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Thailand, Phetchaburi 25th of February to 7th of March 2017

Forewords

In early winter Tero Toivanen sent us an email and asked if we’d like to join him and Janne Kilpimaa and go somewhere far and warm. The first suggestion was Thailand and Phetchaburi area, where for example Mika Bruun had been a couple of years earlier and written a blog to Tarsiger. It really seemed to be an interesting area to go, so soon we were booking flights, accommodations and a car and so on.

After all our plan was to fly to Bangkok, take a taxi to Hua-Hin where we’d take a 4-wheel car and then do birding first 2 days in Laem Pak Bia and Pak Thale wader places, then continue to Kaeng Krachan National Park for 4 days, then spend 2 days around Phetchaburi fields before taking a taxi back to Bangkok.

On Saturday the 25th of February our Finnair Airbus A350 left towards Bangkok at 6:15 p.m. It was a long, almost 10 hours flight, but there were pretty new movies to watch and of course we also tried to sleep.

Asian Openbill

Finally we landed to Suvarnabhum airport at 9:15 a.m. and after we had found our luggage, we found our Thai Happytaxi driver and soon were driving towards Hua-Hin (2300 Baht). On the way we of course saw some birds but most of them were left without identification as there weren’t many species we were familiar with. Anyway Asian Spotted Dove, Red Turtle Dove, Asian Openbill and some other common species were seen. It took a bit more than 2 hours to get to Hua-Hin airport where we got our big Isuzu and soon Janne K. was practicing driving on the left side of the road. We drove a little bit back towards North and pretty soon were in Cha Am where we parked to Eurasia resort where we had booked rooms for next 2 nights.

Eurasia resort was really good looking bird wise, so we decided to start birding there as the hottest time of the day wasn’t the best time to go anywhere. We hoped to get familiar with at least some common species. Right away we found lots of Streak-eared Bulbuls, which was surprisingly the only bulbul-species we saw on the coast. On flowering bushes there were Olive-backed and Brown-throated Sunbirds and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers. A short walk around the resort was really good as we found Oriental Magpie Robins, Pied Fantails, Zebra Doves, a couple of Freckle-breasted Woodpeckers, Indian Rollers, Crested Mynas, Pied Mynas, Germain’s Swiftlets (or whatever swiftlets there really are), a couple of Plain-backed Sparrows, a Plaintive Cuckoo and a couple of Ruddy-breasted Crakes that were flushed from one ditch.

Freckle-breasted WoodpeckerZebra Dove

In the afternoon we headed to Laem Pak Bia salt-pools and saw a couple of White-shouldered Starlings on the way. From the pools we found lots of waders and mostly they were familiar species for us, but of course it was good to see Pacific Golden Plovers, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers too. But the best ones for us were Red-necked and Long-toed Stints and even 300 Great Knots, which was the only lifer for us all. We also found a flock of greenshanks, but too late when it was already getting dark, so we couldn’t identify them surely as Nordmann’s Greenshanks! Anyway a briefly seen Eastern Yellow Wagtail was a lifer too.

PoolsGreat Knot

We also visited Mr. Deang and booked a boat-trip to sand-spit for the next day. On small pools around his village, we saw a Black-capped and several Collared Kingfishers and a huge Asian Monitor Lizard.

In the evening we ate in the only restaurant in the resort which was noisy, expensive and pretty bad. Anyway it was nice to see Tokee-geckos on the roof of the restaurant. It had been a long day so after we had written down the bird-log, we were ready to go to sleep.

Waders and Egrets

On Sunday the 27th of February we woke up before 6 a.m. and once we got out we heard strange calls from the woods – it was a Large-tailed Nightjar. Soon I was driving (my turn) towards Pak Thale wader place. Once we got to the pools, there were lots of people from the village. They were carrying salt from one pool that was full of big piles of salt.

SaltWaders

We saw a couple of flocks of Painted Storks before we started to scan the pools for waders. The first pools didn’t have too many birds so we soon walked in the middle of the pools. It was allowed to walk along the bigger roads. Soon we found big flocks of waders; lots of Red-necked Stints and plovers. After some searching I found what we were looking for – a Spoon-billed Sandpiper! It was a little bit behind a sand-wall but Hanna managed to see it through my scope. But then a motorcycle drove towards it and flushed all waders. And right after that it started to rain so we had to get to shelter. The rain made the sand extremely slippery and muddy and soon we had a thick mud-layers on our shoes. Luckily the rain stopped soon and the waders had landed back to the same pool. And after some searching I found the “spoonie” again and also Janne K. and Tero managed to see this dream-bird! It had really been the target nr. 1 on our list!

Spoon-billed SandpiperSpoon-billed Sandpiper

We were scanning the wader-flocks for some time and Janne K. found another Spoon-billed Sandpiper which had color-rings. It was maybe from Russian breeding programs, so it had been good to see also the unringed bird. Soon after the second “spoonie” we decided to move on and continued to the shore to check some mangroves.

We passed some pools that had only some waders and parked to the end of the road and walked to a shelter that was on the shore. Soon we saw lots of wader-flocks that were passing us. Tide had probably made them fly to somewhere else. We saw Curlews, Whimbrels, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Great Knots and even a pure Terek Sandpiper flock. Soon we saw the first Far Eastern Curlew in a flock of Curlews and later 2 more birds were seen. On the mangrove we saw some Golden-bellied Gerygones and I saw a lonely Asian House Martin flying over me.

MangroveMudskipper

On the hottest time of the day we stopped to eat on a small restaurant along the road. The food was really cheap and good. Soon we had to hurry to Mr. Deang to catch a boat to the Sand Spit. And soon we were sitting on a smallish motor-boat that Mr. Deang was driving along a river between mangroves towards the sea. Lyle’s Flying Dogs were hanging on the tops of trees and plenty of Asian Monitor Lizards were swimming on the river. Soon Mr. Deang showed us the first better egret – a Chinese Egret! This species is extremely rare with less than 1000 birds in the whole world!

Chinese EgretPacific Reef Egret

Finally we were on the sand spit and after we had seen another Chinese Egret, we started to walk on the shore. There were immediately some Malaysian Plovers but we had to walk quite a lot before we finally found one White-faced Plover! On the rocky reef, we found a dark-morph Pacific Reed Egret and on the tern flocks there were Crested Terns, 1 Lesser Crested Tern, White-winged Terns and also a Pallas’s Gull.

Malaysian PloverWhite-faced Plover

After the trip we paid 1000 Bahts from the successful trip and continued to King’s Project (Environmental Research and Development Project initiated by H.M King Bhumibol), which had good pools with quite a few pond herons and finally there were a couple of birds in breeding plumage and they were easy to identify as Javan Pond Herons. Otherwise the hot afternoon wasn’t good for birding but anyway some Dusky Warblers were found. A couple of Asian Monitor Lizards were seen almost too close…

Javan Pond HeronAsian Monitor Lizard

Nordmann's Greenshank

Next we continued to Laem Pak Bia again and hoped to find the flock of greenshanks again. But pools where the flock had been on the previous evening were almost empty. We had seen big flocks of waders on the way along the main road so drove back there. There were about 400 Great Knots and behind them we saw altogether 43 Nordmann’s Greenshanks! Now they were easy to identify with their short and yellow legs.

It was already dark when we drove back to Eurasia resort and stopped almost at the gate where both a Large-tailed and Indian Nightjar were calling actively. We still went to eat with Hanna and of course the log was made before we went to sleep.

More pools

Oriental Reed Warbler

On the last day of February we headed early to so-called abandoned building and we were there when the sun was rising. Right away we heard several warblers “tacking” and soon saw one and confirmed the identification as Oriental Reed Warbler. On the sky there were all the time both Little and Indian Cormorants flying over us. On the small rubbish tip we found a couple of rarities; 2 Brahminy and 2 Rosy Starlings. There were also a couple of Indochinese Bush-larks, a couple of Black-headed Munias were seen briefly and soon we continued to check the pools. There were lots of waders and better ones were 20 Red-necked Phalaropes, 80 Broad-billed Sandpipers and a flock of 35 Asian Dowitchers! And when we were already leaving I found 2 Oriental Pratincoles flying over us.

Brahminy Starling

Long-toed and Red-necked Sandpiper

Oriental Pratincole

We still stopped at Wat Komnaram which had some a little bit wet fields. A couple of Oriental Skylarks were singing and there were some Oriental Pratincoles to photograph.

The next stop was made in Cha Am where we ate again while Hanna visited a pharmacy and finally managed to find fuel to his cooker. Hanna is allergic to almost everything that people eat in Thailand (or actually anywhere, but especially in Thailand), so she had planned to cook her own food. Well Hanna’s luck wasn’t too good after all; first she got Asian Openbill shit to her jacket when a flock was flying over us and when we went to get money from ATM, the machine ate her credit card! Luckily the rest of us got some money so after the card had been redeemed, we continued towards inland.

Our next target was Kaeng Krachan National Park which wasn’t as easy to find as we had expected. We found the information center easily and walked a little there and heard a Lineated Barbet and saw some Paddyfield Pipits, but almost nothing else. But when we continued towards the National Park, there were soldiers blocking the road. Of course they didn’t speak any English, but when they pointed to our targeted direction and said “shooting, shooting”, we decided to try to find another road. Luckily we found another road easily and pretty soon we parked to Ban Maka from where we had booked rooms for next 2 nights.

Ban Maka

We carried our luggage to our rooms and changed to long shirts and trousers as there are mosquitos that carry malaria and dengue-fever in the area. Then we found familiar faces from the parking place; our very good friends Mikko Ala-Kojola and Antti Peuna, who had already been birding in Northern Thailand for more than a week. They had almost similar plans with us for the rest of their trip. They had booked rooms from Samarn Bird Camp which was closer to the National Park. And that’s where we were going to stay the last 2 nights on our stay in Kaeng Krachan.

Mikko and Antti comingLake Ban Maka

The surroundings of Ban Maka were perfect for afternoon birding, so soon we were all walking around and searching for birds. We soon found some Black-crested Bulbuls, Brown-cheeked Sunbirds, an Oriental Pied Hornbill and a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. A short walk along the road produced also a Dark-necked Tailorbird, a calling Chinese Francolin and Sooty-headed Bulbuls.

Brown-throated SunbirdSooty-headed Bulbul

In the evening a couple of other groups of birders arrived to Ban Maka and Mikko and Antti had met them earlier in the North. We ate together in the restaurant and heard a Collared Scops Owl calling. We got plenty of good tips to the National Park. Anyway we had booked a guide for the next day so I just wrote the tips down in a hurry, but didn’t really study them as I thought our guide would know most of them anyway. I was really hoping that the next day would be my best birding day ever!

Up and down Kaeng Krahan

On the 1st of March we had breakfast at 5:30 a.m. and soon we met our guide. He didn’t speak any English but we had been warned about it. We climbed to his Hiace and were soon at the gate of the National Park. The guide collected money for the tickets and paid them and soon we were in.

Sun was rising when we parked after we had been driving about 9 kilometers. This are was exactly the are where an Elephant had killed a couple of tourists earlier. And this very same Elephant was still hanging somewhere there. We really had hoped to see an Elephant, but not necessarily this individual. But there was quite a lot of Elephant shit on the roads.

In this open area we experienced something that I hadn’t been expected – the monkeys – White-handed Gibbons were singing and loudly! We also heard Green-legged Partridges funny calls and also Greater and Common Flamebacks were noisy but also showing well. A Large Hawk-cuckoo was seen in flight briefly and with many Oriental Pied Hornbills we saw also 2 Tickell’s Brown Hornbills. Then our guide was worthy for the first time when he showed us an Asian Barred Owlet. We had hoped that he’d tell us what were all the voices, songs and calls that were coming from every direction, but after he had shown us the owl, he just concentrated to photograph it.

Oriental Pied HornbillAsian Barred Owlet

Well at least one of the calls was easy to identify – a Red Junglefowl, but we also identified Green-eared Barbets and found 2 tiny Black-tighted Falconets. Soon Mikko and Antti also parked there and they told that they had seen already lots of species on their many stops. With them we still saw our first Stripe-throated Bulbuls, but then our guide wanted to move.

We didn’t understand why our driver wanted to hurry as we knew that from the first camping place, Baan Krang, the road continued only one way and the direction was changing up only at 1 p.m. But anyway soon we parked to Baan Krang and our guide marched inside the restaurant to order food to himself!

So we had no idea what to do. We knew there were plenty of target-birds around and I had even got instructions how to find some nests, but I hadn’t got them with me. So we just started walking around the camp and try to find birds by ourselves. Soon we found some Thick-billed Green Pigeons, a Hainan Blue Flycatcher, a Rosy Minivet, a Two-barred Warbler and Flavescent Bulbuls.

Rosy MinivetHainan Blue Flycatcher

After some walking we saw a small group that had also a local guide watching something behind a couple of tents. Surprisingly our own guide was also there and already photographing something! When he saw us coming he waved us to get there and there was an amazing looking Orange-breasted Trogon perched very close to them.

Orange-bellied TrogonSilver-breasted Broadbill

We of course started to take pictures too and while others were still photographing I found another target-bird – a Silver-breasted Broadbill! And even though there were a couple of these broadbills, they weren’t very co-operative, so we didn’t get very good pictures of them.

Then our guide started to be a guide and wanted to take us to a short forest-walk. We knew it was going to be quiet as it was the hottest time of the day, but we hoped that he had at least one good bird somewhere on the way.

Sun was shining very hot and cicadas were extremely noisy – and there were almost no birds at all! We had been walking quite a long already, when our guide asked us to get closer to him and he pointed a bird from a bush – and it was a Streak-eared Bulbul – the only bird that was common everywhere!

Luckily we soon found a Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo and when we arrived to Youth Camp, I found a Himalayan Cuckoo perched on the top of the tallest tree. Hanna almost stepped to a poisonous snake, but at least she got good snake-pictures.

Asian Emerald CuckooSiamese Cat Snake

Once we were back in the camp, Mikko and Antti had also arrived and they had seen so much more! They had been stopping many times on the way and really enjoyed their morning! We weren’t too happy for their success…

We still saw Grey-eyed Bulbul, Large Woodshrike and together with Hanna we saw 2 Hill Mynas flying over us. Anyway the rest of the mid-day we were sitting in the shadows and waiting for some birds to come to the only fruiting tree of the area that was in front of the restaurant. Of course we visited a river that was almost completely dry, with only some tiny pools, but there were amazing number of different kind of colorful butterflies. And we also photographed monkeys, Dusky Leaf Monkeys, that were relaxing close to the restaurant. We also saw a quite a big deer running across the camping area.

Dusky Leaf MonkeyDusky Leaf Monkey

Finally it was 1 p.m. and we started driving up again. But again we were just driving! We passed the first and second river-crossings that we knew were one of the best birding places and kept on going! We started to get afraid that our driver was going to drive straight up to the second camp too, so I forced him to stop on the 3rd river-crossing. Once we had stopped, I tried to ask him to tell what were the birds that were calling around us, but only thing he could tell was that one of the calls was a barbet – luckily there were only 6 possible species… So again we started to try to find the birds by ourselves.

We had been listening to some recordings at home and with Tero we both had lots of recordings loaded on our phones, but there were just too many different kind of unfamiliar calls everywhere all the time – it was very confusing! We did identify a Blue-throated Barbet but then we found 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers on one dead tree and all the other voices were forgotten! These huge woodpeckers were closest to a pterosaur what we have ever seen! Then we still found 2 Dollarbirds perched on the next top of trees, so it started to feel that maybe this day wasn’t going to be that bad after all!

Great Slaty WoodpeckerOriental Dollarbird

Mountain Hawk EagleBut soon our driver was in a hurry again and then we drove again for a long time until he stopped under a couple of huge trees and pointed up and there was a nest of a Crested Mountain Eagle and there was even one bird at home! What a nice surprise!

The next stop was made in 27 km, which we knew had plenty of target birds. It seemed that our driver (we didn’t think he was a guide anymore) knew at least one of them, as he walked straight to one pool where were 2 nests hanging over it. He even started to play the call of the bird from his phone, so again he surprised us. And right away a couple of Long-tailed Broadbills arrived to build the nest!

Long-tailed BroadbillLong-tailed Broadbill

I remembered that I had got several other tips to this place too, but it seemed that our driver didn’t know them, so we started walking up along the road. We found some Ochraceous Bulbuls, a Vertider Flycatcher and heard Blue-eared Barbets and a Moustached Barbet, but many other calls were still not identified.

27 kmAshy Drongo

Buff-rumped Woodpecker

After some time we found our driver again and he had probably got some tips from other guides that had passed us and he showed us a tree with a woodpecker nest – and there was a Buff-rumped Woodpecker just visiting the nest!

We still spent some time on the area as we weren’t in a hurry to get to the next camp, where we would be stuck again before it was allowed to drive back down. We still found a Sulphure-breasted Warbler and identified some common callers, when we finally saw them, as Pin-striped Tit-babblers and Rufous-fronted Babblers. But soon our driver came with his car and asked us to get in and so we were driving up again.

We found a possible Chinese Blue Flycatcher while driving and saw a Common Emerald Dove flying across the road but soon we parked to the top to Khao Panoen Tung camp. Again our driver disappeared inside to restaurant and we had no idea what to do. So we started just behind the restaurant-building where opened a pretty good view to the hillside. Right away I found maybe the most searched species of the whole park – a Ratched-tailed Treepie! This bird really had a strange tail! On the next tree there was a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike and soon we saw and heard a flock of small birds flying over us. I was the only one to run after them and saw to which tree they landed. But only one bird was visible on the top of the tree while all the other birds were inside the tree. This one bird was a white-eye with almost white flanks and stomach and huge ring around the eye. I thought it was an Oriental White-eye, but later I heard that there had been some Everett’s White-eyes with a flock that was mostly Chestnut-sided White-eyes. Once the flock had moved on too fast again Janne K. found a Streaked Spiderhunter which was luckily easier to identify.

Ratchet-tailed TreepieBlack-winged Cuckoo-shrike

But then we again had no idea where our driver was. We didn’t know if he wanted to continue further as the road still continued several kilometers to the other side of the top. Finally he came out and showed us to follow him to the next hilltop. This was the place where we should have walked already much earlier as the view was amazing! There was strange calls coming from the opposite hill and once again our driver surprised us and used Tero’s telescope to find some Great Hornbills. We were scanning the tree-tops and sky for some time and found a Black Eagle and a Rufous-bellied Eagle, also Vernal Hanging Parrots were seen briefly.

Rufous-bellied EAgleGreat Hornbill

When we were walking back towards the camp-buildings, Hanna who had left a little bit earlier called us to get down quickly! She had found a flock of 3 Common Green Magpies! These birds were just amazing, but unfortunately mostly hiding well and moving too quickly. So we saw them well only for a couple of seconds before they were gone. And right away after that we found a couple of Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, which were also really nice birds.

Common Green MagpieBlyth's Shrike-babbler

Once we were back at our car, we probably would have left back down immediately, but I realized that I had lost my back-bag. After some searching I knew I had left it up to the top of the hill, so a couple of us climbed back there. But it was good, as once the bag had been found, we found a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch which seemed to be a new species to our driver as he started to take pictures of the bird and didn’t seem to stop photographing at all. While standing there next to our car, we saw a bird flying past us and hit straight to the window of the restaurant. With Hanna we hurried to see what had happened and there was a Common Emerald Dove on the ground. It had got some damage but we moved it to shadows to rest, so maybe it still survived?

Common Emerald DoveVelvet-fronted Nuthatch

We were already late as cars were supposed to leave from the top at 5 p.m. but our driver was still chasing the nuthatch. Finally he had got enough and we left to downhill at 5:40 p.m. We had hoped to stop in some places that we had been passing on the way up but now it was too late. It takes more than an hour to drive back to the gate and it was closing at 7 p.m. And once the gate is closed there is no way out!

Kalij PheasantSo we were driving down pretty fast, but luckily we were the only car on the road this late and that’s why there were some birds on the road! We saw some Red Junglefowls and 1+3 beautiful Kalij Pheasants!

Once we had driven through the lover camp we found Mikko and Antti waiting for us. It came dark very quickly and soon we saw the first nightjars on the road. We had some difficulties to make our driver to understand that we wanted him to use long lights. It seemed that he wasn’t going to stop to watch any nightjars, we didn’t want to kill any of them. But them he also noticed the birds and started to stop. Unfortunately all the birds we checked were Long-tailed Nightjars.

Collared Owlet

Finally we were outside the National Park at 6:53 p.m. and drove straight to Ban Maka. There we paid our driver and luckily he wasn’t very expensive, 1200 Bahts. We wouldn’t have paid the price that we had heard was the price for real bird-guides. Anyway after all we were very happy as the afternoon had been really good! Then we of course ate together with Mikko and Antti and made the bird-log together again and changed tips with them and with other groups too. There was one new group from Hungary and they made us to stop our dinner for a good reason when they found a Collared Scops Owl perched on one tree close to the restaurant.

On the lower part of the park

On the 2nd of March we met Mikko and Antti at the National Park gate at 6 a.m. and soon continued until km 9. There were already lots of birds awake, but mostly the same species as on the previous morning. A couple of Great Hornbills were seen and a Collared Owlet was heard. We walked in the area for some time and still found a couple of Crimson Sunbirds that were seen briefly. A White-bellied Erpornis was heard in a flock of many other birds that were at least mostly bulbuls.

Streak-breasted Woodpecker

The next stop was made when we heard a woodpecker calling. When we got out, there were several woodpeckers around us and soon we found a Streak-breasted Woodpecker and also a Grey-headed Woodpecker. We also saw a Green-billed Malkoha and again 2 Great Slaty Woodpeckers.

Then we had to hurry so we could pass the first camping site before the gate was closed at 9 a.m. It was really annoying that the road was changing the direction all the time. We were all the time in a hurry!

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Finally we stopped at the 1st river-crossing and there Antti found an amazing looking Black-and-yellow Broadbill! It was seen only pretty briefly but luckily I got one pretty good picture before it disappeared. Soon we continued to the 2nd crossing and there we had good notes how to find the next broadbill as we knew the nest. We walked about 100 meters and already then heard Dusky Broadbills calling. Soon we found them and it was really another ridiculous looking bird again. While photographing Dusky Broadbills Antti was again the sharpest of us and picked up a different looking broadbill from the tops of the trees – there were also 2 Banded Broadbills! Amazing!

Dusky BroadbillDusky BroadbillBanded Broadbill

And it really started to feel that Antti was our guide when he still found a Raffle’s Malkoha, which disappeared too soon to get any pictures. Also Greater Yellownape was seen only briefly but it was heard very well. Also an Eastern Crowned Warbler was seen, so we had got a great start for the day!

Blue-bearded Bee-eater

Mikko and Antti continued until the top where they hadn’t been yet, but we had to stay lower as we had booked a hide outside the National Park, close to Ban Maka, in the afternoon. So pretty soon we had driven back down to the camping site where I noticed a Blue-bearded Bee-eater perched on one tree. While we were having cold drinks, we could again take pictures of many species that were visiting the fruiting tree. The best bird there was a Blue-winged Leafbird.

Ban Son Nok hide

Once we had picked up our luggage from Ban Maka, we continued to Ban Son Nok hide. We paid 200 Bahts per person to an old lady who was owner of this place and were soon sitting inside the hide. There were already Streak-eared, Stripe-throated and Black-crested Bulbuls, an Asian Spotted Dove and a White-rumped Shama visiting small pools.

HideStripe-throated Bulbul

And after some waiting we heard something walking in the bushes and a few Bar-backed Partridgs came to drink. Soon after that we heard a noisy flock of birds coming and 7 Greater and 2 Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes came to feed right in front of us. These birds were really funny but they disappeared quite soon.

Asian Spotted DoveBar-backed Partridges

Lesser Necklaced LaughingthrushGreater Necklaced Laughingthrush

Next visitor was a single Green-legged Partridge and also a Black-naped Monarch and a Common Emerald Dove were showing very picturesquely!

Black-naped MonarchGreen-legged Partridge

Common Emerald DoveSiberian Blue Robin

A Pale-legged Leaf Warbler was showing pretty well soon and then after some waiting a female Siberian Blue Robin arrived, and a male soon after that and still a young male. They weren’t showing too well, but they were just stunning birds with short tale and long pale feet. It was already getting dark when babblers started to make visits. We saw some Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Puff-throated and Rufous-fronted Babblers and also one Abbott’s Babbler but also a couple of Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers.

Pale-legged Leaf WarblerTickell's Blue Flycatcher

When it was too dark, we said thank you to the owner and drove to Samarn Bird Camp where we had rooms for next 2 nights. We ate again with Mikko and Antti who had stayed inside the park until the last minutes. We changed the tips and made the log again.

To the top again

On the 3rd of March we had breakfast at 6 a.m. and after that Mikko and Antti headed to another hide, Lung Sin Waterhole, but we were soon buying the tickets to National Park again (1000 Bahts for 4 person + 30 Bahts car).

We stopped again at 9 km but had nothing new there, a couple of Dollarbirds which we had seen quite a few already. Hanna managed to find a Porcupine that we saw running to the bushes, it was surprisingly big.

Black-and-red Broadbill

Then we walked a couple of hundred meters to a small pool where we knew people had seen the last broadbills that we still hadn’t seen. Mikko and Antti had tried to see them for a couple of times but only heard some calls, so it wasn’t easy. Anyway I walked closer to the bushes and played the tape and soon had an answer from the bushes behind me. I kept on playing and finally one bird flew cross the road while another one started calling too. After some searching we finally found a Black-and-red Broadbill visible and altogether there were 3 birds. It was already the 6th broadbill-species for us – and maybe the most beautiful!

Tero got an inspiration from my tape-luring and played Sultan Tit from his phone and right away a Sultan Tit came to see us! We also saw a Great Iora passing the road and from the tops of some dead trees we found 4 Golden-crested Mynas.

Sultan TitGolden-crested Myna

Jerdon's Baza

Soon several big cars parked next to us and it was Kontiki group with our good friend Tero Linjama as their leader! There were a few familiar faces on the group and together we saw a strange raptor flying over us, and later it was identified from the pictures as a Jerdon’s Baza! We gave plenty of tips to Tero before we decided to keep on going as the group was far too noisy.

Mountain Hawk Eagle

After a short drive we saw a Blue-bearded Bee-eater perched on a tree and we had just started to use our walkie-talkies so we could possibly contact to this Finnish group and so they managed to see it too. Then we drove again a little and decided to walk along the road for some time. We saw briefly a Grey-rumped Treeswift and then alarming Oriental Pied Hornbills showed us a Crested Mountain Eagle that showed extremely well! Janne K. managed to see a couple of new Black-and-red Broadbills too.

The place where we had got several woodpeckers on the previous morning was quiet, but after a short drive we found once again a calling Great Slaty Woodpecker which we also managed to tell to the group.

Once on the lower camp, we bought cold drinks and surprisingly Mikko and Antti came there already. They had driven straight to there after the morning on the hide. Soon we continued together higher and on the first river-crossing we saw a Greater Yellownape.

Black-and-buff Woodpecker

We did some stops on the way but finally stopped to 27 km. We had got instructions to Black-and-buff Woodpecker and after we had found the nest, it didn’t take long to see the bird coming out from the hole. Unfortunately it flew straight down to the forest.

We walked in the area for some time and heard some Mountain Bulbuls and wondered what the bird that was singing almost like a Greenish Warbler was? Later we managed to find out that they were Claudia’s Leaf Warbler.

TreesIn the park

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Soon we continued higher and twitched a couple of Dark-sided Flycatchers that Mikko and Antti had seen on the previous day. They were both on the same branches again! And again after a short drive Tero found a Pale Blue Flycatcher from a moving car.

White-browed Babbler

We didn’t stop at all on the top but continued along the road than continued after the camp. The road was very narrow and curvy and after one curve there was the Hungarian group in the middle of the road. They had just experienced a big wave of birds and luckily we managed to see part of the wave. There were a few Ratched-tailed Treepies, a Collared Babbler, a White-browed Scimitar-babbler and a Yellow-bellied Warbler.

After a few kilometers we found a couple of places where was a good view to the hillside-forests and we tried to scan the treetops for Wreathed Hornbills, but we weren’t lucky. We saw a Rufous-bellied Eagle carrying a prey. And soon we were in a hurry again to drive down.

But short stops on the way towards km 27 were good as we found a Golden Babbler, heard a Brown-browed Flycatcher singing and saw a female Oriental Paradise-flycatcher briefly.

Tenting

Finally we were on the lower camp and Hanna had booked a tent for us two for the next night. We said goodbyes to Mikko and Antti who were going to continue to see Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other waders on the next morning and then we planned the next morning with Tero and Kilpimaa before they continued downwards. Our tent had been put up already so we still had a little bit time for birding and surprisingly I saw a Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon on a top of one tree. But soon it started to get dark.

Brown Hawk Owl

The Hungarian group was also tenting on the camp and they had been there also on the previous night, so we joined them when they left to listen to some owls. The leader of the group was surprisingly our old friend Istvan Katona, whom we had met in Madeira almost 10 years earlier. We walked behind the camp and soon heard a Brown Hawk Owl calling. And it didn’t take long when they found it perched on one tree. Soon we heard also a couple of Mountain Scops Owls but they were a bit too distant to try to find visible.

We did the log with Hungarians but both groups in our own languages. But then I gave them quite a few tips how to find broadbills. They had also some tips for us but we had only 1 morning left in the National Park, so none of the tips were on our way.

Behind the restaurant there was a feeder where were several Porcupines and a Rhesus Macaque eating whole evening. We also heard a Brown Wood Owl calling distant and later when we were already in our tent, we heard a Collared Scops Owl too. We hoped to hear some mammals like Elephants, but heard only one call that was like a huge cat, maybe a Leopard or some other big cat? There are several big cats in the park.

Porcupine and Rhesus MacaqueHaving dinner

At midnight we woke up to horrifying shouts – I had never heard anything like that! We could hear that people had awakened in every other tent too and I am sure a couple of trousers were changed. It must have been some big deer – there are at least Gauris in the park.

And to 27km again

On the 4th of March when we woke up Brown Hawk Owl and Collared Scops Owl were still calling. We ate warm breakfast that Hanna prepared and soon Tero and Kilpimaa arrived. It was again my turn to drive, so I let Kilpimaa to the backseat and soon we started driving up. We stopped on the first river-crossing where we soon heard a Grey Peacock Pheasant.

Butterflies

We continued up to a dam where we found a couple of Scarlet Minivets. We also photographed again butterflies. There was again lots of different kind of butterflies around the small pools. Once continued up again, we saw a Hill Blue Flycatcher that was singing also very nicely. Kilpimaa also found a Wild Boar while we were driving up, but it disappeared to the shadows before we managed to get any pictures.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon

At 27 km there was again a hide in the same place where we had seen it before. Now we knew people were photographing Red-breasted Trogons from the hide. The birds were shy and moving only very low so they were difficult to see without the hide. We let the photographers alone and went to check if there was something around the pool. Kilpimaa found a Speckled Piculet which was interesting species for the photographers too so they came to twitch it. We also saw a flock of White-browed Scimitar-babblers and Hanna managed to photograph a Mountain Imperial Pigeon too, which came to drink.

We climbed back to trogon place with these 2 Thai-looking photographer women and they were just explaining how the trogons were impossible to see without the hide, when I found it – a bright red Red-breasted Trogon was perched openly on a branch not far from us. But somehow all of us didn’t see it before it dropped down to the bushes. These women were kind and offered those of us who had missed the bird to get into their hides, but after all Hanna who had already seen the bird went to another hide. But soon the bird was seen again and after all both male and female were seen outside the hides. Now we had seen all the birds I had hoped to see in this trip! Only must-species had been Spoon-billed Sandpiper, but I had dreamed of seeing 6 broadbills and both trogons, which I knew had all been seen pretty recently. But I really didn’t expect us to see all of them! And maybe the 10th target-species had been Great Slaty Woodpecker…

Red-bellied TrogonRed-bellied Trogon

We still climbed a bit higher and managed to find a couple of calling Ahlström’s Warblers, but only I managed to see one bird very briefly. There was also a big flock of Sulphur-breasted Warblers and also a couple of the most beautiful bulbuls, Ashy Bulbuls, were seen.

Grey Peacock Pheasant

But after all we had to start driving down as we had to empty our rooms at 2 p.m. While driving down we saw a couple of Shrikras or Beshras or whatever too briefly and finally saw also a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo crossing the road right in front of us. Then on one stop we still saw a few Swinhoe’s Minivets later we were still once lucky when there was a Grey Peacock Pheasant on the road.

Finally we were back in Samarn Bird Camp where we just relaxed a little bit and also ate, before left driving towards Phetchaburi fields.

Evening trip to Phetchaburi fields

After about one hour driving we arrived to the field-area. Along the canal-road we found both Asian Golden Weavers and Baya Weavers and after a short driving around, we stopped to check one good-looking pool. Kilpimaa went to walk along the pool and flushed immediately several Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns and a Watercock, which everyone else missed. Luckily he stopped and waited for us to follow him and we still found a Black-browed Warbler, a Yellow-bellied Prinia and more bitterns. An Asian Pygmy Goose and both Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were swimming on the pool and a flock of Garganeys flew over us. Several Pink-necked Green Pigeons were also seen and one male Eastern Marsh Harrier was seen quite distant. Once we walked back to our car, we still found a flock of Yellow-vented Bulbuls.

DarterStejneger's StonechatYellow-bellied PriniaYellow-vented Bulbul

We still drove a little bit around and tried to get familiar with the area. We still found several Stejneger’s Stonechats, but soon it started to get dark again. So we drove to Phetchaburi city to our Sun hotel where we had booked rooms for 2 nights. We still went to shopping and eat before we were ready to go to sleep.

Phetchaburi fields again

On the 5th of March we had breakfast at 6 a.m. and it was very strange to eat Thai-food as breakfast. Most of the food was far too spicy too.

Soon we were driving towards the fields again and on the way we finally saw a breeding-plumaged Chinese Pond Heron. We stopped again a couple of times along the canal ad found a couple of Bluethroats, again Asian Golden and Baya Weavers but also Streaked Weavers. And once we reached the field area a female Pied Harrier flew straight over our car.

Asian Golden WeaverWatercockWhite-browed Crake

We went to walk around the same pool as on the previous evening and luckily saw the Watercock again. A flock of Red Avadavats and flying flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks were also seen. From the pool on the other side of the road I found a White-browed Crake with a tiny chick.

Then we headed to big open fields and stopped when there were some Black-eared Kites flying. We found soon some Greater Spotted Eagles perched on the palm-trees and pretty soon they were all flying. We saw also several harriers, which one of them looked like a Pied Harrier, but then a couple of birds were very weird-looking. They must have been Eastern Marsh Harrier but they had pretty clear white patch on their rumps. A couple of easier Eastern Marsh Harriers were also seen.

With Black-eared Kites and Greater Spotted Eagles saw also a couple of Eastern Imperial Eagles and a Booted Eagle. We also met a Finnish birder who had been living in Thailand for 17 years. He was now trying to find a Steppe Eagle that had been seen on the area as he really wanted to get pictures of it. He told us that female Pied Harrier was easy to identify from white rump, but we didn’t buy that explanation.

FieldsEastern Imperial Eagle

When it started to get too hot and quiet, we continued to some bigger pool nearby. The road was too narrow, so we couldn’t stop to several places where we’d have wanted but finally on the best looking place the road was a little bit wider.

There were lots of egrets and heron, also Painted Storks, about 10 Black-headed Ibises, lots of waders which included 5 Asian Dowitchers and a couple of big flocks of Caspian Terns and so on.

Steppe Eagle

PoolsPainted Stork

Pretty soon we drove back to the fields and almost immediately found the Steppe Eagle. Luckily the Finnish guy came soon too and after some searching we found the eagle again and even got it photographed pretty well. Then we continued to a place where were signs Nong Pla Lai Raptor Watch Point. There were plenty of local photographers with huge objectives, but none had binoculars or telescopes. From the field we found several Black-shouldered Kites and later harriers started to arrive to their roost. But even though we saw quite a few of them, they were all Eastern Marsh Harriers.

PhotographersPurple Heron

The long evening in the hot weather was very tiring and as we didn’t see anything new, we were a little bit disappointed for the whole day in Phetchaburi fields.

One more forest

The 6th of March was our last birding day. We had already in the previous afternoon started to think that we should do something else than go to the fields again. So Tero had told us about one forest that he had read from some trip-reports. So after the breakfast we headed to Wat Khao Luk Chang forest which we found easily but then we had no idea how to do birding there as it seemed to be some kind of place for priest. Anyway we just parked our car and started walking around the place where still were quite a lot of buildings with priests with their orange clothes on the gardens.

There weren’t many birds around but the selection of species was good. We had walked only a little when we found a Racquet-tailed Treepie and a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.

We kept on walking along one small road and headed to some kind of meditation area where one woman came to ask us to leave. She didn’t speak any English but was very kind and when we didn’t understand her, she asked Hanna to follow her and showed her a monk or a priest meditating. So we quietly walked back to our car.

Different kinf of forest birdingLineated Barbet

But there we decided to follow another road which headed to a huge statue of laying priest, but there weren’t any people. And soon we saw lots of raptors flying over us. They had been roosting somewhere in the forest and now continuing their migration. We saw altogether 20 Grey-faced Buzzards, 4 Black Bazas and a couple of Oriental Honey Buzzards. Also a couple of Shikras were seen. We also found a Lineated Barbet that was showing well and 3 Red-breasted Parakeets flew over us. We still found a couple of Purple Sunbirds and 3 Rufous Treepies before walking back to our car again.

Oriental Honey BuzzardShikra

Grey-faced BuzzardBlack Baza

We still drove along one road a couple of kilometers inside the forest but headed to some kind of zoo. There were too many people, so we decided to start driving back towards Hua-Hin where we were supposed to leave our car before 1 p.m.

To Bangkok

After filling the tank in Hua-Hin we parked to the airport and soon got rid of our car. Then we asked the car-rental officer to call us a big taxi. It took quite long before the taxi arrived and it was quite expensive, but maybe it was just because of we hadn’t booked it earlier.

The taxi-driver was watching music and playing with his phone and talking to another phone all the time while driving. But anyway some of us managed to get some sleep. We were back in Bangkok after more than a couple of hours driving and found our hotel which was very close to the airport.

House Swift

Bangkok

In the afternoon we relaxed and visited a shop before climbing up to the roof of the hotel to see the airport marshes. Also Kontiki group was there and together with them we still saw some House Swits, 2 Eastern Marsh Harriers, a Plaintive Cuckoo and a Red-whiskered Bulbul. In the evening we had the most expensive dinner of the trip and finally got to bed early enough as the next day would be long.

Back to home

On the 7th of March we had breakfast at 5:30 and it was very expensive. At 6 a.m. we packed our luggage to a bus with many other Finnish birders. And after 15 minutes driving we were in the airport.

At the airport we were shopping and spending the rest of our Bahts. The flight was again long, more than 10 hours, but again I watched a couple of movies and even managed to sleep a little even though it was difficult in day-flight.

Finally we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 15:05 p.m. (local time) and after we had found our luggage, we went to have pizza to a restaurant. Kilpimaa had to leave almost immediately to catch his bus and after we had eaten Tero had to hurry too. We sent an SMS and soon Lentopysäköinti-bus came to get us to our car. We were back at home early in the evening.

J.A.

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.