Friday 21 June 2013

Staying awake for longer than is good for a person

We finished Owling at around 1pm, and after we had bled Antti dry for local gen, had a meal and cleaned ourselves up, it was probably about 3ish. Finally, a bed, probably the thing I had been most keen on seeing other than owls. The plan was to get up at around 9pm, and go birding locally, before dropping down towards the Russian border about four hours away so as to be in position for yet more spectacular birding during the best period, which is 2-6am. With info on singing Red-flanked Bluetails, we were well prepared to go the extra mile, so to speak.

What we were in no way prepared for was the volume nor the persistence of the snoring that was to come from the Prof. Quite unbelievable, an unholy mating of a Walrus and the Flying Scotsman. A correspondent suggested a flight of Lancaster bombers, but no raid over Germany ever emitted this sound. This was seismic in scale and scope. He would start off slowly before settling into a steady rhythm. At this point I estimated perhaps 110 decibels, or Concorde taking off. Gradually though it would build, to the point the walls began to shake, and then would come the climactic snort. Enormous. Devastating. Epic. Like Krakatoa blowing up. Nearby lakes probably experienced Tsunamis. This would have the effect of actually semi-rousing the Prof momentarily from his beatific state, and was sometimes accompanied by a small noise of fright, but never quite waking him though, at which point it would start all over again. I had considered myself so tired that nothing could possibly have stopped me falling into the world's deepest sleep. I could not have been more wrong. I got up, paced around, videoed the monstrous performance for posterity (which could yet find its way to a worldwide audience!), and after finding no cushions with which to smother him, retreated wearily to bed, there to lie wide awake despite something like 33 hours on the go. Needless to say our planned lengthy restorative sleep never really came to fruition, and so after four hours of torture, we pulled the plug and got up to carry on birding.

It's still broad daylight at 7pm in mid-Finland. Our base was the Liminganlahti Nature Reserve, Finnature's base in the area. It's a superb place, brilliantly functional (bar sound-proofing) and situated at the southern tip of an estuary. We made our way to the birding tower for a look around, and started adding to our already extensive trip list immediately. Flights of Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, summer plumaged Blackwits and heaps of stunning Little Gulls. Glorious, but we were unable to tarry with a full agenda planned, even with the extra hours granted to us by the Prof's malfunctioning airways.

Our next stop was the port area at Oulu, wader central. More Wood Sandpipers, breeding Redshank and LRP, a small colony of Arctic Terns. The main target was Terek Sandpiper, but in my zombie-like state I missed the only brief flight view. Maybe I saw it, maybe I didn't, but not matter, one day this blocker will fall, hopefully back in the UK if I can ever manage to be free when one pitches up. Woodcock overhead, Merg and Goosander in the bay, and our first and I think only Starlings of the trip. Great birding, and slightly surreal given the time of day, but it to was get even weirder when close by we twitched a breeding pair of Citrine Wagtail at around midnight in full daylight. The darkest period is probably around 1am, but it wouldn't even count as half light. It basically a bit dull, like the UK in about November, and then about ten minutes later the sun starts to rise again and it brightens up. What I want to know is when the birds sleep? We spent most "nights" birding, and the Fieldfares and many others would go straight through. Similarly I located the Citrine Wags on call, and they seemed very much awake. I thought living organisms died if they didn't sleep - certainly that's what I was beginning to feel like!  We added Shelduck here, also wide awake and flying around.

A quick 'bargain' burger stop in a services and we headed south-east-ish towards a couple of sites where some last-minute gen courtesy of some mates of Rich B told of Willow Grouse, Greenish Warbler and several singing Bluetails (more accurately called Orange-flanked Bluetails by the Finns). We didn't manage the Willow Grouse but did find an early morning Black Grouse perched up, as well as Golden Plover and a noisy Wood Sandpiper by the side of the road. The next area led us to the singing Greenish almost immediately, where we got great views of it perched atop the highest tree belting it out - a great sound and one that I might stand a chance of remembering. No sign of the Bluetails, but we get massively confused by singing Redwing - they sounded mega and had us really excited until we espied one actually making the wonderful sounds we had been hearing and were thus crushed. Our final site of the morning was an area called Losonvaara, an area of old growth taiga forest. It delivered immediately, even before we'd had a chance to break out the coffee, with the zippy song of what could only be a Bluetail. OK, so they're not as rare as they once were - even I have seen three in the UK, but they're still mind-blowingly brilliant. We eventually found three birds singing from prominent perches, including two blue adult males - something I've not seen before. Also here were at least two Greenish Warblers, and evidence of Hazel Grouse if not the birds themselves. We walked a recommended track, inhaling the pine frangranced air and generally feeling at peace with the world. I would like Chateau L to smell strongly of pine, so may go and source some pine-emitting diodes or whatever. I'd also like it to have resident Bluetails but that may prove more difficult.

Once we were done here, we realised it was only nine in the morning and yet we'd been birding for about 14 hours. This is what I mean when I say that Finland fucks you up. The place is so nice, the birding so good, and the light so constant that the temptation to continue birding is too strong to resist. It's still light, the birds are still singing, so you just find yourself carrying on, kidding yourself that you're actually feeling OK. Ish. You begin to get the shakes after a while, and feel incredibly light-headed, or alternately like your head weighs several hundred kilos. And yet you plod on, you keep pushing. I'm not sure I would have gone to bed at all if Bradders hadn't insisted we stop mid-afternoon at a town near the Russian border called Tohmajarvi. And anyway, what was the point in trying to go to sleep with Mount Whiteman erupting in the corner? This latter problem was solved by our next hotel having been a Soviet Interrogation Centre in a previous era, and as such had the option of separate cells which we gratefully accepted. This time I slept, and a good thing too as the ratio of hours working/travelling/birding to sleeping was a rather worrying 56:4.

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