Saturday 22 June 2013

Birding through the night

We had arranged to sleep from 6pm to midnight, and barring an 11pm fire alarm I believe I actually slept right through. If I listened carefully I reckon I could hear some snoring next door, but these Gulags are pretty solidly built and I'm extremely grateful to the foresight of some true comrades for a quality night's sleep despite the mattress being only 1.5cm thick. We left just as some new prisoners were being checked in, with the warder hesitantly wishing us a pleasant night. He probably thought we were mad, but he did let us out, so good for him. It was probably the darkest we had experienced - still perfectly adequate for reading Gosney's guide to finding birds in southern Finland though. Our targets were the genuine night singers - River Warbler, Corncrake and in particular Blyth's Reed Warbler. The next few hours were surreal and wonderful. We birded a series of roads and tracks close to the border town of Vartsilya. No Great Snipe, but three River Warblers, multiple Corncrakes, and approaching double figures of Blyth's Reed. I've always dismissed this latter as being mind-bogglingly dull, and indeed have passed up two cast-iron opportunities to add it to my BOU list in case I died of boredom whilst watching them. Singing birds are an entirely different proposition however, and entirely worthwhile. Got some amazing views of a couple of birds properly going for it, and got to grips with the Lesser Whitethroat-like "Tek" call note. Maybe my next sojourn on Shetland will see one of these wanderers arrive, but will I go and see it? The trouble with European birding, indeed birding abroad anywhere, is that it makes twitching in the UK even sillier that it already is. Why schlep halfway across the country to see a stray waif in the company of several hundred sweaty green-clad weirdos, when you've seen the real deal in habitat? Mind you, didn't stop me twitching Shetland for Pine Grosbeak did it? Idiot.

Whinchats sing through the night too. So do Yellowhammers. So do Rosefinches, Curlews and pretty much everything else. It's a crazy place, yet totally wonderful. The south-east of the country is particularly rich, and we had a long list of sites to visit as recommended by Gosney. The first of these was a place called Kitee, site of another large lake and where we found our first Pochards of the trip, as well as getting some great views of Black-throated Divers. A track through some fields close to Punkaharju netted Hen Harrier and invisible Ortolan Bunting. The best was yet to come though; Punkaharju Arboretum. As if Finland doesn't have enough trees.....when the good councillors of Punkaharju were wondering what civic amenity might best serve the local community, I wonder what their thought process was? Swimming Pool? Nah. Go-karting track? Nah. I know, what about an Arboretum where we can grow loads of pine trees! Winner, they'll love it! The birding was ace. Every type of bird imaginable has been forced to live in a conifer, including stupid things like Lesser Whitethroat. I mean what kind of habitat is that for a Lesser Whitethroat? Nutcracker I can understand, but......hang on a minute! Yes I did day that, and what a great bird! When we were planning the trip the three of scored our potential targets to see if any of them were either missable or not to be missed. I scored Nutcracker the highest, the same the Owls.

We spent most of the morning birding here, hoping against hope for Hazel Grouse, but again drawing a blank. A quick tour around a bird lake whose name escapes me but was something like Siikalahti netted us three species of Grebe, as well as Osprey and Thrush Nightingale for the trip list, and were basically done. Just time for a celebratory meal in Lahti, another night of torture from the Prof, and back to London early next morning. Frazzles, I rather heroically went straight to work, allowing my colleagues to see a side of me that had hitherto remained unknown. The one where I stagger unshaven and red-eyed into the office, weighed down by optics and looking like I've spent the last three days without any sleep in a mosquito-ridden forest. Nothing of course could have been further from the truth.


  1. Kitee is famous as the hometown of Finish symphonic metal band Nightwish! Much better than that Zac Brown rubbish you have been listening to!

  2. What's with all the words? Where's the porn? I want a refund and don't give me any shit about not taking photos in the dark, you're better than that.

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