Sunday, 27 July 2014

Minsmere has waders shock!

It occurs to me that rarities are mostly found on a Sunday night, which is irksome.  In the last few weeks they've been found on a Sunday night and I've had work or family commitments that I couldn't get out of, which is ever so irksome.  So Great Knot, Ross's Gull, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-toed Lark and a couple of Pratincole have slipped by.  Yesterday I decided to be proactive and claw one of the more reliable Pratincoles back, next week Marco and I are hoofing it down to Devon using the "Marco method" (overnight bus) for the RG if it adds to its long sojourn on Bowling Green Marsh.

Early (cheapest train) to Saxmundham and to Leiston with the idea of a stroll along the beach to Minsmere then a wiggle around Dunwich Heath and Westleton to Darsham. Not a lot to look at on the sea, which was a myriad of tiny mirrors, bar the nesting Kits on the offshore structures and a couple of Little Gull feeding with terns around the outfall. Hundreds of butterfly though: Greyling, Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Gatekeepers etc. Hardly anything passerine like. My first wader a feeding Greenshank when I got to the levels.  Here I met a RSPB volunteer who said that the east hide was packed solid, so I found a suitable anti-tank block and set up, far too distant to scope the scrapes in the haze but an excuse for a rest. A family trio of birders passed and we chatted.  They were unhappy about the behaviour of the birders hogging the hide (apparently the RSPB had advised against using personal scopes as there would be volunteers on hand to show the star attraction through theirs - it wasn't working). The public hide they advised would be the best place to avoid the jam.  On the plus side they even picked out the bird, a brown blob, to give me its position. I packed up and moved to the public hide. The offshore breeze was making the heat bearable, what it was like in the closed hide with all those bodies in I can't imagine.

Just a few people on the public viewing platform, but no one was on the bird, they'd all seen it and were discussing other things.  Apparently I had missed a Spoonbill back aways because I'd been on the path rather than the dune ridge.  Bothered, not really. In fact nothing much got my fancy apart from a large group of Little Gull in front of the north hide, they could do with coming a tad closer! OK the Greenshank were smart, B-tailed Godwits the most active feeders, a good number of Spotted Redshank in various stages of moult, a smattering of smaller waders in the form of Dunlin, Sanderling, Green Sandpiper and a couple of Wood Sandpiper, of course there were Avocets, but the small gulls won it for me. Later small groups would float effortlessly over our position, giving stunning views - best I've ever....

 Found the Pratincole and lost my companions as they wandered off to do a circuit.  A group of sprightly old ladies arrived next and I showed them the CP and a few other choice things that they couldn't see with their bins.  They complained that no one in the other hides had given them the time of day let alone a view through the scope.  It was hard work getting them all to see the bird centred in the scope, but I have infinite patience and jokingly charged them £10 a look. They left happy and I was non the richer.  Helped quite a few others on to the bird too, and then it began to do a few circuits off to the south.  That's it for the day, said one wise sage as the bird promptly came back and did a few large circles overhead. In one of its larger orbits high to the north I picked up 3 snowy white Spoonbill, gleaming against the brilliant blue sky.

As the traffic past through I recognised one person I knew from Wanstead, John Weil. A non-driver he had walked from Darsham and got slightly lost, yeagh I know that feeling. We nattered about things Wanstead and twitching; apparently he had failed majestically (3 times) to get the ST Eagle, but told me of the time he slept on this very platform waiting for a Greater Yellowlegs to perform, know that feeling as well. We parted him to do a circuit and me to source a coffee at the centre. On the way had another quick look at the sea, vastly empty, bar a juv Med Gull, Whimbrel flying south and a couple of Sandwich Terns.  I did my sandwiches too.

Not a lot to be said for the rest of the day at Minsmere, I had a half-hearted half hour in one of the other hides - a Bittern being the only thing of note - and decided it was time to wend the hot and sticky way back towards a station.  A brief detour to Dunwich Heath got me this year's Dartford Warbler, Westelton was like an oven switched on with nothing cooking, though I got my first White Admiral as I, literally, hot footed it down the road.

By the time I got to Darsham I was completely shagged, the only problem being my advance ticket were not for another two hours, but knackerdness won and Greater Anglia trains are now pounds richer....

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Finland again Part 3 - a very short trip to Oulu and back

The train journey was actually pretty good, okay, I did get the wrong seat again at first and turned the light switch off instead of opening the door on one occasion but other than that, it was fine. Seven hours seemed to go quite quickly, lots of music to listen to and lots of pine trees and farms to look at out of the window. Some places we passed on the train were the kind of places that I would of thought, yep, I'm getting off here, there was nothing but bogs, pines, clearings and amongst the bogs and pines I noticed a curious shrub called Labrador Tea growing everywhere. I arrived at Oulu about 1am, the train being half an hour early, can you imagine that happening in the UK, half an hour early? As I'd expected it was light, maybe a little dim, but light as far as I'm concerned. I had to take a photo of a map of the city in order to find my way round, I was really tired so I decided to head for a camp site to the north of Oulu. I was amazed how coming up this far north actually felt as though I'd gone further south, it was quite a busy, trendy place. Several people hung around outside a multitude of bars along the road I got lost on straight away. The only thing I knew about Oulu is what my friend Outi, who used to live here, had told me some years ago and here I was hoping to see owls when I hadn't even got a map! Anyway I found the campsite, must have got there at about 3am, a bank vole scuttled about and then a friendly security guard came out to help me, he took my passport in case I legged it in the morning without paying, fair enough. He said I was only the third English person at the campsite he'd seen this year! Yellowhammers were singing by the reception, more recording for Pavel was on the cards.

I put the tent up and crawled in exhausted. The dawn chorus was well under way, but I manged to sleep through that. In the morning I awoke kind of late and still felt exhausted. Still I took a walk to the beach and a strange promenade, another huge shower dumped its contents on me so I hid under the promenade roof.
The sea was strangely empty of birds, a couple of terns flew about and some Black-headed Gulls.
This is Oulu in the daytime, much darker than Oulu in the night-time!

My plan was to to to Liminka or Liminganlahti nature reserve - this never actually happened. I caught a bus to the airport (this was 13km from Oulu anyway!) and got talking to a man who I met at the bus stop who was some kind of entrepreneur dealing with wholesale. He said he was staying at a hotel at the airport whilst his son dropped of the keys to his car or something like that. Anyway we got talking about travel, music, films and various other things over a pint at the airport, this was a pretty good way to spend the morning. He said he was almost a millionaire. He gave me his details as he has cabins up in Lapland which he was urging me to go to. At about 1 we went our separate ways and I found some kind of map and tried to make my way to the ferry port a way to the west of Oulunsalo, but only made it to Oulunsalo as the weather turned again and I was soaked, the road was full of road works and it just wore me out. So I went back towards the airport and took a bus back having not seen much at all apart from some Goosanders and rather surprisingly two Grey Partridges. However I'm glad for our chance meeting. I also made a recording of a Yellowhammer on the way back

Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
I ate using my stove at the campsite then had a walk along the sea front, which seemed like a big lake-front, the water didn't smell salty at all, and there is very little tide along the Gulf of Bothnia. There were some very nice plants at the lake, I mean, seas edge, and a cool, fresh wind blew in from the west.

Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thrysifolia)
Marsh Pea (Lathyrus palustris)
Again being exhausted I went to sleep early and rose not too early. There was a Blackcap singing on the camp site that had a strange song unlike any I've heard before, it had some mournful notes not unlike some notes in Hermit Thrush song and sometimes it would go in to some almost Common Nightingale type sub song, made me wonder where this birds wintering grounds were, certainly not here, that's for sure. I never did manage to get a recording of this, which I regret. I had a quick walk to the beach, there was an Arctic Tern being chased by a tiny skua, not much bigger than the tern, looked good for Long-tailed, looked like a juvenile too, maybe too early, first summer? I then decided to walk to a lake a few kilometres inland as I had to catch a train back at around 4:45, crazy really. It was a pleasant enough walk through suburban areas surrounded by pine forest, kind of reminded me a little of suburban Atlanta in the US, though that would be really hot at the same time of year. However the climate in Oulu is warm in the summer it seems, certainly humid enough, brings out the mozies. Again there were some nice Northern flora along the lake shores, nothing too exciting on the lake, however several Whooper Swans had broods there and I spend a bit of time recording a Reed Bunting of all things.
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)

Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica) this smallest of the dogwoods

Red Squirrel
By the time I got back there really wasn't much time to do a lot except feed some bread to the very tame Wigeon on the camp site (who also had 3 chicks nearby) so I decided to pack up the tent and walk to the beach on the way back, to my surprise a stage had been erected there, and it turns out I was going to miss their summer party with an appearance by no other than Samantha Fox

I walked back along a track through some mainly secondary woodland with some older trees dotted about, full of mosquitoes, maybe the worst place I've come across them, I found out this as on my way back I heard what I thought was a Great Grey Owl, actually it was a Ural Owl call but I thought they were sound-checking the PA at the beach and was convinced they used an owl sound because, well it makes sense, they would use an Owl sound, a Ural Owl sound wouldn't they? Anyway it sounded too loud to be a real owl. I walked on, then heard it again further away from where I had just been standing, oh, I thought. I walked back, nothing, so whether it could have been a real Ural Owl I don't know, seems strange to me. I needed to get out of there because my head was itching like mad and burning too! I had one final unexpected stress out when I ended up walking the wrong way, away from the station, I had to run back with my back pack which was not fun, but made the train, if I had carried on I would have missed it.
Bye bye from Oulu, next time go get a map, stay
longer and find out where to go for the Owls.
The journey back was okay once I'd settled down. I got off the train at around midnight at Tikkurila, it had clearly been a hot day here, quite a few people staggered home from bars, including one man who went up to a young woman and just stared at her for a few seconds, then walked a few steps and fell into a telephone booth, got up and walked on without changing the expression on his face, I noticed one or two people keeping a wary eye on him. The bus came and it took me to the airport again, a week after I had arrived there, seemed strange, like it was only a couple of days ago. There were some drunk people somewhere on the other side of the woods that alarmed me a bit, but soon I had the tent up, crawled in and fell asleep. The next morning I packed the stuff away and left my tent, sleeping bag and some clothes in the woods and went for a long walk to a nearby forest, the same one I had visited in the spring on my stop-over to South Korea
View from the camp spot at Vantaa, looks like it could be miles from
anywhere, when in fact there is a business centre a few hundred
metres from here.
Well today it was really hot, I walked a different route through the forest, another birder came past me, nearly made me jump, whilst I was erecting the umbrella, I didn't see him again, maybe he got lost, ha. A few hours later, actually it was me who got lost, I always get more lost the closer I am to civilisation, actually that's a good thing. though there is no way to judge that, if I get lost in Scotland say, how do I gauge how far I am from civilisation. Here in Southern Finland its a different matter. I suddenly appeared at some type of quarry, it looked like a dry river bed, there was a huge hill, I climbed up, none of this was familiar from my last visit or was it? I went down to a few houses, there was a family staring at some ruined building or something and a beautiful looking blond girl doing exercises along a small track with headphones on. I thought about who to ask, didn't take long to decide, I went up to her and asked her if she knew where the river was. She gave me a raised eyebrow-ed expression which made me laugh, as that said it all, she laughed back, she'd never heard of a river, she also told me the villages name, I'd never heard of it. So I went back the way I'd come and got a view, the airport was over there miles away, right I reckon the river is on this side, I asked another woman along the way, I was right, 'Keep going for a kilometre, past an exercise area, then a little way down from there' Found it. As soon as I got there and was putting together the Primus for a good cup of Coffee, I heard what sounded like a Greenish Warbler singing in the pines, it was one and I recorded that. Then had a beer

Wooly Burdock (Arctium tomentosum)

On the way back I recorded some more Yellowhammers, whilst doing that a Hawfinch flew across one of the fields. The farmland, field area just past the forest reminded me of Trutnov in Northern Bohemia or maybe Moravsky Kras in South Moravia, very beautiful. Actually, that may not show so well in the photo, you had to be there.

Back at the 'camp spot' I settled for my last night. A Black Woodpecker called then flew past in the evening. In the morning I got up early and made my way to the airport, I hadn't been alone, there was a person under a blanket on a mattress about 100 metres away from where I had been. A popular spot for a stopover.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Finland again part 2 - More rain in Punkaharju, then back to Helsinki

Twinflower (Linnea borealis) named after Carl von Linne, otherwise
known as Linnaeus 'the father of modern taxonomy'
Alpine Milk-vetch (Astragalus alpinus) - another plant of scree slopes in Scotland, here it grows
on road verges or stony track sides it seems
I spent another damp night at the campsite, seem to have fallen asleep early and awoke about 4am. I caught the 6am train from Retretti station. I asked twice at the visitor centre if trains stopped at this tiny little station as I couldn't believe it was actually in use, of course I was reassured they did.

I arrived in Parikkala then walked to along the road to Siikalahti for a short visit. Just past the junction of the road to Joensuu I saw and heard another three Blyth's Reed Warblers, one showing very well on a roadside hedge and two males singing away from dense shrubs in two gardens, one on either side of the road. After about 300 metres I heard no more, but the verges were packed with wild flowers. I heard the odd Willow Tit singing plus Yellowhammers and further on a Whinchat singing.

Sticky Catchfly (Silene viscosa) named so because the plant produces a sticky secretion at the top of the stem,
because of this the stem tops are often covered in small flies that have become glued to the plant
Zig-zag Clover (Trifolium medium)

The reserve was almost empty (as it was a lot of the time last year), a Wood Warbler sang from the birches near the entrance. I stopped by the visitor hut and made a cup of Coffee, even more mozies came out and greeted me here, the area being made up of extensive marsh and reed beds. I left my ruck-sack under the hut and went for a wander along the board walk around the reserve, an Osprey and a pair of Marsh Harriers hunted over the main lake, sharing different flight paths, the Osprey being the one for heights. I could hear a Golden Oriole singing some way off from some Poplars as I climbed up to the Tower Hide. In the distance I could make out Whooper Swans with young and a noisy Red-necked Grebe (when I first heard this at night last year in a half sleep state, I thought 'when is that bloody weird sounding donkey going to shut up!' Of course it dawned on me they were grebes some time later). Further up it was the din of nesting Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns, I could just make out a Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank amongst the cacophony.

Cowbane (Cicuta virosa) one of the most poisonous plants known to man
A Clubmoss, (Lycopodium sp)
I made my way around the roadside platform and sat there for a bit, a Grey-headed Woodpecker called from near the entrance and I heard the song of a Common Rosefinch but could not locate it, but I did record a family group of Whinchat and on the way back to Parikkala I recorded my first Finnish Yellowhammer for Pavel's Yellowhammer dialects project, more here:

Alpine Bistort (Polygonum viviparum)
Blue Fleabane (Erigeron acer)

Wood Cow-wheat (Melampyrum nemorosum)
After spending a bit of time on the boardwalk by the road I headed off back to Parikkala and waited in the bar/cafe/hotel by the station and watched some tennis, I had no idea what was going on in the tennis but enjoyed it anyway and the guy working in there seemed pleasant when I walked in so I felt at ease. This looks like it could be the only bar in this town, but at 8 euros a pint I thought I'd settle for a coffee instead, I don't know how local people afford it (well in this case from the looks of it, mostly retired men), but maybe there on good pensions here. Having been here twice, I rather like this place, it seems somewhat 'out in the sticks' and could almost be somewhere in the US, what with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the jukebox. Of course, you wouldn't come here unless you were waiting for a train, but sure beats sitting in a waiting room when its raining. Back in Helsinki I was ready to enjoy my only night in a hotel of the trip. This gave me the opportunity to dry out my tent (and everything else for that matter). As the train wasn't until 6.45pm the next day it also gave me time to explore this nice city. So I started in the evening with a visit to a park called Tähtitorninvuoren puisto or in Swedish Observatoriebergets park. Of course rain had set in again but not heavily. A juvenile Oystercatcher was quite approachable on the grass here, one of the parents kept flying around agitated if anyone came too close. On the way back I crossed Senate Square by accident, I had been planning to visit here anyway as I know sometimes concerts are held here, like the folk/fusion group Värttinä played here last year. But alas the square was empty. A Hobby darted through the buildings probably hawking Swifts.

The next day I was up bright and early, actually a bit late for me, I went off to record that noisy Icterine Warbler by the big house near Tölöviken. This I did, he was quite tame at times and his song, although hesitant was full of mimicry of other species with a slightly 'Punch and Judy' like quality. I then decided to head to the west side and had a nice walk along a harbour area and up to a beach near Lapinlahti, then got caught in a massive shower then found myself in the grounds of some kind of college or hall looking at Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. A group of students were carrying out some kind of mock battle re-enactment under some trees.
Hooded Crow

Lesser-spotted Woodpecker

Icterine Warbler
The weather improved considerably in the afternoon and I sat in a park called Tervasaari, this is reached by a bridge through a harbour, the next island over is Helsinki Zoo. A Caspian Tern flew in close on at least three occasions, plus there were Common and several Arctic Terns with recently fledged young flying about too. I then decided to go and have something to eat a nearby restaurant. The couple who ran it were really nice but the food was very expensive and I realised I didn't have that much time before my train and I had a way to walk back. So I settled for a salad and a beer. They were very understanding about me not missing my train and they even offered to phone me a cab if I needed one. However, I left in plenty of time for the train, picking up my backpack (if you can still call it that!) from the hotel on the way, oh and of course, getting a couple of beers for the journey.
Caspian Tern doing the circuit

Common Tern