Thursday, 8 June 2017

SE Finland 30th May - 1st June

The ferry was very efficient and I boarded at 10:00 for the 10:30 crossing which cost 102€. The crossing took 2 hours and although there was a cold wind the sky was clear and it was flat calm so I stuck it out on the open deck. Mid-way across I had a party of about thirty Goldeneye then eight Goosander but it was quiet otherwise. About 1km from Helsinki I saw an adult Kittiwake sat on the sea which is a scarce bird in the Baltic.
I'd spoken to Jan about the best place to see Slavonian Grebe close near Helsinki and he recommended Suomenoja which was just a few km west of the city so that was my first port of call. The sky by now had clouded over and was almost white making it difficult for photography but the Slavonian Grebes were there, I saw at least 3, pairs and put on a fine show.

Slavonian Grebe - what superb birds these are
I did a circuit of the lakes which was probably only a couple of kilometres, there were a few runners and some other photographers and as I came to a viewing area I realised why. 
Suomenoja - I should mention that it's next to a Power Station
There were 3 Red-necked Phalaropes some distant out but feeding energetically on the open water, occasionally being chased by Black-headed Gulls if they came too close to their nest sites. 
Red-necked Phalarope
A nice surprise and although I hope to see them up close in Norway its still a treat to see them. There were Thrush Nightingales in the bushes and Common Rosefinch singing in the trees but no sight or sound of Blyth's Reed Warbler which also occurs here. 
From Suomenoja I drove north to Parikkala a drive of a couple of hundred kilometres. The most obvious thing on the drive was the absence of White Stork, I have left those behind in Estonia.
It was overcast and raining when I arrived on the outskirts of Parikkala. I parked up in a parking area with two large timber lorries and to the sound of Redwing singing, which were the first I had heard, I went to sleep.
The following morning it was raining hard and cold, about 4C, as I drove in to Parikkla at about 05:00. I found a pair of nesting Red-necked Grebes close in by the marina which fortunately I could watch from the car and took a few photos more out of something to do than of hopes for good results.
Red-necked Grebe - on the nest, in the rain
The rain eased slightly and I had a walk around the lake, plenty of Fieldfares, Pied Flycatchers and Lesser Whitethroats but nothing else so I headed for the reserve of Siikalahti which was just a short drive away. 
It is a beautiful area and reserve with a one way walk from the car park through some wooded areas which may have White-backed Woodpecker occasionally but I didn't see or hear any woodpeckers, across a boardwalk, through another small wood to a hide. Both Little and Black-headed Gulls were feeding over the water, chasing flies. More Red-necked Grebes and a very obliging Common Snipe which sat on the boardwalk handrail whilst I took photos.
Common Snipe
A little way down the road there is another parking area and the Little Gulls were passing overhead here and as the clouds started to break up and a little sunshine peaked through they were joined by first one Hobby and then at least another 5 all feeding on insects over the lakes. 
Certainly my best ever views of Hobby and it was fantastic to watch them hunting. Whilst watching them an Osprey must have taken a fish behind me as I saw it labouring away over the marsh carrying a huge fish. It got dusky around 23:00 and I drove around some of the small tracks which are close to the Russian border. 
Not sure what happens if you do go beyond the sign 
A Finnish border guard stopped me and asked if I was aware that I was close to the border and not to pass any of the stop signs, which I was, he was then quite happy to leave me bird watching. Other than Thrush Nightingales there were no other birds singing, I was hoping for River Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler but there was no sign. The prolonged cold spell had delayed the arrival of many birds. Everywhere I went both birdwatchers and people in the towns said that summer was three weeks late.
I slept overnight in the reserve car park and at some time in the early morning another couple of vehicles arrived, one contained a couple of gentlemen from France who were sound recording. There was a lot to record with the nightingales and Bittern booming in the marsh and no sounds of cars or planes flying overhead.
From Parikkale I drove north to Tohmajarvi and stopped just on the outskirts of town. A singing Corncrake immediately caught my attention. This was only about the 7th or 8th I had heard, another bird delayed by the cold weather. This one was in short vegetation and with perserverence I finally managed to get some photos.

Corncrake - delivering its distinctive rasping call
Whilst following the Corncrake around this scrubby area I heard the repetitive song phrases of Blyth's Reed Warbler, at last! It was singing from low vegetation and was spending quite a bit of time feeding on the ground. It took some time but I eventually got the photos I was hoping for. As I walked down the road I had another 4 birds singing in a stretch of less than 500m. 
Blyth's Reed Warbler - bird I had really wanted to see, so pleased with these
I drove on to Vartsila where there was still a flock of 200 Barnacle Geese with 3 Brent Geese on the fields. A female Goshawk flew over carrying prey and appeared to land in the only trees in the area and where there is a bird tower but I never saw it again. Another Blyth's Reed but no River Warbler. By now there were quite heavy and frequent snow showers and even when the sun did poke through it never got above 6C. 
From here I was moving further north, still by the Russian border and looking for Brown Bear and the elusive Wolverine.

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