got were almost exactly on our route and also now we had only a short drive to Sog. Unfortunately the river was mostly pretty far from the road and we could check it only from the couple of places. Anyway we found a female Harlequin Duck and saw lots of Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese migrating against the mountains.

In Úlfljótsvatn we first checked the southern side driving up to the hills, where it was really good to scope all the birds. There were lots of Tufted Ducks, 14 Scaups, Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Great Northern Divers. Then we headed towards the northern part of the lake, but still found no Barrow’s Goldeneyes. I even sent an SMS to Yann and asked if there was some place better than the others ora ny other place to try and of course asked and got an answer that both ends of the lake are the best. Then we realized that we still hadn’t check the very northern end of the lake. And that was where we finally found a flock of Barrow’s Goldeneyes! When Hanna was getting her lifer, she first found a goldeneye that didn’t look quite what she had expected. She asked me to check the bird and it was a Common Goldeneye! Anyway there were 10 Barrow’s Goldeneye too, so Hanna got her lifer. We also saw 10 Goosanders and a Slavonian Grebe before headed towards Þingvellir aka Thingvellir National Park.

We had lost too much time while searching for the Barrow’s Goldeneyes, but finally got to Pingvelliri where European and American tectonic plates were moving away from each other. We walked a few kilometers taking pictures and reading stories from the signs. The place had been famous for a long time, already in Viking time. Only better birds we saw were a couple of Merlins.

Tectonic platesBarrow's Goldeneye

As we had still time, we decided to continue on the Golden Circle and continued towards Geysir. But we had to make the first stop very soon when we found a male Barrow’s Goldeneye very close to the shore on Þingvallavatn. It was swimming further but anyway we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this species. The birds in Úlfljótsvatn had been far too distant.

After an hour driving we got to Geysir and walked straight to see active Strokkur Geyser. After a short wait Stokkur erupted very shy small bubble, but soon after that it erupted well towards the sky! Even though it was cold and windy we watched the geysir erupting about 10 times about every 8th or 10th minute and tried to take lots of pictures of eruptions. Some of the eruption were only very little but then the next one was even bigger than normally. A couple of times it erupted twice in a row pretty well. Of course we walked around the park and saw a big Geysir too but it erupts very rarely nowadays.

Geysir

Gullfoss

It was already getting darker when we decided to see the 3rd Golden Circle attraction Gullfoss waterfall. Luckily it was only 10 kilometers drive and soon we were watching this amazing big waterfall. Water was in the air and it was really getting dark, but still we managed to get nice picture of this 32 meters dropping waterfall-complex.

It was dark when we still drove back to Geysir for the best tourist-shop. Anyway we found nothing to buy and soon were ready to go somewhere. As we had been so active and managed to do so much already, we decided to do more – we planned to drive as far east as possible towards Skaftafell National Park. The weather for the next day looked promising and we had some Glaciers to see!

It was a long 309 kilometers drive to Skaftafell so we left immediately. In Reykholt we saw a Short-eared Owl in the head-lights and while Hanna was sleeping I drove as far as it was possible before we had to fill the tank with diesel. Luckily we managed to find a shop and buy something to eat too just before it was 8 p.m. and it was closing.

It was very tiring drive but I still had to stay focused as all the bridges were very narrow and there was room for only one car in time. Finally we managed to get to the parking place of Skaftafell National Park and soon we were ready to sleep.

Skaftafell

On the 22nd of October we woke up when it was raining very hard! It had been raining whole night and it didn’t really look like getting any better soon. There was good place to make some breakfast under a roof while a Redwing was begging for food on the table just half a meter from us (really!) and also a Ptarmigan came to see us. When the rain got a little bit weaker, we left to walk towards a Svartifoss waterfall.

On the tenting area there were several Ptarmigans feeding on a grass, which wasn’t the biotope we had expected to find this species.

Ptarmigan

Basalt-wall

After some walking there was a sign that told that a normal track to Svartifoss was under construction and we had to take a smaller path. It was a longer way and the sign told that it would take at least 2 hours to get there and back. The rain was just getting worse but we kept on going. It took about an hour to get to Svartifoss which isn’t very big waterfall but the black basalt-walls are very impressive!

After we had taken lots of pictures, we continued along the path and the way back was a little bit further but of course now mostly downhill. And exactly after totally 2 hours walking, we were back in the parking area. We visited the information center where I managed to get internet connection and check the recent bird-sights and could see that there weren’t any other rarities than a Red-eyed Vireo that Yann had already sent a message about. We actually had been very close to the place where it had been found but only passing by on the previous evening. Luckily we weren’t on panic to see this species. I also bought an update of the Icelandic bird-book before we started to drive towards Jökulsárlón.

After 45 minutes driving we parked to Jökulsárlón and walked in a rain again to see this amazing glacier-lagoon with many ice-rifts moving towards the sea. It was a high tide so ice wasn’t going under the bridge. We walked on the shore of the lagoon and took lots of pictures of the ice with different shapes and colors.

Herring GullBlue iceFloating ice

We also visited the shore where smaller ice was melting on the black sand-beach and took some pictures towards the lagoon also on the southern side of it before started to drive back towards west.

We still turned a couple of times from the mainroad to photograph the glaciers on the mountainside and then turned towards Fjallsárlónin glacier-lagoon. We ewalked along the shore towards the glacier for more than a kilometer to get better pictures but unfortunately the mountains were still partly behind a fog. Then it started to rain harder again and we hurried back to our car and started along drive towards Reykjavik. Luckily our car had pretty good air-condition and we always managed to get our clothes dry while driving.

The weather forecast was very bad for the next day so we had planned to visit the National Museum in the morning. We had also got information that there had been a Lesser Scaup a week before in a small lake near the city, so we planned to go to sleep somewhere near the lake and once we found the lake from the map, we realized that it was very close to Hrauntúnstjörn and Hooded Merganser place, so we headed there.

While we were finally driving along the motorway towards Reykjavik it started to get cold outside and as our car had very much humidity inside because of our wet clothes, the windows started to get very badly misty. The road had absolutely too many poles and the lines very pretty narrow and there was nowhere to stop. I started to get worried as I could see only through a small hole but finally there was a gas-station where we could stop and wait the window to open. Finally after 370 kilometers driving from Jökulsárlón,, we parked to a familiar spot and were soon ready to sleep.

Museum and geese and more

On the 23rd day I started with checking that there were still nothing else than Tufted Ducks on the Hrauntúnstjörn. Then we drove 5 kilometers to Lake Rauðavatn. But the lake was empty. We were already leaving, when we saw a flock of 20 wigeons landing to the lake and of course checked them. Surprisingly one of them was a nice male American Wigeon! And of course we had to take some pictures of this self-found American duck.

Old buckle

Soon we were parking to the National Museum parking place and then watching all the Iron Age stuff there was. After more than an hour we had seen everything interesting and as the weather was again completely different than the forecast had told, we started to plan what to do next. And soon we were driving towards north and Hvanneyri as I had got some information from Yann about where to find one more interesting bird I wanted to see.

Greenland White-fronted Goose

It took an hour to get close to Hvanneyri. On the way we drove under Hvalfjörður using a 6.3 kilometers long tunnel which cost 1000 krones to use. On the first really good looking area we stopped and started to scan the big open area for geese. And soon I found a flock of very distant Greenland White-fronted Geese. They seemed to be pretty close to the village, so we soon drove there and walked to get closer to the birds. But after some walking we realized that they were still too far from there too. But then we saw another flock of geese landing to the other side of the village. And there on the fields there were lots of them!

Greenland White-fronted Goose

First we photographed one lonely goose on the grass of the church but then moved to the fields where we found altogether 1600 Greenland White-fronted Geese, 50 Pink-footed Geese and 10 Barnacle Geese. Many of the Greenland White-fronted Geese were wearing neck-rings. We took lots of pictures and some videos of these birds that may one day be a full species.

We were happy when we continued towards Grábrók volcanos that were onalu about 30 kiometers from Hvanneyri and along the main-road.

Grábrók

Grábrók volcanos aren’t really big but very classic example of volcanos with lava-fields. We climbed to the top of the closer mountain and got really nice pictures from there. Then we realized that we had done everything that we had planned and planned to do birding on the last day we still had. So we were soon driving towards Keflavik.

Now we drove around a long Hvalfjörður and saw lots of Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks and more than 200 Oystercatchers on the shore.

Majakka

After a couple of hours driving we parked to Garðskagi lighthouse and started to prepare the car for the night. Surprisingly there was warm water on the small campsite building so cooking was easy. And soon we were again sleeping.

Last day

Iceland Gull

On the 24rd of October when we woke up it was very windy outside but big flocks of gulls, mostly Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were flying over us. After a quickly breakfast we were seawatching behind the shelter of the lighthouse. There were lots of birds moving: 80 Kittiwakes, about 100 auks which at least 20 I could identify as Common Guillemots, Gannets, 15 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Fulmar were seen. There were both Cormorants and Shags on the rocks and when we were already stopping I noticed 2 Sooty Shearwater disappearing behind the lighthouse. They weren’t far at all but somehow we couldn’t find them anymore. Luckily after some waiting we could find 2 more lonely Sooty Shearwaters which were much more distant.

Soon we got bored to too hard wind and also it was getting much quieter too. So we headed to Garður pools which were surprisingly empty. On.Sandgerði pools we found again lots of gulls and even more of them were found on the shore behind the buildings which was found to be a very good spot for seawatching too as the buildings sheltered perfectly from the wind. While Hanna was photographing the gulls, I saw a Shoveler flying over me and on the shore there were a Ruff and a Grey Plover. On the sea I saw a few Fulmars, 16 Great Northern Divers and so on. We had already earlier tried to find kumlieni-type of Iceland Gulls and seen a couple of good candidates but now we finally managed to find a couple of clear Kumlien’s Gulls.

GullsIceland Gulls

From the harbor we found again some Oystercatchers, a Redshank and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, but now there was also a Curlew. In Hafnir the wind was too bad but anyway we managed to see a flock of 11 Harlequin Ducks.

Tectonic plates

Then we headed to Grindavik where had been some pretty good birds on the previous weeks and days like a Surf Scoter and a Canada Goose. We took the coastal road and on the way we found some interesting touristic places too. So we stopped in Miðlína where was a bridge between the continents and in Raykjanes lighthouse from where we could see an island of Eldey that once had Great Auks breeding and still had a huge colony of Gannets breeding. We also stopped to see Gunnuhver hot pools that really smelt bad before continuing to Grindavik.

Amerikanjääkuikka

In Grindavik we really didn’t know what to do. We checked the harbor-pools and found a Great Northern Diver that finally let us to take some pictures but nothing else. Then we couldn’t find out how we could see the bay behind the city well. One pool had a Barnacle Goose that had something wrong with its wing, but after some searching, we gave up and headed towards Blue Lagoon.

Anyway we didn’t go to Blue Lagoon to swim but to a spruce-forest nearby There we hoped to find almost any passerines but found only a Merlin, 2 Redpolls, which were the only ones we saw on the whole trip, a Wren and the last and our 65th trip-tick, a Goldcrest.

Kumlien's Gull

Then we drove to Njarðvík where we still visited the White-winged Scoter place but couldn’t find it and in Njarðvíkurfitjum but also the American Wigeon was gone. Then we went to pack everything to the parking place where we had been sleeping on the first night. And soon we drove to the car-rental office to leave our Caddy. From there we got a ride to Airport Hotel Smári where we had booked a room for the last night. It was good to have a warm shower, eat well on the restaurant and get to sleep on the soft bed.

Towards home

On the 25th of October we woke up at 5 a.m. and a half an hour later we were having breakfast. Son we were carrying our luggage to the airport where was a big mess! All the flights seemed to leave early in the morning and every single person was queuing on one line! A stupid machine gave us the stamps for only one bag and after that we got misinformation and after all we were standing almost in the end of the huge line!

After more than an hour we finally managed to get rif of our big bags but then there was again everyone in one line on the security control! After 15 minutes queuing we had only 7 minutes to our flight and speakers were already calling for us! And of course they took my bag to a drug-test! I was cursing the whole airport and every single worker there as I had never been in an airport that was working so badly, and finally we had to run to catch our plane. After all there was still one couple behind us and once we got into the plane it took anyway 15 more minutes before it moved.

I was watching a movie and Hanna was reading a book on the flight as it was cloudy and no views under us. Finally we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa and after we had found our luggage we took a bus to our car.

On the way to home we decided to drive to Hollola to twitch a Pied Wheatear. Luckily we managed to see the bird easily and very well, so it was easier to drive a little bit extra. Finally we were at home at 8 p.m.and on the next day we had to go to work again.

Ural, Russia 6th to 24th of June 2015

Forewords

Ural had long been a dream destination for us. Many birds that are rare in Finland are common there and of course there are also some species that we haven’t got yet. In a couple of last years some groups had managed to visit Urals and they had really did well. In summer 2014 some groups used a local company to arrange almost everything and then one independent group visited also southern steppes and found some very interesting species which made the trip even more interesting. We had planned to make our trip to Urals after a couple of years but our friend Paul French wanted to go sooner and so already in autumn 2014 we contacted the local company and started to plan a trip for summer 2015. Everything was well prepared already in spring 2015 but only disappointment was that the 4th participant had to cancel the plans to join us. We tried to find a new participant but after all decided that it might even be better if there were only 3 of us as then we could fit easily in one car. So after all there were three of us, Hanna and Janne Aalto and Paul French.

To Russia

On the 5th of June we drove from Parikkala to Kirkkonummi. We were there at 7:25 p.m. and after we had eaten well we continued to Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

While we were taking our luggage from my father’s car, I realized that I had forgotten to take any jacket with me. I had planned to wear my gore-tex jacket during the flight as my luggage was already very heavy, but it had been so warm in Parikkala that I had just forgotten to take it with me. It was too late now, but I started to worry that how I could survive in Ural Mountain without a jacket.

Our flight left at 11:55 p.m. and we fell asleep immediately. We woke up when the plane started to land to Ekaterinburg. We landed to Koltsovo airport at 04:20 a.m. which was 1.5 hours earlier than we had thought to land.

After we had found our luggage and after standing in several queues where we had to collect different kind of stamps to our papers, we finally got out from the airport. As we were out much earlier than we had thought, we walked straight to Lainer hotel. Our friend Paul was coming after a couple of hours so we had some time to rest.

It was only a couple of hundreds of meters walk to Lainer but in the reception there was a little bit hassle before we realized that our rooms were booked by Ural Expeditions & Tours Oleg Demyanenko. Finally we got into our room and I sent an SMS to Paul that he comes to wake us up when he is ready.

Airport marshes

I woke up when Paul sent me an SMS that he will come after 10 minutes. At 7:15 a.m. he knocked to our door and it was good to see Paul again! He was tired after a long travelling but ready to go to do some birding anyway!

We walked to the airport and took a taxi that probably wasn’t official one but the driver “Hazi” seemed to be reliable. He didn’t speak almost any words of English but agreed to drive us to the place that we showed from googlemaps and also agreed to get us back after 4 hours. So soon we were driving towards Bolshoy Istok village and Airport marshes that opened behind the village.

Hazi promised to be back at 12 a.m. and of course didn’t take any money yet. Soon we were wearing our wellingtons and walking towards north the marsh.

Airport marshes

The meadow was full of nice birds: Booted Warblers were everywhere and also Blyth’s Reed Warbler was very common. Some couples of Siberian Stonechats were active and soon we heard a singing Siberian Chiffchaff. We followed a path on the western side of the river but after some 45 minutes walking the river turned in front of us and it was impossible to continue towards the bushy area that we wanted to go. Anyway we saw more and more birds like Yellow and Citrine Wagtails, Penduline Tits, Bluethroats, Common Rosefinches and so on. Some Steppe Gulls flew over us and a couple of Black Kites were soaring on the sky, a Corn Crake was calling and Grasshopper and River Warbler singing.

Citrine WagtailSiberian Stonechat

But we had to walk to the place where we had started and there I managed to cross the river along a dam, but it was too dangerous because of the stream and almost broken dam. So Hanna and Paul had to try to find a better way and after all they had to walk to the village where they finally managed to cross the river. But finally we were together on the eastern side of the river and walking towards the bushy area.

Soon we heard a Greenish Warbler singing and then Paul saw the first male Long-tailed Rosefinch but only briefly. It dropped to the bushes too soon for me and Hanna. But after a short wait, it finally flew again and did some kind of display flight over the bushes. And soon after that we found it perched on the top of a bush and finally I could celebrate my WP-tick number 700!

Airport Marshes

We were still pretty far from the bird so we walked a little bit closer. But the terrain changed to most difficult I had ever walked! It also came wetter so after all we stopped close to a reedbed where at least a couple of Paddyfield Warblers were singing. Soon we found the rosefinch again and it landed very close to us to a top of a bush but it was behind some reeds so Hanna and Paul couldn’t get good pictures. And soon it was gone again.

After some waiting we saw a Long-tailed Rosefinch flying pretty far behind us and soon after that two males chasing each others over the bushes – so there were probably 3 different males.

Soon we realized that it was time to start walking back. It was a long way to walk as Hanna and Paul had really had to make a big loop to cross the ditch. We were in the starting place a couple of minutes before the midday and Hazi was already there waiting for us.

Once we were back at hotel we went to sleep right away. At 5 p.m. we had a good dinner at hotel restaurant but as it was raining pretty hard outside, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the evening. Luckily WiFi was working well but then we also found out that the weather wasn’t going to get any better for the next day either. So I spent most of the night watching Champions League final where Barcelona won Juventus 3-1.

Rainy day

Bluethroat

On the 7th of June it wasn’t that rainy during the night, so I woke up before 7 a.m. and even though I hadn’t been sleeping too much because of the football match and some noisy work outside in the hotel backyard, I wanted to go birding. So I woke up Hanna and then went to wake up Paul too. He didn’t hear me knocking the door so I opened the door walked in. It really wasn’t easy to wake him up and he got so scared when it finally worked! And I wasn’t ever cruel at all… Anyway Paul, who had been working too much recently, was still too tired to do anything yet and decided to stay in bed. So together with Hanna we did only a couple of hours morning walk near the airport.

We heard several Greenish Warblers, Siberian Chiffchaffs, Bluethroats and a Thrush Nightingale, a Sedge Warbler, a couple of Common Cuckoos, an Icterine Warbler, a River Warbler, a Corn Crake and saw a Long-tailed tit. But then it started to rain again and we hurried back to hotel to sleep more.

At 11:40 a.m. we walked down to the lobby where Paul was already with his luggage. We still ordered borsch-soup with Hanna and luckily got them in a couple of minutes. Soon Oleg Demyanenko from Ural Tours & Expedition arrived and we filled his 4-wheel drive with our luggage and started to drive through 1.5 million inhabitants Ekaterinburg.

We drove to Ural Tours and Exhibitions office where we did all the paper-work, checked all the gear that we were loaning and of course paid everything to Oleg and then visited an ATM and a shop and then Oleg drove us to the railway station. With help of carriers we managed to get our luggage, which included now also tents, mattresses, tables, stools and all the kitchen stuff, to our cabin and somehow managed to pack them all so that there was still room for 4th person that was already there too. Then at 4:10 p.m. our train left towards south and Orsk.

In our cabin

In the beginning of the long train-trip we were talking and wondering how few birds we saw from the window even though the landscape changed from pine forests to really good looking leaf-tree forests. Finally about at 9 p.m. when we were in Cheljabinsk, we started to sleep. Luckily the train was moving very slowly and steady so we slept very well.

Orsk – lifers

On the 8th of June I woke up early and just watched the landscape from the train window. There still weren’t many birds but it really looked like we were going to see lots of steppes. Some Turtle Doves, Hoopoes and a Red-footed Falcon were seen before we finally were at Orsk at 06:37 a.m. Our driver Alexander was already there together with a group of local journalists that wanted to make some stories about “famous foreign ornithologists birding in Orsk”. Luckily these journalists gave us a hand and helped us to carry everything to Alexander’s Niva which had a handy back-box for the luggage.

After visiting a shop we were soon driving to highlands eastern side of Gaynulino. After some driving we found the first good looking spot which we had also some GPS-spots as the British group that had visited this area last summer had seen some White-winged Larks in this place. Journalists wanted to see us in action and they were filming and photographing when I got my scope ready and almost the first bird I found from the northern side of the road was a stunning male Red-headed Bunting perched on the top of a bush! Journalists wanted to do some interviewing too, but I had done enough and left to see the bunting closer. So Hanna and Paul were giving the interviews…

Red-headed BuntingJanne digiscoping

One of the journalists followed me and videoed me watching and digiscoping my new WP-tick. Soon Hanna and Paul were following me and they got some pictures too. Unfortunately very hard wind made this bird move a lot and even though we soon found at least another male and a female too, we couldn’t get very good pictures. So we planned to walk and check a bigger area before coming back to try to find these birds again.

After we had first found a Siberian Roe Deer and a funny looking Corsak Fox, I found a couple of White-winged Larks flying on the sky. But these birds flew almost immediately very far to the other side of the road. The fox was still chasing some Skylarks and then we noticed that there was still one more White-winged Lark following it. We tried to get closer but even the fox was gone, we heard only the wall of many Skylarks singing. We walked around for quite a long time and saw 7 Black-winged Pratincoles, a Booted Warbler that was in a totally wrong biotope, Ortolan Buntings, Siberian Stonechats, Tree Sparrows, Northern Wheatears, Tawny Pipits, Bee-eaters and so on. When we had decided to walk back to see the buntings, we saw Alexander driving towards us – so we decided to continue somewhere else.

Tawny PipitBooted Warbler

Maruna growing steppe

Alexander didn’t speak many words English but he was a funny guy anyway! Unfortunately he was driving like a lunatic and even though we tried to slow him down a little bit, it didn’t help. Anyway next we asked Alexander to find us a good place to make a camp. We started to feel hungry and we really needed to stop and plan what to do the next 5 days as we had already seen 2 most important species in Orsk area!

We drove to southern side of Gaynulino and from the western side of the river we found a perfect place for camping. While we were putting up the tents, Alexander was cooking a lunch. After a really good food we were ready to go to sleep a little bit at 3:30 p.m.

CampDemoiselle Crane

We slept a bit more than an hour and soon we were walking along the river towards south. There were big meadows on the both side of the river and lots of birds: Ortolan Bunting was very common, some Booted Warblers and Bluethroats were singing a Quail calling and we also found a couple of Red-backed Shrikes, Barred Warblers, Marsh Warblers, Cetti’s Warblers, a Honey Buzzard and a Hobby. The wind was still getting stronger but then we found a Demoiselle Crane landing to a meadow far to the other side of the river. Luckily it was flying again soon and flew over us to the field and there was another Demoiselle Crane too – they were nesting there on the field!

The wind died in the late evening so soon we got some insects, but luckily not too many yet. We ate a good dinner and went to sleep before 10 p.m.

Steppe Marmot

Demoiselle Cranes

On the 9th of June I woke up after 4 a.m. and walked a little bit along the river north towards the village and recorded some Barred, Marsh and Cetti’s Warblers. Hanna and Paul woke up at 5:30 a.m. and soon we were walking towards the Demoiselle Cranes again. We had planned to try to hide to the bushes along the river to a place where Demoiselle Crane had been flying over to the other side of the river for a couple of times in the evening, but after an hour waiting the cranes were still just standing and feeding on their nesting place. So we walked along the old field towards the cranes until we thought we were close enough and took some pictures. Unfortunately there was lots of haze in the air, so the pictures weren’t too good. In the same place there was a colony of Steppe Marmots and we of course took some pictures of these funny mammals too. The young marmots were wrestling almost all the time they were visible. But once we got closer they all disappeared into their holes. Luckily one bigger marmot stayed visible.

We had the breakfast at 9 a.m. and soon we had packed our luggage and driving towards a place that Hanna and Paul had chose from the maps. It was much longer way than we had expected to the steppe area so we made one stop on the way on a rocky hill near a mining area on the southern side of Novorudnyy. Paul saw briefly an owl that probably was a Short-eared Owl and then I flushed a Grey Partridge. On a small pool behind the hill we saw a couple of Ruddy Shelducks and an Eastern Imperial Eagle was soaring on the sky.

White-winged Lark

We continued to a sandy steppe that we had thought to be good for a Black Lark which we were dreaming to find. Once we had started to walk, we immediately flushed a couple of White-winged Larks! But again these birds were extremely shy and mobile so we couldn’t get good pictures. We were chasing these larks for some time and found another pair too, but still they were too mobile.

Soon we continued to a lake nearby on the western side of Novonikolaevka and drove around it even though there weren’t any roads at all. We saw a couple of stunning Pallas Gulls, 2 Steppe Gulls, Great Crested Grebes, a Garganey, a Turnstone, a Ringed Plover, 2 Common Snipes and again 2 nice Demoiselle Cranes. This time we managed to get good pictures of the cranes as they weren’t far from our car.

After all we decided to put up the camp along the lake and after some searching we found a good spot. While putting up the tents and cooking our lunch we saw a couple of Red-footed Falcons that had a nest very close to our camp, a Golden Oriole, Siskins, very southern Fieldfares, a Red-breasted Merganser, Black Terns and so on. We also saw a Steppe Polecat briefly. At 5 p.m. it was time for a nap again.

Demoiselle CranePallas Gull

At 7:30 p.m. we were walking towards the western end of the lake and from the bay we found a Common Teal and a Gadwall but the cranes were much further on the fields. We also saw lots of Musk Rats and the common songbirds were singing well even in the evening.

Once we were back in our camp Alexander had prepared a good dinner and while eating Hanna noticed international space-station flying over us. It was very well visible with a scope. In the evening we were listening to the Red-footed Falcons calling from their nest, Demoiselle Cranes calling further, saw a White-winged Black Tern with Black Terns and then noticed a strange call from the lake. It took some time to realize that the callers were the Steppe Marmots that were chasing a Corsak Fox away from their nest on the other side of the lake! Frogs started to get noisy too and a Bittern was booming when we went to sleep pretty late at 11 p.m.

A couple of lakes

On the 10th of June it was raining during the night and also in the morning. I went to walk towards the eastern side of the lake, but heard only a Greenish Warbler, saw 6 Pallas Gulls and so on, but then the rain got worse and I hurried back to the tent. After a short break the rain stopped and soon we were all walking to the same place where I had already been. We saw a Eurasian Wigeon and Hanna saw a couple of Black-winged Pratincoles and while we were already walking back towards the camp, we found a couple of White-backed Woodpeckers. After the breakfast we packed everything and continued to the next place.

Red-footed FalconWhite-backed Woodpecker

Surprisingly we drove the same road that we had come and in the place where we had seen White-winged Larks, we saw a White-backed Woodpecker, a couple of Steppe Buzzards and 2 flying Ruddy Shelducks. While we were driving towards Malokhalilovo, Alexander told we were on his hunting grounds and he asked if we wanted to see minks, foxes or hares. We were interested to visit the hare place as it was a good looking lake anyway. The lake was on the north-eastern side of Malokhalilovo. Surprisingly Alexander made a U-turn to a deep ditch and we got completely stuck! The situation was so absurd that we didn’t hesitate to take any pictures. There was a turning place 50 meters from us. Somehow Alexander got the car up but then the back-box got stuck and car and the box were in a nice V-letter shape on the bottom of the ditch. But Niva is an amazing car and somehow Alexander drove it up and we could continue to the lake.

We didn’t find any hares on the lake but we saw a Great White-fronted Goose, a Goldeneye, a Pochard, a Smew and a Little Ringed Plover.

Malokhalilovo

Janne and PaulOnce we got to Malokhalilovo we started to walk along the river on the village, but soon we realized that we were on the wrong side of the river. On the southern side we found much better looking biotope while walking north-east and also the GPS-points started to get closer. After the heavy rains at night the steppe was extremely muddy, so walking was very difficult. The day was also getting really hot so soon we were sweating a lot. We saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle, Gold Finches, Yellowhammers and heard a Song Thrush, 4 Siberian Lesser Whitethroats and a Grasshopper Warbler and when we were going to turn back towards the village we found a beautiful male Red-headed Bunting! But it flew very far away before we got almost any pictures.

When we had walked back to our car, we decided to drive back to the bunting place and put up the camp somewhere there. And luckily we found a good spot along the river.

When we had got the tents up, the fish-soup was also ready. The rest of the evening we were just sitting on the camp and watching White-backed Woodpeckers and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers flying over and listening Golden Orioles singing and calling. In the late evening a fire kept insects away. Anyway we went to sleep already at 9 p.m. and at night we got some good thunderstorms.

On the 11th of June I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and walked to record the Red-headed Bunting. Unfortunately my wellingtons were too deep in the too well closed back-box, so I had to go to wet grass with my boots and soon my feet were completely wet. On a small pool I recorded frogs and saw a Redhank, but soon I found the Red-headed Bunting and got extremely good recordings as the bird let me to less than 5 meters. But soon it started to rain again and I hurried back to tent.

When the rain stopped I managed to get my wellingtons and soon we all went back to the bunting place and there it was still. Hanna and Paul got some ok pictures but somehow the bird wasn’t that easy to get close anymore. And again it started to rain so we walked back to the camp.

Red-headed Bunting and Yellow Wagtail

After the breakfast we packed everything again and then left towards a place that we had found to be good-looking in googlemaps. Again the roads weren’t as easy as they had looked, and soon we were driving in the middle of the steppe and trying to cross a railroad. Alexander was driving like a crazy again and I must say that I was really scared at times! After many kilometres we had to give up as the railroad wasn’t possible to cross. So we had to drive back to a bigger road which was just good I think.

road on steppeLittle Bustard

When the road got bigger it was again possible to look through the windows again and we saw 2 flying Ruddy Shelducks on the northern side of Gay and a couple of male Little Bustards south and south-east from Novorodnyy, but got only some flight shots of them. Probably the same Eastern Imperial Eagle was again seen close to the mining area again. We stopped on one small lake west from Gay on the way but there were only some gulls and Coots and some Black Kites on a rubbish tip nearby.

Asia-ticks

Finally we were on the area that we had tried to get south from Kolpakskoye, but it was a disappointment, it was farming land all over. So we decided to skip this place and continued to Kolpakskoye and to Ural River that was nearby. On the way we saw a couple of cute Rufous Susliks. Then on the bridge between Europe (also WP) and Asia we saw an Oystercatcher, a Pallas Gull and also a Levant Sparrowhawk! We walked a little bit in a forest on the WP-side of the border but saw only Bee-eaters and found a nest of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Then we decided to drive cross the river and go to Asia! We wanted to check if the Asia looked better. We were hoping to find much better steppes for larks.

UralRufous Suslik

It really started to look better almost right away and we saw much more Red-footed Falcons and Bee-eaters than on European side of the river. We continued through Novoorsk and south of the city we saw the first Montagu’s Harrier (and the only ring-tail harrier of the trip) and continued until eastern side of Luzhki and Kemak River where we found again a good place to put up the camp. While a Little Tern was wishing and an Oystercatcher was swimming (yep, you read correct), we put up the tents and soon it was time to eat again.

Kumak river

The rest of the evening we took it easy and stayed close the camp. I even went to swim to the river. We saw a couple of Red-headed Buntings flying over us and the first Curlew of the trip – strange, there had been good biotope everywhere. We also saw a Turtle Dove species in flight but it was too brief to identify. Several thunderstorms were around us but luckily none of them came too close. We went to sleep at 10 p.m.

Red-headed Bunting

On the 12th of June we woke up later, just before 7 a.m. when Black-winged Pratincoles were calling while flying over our tent. First we just walked around the camp and saw a Levant Sparrowhawk.

After the omelette-breakfast we packed our car again and started to drive along the road north towards the endless steppe. After about 200 meters driving we found a Red-headed Bunting perched on the top of the bush right next to the track and finally we got some good pictures!

Searching for larks

On the first stop we made, Hanna and Paul saw a Little Bustard and if in European side we had seen 1 White-winged Lark to 100 Skylarks, now about every fifth lark was a white-winged. But still they were extremely difficult to see well and photograph. They either got up to the blue sky and disappeared or then landed hundreds of meters from where they had been flushed. We also saw 4 to 6 Demoiselle Cranes, a young White-tailed Eagle, a flock of Lapwings that had one leucistic bird which really was thought to be something else first, an Eastern Imperial Eagle, a Long-legged Buzzard, a Caspian Tern, a Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-footed Falcons and so on.

When we were once again walking in one good looking area Paul noticed a big lark flying over us. It was flying straight away but then once turned and showed itself – it was completely greyish without any white on the tail or trailing edge of the wing – it must have been a female Black Lark. It landed a couple of kilometres from us and we walked there but never found it again. After all only good thing in this observation was that we were outside the Western Palearctic. We really would have wanted to see the bird better.

White-winged LarkSteppe continues

After seeing about 25 White-winged Larks, we decided to turn back. This steppe would have ended somewhere in China, but as we were in Asia anyway, we weren’t too keen to keep on going… We still stopped along the river to cook lunch and there were plenty of people swimming and having fun as it was Russia day and people had a long weekend holiday.

After we had eaten we decided to drive south-east over the steppes to see one lake nearby. But again it was much longer way than we had thought and Alexander was driving faster than ever! We really lost the road a couple of times and drove through tens of water-pools that were quite deep, but somehow managed to get close to the lake alive. I had once seen a black lark looking bird from the window but I had been too scared to say anything. Finally we stopped near the lake on the western side of Akzharskoye, when there was a first small pool with a flock of White-winged Terns and a Marsh Sandpiper.

AlexanderWhite-winged Black Tern

Even though it was extremely hot and humid, we walked to see the lake which was really good indeed. 6 Great White Egrets, a family of Black-necked Grebes, 2 Red-necked Grebes, a Gadwall, 2 Pochards, Bitterns calling and also flying, a Little Bittern seen in flight very briefly, Savi’s Warbler, Paddyfield and Great Reed Warbler singing. A couple of Citrine Wagtails were also seen and together with Hanna we saw a male Isabelline Wheatear.

But it was soon absolutely too hot to continue and as we had no more ideas what to do, we asked Alexander to drive to Orsk. After some shopping Alexander dropped us to the railway-station and then it was time to say goodbye to Alexander. Then we had 5 hours before our train was leaving.

At 11:48 p.m. our train left towards Ekaterinburg and after we had managed to squeeze our luggage into our cabin, we were soon ready to sleep.

On the 13th of June I woke up just before 10 a.m. and we had still a long way to go. While talking we saw some Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards and then suddenly on the top of a bush in the middle of a small bog there was an Azure Tit! Paul started to celebrate, but then realized that we were on the wrong side of the border again – but anyway Hanna and Paul got a world-tick. Later we still saw a Greater Spotted Eagle briefly but then the rest of the trip went without any observations.

Relaxing in Ekaterinburg

At 2:11 p.m. we were in Ekaterinburg and Oleg was on the station with carriers. Soon we had everything packed into Oleg’s car and driving towards the Hotel Fort that was close to the city.

The reception didn’t speak any English but otherwise the hotel was pretty good. Unfortunately I didn’t know how to get hot water from the shower but it was good to get even cold water wash done.

Pizza

We loaded all our batteries and just relaxed for a couple of hours. Then we decided to go to eat but there was nothing in English in hotel restaurant, so we decided to walk to a pizzeria that we had seen near the railway-station. Hanna ordered chicken but with Paul we took big pizzas. Once we got them, they were really too big! We had been wondering if the pizzas were eatable at all as there was potato and mayonnaise in all of them – and soon we found out that they hardly were. Anyway we were too hungry so we really tried our best, but it was the first time ever that I had to stop eating after half of the pizza!

We took some of the leftovers with us and walked back to the hotel. There we planned the next couple of days program and then finally went to sleep. And soft beds felt so good after several nights in tent and on very thin mattresses.

Monetnyy marshes

On the 14th of June we woke up a bit too early and at 7 a.m. we were having the breakfast. Then we packed everything again and at 8 a.m. Oleg arrived and we packed his car full again. Soon we were driving towards north-east and Monetnyy. After some shopping in a tiny shop, we tried to find a road or a track that lead east to marshes about 6 kilometers from the main road. We found one good road but it ended to a horse pasture surrounded by big fences. After some trying to get around the fence we gave up and decided to start walking. Oleg stayed by the car and we promised to get back in some hours.

Long-tailed Tit

Common Glider

After all it was clear that we had made a bad decision as the forest came very wet. But after several kilometers walking we just kept on going towards the GPS-points that we had. We heard plenty of Siberian Chiffchaffs and Greenish Warblers and some Green Sandpipers, Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Willow Tits, a Common Crossbill and saw a Jay. After 3 hours walking we decided to take a shortcut and walked to a canal and hoped that it’d be easier to walk along it. But it wasn’t a canal at all but a road! Already in the morning Paul had suggested Oleg to take that road, but Oleg had said it was a canal.

This was the road that British group had used a year before and there was pretty much traffic as several cars, tractors and even a group of motor-cyclist passed us. So soon we were in the right area where the Movetnyy marshes started. But it was already afternoon and very hot, so we didn’t do much birding anymore. We called to Oleg if he could try to find the road and come to pick us up, but after an hour trying he called us back and told that he couldn’t find the way.

So it meant that we had to start walking 6 kilometers towards the main road. Luckily I had the pizza-leftovers with me and we got some energy to start walking again. It was a long and extremely sweaty walk but finally we found the cemetery from where Oleg had called us. But he had been on the wrong side of it and he hadn’t noticed a small track that went to the backside of it and continued then 6 kilometers almost straight to the marshes.

Finally we found Oleg and decided to go shopping and then drive back to marshes to camp. We really didn’t want to give up with this place. So after buying cold drinks, ice-cream and also some real food, we were driving back. In the village we saw an Eastern Hedgehog. The road was in pretty bad shape and it took almost 40 minutes to drive that 6 kilometers but finally we were there and putting up the camp. It wasn’t an ideal place to camp as there wasn’t really clean water at all, but we needed only birds to be satisfied – and also some food, we were really hungry.

In the afternoon we found a stunning Long-tailed Rosefinch very close to our camp but once again it flew away too soon and no recording or pictures were taken. While we were relaxing and sitting in our camp, we heard one very close series of calls of an Oriental Cuckoo!

After the late lunch, we still did a walk nearby and crossed a ditch by a beaver-dam. The road there was in so bad condition that even wellingtons weren’t enough. Luckily the dam was strong enough. We heard some Icterine Warblers, a River Warbler, a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, a Golden Oriole, some Common Cranes and a couple of Oriental Cuckoos that were now calling very well. Once we were back in the camp a Woodcock was flying around and a couple of Turtle Dove species flew briefly over us but again too briefly to identify them. Finally at 11 p.m. we were ready to sleep.

Oriental Turtle Dove

On the 15th of June it started to rain at 3 a.m. but luckily the rain ended at 4:30 and we were able to go birding. It was a nice morning with a drumming Black Woodpecker, a singing River Warbler and a Lanceolated Warbler just 100 meters from our camp. After a little walk we heard a call of an Oriental Turtle Dove and luckily found the bird perched on the top of a dead tree. Of course it was the first time that I wasn’t carrying my telescope but we could see the bird pretty well with binoculars. We also heard Bullfinches and saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. When we were walking back towards our tent, we heard promising calls of a tit nearby and then saw a pale tit landing to a tree over us. It really looked promising, but right away we realized there was something wrong – the bird had a blue cap and overall the structure was exactly like a Blue Tit – but it had no yellow at all – it was a Pleske’s Tit, a hybrid between Blue and Azure Tit! So Hanna and Paul still didn’t get a WP-tick. Unfortunately the bird was too quick and we got no pictures.

Near the camp I heard flight calls of a Two-barred Crossbill and soon we found a calling Long-tailed Rosefinch on the top of a tree nearby, but again it was too fast and flew away too soon to get pictures or recordings.

Azure Tit

Hanna decided to stay near the camp and wait if the Long-tailed Rosefinch would come back while I and Paul started to walk towards a couple of pools a couple of kilometers north from the camp. The track was in very bad shape after motorcycles and other all-terrain vehicles, and there weren’t many birds on the way but on the pools we found some Tufted Ducks and a couple of Slavonian Grebes. Soon we heard again promising song of a tit in front of us and soon found the bird and this time it was a real Azure Tit! Paul celebrated the WP-tick and then we started to get pictures, videos and recordings as the bird was still singing. Soon I radioed with walkie-talkie to Hanna that we had finally found an Azure Tit, but Hanna was still very far but luckily she had already been walking towards us for some time.

We could watch the tit cleaning itself and singing for more than 5 minutes but all the time it was climbing higher and higher on the trees and once it reached the top, it flew far away along the pool. And of course Hanna arrived only a little bit late. We had promised to Oleg that we would have breakfast at 10 a.m. so Paul decided to start walking back, but with Hanna we had to give some time for the tit. I saw first a Honey Buzzard flying over me and after maybe 5 minutes we heard a promising call and soon Hanna saw an Azure Tit in flight. I played a little bit tape and then the bird landed to a tree pretty far from us, but soon continued and flew straight over us and disappeared. But we were happy as Hanna had got a WP-tick too! When we started to walk back towards the camp, a male Long-tailed Rosefinch flew just in front of us very beautifully!

After 45 minutes later we were in a camp and having breakfast. After that we needed to get some sleep and we agreed that Oleg could go to do some work that he had to do to his office and come back when he is ready. But before we could sleep, we had to kill a hundred mosquitoes in our tent as we had forgotten the zipper 5 centimeters open. But soon the day was warming up too much and it came extremely hot inside the tents! After having a couple of hour’s sauna, some local idiots parked their car just 2 meters from our tent and started to argue about something. Luckily they left soon when I got out and gave them an angry eye and told some English words that everybody understands. But after that I just couldn’t get into the tent anymore.

So we spent the afternoon near the tents as it is not ok to leave anything without a guard in Russia. We just enjoyed a fire that kept mosquitoes and horseflies away a little but until Oleg arrived at 6 p.m. Soon we had packed everything again and were driving along the bad road again.

Searching for new places

We had once again found a good looking spot from the maps north from Kedrovoye and drove towards it. But even though we tried and tried we never found a road towards this place, even though there were supposed to many. We even asked from several locals but nobody could help us. So after all we gave up and decided to drive towards another not that good looking, but ok area pretty near southern side of Lake Shitvskoye. It was again a longer way as the roads were very poor, but finally we were close enough to stop and put up the camp in the middle of the forest. We planned to walk to the area in the morning.

Taiga trees

It was already late and we were extremely hungry but soon raviolis were ready. Mistle Thrushes, a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a couple of Oriental Cuckoos were singing but soon we were listening to them inside the tent. Finally we got to sleep after 11 p.m.

On the 16th of June we slept a little bit too long with Hanna but Paul was still waiting for us near the tent at 5:15. After listening to a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a Brambling we left to walk towards our destination. The track towards the place was horrible, but the forests around were really good-looking. We heard several Oriental Cuckoos while walking and after 15 minutes we were in the place which wasn’t as good as we had hoped as there were no pools but only old abandoned fields. We walked around the area for a couple of hours and found a couple of Long-tailed Rosefinches and finally Hanna managed to get some good pictures! Once again a turtle dove species was seen in flight, we also heard and even saw a couple of Corn Crakes and Booted Warblers and heard quite a few Oriental Cuckoos, but of course the only cuckoo we saw was the only Common Cuckoo of the day.

Long-tailed RosefinchRoad

While we were walking back, I stopped to record one Siberian Lesser Whitethroat and while I was recording an Oriental Cuckoo started to call right behind it. We carefully walked to see it through the trees and managed to find it calling from the top of a tree behind the opening. So finally also Paul could count it as a WP-tick.

I tried to walk along the forest closer to record the cuckoo, but it was too shy and stopped calling when I was still hundreds of meters away. A female Hazel Hen was panicking as I flushed it from the nest, so I gave up and walked back to the road. We still heard a Dunnock and soon we were having porridge in the camp.

After we had packed the car full again, we still decided to go to see the Lake Shitovskoye but it was really difficult to find a way to the shore. So Oleg asked a permit to walk through one fenced garden to see the lake. There were only some Heuglin’s Gulls, 2 Common Sandpipers and a couple of White-tailed Eagles close to their nest but nothing else. We also heard an Olive-backed Pipit singing, which we thought was pretty far south.

After all we started to drive towards Ekaterinburg and we all except Oleg felt asleep on the way. We then spent a couple of hours in Oleg’s office and even visited a sauna that was nearby. At 4:35 our train towards north and Serov finally left.

To north

It was a long train trip to Serov and we didn’t see almost any new birds on the way. But we were all the time again outside the WP anyway. Luckily we managed to sleep a little even though it was very light and hot in the cabin. After 7 hours we finally were in Serov and carried our luggage to the parking place of the station but surprisingly there was nobody picking us up. After 30 minutes waiting I called to Oleg and he promised that there should be someone very soon. And luckily only after some minutes we met Stanislav and a new Oleg who helped us to carry everything to Oleg’s big car and then got a ride to a hotel nearby.

We got very comfortable rooms and because Paul was loading some maps to his phone through WiFi, the internet connection jammed so badly that we weren’t able to do anything, so soon we were sleeping.

To Ural Mountains

On the 17th of June we woke up at 7 a.m. and somehow managed to order breakfast with our 120 rubles tickets. At 8 a.m. Oleg had arrived and we packed his car and after visiting a shop we started to drive towards the village of Pokrovsk Uralskiy near Severouralsk. After an hour or so we arrived to the garden of our driver Leonid, but there was nobody home. Leonid and our cook Galina were still finishing the last shopping. After an hour waiting and a couple of Booted Warblers and Siberian Stonechats and a flock of 7 Nutcrackers, they finally arrived and we started to pack everything into their smaller 4-wheel van. We had more stuff than ever as we had tables and stools that a Polish group had already brought as they had been in Urals just before us. But somehow we managed to squeeze everything including ourselves in and started a slowly drive west towards the mountains.

Siberian Stonechat

Earlier groups had been using a bigger 4-wheel van and the journey had taken 5 hours, but we were so small group that we made it with a smaller car which was quicker. After an hour driving we saw the first mountains and stopped to take some pictures. Some Olive-backed Pipits and Red-flanked Bluetails were singing and we saw a flock of 25 Common Crossbills with 2 Two-barred Crossbills. When we continued the road got worse and we soon saw the first Grey Wagtails. When the mountains came closer we stopped again to take some more pictures, then we heard first Arctic Warblers too.

After a long drive we crossed the border the Europe and Western Palearctic again and finally after 3.5 hours driving we were finally at our Kvarkush camping place. There we met German Felix Timmermann who had been staying in Urals already for a week. It was good to meet this young birder who was working in Helgoland.

NutcrackerUral mountains

While we were putting up the camp we heard an Olive-backed Pipit, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a Brambling, some Greenish and Arctic Warblers, a Hazel Hen and shortly a Three-toed Woodpecker too. We were really in good mood as everything had gone well. Soon Galina had prepared us soup and after the dinner we were ready to go to sleep as we had planned to wake up very early!

Kvarkush

On the 18th of June we woke up very early at 00:40 a.m. when a White’s Thrush started to sing! It was a WP-tick for Hanna. And as we had planned to start early, we got out from the tent and found out that Paul and Felix were already having the breakfast.

At 1 a.m. we started to climb up towards the mountain following Felix who already knew the way up. We were climbing along a track that was actually now a river as snow was melting on the mountain and lots of water was coming down. Felix told us how there had been more than a hundred Russians during the Russian-day holidays driving up and down the mountain with their 4-, 6- and 8-wheeldrive vehicles! This rally had made even the Ravens leave the mountain and they had started to come back on the last days.

Sun risesMountain meadows

Finally we had climbed up to the snowy hillside where the “river” started and it was easier to climb up along the snow. When the snow ended there was a bushy area and soon we heard a Bluethroat singing but behind it there was something else singing as beautifully – it was a Siberian Rubythroat! I soon found the bird singing on the top of a bush and I walked closer to take some recordings. We all had seen the species before, so the rest stayed further as they wanted to come to see the bird when it was lighter. It was still so dark that it was impossible to take any pictures anyway. I had soon got some ok recordings so we continued climbing towards the top.

We continued west over the top into where we heard a couple of Booted Warblers in strange biotope again and towards a valley that was in the middle of the tops. While we were walking down towards the river, that still had big layers of snow on the other side of it, we heard a Golden Plover, flushed a Willow Grouse and finally saw a couple of Black-throated Thrushes that we had only heard calling before. Soon we heard also a Lanceolated Warbler and decided to try to get some pictures as the sun had already got up behind the mountain. After some photographing we continued lower down to the bottom of the valley but Felix decided to turn back and go to photograph the Siberian Rubythroat.

Soon we found more Lanceolated Warblers and there were even 3 of them singing close to each others. We also heard a Corn Crake calling and a couple of Blyth’s Reed Warblers were singing. We turned towards south and kept on going towards a forest in distance and soon heard a familiar song – another Siberian Rubythroat! We tried to get some pictures for some time but even though this bird came very close to sing, it stayed behind the vegetation almost all the time. Anyway I got perfect recordings!

Siberian RubythroatMelting snow

Soon the ground became very wet but we kept on going and finding more Lanceolated Warblers and continued towards the forest as we hoped to find a Black-throated Accentor there.

When we finally got into the forest, it started to rain. There were several real thunder-clouds coming towards us so even though birds were still singing pretty actively, we had to start walking back towards the camp.

While we were hurrying we heard some singing Yellow-browed Warblers and soon already our 10th Lanceolated Warbler of the morning. We were almost running through the highest peak which was the last place we wanted to be during the thunderstorm and then we heard a couple of displaying Great Snipes on one meadow.

Wild PionLanceolated Warbler

Paul

Finally we started to walk down along the snow again and arrived to the Siberian Rubythroat place. Right then the rain stopped and sun started to shine very warm, but we couldn’t see or hear the rubythroat. Then Paul found a snipe in display-flight on the sky but we couldn’t hear anything. Unfortunately it was just a Common Snipe and probably so wet that there was no sound coming from its tail-feathers. And then we saw more clouds coming towards us and decided to start walking down along the river again.

Finally we were back in the camp and we had really been walking a lot! Galina had soon prepared us the lunch and soon it was time to get some sleep.

In the afternoon we did only a short walk along the road with Hanna but found only one new bluetail, Olive-backed Pipits and some Greenish and Arctic Warblers. In the evening Paul saw briefly a hybrid between Chaffinch and Brambling in front of his tent, but the rest of us only heard it calling as it moved further and further. It was calling like a “Karelian” Chaffinch that we have in South-Eastern Finland – “hrrry, hrrry”, but the call was stronger.

While a Mistle Thrush was beginning to sing, we were ready to go to sleep after 9 p.m. A Greenish Warbler did its best to keep us awake as it was singing right above our tent, but we were too tired to listen.

On the 19th of June I woke up once in the middle of the night to record a White’s Thrush that was singing very close to our tent. I didn’t even go out from the tent but recorded it through the roof while lying down in my sleeping bag – at least mosquitoes couldn’t ruin the recording.

Finally I woke up at 3 a.m. and Felix was already having some cold breakfast and soon heading up to photograph the rubythroat again. I recorded some Olive-backed Pipits and tried to get close to the White’s Thrush and managed to get really good recordings but couldn’t see the bird at all. At 3:30 a.m. Galina had prepared us early breakfast. After 4 a.m. we were already climbing up. Paul had still something to do so he was going to follow us soon.

Chaffinch x Brambling

We had walked less than 100 meters when we found the hybrid finch that Paul had seen on the previous evening. It was feeding along the track and calling both “hvit” and “hrrry” calls. Even though it was still not enough light, Hanna managed to get some kind of pictures before the bird moved further above the rapids. There it started to sing and its song was the same “hrrry” but much stronger. Because of the rapids the recordings were pretty poor.

While we were climbing we heard a couple of Blackcaps and saw a few Black-throated Thrushes. Paul had overtaken us while we had been chasing the finch, so Hanna decided to follow him up until the rubythroat place as they hoped to get finally some pictures. I stayed under the snow-level and took some recording of a Grey Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipits and so on.

Siberian RubythroatSiberian Rubythroat singing

I managed to get some recordings and climbed up to rubythroat place where Hanna and Paul had finally managed to get some good pictures! There had been at least 2 males. So soon we continued up towards northern tops.

After some walking we flushed 3 Great Snipes on one wet meadow and after we had passed them, they started to display. We also saw quite a few Common Redpolls, Greenish Warblers and Olive-backed Pipits and also some Yellow-browed Warblers and Little Buntings, even one pair with a nest.

While walking in a small forest I heard 5 tones of a Pine Grosbeak song but we couldn’t find the bird. Even though the day was getting very hot again, we decided to climb up to the rocky top to get some landscape pictures. After some photographing we were getting back down along the rocky hillside and then I heard a Pine Grosbeak again. This time we found a male singing on the top of a spruce and it was good that Paul saw this nice male bird too – unfortunately it wasn’t very close. Soon the bird flew away and we continued down to the valley.

Kvarkush

We continued to walk down along the snowy area and after that I noticed a Golden Eagle flying over us. Unfortunately Hanna was walking a little bit after me, so she missed really nice pictures.

Black-throated ThrushUral mountains

Kvarkush camp

Ural ridge

We were back at the camp at 11 a.m. and after an hour we ate well again. Then we started to pack the camp and after 1 p.m. we started to drive towards Ural ridge that was about an hour backwards towards Severouralsk. There wasn’t much room in our van as Felix was also with us, but luckily we had already eaten a lot, so we managed to get everything in. We stopped once to take some group-photos in the place where was a border-sign between Europe (also WP) and Asia. While driving we saw a couple of White’s Thrushes flushed along the road, nicely one in Europe and one in Asia. Soon we were in our camping place which was a couple of kilometers on the Asian side of the borders.

While a Red-flanked Bluetail, an Olive-backed Pipit and so on were singing on the background, we put up the camp again and soon Galina had prepared something to eat again. Then an Oriental Cuckoo started to call right next to us, but again it stopped too soon to get any recordings. We saw a Sparrowhawk as a trip-tick and then climbed a little bit along the path towards the mountain and heard a couple of Asian Nuthatches. When we were back at the camp we heard a Three-toed Woodpecker drumming but Felix couldn’t find it even though he tried.

At 7 p.m. we ate dinner and after 8 p.m. we were in our sleeping-bags again.

The morning of the 20th of June was extremely cold! I was for once hoping that I’d have taken any jacket with me! Luckily Felix had extra jacket so I could eat the breakfast-porridge without freezing at 3:30 a.m.

RockyValley

After 4 a.m. it was a little bit warmer already and it soon came warm as we started to climb up towards the top of the mountain. After some climbing there was a rocky top in front of us and as we had no idea which was the best way to go, we decided to climb straight towards the top. After some hard climbing we got to the plateau and in the midway of that we knew that we were back in the Western Palearctic again.

RedpollOlive-backed Pipit

Soon we were climbing down towards a big forest area. Greenish, Arctic, Willow and Yellow-browed Warblers were singing and we saw quite a few flocks of Common Crossbills and Redpolls and soon heard the first Dunnock singing. Our project-species here was a Black-throated Accentor that some groups had found in this area in the previous summer. It was the last possible lifer for Hanna and Paul. I had this species already from Finland.

We walked along the forest slowly towards the GPS-points we had and finally at 7 a.m. we were in the right place which was clearly the best looking area. We had heard some more Dunnocks and here we found a couple of them more but we couldn’t find any Black-throated Accentors. We knew that neither the Polish group had found any, but we still needed to try harder.

Oriental Cuckoo

Finally we had to give up and start a long walk back towards the camp as we had ordered the lunch at midday. Luckily we found a track to follow and while we were walking along it, we didn’t need to go up to the rocky area at all. Only better bird we saw on the way back was a female Black Grouse and finally we were at the camp at 11:30 a.m.

The rest of the day we just relaxed. Luckily finally we got some Oriental Cuckoos visible as 2 females were calling actively and a male was following them like a crazy. Hanna and Paul managed to get some pictures and I got some recording even though the birds were very flighty!

Other birds we observed were a family of Nutcrackers and the youngsters were calling almost exactly like a Nightjar, a Great Spotted and Three-toed Woodpecker in flight and of course a bluetail and an Olive-backed Pipit that were singing almost around the clock. After the dinner we were ready to go to sleep at 8 p.m.

On the 21st of June we woke up at 3 a.m. and Galina was already preparing us some breakfast. An Oriental Cuckoo was calling now further so I walked a little bit closer to get some recordings, but it stayed too far to get anything else than some “landscape-recordings”.

The breakfast was ready at 3:30 a.m. and soon we were all walking over the mountain to Europe again. We now used the faster track and soon we were landing towards the forest. Common Crossbills and Siskins were on the move and also other birds were more visible than on the previous morning. Some Nutcrackers were seen and Little Buntings and Yellow-browed Warblers were singing. We also found a couple of Lanceolated Warblers and soon heard the first Dunnock of the morning.

Little BuntingTired birders

After all we walked around the forest for several hours and concentrated mostly to an area where the Black-throated Accentor records were made in the previous summer, but we didn’t find any.

We were absolutely tired when we started to walk back towards the camp. We still saw a couple of Black-throated Thrushes and a Honey Buzzard and finally were at the camp at midday. Galina started to prepare lunch right away and we started to pack our luggage.

After the lunch we packed the rest of the stuff to the van and then it was time to say goodbye to Felix, who was still going to stay in this area for a couple of days. Soon we were on our way towards Severouralsk.

After more than a couple of hours we were in Leonid’s backyard again and Oleg was already there waiting for us. We said goodbyes and thanks to Leonid and Galina and were soon driving towards Serov.

After an hour sleeping in a cool car we were in Serov, where we drove straight to the railway station. Stanislav was there helping us to carry everything to the lobby of the station and now we had all the things that Polish team had brought with us too. We agreed that Stanislav will come back when the train comes and said goodbye to Oleg and then we had 5 hours wait until the train was coming. So we started to delete bad pictures, write trip-reports and so on.

The time was moving surprisingly fast and when the train arrived, Stanislav was there with probably his son and helped us to carry everything into the cabin. There was already the 4th passenger too, but this man was speaking a little bit English and was a very nice guy, so we managed to squeeze everything in pretty easily. Finally at 00:47 a.m. our train left towards Ekaterinburg and soon after we had got our linnets, we were all ready to get some sleep.

At Ekaterinburg again

On the 22nd of June we were in Ekaterinburg at 8:21 a.m. and Julia from Oleg’s office was already there in the station. Oleg was out of the city. With the carriers we managed to get our stuff to the parking place where a big taxi was ready to pick us up. Then we drove to the office where we left all the stuff we had loaned and after we had said goodbye to Julia, the taxi drove us to our hotel Lainer but first we stopped in a shop on the way.

After we had got our room it was already so warm outside and too late to go birding anyway, so we forgot the idea to go to the Airport marshes and took showers and went to soft beds to sleep. Our rooms were too hot too but somehow we managed to sleep. When we woke up, we just took it easy.

During the afternoon and evening we ate twice in the hotel restaurant and about at 8 p.m. we said goodbyes and thanks to Paul who had his flight already early on the next morning.

On the 23rd of June we woke up at 3:30 a.m. with Hanna and after 4 o’clock took a taxi in front of the airport. This time we got a former taxi so we couldn’t order it to come back to pick us up later from Bolshoy Istok where we were dropped. We got a phone-number to the office where we should get a taxi.

Airport Marshes

Soon we were walking towards the Airport marshes and the rubbish tip there. This time it was much quieter than more than 2 weeks earlier. Some Siberian Stonechats, a couple of Grasshopper Warblers, a Lanceolated Warbler, only some Booted Warblers and a few Yellow Wagtails were seen and heard. We walked towards the bushy area and there through the bumpy terrain close to the bushes that the Long-tailed Rosefinch had used on our last visit.

But in more than an hour we didn’t see anything else than some Reed Buntings and a Paddyfield Warbler. Then I walked to the rubbish tip and there I heard a familiar call and soon saw a male Long-tailed Rosefinch perched on a bush. But once again it disappeared too soon and when Hanna arrived, we couldn’t find it anymore.

Paddyfield WarblerBooted Warbler

A couple of Citrine Wagtails were posing well but then we made a mistake and started to walk around the rubbish tip. There was so much glass and other waste that soon we just walked through all the rubbish back to the track.

The day was warming up very quickly and soon I was sweating too much even though we were walking very slowly. At 8 a.m. we had to stop birding as the heat and the humidity were far too high to keep on going! So we walked back to the main road.

We had planned to walk to a shop along the road to call the taxi, but while we were walking along the main road, a car stopped in front of us and a man came out with binoculars – it was Rami Mizrachi, an Israeli birder that had joined the Polish group on their tour and was still around and birding by himself. Rami had also been in Airport marshes but in some other area and he was now driving back to his hotel which was luckily Lainer. So we got a ride and after all found out that Rami was staying in our neighbour room. I had been wondering why there had been someone up very early in the morning when we had woken up.

So soon I was having a late breakfast in our hotel restaurant and then the rest of the day we just relaxed. In the evening we ate very well in the restaurant and then packed our luggage. At 10 p.m. we were ready to sleep.

Towards home

On the 24th of June we woke up in the normal time at 3 a.m. and at 3:40 we were walking with our luggage to the airport. Next hour or so we were queuing, showing our passport, getting different kind of stamps, queuing again, showing passport, getting stamps and so on, until we finally got to our gate. An hour later at 5:50 a.m. our Finnair plane left towards Helsinki-Vantaa.

The flight was over soon as we were sleeping most of the time and at 6:55 we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa. My father was there already waiting for us and after we had found our luggage we were soon driving away from the airport. As we had no more clean clothes, we decided to start driving towards Parikkala right away. So we dropped my father to Tikkurila railway-station and started a long drive to home. In Lappeenranta we stopped in Askola pools but soon we were driving again. After all we were at home very tired but happy – we had once again had a great journey!

Last words

Altogether we had seen 188 bird-species and for me and Paul 4 of them were WP-ticks while Hanna got 8 new ticks. Some of the species we saw only in Asia. Surprisingly we had no problems at all during our trip even though I really had expected some, it was Russia anyway. The schedule had worked perfectly! The biggest thanks go to Oleg Demyanenko and Julia to Ural Expeditions & Tours and of course to our old friend Paul French who was dealing with Oleg and planning everything! Big thanks also to everyone else who helped us: Alexander, Oleg, Stanislav, Leonid and Galina! It was really nice to meet Felix too and do some birding together.

J.A.