Sunday, 31 July 2016

Postcard from Finland and Norway...The Beginning.

It’s better to travel than to stay put.
Sámi proverb.

Months of anticipation began to reach a head on 20th May as Sam and I looked down upon the islands of the south west coast of Finland as we approached Helsinki airport to connect with a further flight northwards to Oulu.  We were on our way to join a two week birding tour of Finland and Norway which was to be led by Killian Mullarney and Dick Forsman (I doubt that either gentleman will require an introduction to serious birders, whilst others can always use Google for further information).  A birding trip to Finland and Norway would be on my bucket list if I had one and neither Sam nor I could resist the pulling power of this trip with possible sightings of Great Grey Owl and Red-flanked Bluetail among many others, so even laid back and strictly non twitching types such as ourselves were excited by the thought of these species.

Three-Toed Woodpecker

Three-Toed Woodpecker

Three-Toed Woodpecker
This is very much a personal account of the trip, so as Eric Morecambe might have said ‘I hope to have all the species correct but not necessarily in the correct order’.  As we pulled away from Oulu airport I began to almost immediately forget the names of fellow UK and North American participants (I had remembered them all before the two weeks were up), as I watched Little Ringed Plovers in the car-park.  The tour was beginning and as fellow participant Lesley may well have said, ‘let’s bring it on’.  Lesley is from Texas and believe me, banter between two Geordies and a Texan can be interesting to the listener.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatchers greeted us at the hotel and an evening walk included a surprise sighting of a very confiding Three Toed Woodpecker.  Whilst based at Oulu we covered much ground and our first morning brought good sightings of Nutcracker, Wryneck and Common Rosefinch, the latter a stunning bird which I couldn’t understand didn’t seem to bring much comment from others.  Finland is an area rich in taiga forest and I’m told 18,000 lakes (when does a pond become a lake?) and it wasn’t long before we were exploring such areas.  The northern owls were target species and we soon had Ural Owl, Great Grey Owl, Pygmy Owl and three Short eared Owls on our list.  The Pygmy Owl was watched on the nest with the eggs clearly seen, but the species I have for years wished for is Great Grey Owl.  The finding of this species was an adventure in its self and one of which the detail will remain for me forever.  We walked/scrambled through taiga forest where it would have been very easy for individuals to have got themselves lost and where the Wellington boots carried from home were put to good use when we encountered running water.  We passed underneath a massive disused Goshawk’s nest before finding another such nest, but this time with a Great Grey Owl nesting in it!  We watched at length and this was to be one of the sightings of the trip.  A stunning bird.  Interesting too was Sam’s finding of a Goshawk’s tail feather and Dick’s explanation of the different shade of marking from what we would expect of a UK Goshawk.  Oh how I wish I’d had my macro lens with me so as to photograph the beautiful back lit moss species as we walked back to our transport.  We saw three White –tailed Sea Eagles today too and on a smaller scale Crested Tit, Redstart, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear et al.  No, Sam won’t give me the Goshawk feather!

Great Grey Owl
During the first three days we counted approaching 200 Ruff, the males looking splendid in breeding plumage.  Raptors seen were Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Rough Legged Buzzard, Kestrel and Hobby as well as the eagles.  Our first Cranes were seen too.

Our hotel at Oulu was nicely situated in terms of casual birding as we easily walk down to the bay on the Gulf of Bothnia.  Sam and I enjoyed a couple of evenings down there as we took time out from group birding.  During this time we heard the calls of Spotted Crake and had a distant sighting of Marsh Sandpiper, I believe the latter being heard by Killian the following morning.  We heard Bittern booming here on our final morning as well as having sight of a pair of stunning Slavonian Grebe in the morning sunlight.  Killian pointed out Broad Billed Sandpiper, but they were so distant they didn’t go on my list as yet, Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Little Tern were seen as were Little Gulls.  Waders were numerous including displaying Black Tailed Godwits.  Caspian Tern was later seen at Liminka Bay a great wetland site.

Whooper Swan
Our last evening at this hotel had us watching a magnificent sunset after 11:00pm.  As Sam said, ‘there’s no problem going to sleep in daylight as you just close your eyes and it turns dark’.  After our second night we left early, I know it was early as every morning was, some so early it was barely worth going to bed!

Whooper Swan on nest.
A species we had hoped to see, but to be honest our expectations had not been high, was the rare European breeding Terek Sandpiper.  I remember going for that at Holywell, Northumberland which turned out to have been a Greenshank!  Well we met with success on this occasion in the port area of Oulu where it was seen along with Little Ringed Plover.  It was in an area of wasteland near a road and Sam and I still maintain that we saw two Terek Sandpipers despite the doubt cast upon that.  So a great tick made, if not in the most exotic of surroundings. 

We now began our long drive to Kuusamo.  Much more to come.

Before the risin' sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We'll start out walkin' and learn to run
(And yes, we've just begun)
Carpenters Lyrics

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Coquet Island and Roseate Terns

Yes I’m still here!  I disconnected the computer when I went on a birding trip to Finland and Norway and it has taken two months to get it back on again.  I will eventually get around to producing a long report of what was a very exciting trip in May/June, but until then here’s a shorter account of a local trip to Coquet Island.  I speak cautiously as the electrician visits soon and will have the electric off, so I fear my computer will be down again for at least a period of time.  New equipment required I fear.  Oh well, I may as well spend some money before the bank begins to charge me interest for looking after it!

Roseate Tern

 24th July.

‘The new species was discerned by the comparative shortness of the wing, whiteness of plumage, and by the elegance and comparative slowness of motion; sweeping along, or resting in the air almost immoveable, like some species of hawk; and from its size being considerably less than that of Sterna hirundo (Common Tern).

Perhaps the above information (taken from Audubon to Xantus/B and R Mearns) noted by Peter McDougall on his first identifying Roseate Tern Sterna dougalli as a new species in 1812 may have been of use to us as we approached Coquet Island in search of Roseate Terns.  The species was identified by McDougall on the island of Great Cumbrae, in the Firth of Clyde at a time when Common, Roseate and probably Arctic Terns bred there, although it wasn’t until 1819 that the difference between Common and Arctic Tern became widely known.

Juv Roseate Tern
As our boat pulled out of Amble Harbour a few spots of rain in the air suggested that the gathering inland storm over land to the west of us was going to reach us very soon.  In the event it never did and a short way out of the harbour any rainfall previously present disappeared and we continued for the evening on almost a flat calm sea, in very good light and mild conditions.  We were able to watch the storms and cloud bursts over the land whilst feeling that we were definitely in the right place.  It felt good in be in the fresh air and on the sea once again.  The trip was organised by the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

Roseate Terns
Any description of Roseate Tern wasn’t after all required as once the eye was in numbers of the species, both adults and juveniles showed very well and their calls were easily picked up as they flew over and past the boat.  I felt we had far better sightings of the species than on a previous trip I had made and no doubt participants benefitted from the guidance of Samuel Hood who was our leader on this occasion.  Sam has of course been volunteering on Coquet and with the NHSN over recent times.  On this occasion I even had the chance to see two of the Roseate Terns clearly showing the rosy hue of the breast and I also watched as an adult fed a juvenile bird close by the boat.

What else but Puffins!
Whilst the Roseate Terns were the main target this evening I enjoyed all of the sights, sounds and smells.   Seals showed well and there were plenty of other bird species to see including of course the Puffins and Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns.  Especially good to see was a flock of summer plumage Knot, together with two Dunlin on the island shore, and it would not have been a proper trip without the Eider Ducks.  Two of the island’s Canada Geese showed almost as silhouettes and a young Fulmar was seen on the nest.   A very good evening indeed with the only downer being that it was a Sunday and the Fish and Chip shop had closed when we returned to Amble.  Never mind, we can’t have everything.

Not just birds.

Let’s not forget that Coquet Island is an RSPB Reserve on our doorstep and that much good work goes on there.

Sandwich Terns 

Knot and Dunlin reminding me of my recent trip into the Arctic.
Incidentally, one of Peter McDougall’s birds was sent to Colonel George Montague.  It seems it was not the best example as it was wounded in the neck and the bird was later put in an unnatural posture so as to hide the defect.  Montague’s description of the bird which he named Sterna dougalli was issued in 1813 and within a year of that date Peter McDougall was dead, at that age of thirty-seven.  Montague left out the prefix ‘Mc’ when he named the species and this in part may be a reason why Peter McDougall is so little known as it would appear that the person honoured was name Dougall.  The Dutch and French names for Roseate Tern are in fact respectively ‘Dougall’s Stern and ‘Sterne de Dougall’.

Good Evening