Sunday 31 March 2019

Chobham Common and Truss's Island, Staines - 30th March 2019

We took a walk around Chobham to see how the resident Dartford Warblers have fared. It is a great pity that ringing is now only permitted during the winter months and we are no longer allowed access to monitor Dartford Warblers, or any of the other specialist species including Woodlark and Nightjar on the site during the rest of the year.

Although we were quite late in our arrival we still recorded decent numbers of Stonechat (5 males & 3 females) and Dartford Warbler (8 seen with a further 3 birds heard). The population density is clearly quite high without a harsh winter to check their numbers for a few years now. In the event that birds disperse away from the site there are very few marked individuals to give us a chance to learn about patterns of dispersal. There was also a couple of Buzzard overhead. Coal Tit, Blackbird, Goldfinch and Song Thrush were all present in the open areas.

On the way home we couldn't just pass Truss's Island, so dropped in to record a few numbers. We noted 15 birds in all, a mixture of darvics and metal rings including two that we had not seen there before.
Most unexpected was 4DHH, the bird that we'd ringed on Staines Moor just two days before. That is certainly the shortest amount of time for a local movement our group has documented to date.

 4DHH had joined the flock at Truss's Island

There are now some 15 or so birds hatched in 2018 here, without colour marking. It's a shame that we are no longer allowed to mark birds here. There was an objection to the colour of the darvics.

Lodmoor, King Barrow and Tout quarries - 29th March 2019

We set off down to the south coast, hoping to see one of the Large Tortoiseshell butterflies that had been reported from the Portland quarries. First port of call was Lodmoor. It was a cool misty start to the day so we decided to let the day warm a bit before trying for the butterfly.

At Lodmoor, we there was no sign of the Lesser Yellowlegs. While checking through the birds present, we noted darvic codes on three Mute Swans ZKK, VYT and ZOU all black print on yellow. There was also a colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit. The godwit had a lot of discolouration on the rings but we read it as lime above orange on the upper left leg, with yellow above black on the upper right and the metal ring on the lower right leg. Other birds present were as follows: Little Egret (1), Black-tailed Godwit (27), Marsh Harrier (1), Buzzard (1), Raven (1), Cetti's Warbler (8 heard) and Bearded Tit heard.

Hawthorn blossom at Lodmoor

RSPB Lodmoor reserve

We then spent a good deal of time at both Kings Barrow and Tout quarries. Here we saw lots of Peacock butterflies - but despite our best efforts failed to see an elusive Large Tortoiseshell. One was later reported, but from Fortuneswell, Portland. A couple of other bird records for the day were a female Black Redstart at Kings Barrow and a Swallow just on the coast at Tout.

Peacock butterfly

Chesil beach

We returned to Lodmoor at the end of the day and had good views of the Lesser Yellowlegs. The Black-tailed Godwit was still present and a little closer, allowing a few more photos to be taken.

Lesser Yellowlegs with Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe

Colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit. 
The black ring signifies that this is part of a project in Iceland.

Gorse flowers

Staines Moor & Broadwater GP - 28th March 2019

This morning we gave Staines Moor a try for Water Pipits. We were aware of at least four still around, including a metal ringed bird. We tried along the banks of the river and although birds flew over a few times, once alighting on the small bank side tree favoured by one individual, nothing would be drawn by the audio-lure. There werea couple of Little Egrets present, and three water Pipit seen.

Chris is now in the habit of bringing a couple of darvics and some stale bread and while looking to see if the regular pair (one of which we've darvic ringed earlier) were further up stream, they were not, a particularly precocious male came towards him and lumbered out, without the encouragement of food. He was easily caught up, and metal ring W41991 and darvic 4DHH fitted.

8M Mute Swan ringed and colour marked 28th March 2019

Chris was out again in the afternoon and while on his wanderings caught an adult female Mute Swan on Broadwater GP. The bird was already ringed with W25640. Darvic 4DHI was fitted. The BTO recovery report was through in a couple of days. The bird was ringed on January 1st 2009 at Norwood Green, Southall by Phil Belman and had not been recorded in the intervening time. Hopefully, sightings will be more frequent, now that she has the alpha numeric colour ring.

On the lake there was a single drake Goosander present, along with a pair of Mandarin, also a single singing Cetti's Warbler.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Stanwell Moor GP - 27th March 2019

We had our first visit to Stanwell in a while. As usual, there have been changes on site that are likely to change the way the birds move around. Part of the well vegetated bank had been reduced in height, and all vegetation removed. This is likely to greatly reduce numbers of birds moving along the bank.

The lake level is high and the reed-bed completely flooded so it will be a while before nets can be put up there. There has been a ditch dug to aid drainage of the site and this also feeds into the lake, and was flowing, so further lengthening the time until we can net in the reeds as usual.

From the five nets put up, only five birds were caught with one being a control Chiff-chaff.  There were more birds in an area where we have netted in the past and we may have to give that a try if the more recent track nets and reed-bed prove too dire.

Chiff-chaff control KTH187

Another site change, the price of ringing an actively worked site.

Total: 4 (1)

Chiffchaff - 3 (1)
Reed Bunting - 1

Monday 25 March 2019

Oulu, West Finland - 18th to 20th March

18th March

We soon found that temperatures were on the rise further south. The thaw had already left all the main roads clear with banks of black, slushy, watery snow lining the crash barriers when we left our hotel with Sami, a Finnish ringer that we met in Georgia a few years back. We were on a mission to see some of the locally found birds that had as yet eluded us, not just on this visit but on any other trip when we’d ever tried for them.  Yes, today there was the possibility that we might just achieve one or perhaps more life ticks to add to Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Pine Grosbeak and Steller's Eider.

First of all we headed off to the ferry over to Halluoto. Had we been here just one day before, we could have driven the ice road, but the thaw had rendered the route unsafe, although there were still plenty of Finns out on the ice with ski-doos, some ice fishing.  At least the Finnish ferries to inhabited islands are free of cost so no great expense incurred from the ice road (6.9km and the longest ice road in Finland) being closed. Sami had a location for Hawk Owl and we just drove the still snow encrusted road, parked  (pulling onto the verge is not recommended when the snowy banks are over half a metre deep) and began to scan. The first bird atop a distant conifer was a Magpie, with the next two being Great Grey Shrikes. Due to the time of year it is difficult to tell whether the shrikes were winter residents or early spring migrants. Next bird spotted was extremely distant and most definitely a Hawk Owl. By now it was raining persistently and visibility was affected. There was no way to get closer to the owl through the deep snow, but a walk further along the road brought us to another, closer owl being harassed by a Great Spotted Woodpecker. We were able to get nearer to this bird, a male, that we also heard singing.

Hawk Owl (male)

The area was a combination of open fields, birch and spruce woodland.

Slightly artistic snowy scenes - a sure sign 
that the birds were few and far between.

Having returned to the mainland by ferry, we then decided to try a town park in Hietasaari for Pigmy Owl as a bird has been seen regularly, close to feeders. We didn’t get to see the Pigmy Owl although it had been photographed by several photographers the previous day in a hole in a tree close to the feeding station. Goldcrest, Willow Tit, Great and Blue Tit, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer were all present at the feeders.

Male Yellowhammer

After some time, still looking for the owl we were very fortunate and saw Grey-headed Woodpecker, another life tick.

Grey-headed Woodpecker

19th March

We were out the following day, trying a location for Three-toed Woodpecker and Hazel Hen. The road was still snow and ice covered and we walked several sections of Birch forest, having no luck.

Our only sightings were a few tits, Treecreeper, a fly over calling Parrot Crossbill and an immature White-tailed Eagle that also flew over.

Northern Treecreeper

Didn't quite understand this. One of two decoys seen on street names - strange as the Finns appear to be very practical, competent and sensible people. Also honest, leave this out in the UK and before long it would get nicked!

The second area, Hietasaari where we had been the previous day, drew another blank for Three-toed Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker and Pygmy Owl . We met a birder with photos of both on his phone, from a couple of observations a few weeks ago but to put it into perspective, he visits often and has seen them on very few occasions.

So our second day didn't bring any of our target birds. Trying different locations turned up some more interesting sights including a wooden windmill. 

With so few birds around, we began paying attention to the tracks in the snow. We had to spend quite a lot of time looking down anyway, to keep on the packed down sections of path and avoid breaking the surface and ending up knee deep in the thawing snow. Some of the tracks looked quite good for wolf. The country has an estimated 230 or so wolves with the majority of these concentrated to the west and near the coast.

View across the frozen bay

There were plenty of prints that could have been dog or wolf - the tracks below could not have been 
animal/s on leads. It's a regular route used several times over, or by multiple animals.

Snowshoe Hare tracks

After a lot of time spend walking and listening for woodpeckers and the owl, we retired for a rest before meeting Sami and Yana for some good food and conversation. Sami also brought his photos from a trip to China. 

We were due to fly back on the 20th in the early afternoon and limited ourselves to a walk around the hotel. Here there are walks down to the shore with streams running to the sea. Again, we had to tread carefully - and noticed more tracks.

Wolf or Arctic Malamute? Hard to say,
 there  was a Malamute living a few doors down from the hotel.

Tracks along a frozen stream, some hare and possibly fox


The nature trail is short and starts close to the Airport hotel where we stayed for three nights.

View to the frozen bay from our hotel room.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Lapland 13th - 17th March 2019

It’s not often we do something spontaneous, and  a week away booked a fortnight in advance is just about as spontaneous as we are ever likely to get. Our destination was Finland. We started with a flight from Heathrow to Helsinki, transferring on to Ivalo in the north. Chris had done plenty of research to find lodges with feeders and had also been in contact with a Finnish ringer that we met while in Georgia.

After a drive of an hour or so on snow and ice covered roads we reached our first overnight stop Neljän Tuulen Tupa, Kaamanen.

14th March

A quaint awakening as the squirrels skittering about beat the alarm to waking us. We were out before breakfast, trying to photograph the speciality species that we’d come to see. Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay and Pine Grosbeak were all most obliging.

Siberian Jay

Siberian Tit

Pine Grosbeak, male 

Red Squirrel

Siberian Tit

Pine Grosbeak female

We enjoyed a lengthy breakfast, still watching the activity at the feeders, then after a final try for a last few photos set out for Vadsø. Bird sightings for the morning, Pine Grosbeak (many), Siberian Tit ( up to 3 at one time), Siberian Jay (up to 3 at once), Arctic Redpoll (1), Willow Tit (2), Great Tit (few), Blue Tit (1), Greenfinch (2), Bullfinch (1), Hooded Crow (2), Magpie (3). 

Finland is 75% forest with only 5.5 million inhabitants. Most of the population lives to the south of the country. This year the snow came very late, so late as to create a lot of problems in Lapland in that there was less snow and skiing and ski-doo activities were affected. When the snow came late, there was more than usual.

Roads were completely snow covered, often with snow banked up along the edges. 

Speed limits were usually 80 to 100 km per hour - no problem with snow tyres. Worse thing was not being able to pull off the road unless there was a cleared lay-by. 

There wasn’t much wildlife along the way, but we did find our first Reindeer. Birds included Willow Ptarmigan (8 on the road) in Finland. 

After crossing into Norway we saw a first year Golden Eagle. We kept looking for Hawk Owl but had no luck. On reaching Varanger Fjord we stopped off at Nesseby, seeing our first large numbers of Purple Sandpiper, Red-breasted Mergansers (c50), Common Eider (20), King Eider (8) also Kittiwakes and Ravens.

The church at Nesseby


   At  Vadsø there were more eiders on the fjord including some Steller’s Eider (16) feeding close to our hotel , King Eider (27), Long-tailed Duck (25), Common Eider and a lot of Purple Sandpiper.

Long-tailed Duck

Steller's Eider

Purple Sandpipers

15th March

Snowshoe hare in the blue light of morning.

Having failed to get the faintest chance at the Northern Lights due to heavy cloud, it was nice to start the day with Snowshoe Hare seen just a few metres from our bedroom window. The day was earmarked for a drive to Vardø. As we drove on the landscape became more open, sometimes with rocky outcrops, all coated in thick snow.

Varanger Fjord

The inland section of the fjord was frozen, as were small bays and inlets along the route to Vardø.

Glaucous Gull

Nesting Kittiwakes at Vardø by the harbour.

The church at Vardø

View of Vardø 

In the havn there were Steller’s Eider (4), Long-tailed Duck (4), King Eider (5), many Purple Sandpiper, Kittiwakes and a couple of Glaucous Gulls in with the commoner species. A Grey Seal was also seen.

Buildings are cut off from the road by the snow. Cars are left by the
road side and people have to walk to their homes.

We went to the point opposite the seabird colony and watched the activity around the two islands from the Biotope birding shelter. The views of Puffin, Guillimot, Black Guillimot, Brunnich’s Guillimot, Razorbill, Shag, Cormorant and many Kittiwakes were mainly distant. After returning through the tunnel we went to the harbour at Svartnes.

Adult Glaucous Gull

Male King Eider

Steller's Eider

There we had 18 Steller’s Eiders, 2 King Eider, 11 Long-tailed Ducks, 9 Glaucous Gulls (6 adult & 3 first winter).

Kigby allowed for more harbour viewing with more Steller’s Eider (59), a Long-tailed Duck, Common Eiders, Purple Sandpipers and gulls.

It is common to see drying racks by the shore, but this one at Kigby was actually in use.

Varanger Fjord and Nesseby Church

A look around the residential streets of Vadsø, where the taller trees grow, failed to turn up Hawk Owl again. The night was overcast with no chance of seeing the Aurora Borialis.

16th March

King Eider

Snowshoe Hare

A swift check of the harbour before breakfast, one last look at the Snowshoe Hares and we were on our way back to Finland, via some of the residential areas adjacent to the fjord. Our main hope was to find a Hawk Owl, but no joy. A few feeders in one of the gardens turned up Arctic Redpoll, Northern Bullfinch, Great Tit and Willow Tit. A White-tailed Sea Eagle passed overhead as we watched. There were fantastic views to be had from the elevated position above the fjord.


At Varangerbotn we saw four Elk, and another adult and calf on the road after crossing back to Finland. As we travelled to Santa’s hotel we dropped into the lodge where we’d spent the first night and got a few more photos at the feeders in the afternoon light.

Pine Grosbeak male

Siberian Tit

As we drove south it became increasingly cloudy. This, being our last chance of seeing the Northern Lights, we retraced our route some 10km north of Ivalo to a lay-by next to a lake. Soon after 9pm in temperatures  around minus 8 we finally saw the lights. Photography was difficult but when cars passed it was possible to take photographs, giving at least some images of the natural phenomenon.

Aurora Borealis

17th March

A long drive today, punctuated with a few brief stops that didn’t involve walking off the track. We started off by going up to the chairlift. No birds to be seen there, although very good in the summer. Starting to drive south, we had a walk around Tankavaara,  a goldmining attraction that has nicely cleared paths, finding the usual species attracted to feeders, and eventually locating the feeders too.

So cold, Chris actually used the neck warmer - never could
get him to wear the hat 'though.

Some other cafes with feeders in summer, were found to have feeders either empty or removed, a bit disappointing when they are needed most during the harsh winter weather. We also tried some dams, entirely frozen, due to them being hydro-electric facilities that do not heat water during the process. One brief bonus was six Crossbill, seen flying over a lay-by as I had stopped to take a photo of snow laden trees.

We drove 475km crossing out of Arctic Circle through snow, sleet and eventually rain. Temperatures ranged from -10 degrees from the outset to +2 when we reached Oulu.