Long time no see
It was the end of June 2003 and we had still few days to work in Siikalahti. Our good friend Oriol Clarabuch was coming from Catalonia with his friend Toni Alonso to have some birding with us. On the 25th of June they landed at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. We couldn’t be there because we had still a lot of bird counting to do in Siikalahti.
By text messages I told Oriol and Toni to take the buss to Helsinki railway station, where they could leave their luggage. From there they took the taxi to the best birding area near Helsinki city – to Viikki. They had the whole night time for birding because the next train to Parikkala was leaving just in the morning.
After some difficulties (taxi driver couldn’t find Pornaistenniemi – very amazing!) Oriol and Toni could have very good birding in Viikki Lammassaari. They got Citrine Wagtail, Marsh Warbler, River Warbler, Corn Crake, Gadwall, Thrush Nightingale… Oriol saw also Grey-headed Woodpecker flying fast in forest.
At morning Oriol and Toni took the train 1.20 p.m. so they arrived at Parikkala 5.35 p.m.
It was very nice to see Oriol again. Last time we had seen in Egypt one and half year before. We have also been with him in Estonia one week, in Catalonia 2 weeks, in Siikajoki Tauvo ringing station several times… First we had some kebab and did some shopping before we went to Siikalahti. Of course we visited the bird tower but soon we let the Catalans have some sleep to information centre, where we let them stay (which is not normal). Guys were pretty tired because of the trip and last nights birding.
To twitch right away
Next morning we had still some counting to do, so Oriol and Toni were almost the whole morning watching birds at the bird tower. Nothing very special to us but I think they were happy to see Red-necked Grebes, Slavonian Grebes, Goldeneyes, Smews and Bitterns…
At night 11 p.m. we left to do some twitching. We tried to twitch Lanceolated Warbler at Ruokolahti Äitsaari. While Antti (our third guide) was driving I got little nervous because I couldn’t get any more information about the bird. Another thing that made me nervous was that Toni told that he has to see the bird before he takes the lifer – Finnish nightsingers are usually pretty difficult to see, at least the rare ones which you are not aloud to disturb at all in first three days. But now we didn’t have to worry about seeing the bird. We tried to hear it for two hours but it was gone. We heard only Long-eared Owl fledlings shouting and two wrong kind of “Locustellas” River and Grasshopper Warblers.
Well I decided that we have to get at least one good lifer for our friends so we turned our way to Joutseno Konnunsuo.
So this bird was very easy: Booted Warbler was already singing loudly when we opened the doors. We also saw it very easily and very well. So the first very important bird was now seen! It was still too dark for digiscoping so we decided to try, if Barred Warbler should be in same place than week before.
Well, we couldn’t find the Barred Warbler, so we drove back to digiscope the Booted Warbler. The bird was very nice! I think it even tried to come as beautifully as possible photographed. It was always sitting on the top of the closest willow and it was singing all the time. I think nobody has that kind of pictures of Booted Warbler – at least in Catalonia! I also took some pictures of Ortolan Bunting which was singing there too.
On the way back we went to see some Blyth’s Reed Warblers which Antti had found a night earlier. Of course Blyth’s Reed Warblers are here everywhere but these birds were easier than normally. There was three birds singing loudly very close of each others and one was also visible all the time. So we started to do some digiscoping with Oriol again.
After some hours sleeping we were again in Siikalahti. Some waders (Little Ringed Plover, Ruffs, Green Sandpipers) but nothing better. We were just waiting that a White-tailed Eagle, which Hanna had seen earlier in the morning, would show up. Finally we found the Eagle sitting on the trees.
On the 28th of June I went with Oriol and Toni to count some nightsingers by rowing boat. We were rowing around the southern water area of Siikalahti. (Remember normally it’s not aloud to move away from tracks, because Siikalahti is a protected area.)We had to put all nightsingers (mostly Crakes in this time of year) to the map. There were some Water Rails shouting but not any Spotted Crakes! Little Crake female was still shouting now in little different place than earlier. We heard also some Reed and Great Reed Warblers. Also White-tailed Eagle showed up much better than day before.
After counting we took the nets and rings with us and went to do some nightsinger ringing. Oriol and Toni are both ringers (Oriol is a professional) so it was important for them to get some birds also photographed in hand.
First we decided to try a River Warbler South from Siikalahti. When biking we finally found an Icterine Warbler which Toni saw! It wasn’t easy! Soon we had our nets up and a River Warbler CD playing, but we couldn’t find the bird. One Marsh Warbler was singing there but that wasn’t interested of its voice either. Suddenly we heard River Warbler 200 metres from the right place. It had moved from earlier place to much better looking place. When we got our net up, the bird was after 10 seconds hanging there. Ring to the leg and some photographing and we continued to try Blyth’s Reed Warbler.
So we went to the same Blyth’s Reed Warbler place, and it was easy. While photographing the first ringed bird there was already another one hanging on the net. So we got two more birds ringed and about 50 pictures to our memory sticks.
29th day we made duck counting together. There was very few birds! Only interesting birds were two beautiful Cranes which flew shouting very close of us. After counting we loaned Antti’s car again and went to see some birds to Särkisalmi. Just Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Whooper Swans and Goldeneyes, nothing very special was seen, but enough for our friends.
We decided to try still one more Marsh Warbler at Hanna’s parent’s home yard, but we didn’t find it. But Oriol and Toni were happy to see Black-throated Divers which were swimming there in Tarvaslampi. At afternoon we still emptied our memory sticks and burned the pictures to CD and had sauna before we went to sleep very early. At night we would begin our real birding trip!
At 11 p.m. we started out first summer holiday trip. I was planned a week trip to North-Karelia, Kainuu and Kuusamo. And now it was just the right time for the eastern rarities. That was the reason why Oriol and Toni were here in this time of year. Some other time here is much more birds in Finland but not so good ones.
Now we had the best possible timing because night earlier there was a Lanceolated Warbler found in Kitee Ruppovaara. So we started our trip there. Now I had better feeling while driving, because I got information that the bird was still there. On the way we saw Short-eared Owl and Nightjar, but the information how to find the Lanceolated place were badly wrong. Luckily Jari “Putte” Nummelin saw us driving to wrong direction and he told us the right way for the bird. And the Lanceolated Warbler was singing there all the time. Because there were no more twitchers coming we decided to get closer to see the bird.
I don’t understand how we were so lucky, but we found the bird easily. (Second time I saw Lanceolated Warbler even I have heard about 10.) And this was the second really important bird already! (Of course Toni had got about dozen of lifers already!)
We hadn`t got more plans for the night, because I had thought that it can take time to see the Warbler. So we decided to continue to Värtsilä if we could find something interesting by our own. In Tohmajärvi I noticed a familiar sign; I thought there has been some bird in Musko. I checked my phone and there was a message about Booted Warblers in Musko. We drove the road with opened windows and after three kilometres there was a perfect kind of field. Soon we found two Booted Warblers singing. Other birds we found at night were Corn Crake, Grasshopper Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warblers and some Short- and Long-eared Owls. Finally we went to Tohmajärvi to Peijonniemenlahti bird tower to sleep (Yes we slept in the tower)!
We woke up because it started to rain. Actually we couldn’t have slept any longer. We checked the local birds (nothing special), and started our way to new places and new birds.
We had arranged an appointment with Ari Latja to Joensuu at 10 a.m. but we were in Joensuu already 8 a.m. So we visited Höytyäinen bird tower. Ten o’clock we were in Anttila shop with a lot of film bought.
Ari jumped in to our space car (VW Golf- very small), and our meaning was to twitch some local birds with a local guide. The first stop was in Kontiolahti (I promised I won’t tell the exact places). We didn’t tell the Catalans what we were searching for and it was funny to watch guys when we started to watch up to the trees. They didn’t know what to search a Wren or an Eagle. So the surprise was really big when we saw Great Grey Owl flying 50 meters from us! Owl landed to a tree directly.
After some celebrating we started to digiscope the Owl with Oriol. Even the bird was little far and we didn’t want to disturb it, we managed to get some pretty good pictures. When we walked back to car we heard Greenish Warbler singing other side the road.
Our next target was in same county and this time Ari told to Catalans that this time we had a little smaller bird. Soon we heard first scary low voices from the forest and Ural Owl flew a little and landed to a spruce. While digiscoping we heard some Wrens and Wood Warblers, but also Greenish Warbler again and shortly few tunes of Red-breasted Flycatcher. But all the birds were too close the Owl so we weren’t able to see them. We didn’t want to disturb the Owl and get its nails to our face.
When walking back to car a Hazel Hen flew in front of us, but unfortunately Toni couldn’t see it. So next lifer didn’t come – yet.
Thank to Ari we had seen two incredible birds for Catalans. So next we went to eat to a restaurant with Ari. I have to thank Ari one more time; he was the first pro birder who understood that if you help another birder he will help you later! So welcome to Siikalahti with groups Ari!
Some walking in Kolvananuuro
At evening we found ourselves from Koli and our friend Pekka Piironen’s cottage. The cottage was not a cottage anymore but it was twice as big as last summer. Pekka joined us and we continued to watch some views to Koli. Not a lot birds (some Chiffchaffs) but beautiful views and of course a possibility to Greenish Warblers and even Red-flanked Bluetail (we found both last summer). When back at cottage Pekka offered us A LOT of crisps, ice-cream and berries. Then we had sauna and went to sleep.
First of July: Alarm was before 3 a.m. We packed all important equipments to our car with us and again to Kontiolahti, this time to Kolvananuuro. On the way we didn’t again tell where we were going, so we continued all the time smaller and smaller tracks. And when we finally stopped there was an Arctic Warbler singing in a place called Kiimasäikkä. We used a little CD and we managed to take some pictures of the bird. 4/5 of us got a lifer (Not for me )!
At Kolvananuuro we walked the rest of the morning. Views were beautiful! Wrens, Chiffchaffs, Green Warblers but no Greenish Warblers this time. (Last summer we found the nest.) We heard also some Hazel Hens but we couldn’t see any! On the halfway there was funny small salmon kind of fishes (hundred maybe) which liked to eat our chips. End of our walk we found first one Treecreeper, and then I heard some promising calls: Red-breasted Flycatchers, two of them. But only Oriol could see another of the birds.
From Hyrynsalmi to Suomussalmi
When back in Pekka’s cottage we took rest of our luggage and said goodbye to Pekka and continued towards North. In Nurmes we tried to twitch a Carrion Crow, a “lifer” to Hanna, but no. In Kuhmo Rastivaara we had to test our brakes because of Hazel Hen family – finally a lifer for Toni! In Hyrynsalmi Komulanköngäs we managed to get another lifer for Hanna – Grey Wagtail. Of course this was for Catalans something like Thrush Nightingale is for us. But it was nice to find out that there was a couple of Grey Wagtails and they were for sure breeding!
Finally we decided to go tenting to Suomussalmi Säynäjäsuo, which Ari Rajasärkkä told to be nice place on the phone – and it was.
Early morning we walked some kilometres on the bog. There were nice tracks so it was easy to walk. Red-throated Diver flew over us. Black-throated Diver and Whooper Swan families were swimming on the lake and Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank were easy to digiscope.
Our way continued next more North and close to eastern border. First Waxwing was found on the way, but in midday we reached maybe the most interesting place on our whole trip! At least it was the most awaited for me – Suomussalmi Martinselkonen bear hide.
We slept an hour in a information centres small cottage, outside there was too many insects. About three o’clock we started our way to bear hide with a guide, two Swedish and two Finnish photographers.
When we had walked to the hide there was already one bear eating. So our guide had to scare it away. We managed to see that bear running to the forest to wait us get in.
After we went in to the hide and managed to take our seats, we didn`t have to wait long for the first really big bear. It just took some fishes to its mouth and ran back to the forest. None of us could take a picture. After that we had to wait an hour the next bear but soon after that it started! First there came only biggest bears one by one but soon there came more and more bears to eat salmon very close the hide. The biggest bear (Bodybuilder) was badly hurt. It was walking just using its elbows. I think the second biggest bear (Black Panther) was the one who had been fighting against it. Anyway Bodybuilder was the king. When it came to eat others were scared and moved away from its way.
The bears were interestingly different looking; there were different sizes and colours but also other ways very different kind of bears. Mostly smaller ones (females) visited there very quickly. Bigger bears were just lying down and eating all the time! Before the evening there was once six bears together.
I was already wondering where our bird was, when it arrived: Black Kite landed just 12 meters from us to sit on the top of tree. Bird was almost too close and too high to digiscope! It was very difficult to scope the bird so high from the hole on the wall. Black Kite tried once to hit its nails to one bears back and it disappeared once, but luckily it came back and I could take very good pictures of it!
Later Black Kite moved to watch bears little further to the forest and before it came dark it disappeared hopefully to the nest. When it came dark there came even more bears all the time. It was dark for digiscoping but closest bears were so close that the light was enough. I got some beautiful face pictures. I tried also to photograph them through my binoculars but it was pretty difficult. Of course I took some pictures without anything, just with four times zoom and then I could get many bears to one picture. Oriol and Hanna had normal cameras and they could take amazing pictures!
Soon it came too dark for photographing so we just watched the bears! It was amazing! We weren’t waiting anything like this! Bears were so close – the closest one in ten meters. There was totally at least 14 bears! Nine in one time! In the hide it was like sauna. Weather was very hot, which made also bears act quite easily. So we saw only some bears hugging each others – not good fights like normally. At midnight there was a Merlin shouting some minutes so loud that all of us scared! All of us were sleeping at least an hour (maybe not Oriol, and Toni some more) but when sun started to rise we were again watching the bears very keen.
At morning bears had their stomachs full. They had eaten 200kg salmon! Only one (pretty ugly) bear stayed longer. I think it licked all the stones which were even smelling fish to get more to eat. Finally it understood there was nothing more to eat and walked to the forest and disappeared like other bears more than an hour earlier and we were finally able to walk out of the “sauna”. One of the most amazing nights ever was over!
To the famous birding area – Kuusamo
At the information centre we loaded our batteries and after that continued driving North. This time we were going to Kuusamo. On the way we saw some Waxwings and one Hazel Hen.
After long drive we were pretty tired when we made our first stop at Kuusamo Junttila. After some phone calls we found the right place and almost right away the right bird too – Little Bunting was singing on the top of pine. We rushed too fast so the bird scared of us and flew to hide.
Our next bird was in Saapunki. There had been a “maurus” Stonechat female breeding with Whinchat male. We couldn’t find the birds first, we found even the nest but not birds. But we knew there had been one nestling still three days earlier so the birds couldn’t be far. Soon we found maurus female calling. The fledling were somewhere very close of us so we took quickly some pictures and passed away.
The weather changed rainy but we had to move on. In the evening we parked our car to Iivaara hill. We carried our luggage for about one kilometre to our next tenting place. Already when carrying we saw one pair of Little Buntings. Finally we found a good place to stay and we started to cook some “makkara” (sausage). I had only another makkara ready when it happened: Red-flanked Bluetail started to sing. It was only 6 p.m. but the bird started to sing continuously. Well I left another sausage there and we went to try to see the bird. The hill was amazingly steep and we heard the sing all the time very close, but we had to climb a lot before we found the bird singing almost the top of high spruce. Catalans were extremely happy! We all hugged each others and only after good celebrations we started to digiscope the bird. The bird wasn’t old but even then it was very beautiful and we got many very good photos while it was singing all the on the same branch. This was the most important bird for Oriol on the whole trip! And I had been thinking that there is three important species for the trip and now we got them all: Booted and Lanceolated Warblers and Red-flanked Bluetail! Soon we all had enough pictures and after I ate another makkara I was soon enjoying my dreams about next days birds. The rain was testing our new tent whole night.
Some hiking over Iivaara
At morning (4th of July.) we woke because Red-flanked Bluetails was singing so loud! Amazing feeling! Soon we were already hiking on the top of Iivaara hill, but we couldn’t find any of those interesting Lapland species that other birders had seen there earlier. On the top there was “just” another Red-flanked Bluetail singing.
When carrying our luggage back to parking place those Little Buntings came to call us again. Now we decided to get some pictures. But it wasn’t easy. Finally I found the tree where another of the birds used to call, and soon I found the reason. One and half meter from the tree there was a nest with only one nestling. Now I got the pictures, because another of adults was warning all the time in same tree. But still it was too fast, so Oriol couldn’t get any pictures. While I was scoping Buntings with Oriol, Hanna and Toni saw three Siberian Jays at the parking place.
Now we had been in the most northern place of our trip and we started our way back south. Soon we saw one more Siberian Jay, later one family of Black Grouses and Capercaillies. In the evening we arrived at Lieksa Patvinsuo bog area. After some swimming we put the tent up and went to sleep.
At very early morning we hiked 4 km through huge bogs to the bird tower where was a great wet bog view. Soon we found first Crane families and also what we were searching for – Bean Goose pair. Wader species were Wood Sandpipers. Greenshanks. Green Sandpiper, Whimbrels, Golden Plovers, Ruff and finally a mating Jack Snipe. While walking back we saw a nice Black Grouse male.
After packing our tent we continued to drive south but only some kilometres, we had to have a little hike in Autiovaara forests. So we walked again four kilometres. (First Toni didn’t want to walk anymore, but when we told what birds do we had a possibility he was walking first).
We took our CD-player with us and played some Red-breasted Flycatcher on the way. There was a lot of Three-toed Woodpeckers marks on the trees but we couldn’t find any birds. Wrens, Goldcrests, Crestet Tits and so on and finally we heard a promising call. CD on and there it was: Red-breasted Flycatcher came very close us to call, and soon there was two more and totally one old male and two females/young males. Finally also Toni got lifer. These were the first birds that he saw. This bird was the most difficult bird to digiscope ever. But after half an hour trying I got three photos. Soon we realized that we were only 300 metres from the car so this really was the last opportunity to get this bird for Toni.
Some twitching on the way back
Catalans were switched of very quickly. It was difficult to wake them up when Hanna got a lifer in Nurmes. There was a Carrion Crow feeding its two hybrid fledlings. Of course I digiscoped these hybrids and their rare mother. Their father was much rarer for Oriol and Toni.
Our last stop was again in Kitee Ruppovaara. We tried to get some photos of Lanceolated Warbler. It was almost midday but I thought it is possible to find the bird when playing some CD. We got also a permit to ring the bird but North Karelian birders told us not to ring the bird. They were still fighting for two years old birds. Amazing! Well we hope someone ringed this bird after all. And hopefully he enjoyed it as much as these Catalans could have been enjoying.
Well after some CD-playing we found the bird easily. It was almost sitting over our player! It was moving very fast but I got some pictures of it. Soon we stopped bordering the bird. Oriol couldn’t get any pictures but I had promised to give him some of mine pictures later.
On the last 50km we saw only one female Hen Harrier. Finally we arrived at Parikkala. We were totally tired! After some fast-food we were able to go to sleep. And we slept long! On the North-Karelia, Kainuu and Kuusamo trip we drove 2000 km.
Some birding near Parikkala and goodbyes
6th of July we were almost just relaxing. Oriol and Toni were in Siikalahti and they saw White-backed Woodpecker which is very difficult to see in mid summer (very easy in spring). Later we tried again to caugh some Marsh Warblers but we had no luck. It was too late for this species. They were already breeding and then they are silent. At afternoon we burned our pictures, watched some Formula, rare birds in Finland 2002 -video, and Hanna’s slides from our trip to Egypt. At late evening we moved to Hanna’s parents home to have some crisps, digiscope Black-throated Divers and to sleep.
Early morning we met Hannu Siitonen (Olympic silver medallist in javelin) and he guided us to see the only Siberian Jays in Parikkala. We found the birds soon and Oriol and Toni could feed the birds from their hand. We visited also at Goshawks breeding place and we saw also a nest of Treecreeper.
On the way back to Tarvaslampi we tried to twitch Grey-headed Woodpeckers which Hannu had seen day earlier. Finally we had an answer to my whistling and we found a family of Woodpeckers from the top of a big hill. Birds were moving very fast but finally also Toni managed to see one of the birds.
Our next twitching was in Punkaharju. In Tree Park we turned the CD on and played some awful screeching. No it wasn’t heavy music; it was a call of Nutcracker. In a minute there were first Nutcrackers screeching back to us ands soon there were more than ten birds sitting on the top of Siberian Pines. Totally we saw about 20 birds and we got some pictures too even it was raining all the time.
8th of July was a digiscoping day. We had only one place to go but it was that good place that you could stay there for whole day. Of course we didn’t tell for Catalans where we were going. Only when we could see the birds Oriol and Toni knew what we were digiscping – Red-necked Divers. So we took about 200 pictures of Divers. Mother and young came to 10 metres and they didn’t care us at all – of course we were behind a hide. Father took once a big fish to its child. Oriol photographed also a family of Goldeneys. Divers didn’t like Goldeneyes at all.
At our last morning together we were again in Siikalahti. Oriol got good pictures of Thrush Nightingale. Later it started to rain very hard so we all relaxed. At midday we had sauna and we watched the rest of rare birds -video and we were talking a lot. We were all happy but also pretty tired. Soon we had to say goodbye for these friends of ours and they started their way to Helsinki by train. Oriol and Toni got 152 species in this Eastern Finland trip which is a lot in mid summer! Also they saw some other animals like mammals too. Lets see where we will meet these good friends of us next time – In Marokko, Turkey or China, let’s see?