Friday, 12 January 2018

Finland Part 2- Porvoo and Viikki

Day 2


Sunday morning and Joe and I were up early again to meet Owen. We headed east today, reaching a feeder that had been set up near Porvoo. The target species here were mostly woodpeckers. Directly after arrival we walked up to see a crowd of birders already assembled. Within mere seconds of reaching them we found ourselves watching a female white-backed woodpecker in the trees above us. While we watched this impressive woodpecker working its way around a branch it transpired that some birders to our left were watching a pygmy owl! We quickly got eyes on this little ball of attitude as it sat on a fallen branch being mobbed by various tit species, looking fairly grim. Unfortunately despite having impressive scope views this owl quickly flew off, leaving us looking for more. It wasn't to be, however some colossal black woodpeckers soon arrived and diverted our attention. We had these large woodpeckers feeding on fat balls strung from trees, a species I certainly wasn't expecting to see so tame. Also at the feeders were brambling and willow tit. 

Ural Owl

    Owen mentioned that a Ural owl had been seen in the area of late- mostly spotted in an area of extremely dense commercial spruce, immediately adjacent to the feeder site. However these tightly packed trees allowing very little light through presented an absolute nightmare for birding in. Myself, Joe, Owen and a Finn headed in to try our luck all the same, it was surely worth a shot.
    To maximise our efficiency we split up. Owen went one way, and myself, Joe and 'The Finn' headed another. Myself and Joe ended up quite close together as we entered a small clearing in the forest, the type of clearing that felt just perfect for a roosting owl...
    A flurry of awkwardly flapping large grey wings, a quick shout and utter panic, myself and Joe found ourselves watching what had to be the Ural owl batting its way clumsily away from its roosting site and further into the  dense forestry. The other two arrived at the commotion but were too late to see the bird. 
    We had a general idea as to where the bird had gone, but it was apparent that it would not be playing ball like yesterdays Great Grey. Nonetheless we headed on to try and get perched views. This time though we all split up properly, searching the whole forest. We all spent a while scanning the obscure shapes above us in the darkened canopy for any sign of life, any shape that didn't quite fit in with the surroundings. As it transpired it was I who spotted the owl next. 
   About 10 metres away, two-thirds of the way up a spruce rested a shape that stopped me in my tracks. Slowly lifting binoculars to eyes I followed the curve of the birds back, slight streaking visible, right up to the face. The bird was looking directly at me, and probably had been long before I spotted it. I just had time to absorb the facial details, barely processing what I was seeing, before the bird hopped, turned and flew off again. Although brief and slightly lacking these views were enough to clinch the bird as a Ural. I shouted in vain to try and get others on it but the owl had already disappeared. Despite further searching we could not relocate it, and proceeded on to our next location.

Rough-legged Buzzard and Eastern Black Redstart

    Next stop was a large open area where a rough-legged buzzard had been spotted during recent weeks. While in the area we stopped to check a large redpoll flock which had been holding a few Arctic redpoll. We saw several Arctics, one very well, but I'm not sure whether or not they'll be going on my list given the highly turbulent state of redpoll taxonomy at the minute.
    Owen and Joe caught a glimpse of a rough-legged buzzard sat up on one of the many pylons in the area, and we pulled around to try and see the bird with the sun at our side. Unfortunately by the time we got around to be in a position to view it the bird had disappeared, and it was looking like I wasn't going to see this species at all. Fortunately Joe managed to pick one up in a field at a later location. We got satisfying scope views of it eviscerating a vole. After some time admiring this bird we raced off back to helsinki to make the most of the remaining daylight. 
    First we attempted to twitch a three-toed woodpecker. This bird was alas nowhere to be found and despite heavy searching we continued on empty handed. We headed straight for Viikki after that with the intention of twitching the eastern black redstart which we dipped the previous evening. Immediately upon arrival we had the bird feeding down to about two metres, surrounded by an admiring crowd of big-lens photographers and birders. Despite being a charming little bird, this sighting is slightly marred by the fact that the bird was opening and closing its bill in a very unusual fashion, indicating perhaps an illness or injury of some sort. The bird was found dead a couple of days after we saw it. A sad end, but in reality this may happen to many tired migrants, and it was only due to the birds faithfulness to a small area that the body was found.
    To finish off the day we headed to the farmyard overlooking the forest at Viikki. Here myself and Joe ticked great grey shrike, and watched in amazement as it obliterated a shrew, before being completely overshadowed by some blistering goshawk flight views! What a way to end the day! 

By my tallies we saw somewhere around 50 species (the line being blurred by subspecies and what-not) out of which 13 were lifers for me. We saw four species of owl, each of which were absolutely stunning in their own right. However based on the spectacular encounter with the Great-Grey Owl I have to say that was my species highlight for the trip. Other highlights included the consumption of non-insignificant quantities of korvapuusti and glögi (Cinnamon buns and mulled-wine) as well as the good company. Massive thanks to Owen for facilitating the highly-successful weekend. 

Black 'Pecker

The feeder site at which I ticked White-Backed+Black Woodpecker, Pygmy Owl

There be Ural Owls in these here woods

Distant phone-scoped Rough-legged Buzzard

Redstart in here somewhere...

Poor shot of an incredible raptor- Goshawk

Sun setting on a chilly Viikki

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