Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Ring-Billed Gull...

The weather the last couple days has been pretty horrendous with gale force winds and rain. The last week or so I have been trying to find the Ring-billed Gull again. This gull has apparently spent the last 8 or 9 winters in the Dingwall area frequenting the secondary school and boating pond near to Tescos. The gull usually goes unnoticed now with no regular reports on Rare Bird Alert and only occassional updates from a local birder on Highland and Moray bird forum. The last week has also seen some renewed interest with a few people visiting Dingwall and seeing the gull. I tried finding the gull around this time last year too with no luck. Several failed attempts at the school and the boating pond. I'm not keen on looking for the gull at the school as sitting in a car with binoculars and camera just feels a bit too dodgy for me! So I decided to focus on the boating pond where I had failed to find the bird twice already.

First a bit of information on why this bird is interesting to me if you are not familiar with the species. Not only would it be a new bird for me and the fact it is a gull species, the species does not naturally occur in Britain and is a scarce vagrant from North America with a handful of records of over-wintering birds each year. So really this would also be my first North American species albeit in the Britain (if you know what I mean).

So I headed to the boating pond in Dingwall this morning around noon, picking up a couple cheap loaves from Tescos on the way. The weather was on and off heavy showers and very windy and by the time I arrived it was chucking it down. I waited a few minutes for the rain to ease off and walked around to the pond. Not a gull in sight first of but after throwing some bread around they arrived quick enough. They are easily drawn in from the roofs of both the school over the road and Tesco. Within a couple minutes there must have been a hundred gulls flying around and I didn't think I had much chance in spotting the Ring-billed with the conditions, 100 gulls being blown around and the fact that I am no expert. After throwing some bread out and stepping back a bit they started to settle down, coming down to the ground to feed. Plenty of Black-head Gulls and Herring Gulls and I tried to keep a look out. Did this a couple times and most of the gulls seemed to get bored and flew back towards the school for more interesting pickings. It was then a gull obviously smaller than the Herring Gulls was flying overhead. It took awhile but it eventually came down to the ground to feed and there it was the Ring-billed Gull. It gave great views inbetween showers and came to within 10 metres. So I am very pleased and my second lifer for the year and a nice way to end January. Some pictures below.

Year List Additions:
60. Ring-Billed Gull (Lifer)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Culbin Sands (24/01/13) .....

Just a quick update. Went for an enjoyable walk along Culbin Sands this morning. Loads of birds around including plenty of Crows, Gulls, Oystercatcher, Wigeon and Redshank amongst others. Also quite a few Sanderling feeding as the tide went out. Walking back through the forest produced Treecreeper and a small group of 5 Goldcrest feeding in a patch of gorse.

Year List Additions:
58. Goldcrest
59. Treecreeper

Monday, 21 January 2013

Dornoch 19/01/13...

Weather wise the second half of next week was pretty good here, sunny and frosty. I think the Dingwall / Inverness area was the only area in the whole of the UK that didn't have even the slightest covering of snow. And there is nothing worse when the whole country is complaining about winter conditions that isn't a new thing, it happens every year just like Summer, when you haven't got any snow to enjoy yourself.

Anyway I have been a bit under the weather the last few days with some cold type thing but on Saturday the weather was perfect, cold and sunny, and I was feeling a bit better so it was time to get some fresh air. Dornoch beach was the destination this time and we would also take my girlfriend's dog for a good long walk on the beach.

The great thing about making a bit of effort to go out in Winter, especially to the beach, is that more often that not you have the whole place to yourself and today it wasn't far from it. The other great thing about Dornoch is that apart from being a stunning stretch of beach is that when you first get there it looks like its devoid of bird life until you take a few minutes to get your eye in on this expanse of sand and dunes. Target birds for today were Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling and with some luck (I have tried the last two Januarys at Dornoch) some Snow Buntings.

We headed to towards the point first, sunny but quite windy. Plenty of gulls at the mouth of the burn including some stunning looking Great Black-backs. Bit further along and spotted a Stonechat in the dunes and then another a definate male this time.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
I was keeping one or in fact two eyes on the strandline for the Snow Buntings but no joy. Futher on again there were a small group of Redshanks, more gulls and a single smaller bird which seperated from the flock of Redshank when they took off and landed a few minutes away. It looked like it had a possible broken leg as it was having real trouble hopping around. It was in fact a Sanderling, a bird I didn't manage to see last year and the only one I would see this day.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)
Near to the point a Buzzard was using the windy conditions to hover in one place over the sand dunes before it got chased off by two crows. Walked past the point for a quick check for Snow Bunting but it looked like another failed attempt as we turned round to head back to the car.

Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
A few hundred metres after turning back, there they were, finally. Snow Buntings. Third time lucky I guess and my first lifer of 2013. Cracking little birds feeding in the rotting seaweed, 16 in total. Would now love to see the same bird this summer on top of the Cairngorms but who knows! Made going out even more worthwhile that's for sure.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

Back at the car for a bit of lunch and 2 Pied Wagtails in the carpark to add to the year list. After lunch we decided to walk up the other end of the beach. By now the sun had gone in and the wind had really picked up with some pretty big waves crashing in. Not surprising there wasn't much to see but after turning back to the car again there were 3 birds only a few metres off shore close to the carpark. Turned out to be 2 Long-tailed Ducks and a lone Common Scoter all being hammered by the waves.. So all in all quite a good day out.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

52. Stonechat
53. Sanderling
54. Snow Bunting (Lifer)
55. Long-tailed Duck
56. Common Scoter
57. Pied Wagtail

Monday, 14 January 2013

WeBS Count 14/01/13...

Today was the day for WeBS count as I didn't have time at the weekend. Woke up to no snow with conditions a bit frosty as expected even though all the "severe" weather was forecast. We are unbelievably pathetic when it comes to weather in this country, especially winter weather, but that is another rant for another day.

Loch Kinellan first, quite a bit of snow on the ground up behind Strathpeffer. The loch was actually mostly frozen over with just a small area ice free which held 1 male Goldeneye, 5 Coot and 3 Tufted Duck. A small unfrozen pool at the edge of the main lake held 2 Grey Heron. Half way around the Loch and it looked very dark and grey over to the East and the snow hit me soon enough. Nice to get some proper snow.

Frozen Loch Kinellan with snow moving in.

Then came Kinellan Scrape. This was also mostly frozen apart from a small area in the middle. The scrape held 2 Mute Swan, 10 Wigeon and 27 Mallard. There was also Red Kite seen flying over.

Lastly Loch Achilty. Up at the far end of the Loch there were 3 Mallard and a small group of 4 Whooper Swan.

On the drive back from Loch Achilty it got really dark and the snow really started to come down hard. On the Contin to Maryburgh road it was so heavy it was almost a white out. Exciting! Year list is now up to 50 with following additions:

47. Mute Swan
48. Coot
49. Tufted Duck
50. Whooper Swan

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Every little helps...

One of the highlights when I was in Finland was not only seeing Waxwings for the first time but the sheer number of them in and around the city. But, there is still something about seeing one at home in the UK, which until now I have not been able to do. There has been reports of small flocks hanging around the Insh junction in Inveress and between the two Tescos so I thought I would have a look on Sunday morning after staying at my girlfriends the night before. On the Saturday night we went out for dinner then went to the cinema after (Jack Reacher actually not a bad film). We got out of the cinema about a quater past midnight and my girlfriends Dad had asked us to get some chocolate and lucky that he did!

We drove around to the big Tescos which is 24 hour and my girlfriend went inside whilst I stayed in the car. My girlfriend on returned to the car opens the door and says "there is loads of Waxwings up there" to which I replied "WHAAAT". I hurried out of the car to the sound of the unmistakable trilling to see c200 Waxwing roosting up in the Tesco Extra sign right about the entrance!

Now we all need some help when looking for birds but in this case every little does help!

46. Waxwing

Friday, 11 January 2013

Dingwall Point 11/01/13 ....

Weather has been miserable the last week, still haven't really bothered to go out much. Today (11/01) it was frosty and sunny so nothing was going to stop me heading out somewhere. I decided to go to the point in Dingwall and combine with doing the BTO Winter Thrushes Survey. I walked all the way up the river to the railway line then all the way back in the other direction to the Conon river estuary. Plenty of birds around, 35 species in all. Highlights included a low flying Buzzard being mobbed roughly 10 metres away and a flock of c100 Twite in the Hawthorn edges of the agricultural fields. There were also large winter flocks of Buntings, Finches and Sparrows. On the survey front there was only handful of Blackbirds, no Fieldfare or Redwing at all even though there were still plenty of berries around and I had seen them here plenty times before. Not even a Song Thrush.

Still it was good to get out and managed to add some species to this year's list in no particular order:

Black-headed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Grey Heron
Greylag Goose
Pink-footed Goose
Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting
Tree Sparrow
Little Grebe
Hooded Crow

Monday, 7 January 2013

Review of Finland: Aug - Dec 2012.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog would find it hard not to know that I spent the last four months of 2012 in Rovaniemi, Southern Lapland, Finland from August 30th to December 21st. The main purpose of the trip was as an exchange student and I would be carrying out the first semester of my degree year at The Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences (RAMK) and the University of Lapland (uLapland).

Of course as someone interested in birds this was a whole new world to explore. I've always had a fascination with the North and it was great to finally get to experience it first hand. Straight away I thought of the Owls, Woodpeckers and Waxwings and hope I would get the chance to see a few. I also knew that the forests of Finland are vast, the birds are elusive and local knowledge would be my greatest tool. I did as much research as I could but most of the information on the internet of course was for birding in the Springtime at well known bird hotspots such as around Inari, Kuusamo and Oulu. Not so much information for Rovaniemi in the Winter time as it seems Northern Finland is regarded as "birdless" during these months. And yes it is true the majority of the birds migrate away at this time of the year but I found out that there is still plenty to see especially in a Northern city that draws the remaining birds in and the encounters I had were superb. During my time there my birding was restricted to the city itself and outer city limits as the only transport I had was my bike or walking. My time was also limited as I was taking courses at three different institutions and of course the weather and diminishing day light hours was also a factor.

So how did I do? Well I managed 51 species (see HERE) during my time there, 9 new species for me and a couple of new races not found in Britain of species that are found in Britain. It looks like a fairly minimal list but I arrived after the majority of migration had taken place (a lot sooner than Britain as it is a lot further North), I was there in the Winter months with November and December being particularly harsh and the majority of my birding was restricted to the city. But as I said before some of encounters I did have were excellent with some cracking views!

Also as I mentioned information on birding locations were limited and I relied on information from helpful members on BirdForum, in particular wolfbirder, piecing together small bits of information I found myself from tourism and nature websites ( and from a very helpful contact called Antti who works for the Lapland Ornithological Society and Birdlife Finland. Another great resource that I used over there which helped me a lot was the website Tiira. Tiira (Finnish for Tern) is Birdlife Finland's bird recording system similar to BirdTrack in Britain. The website is in Finnish but found it easy to use if it is loaded on the Google Chrome browers with it's ability to translate automatically. I then had no problem registering and using the site. If you click on Basic Search select the relevant birding association, in this case the Lapland Ornithological Society and then enter the municipality you require which for me was Rovaniemi. You are then provided with a list of records sorted by date with location maps and extra details.

So where is Rovaniemi compared to home in the Highlands? Rovaniemi is located in the Southern part of Lapland a region that covers the whole of Northern Finland. Finland as a whole is dominated by forest (approximately 75% cover) made up of Pine, Spruce and Birch and forms part of the Northern Boreal forest biome. Rovaniemi is the second largest city in the whole of Northern Finland after Oulu but is the largest city in Lapland itself. See map below.

Rovaniemi located a few km below Arctic Circle
I have also created this rough map using google maps and added locations that I will mention throughout.

Locations in Rovaniemi
So to the review. I will keep it similar to the 2012 Review I posted a couple days ago and try and work methodically through each month. Again all the pictures are mine are from the actual encounters and locations I am describing.

I arrived on Thursday August 30th taking the plane from Manchester to Helsinki then another plane North on to Rovaniemi. The first birds I saw in Finland were White Wagtails hopping around the airport carpark. The following two days were spent settling in and familarising myself with my new home for the next 4 months (and of course old friends and the local pub). The student accomodation didn't have internet access so I bought an internet dongle from the local supermarket and started checking Tiira for what had been seen around the city and when. Nutcrackers were being reported from all over the city. On Saturday morning I headed into the city to do some shopping and there were 3 Nutcrackers my first new species in Finland, just metres from me, no camera with me so I would come back.

In the afternoon a friend of ours took us to Ounasvaara. Ounasvaara is a hill on the East side of the city and was close to my accomodation. It is about 200 metres high and covered in conifer forest. It is a very popular winter sports area with plenty of tracks and a ski slope but the further East you go away from the city the more quiet it gets. A short walk through produced Spotted Flycatchers, Goldcrest and Raven with Red Squirrels easily seen.

View of Rovaniemi from Ounasvaara
In the afternoon our friend drove us to Jängislahti, a site I had read about before coming and wanted to see where it was. Jängislahti is pretty much a wasteland with plenty of scrub and surrounding woodland close to the banks of one of the main rivers running through the city. The area is actually used as a snow dumping site in the winter months. I only saw Reed Buntings on this brief visit but I would be back.

Jängislahti looking back towards the city.

The next day I headed back down into the city to catch up with the Nutcrackers. On the way I saw Great and Blue Tit, Fieldfare, Redwing and Siskin. The Nutcrackers were still there, 5 this time and I got some great views down to a few metres. More info HERE. A walk around the city before coming home produced Tree Sparrow, Willow Warbler, Feral Pigeons, Black-headed Gull, Scaup, Goldeneye and Magpie.

Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
September by far was my most productive month over as many birds were still hanging around and it was pretty mild and sunny mostly. At the start of the second week of September, there weather was pretty good I headed back to Jängislahti, this time on my bike which I had purchased from a second hand shop in the city. Jängislahti is a site of a lot of ringing activity and by far one of the most productive areas in the city. Bluethroats, Rustic Buntings and Red-throated Pipits had all been reported in the previous days. On my trip there I saw plenty of Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipits and a few Willow Warblers. I got a cracking view of male Hen Harrier but was too slow for a picture. The highlight of the day was up to 11 Bluethroats, a new species for me, in the surrounding scrub another most wanted bird for me. I saw Whooper Swans on the water, a late Sedge Warbler and a Northern Wheatear on it's own in the very middle of the field.

View from Jängislahti of Ounasvaara
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
A few days later I visited another site called Koivusaari on the other side of the river. It is actually an island in the river estuary and there is a circular boardwalk around the island and a bird hide apparently but I never found it. More sightings of Bluethroat and my first ever Lesser Whitethroat were the highlights, but there were also loads of Black Darter dragonflies basking on the boardwalk.

Male Black Darter (Sympetrum danae)
In the third week of September came one of the main highlights of my whole time in Finland. We learned that for one of our forestry courses we would be going on a tour of Northern Forests in Finland. We would be going to Northernmost Finland and touring around various sites seeing all aspects of natural resource management. I won't go into too much detail, if you really want to you can read all about it HERE. In terms of wildlife I saw Hoodie Crows, Goldeneye, Reindeer and Red Squirrel. On Day.2 we had an excursion to a forest near Ivalo. When having a forest lunch we had 2 visitors, Siberian jays! My very first and the number 1 bird I wanted to see in Finland. Unforunately didn't have too much time to enjoy it. However on Day.4 it was the highlight of the trip. A 20km boat journey up river into the heart of Lemmenjoki National Park. Again whilst having lunch around the fire we were joined by 6 Siberian Jays this time! They stayed for as long as we were eating lunch and picked up crumbs from around the fire, a superb experience (also where the blog banner picture originates from). On boat ride back I saw Dipper and Little Grebe. The last day was spent at Levi where I saw another Siberian Jay, Whooper Swan, Raven and my first European Elk on the roadside.

Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus)

I ended the month with another trip to Jängislahti and managed to add Willow Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Brambling, Swallow and Shoveler. The Swallows seemed to be rather late migrants and repeatedly flew over the reedbeds there. On the 27th September I also attended a presentation at the Artikum here in Rovaniemi for the publication of the new Rovaniemi Breeding Bird Atlas. At the end there was a table with several copies of the atlas (a really top quality publication) and when I asked how much they were I was greeted with the answer "Just take one, they are free". So I did! All September posts HERE.

Into October now then and University was in full swing now so time for birding became limited. I did most of my birdwatching walking or cycling to places I needed to go but I had some time to visit a few places. In the first week of October a Hoopoe had been sighted for most of the time. Didn't expect to have a chance to see this bird and the location was not far from Jängislahti so I decided to have a look. I didn't find the Hoopoe (surprise, surprise) did a few other birders looking around for it but I didn't want to ask due to the language barrier. On the way back from the area I cycled through a narrow lane where I saw my very first Waxwings! Another new bird and one I hadn't expected to see that day. Close by was a small garden with a very busy feeding station also. Willow Tit, Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, really close views of Great Spotted Woodpecker and 2 fighting squirrels!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
During October the forest exchange students were invited by a private company to take part in an Elk hunt acting as beaters. It was a very wet day, managed to see an Elk only 20 metres away in the forest and luckily the shooters were hopeless so no Elk were killed that day which I was secretly pleased about. But the highlight was two Hazel Grouse that I saw whilst walking through some Birch swamp forest.

Mid October and it was starting to feel like winter already. The first snow had fallen and so had the temperature. We decided to take a trip with the Czech forestry students to a cabin out in woods about 30km from Rovaniemi. The cabins are free to stay in and are maintained by the state forestry agency. Luckily there was no-one else staying when we were there, so we had it to ourselves. I saw another lone Siberian Jay on the walk up to the cabin. It was a great night, plenty of drinks and laughs and temperatures now at -4c.

During the next week was the start of the Waxwing invasion to the city which would last until I left. Flocks of up to 1200 had been reported from locations within the city. The courtyard outside my accomodation had up to 10 Rowan trees loaded with bright red berries and I was hoping it wouldn't be too long before some Waxwings showed up. And it wasn't long, up to 120 Waxwings arrived working their way around the trees and all the berries. It was great to stand on my balcony and see so many birds not 10 metres away. They resemble Starlings in alot of ways. Their flight is similar, they fly in large groups and are quite noisy all "trilling away".

Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

I also started to put some food out on the tree outside, started off with some half coconuts and they were visited by plenty of Great and Blue Tits.

I also decided to explore Ounasvaara some more. On one day the temperature had dropped to -15c but it was clear and sunny and decided to take a walk to a part of the hill called Isorakka. Within the forest I saw Waxwings, Willow, Great and Blue Tit and added Bullfinch to my Finnish list.

Towards the end of October we had a class trip to Pilke, a forestry science centre and headquarters for the state forestry agency. This building is also next to the Arktikum a museum about the Arctic. Before the trip a group of 30 Pine Grosbeak and been reported from the Arktikum gardens, so after our trip I went round for a look. No Pine Grosbeaks but I did see a flock of c20 Common Redpolls, a new bird for me, and another bird I was hoping to see, Long-Tailed Tit. But these were no ordinary LTTs, these were the Northern Race which look quite different from our own (see picture below) so I was still glad I checked. I took photos but it was snowing and almost dark already by 3 o'clock so they weren't great.

Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
Northern Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus)
The overall highlight for October came right at the end of the month and again it was right on my doorstep. There was plenty of snow on the ground now, almost half a foot, and temperatures had stayed around -10c. We were defrosting our bikes and getting ready to head down to University, this was about half 8 in the morning. As I was checking my bike something caught my eye in a Rowan tree about 20 metres away. It looked quite big but when I saw a flash of red I knew exactly what it was, Pine Grosbeak! 3 of them, one stunning red male and two female / juvs. I rushed for the camera and got some pictures and ended up being a bit late for Uni, but I hoped they would be there when I got home, but then it was dark.

Male Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

So by the end of October I had seen, Nutcracker, Siberian Jay, Bluethroat, Waxwing and Pine Grosbeak all really close, superb. All posts from October can be found HERE.

By November, University had become very intense and busy and the weather too extreme for travelling very far by bike. Snow remained on the ground and temperatures low but there was a thaw for a few days where the snow completely disappeared. I brought a proper bird feeder now and was filling it regularly. The courtyard at Kuntotie became my main area for birding for the next 2-3 weeks. The feeder was visited by plenty of Great and Blue Tits and the odd Greenfinch and once by a male Bullfinch. Regular sightings of groups of Waxwings of various sizes were a daily occurence.

Great Tit on new feeder.
On the 9th of November, Pine Grosbeaks had returned to the courtyard, two this time, a male and a female. There was plenty of snow and frost but this time it was a clear day with plenty of sunshine, time to try and get some more photos. The birds were not fussed at all, allowing me to approach very near. Watching them feeding in the sun, especially the red male, was one of my birding highlights in Finland.

Over the next week the bird feeder was visited by a single Willow Tit briefly on one occasion and by now the resident Red Squirrel was in on the act.There was also regular Mountain Hare in the courtyard during my whole time in Finland and I finally managed to get a picture one night. I will also quickly mention here that I saw a stoat in full winter pelage. It ran across the road in front of me as I was walking home one day.

Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus)
I had an interesting record on the 15th of November. Snow and freezing temperatures were the norm now and the main rivers running through the city had started to freeze over. It was another clear, sunny day and we were making our way through the city. I noticed a small bird hopping about on the low branches of a Birch by the roadside. I was quite surprised to see it was a female/juv Blackcap. An unusual record I would think this far North in mid-November.

Frozen river.
Female/ juv Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Throughout the rest of the month groups of Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks and Nutcrackers were seen throughout the city at various locations. There were also a few mobile flocks of Redpolls around and I examined them as much as I could but couldn't find an Arctic, althought they had been reported. I was also waiting to hear some reports of another bird I had hoped to see over in Finland, the Siberian Tit, no reports so far. All posts from November can be found HERE.

Into December now and it was starting to get properly cold, temperatures of -20c were becoming more common with one morning at -22c. The days were extremely short now, maybe 2-3 hours of daylight a day. But, if it was cloudy and snowing, which is was a lot, then it was pretty much dark all day.

I had been looking online for some more information on some good areas to visit on Ounasvaara hill and I came across a comment on a photo on Flickr. It was a photo of a Nutcracker and it was taken at a feeding station near to the main road going to the top. I asked the owner of the photo and he kindly replied with some directions. The next day I decided to visit as it was clear and sunny so I had a couple hours of daylight to play with. It was also -21c up on the hill. I made it to the feeding station no problem due to the excellent directions. I had actually walked past it a couple times before without realising as it was tucked away under a large Spruce tree near to one of the visitor carparks.

There was birds everywhere and I found a spot to sit down in the snow a couple metres away from the feeders to watch and get some pictures. The birds weren't bothered at all and they all kept feeding. There was 4 x Nutcracker, Great Tits, Blue Tits, up to 8 Willow Tits and 3 Bullfinch + the obligatory Red Squirrel. Then after a 20mins a new bird arrived, a Crested Tit! Feeding not 2 metres away, definately my best views of some of these species ever and my 50th species in Finland.

Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus)
Red Squirrel
Willow Tit (Poecile montanus "borealis")
The Sunday after visiting the feeder a few of us decided to go to a different part of Ounasvaara one last time to light a fire, have some tea / coffee and experience this wonderful place one last time. Whilst up there I saw two Siberian Jays. By far my favourite bird of the North and it was nice to see them one last time.

I did however end up going back to Ounasvaara one last time on my own. On the 19th December two days before I had to leave I went back to the feeder at Ounasvaara and took a walk along one of the nature trails up there. It was bitterly cold again around -20c. On my way up the road to the feeder a Sparrowhawk flew out of the forest on the left across the road and disappeared into the forest on the otherside, bird number 51. There were the same species at the feeder but this time there were 3 Crested Tit. During the walk along the nature trail I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit and what I think was probably two Capercaillie but I didn't count them as I was unsure. One last check at the feeder on the way back and that was the end of my birding experience in Finland. All posts from December can be found HERE.

And what an experience it was, one I will never forget. As I said earlier I didn't see a lot of species but the ones I did were pretty special. Anyone searching for birding information for Rovaniemi that happens to come across this blog, please, feel free to contact me if you want to know more and I will try my best.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Review of 2012...

The year 2012 has ended and of course the world has not so it's time to review my last year and what a year it has been. It wasn't until looking back over the past year's blogs that I realised just how much I had done during the year. Most of the year was again spent at my home in the Highlands from January to August but included trips to the Dornoch area for the weekend, Carrbridge, The Cairngorms, a week in Forsinard in the North Highlands and a couple trips (one of 3 weeks) to Northumberland where I stayed with my Dad near to Alnwick. Of course the biggest event of 2012 was my student exchange to Finnish Lapland for four months from the end of August right through to Christmas.

I spent a good couple hours today checking my lists of species seen from BirdTrack and my own lists to make sure the totals were accurate. Overall I managed 133 species in Britain this year, up 10 from last year's 123. I found out today that last year's total of 119 was incorrect. I also managed the 133 species in only 8 months as I spent the other four months of the year in Finland. I recorded a total of 24 new species including Glaucous and Iceland Gull, Green Woodpecker, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Nuthatch, Slavonian Grebe, Tawny Owl and Tree Pipit amongst others. Interestingly there were 16 species that I saw in 2011 that I didn't manage to see in 2012. Some of these were expected like Chough, Great Northern Diver and Little Egret as I was just not in the right areas for these species for the most part but some were fairly easy and common and I was a little disappointed not to have seen them. These included species like Fieldfare, Golden Plover, Sanderling and Sedge Warbler.

My trip to Finland added 9 new species to my overall life list and I did manage to see some of the species I missed this year in Britain such as Fieldfare and Sedge Warbler. My British list is now up to 149 species (I wonder what number 150 will be?) and my life list up to 158, still fairly minimal but I am still proud of it and it contains many wonderful bird encounters.

So if you are bored and have read all you need to know already now is the time to leave. I will now go through some highlights of my year roughly month by month. It could be fairly long but I will be as brief as possible and try to include as many photos as I can. I will write a seperate post dedicated to my time in Finland later so if you are more interested in that stay tuned, it will be here soon. As you might have seen I have added a couple new pages, tidied up the Useful Links page and added a new banner. The bird in the photo (taken by me in Lemmenjoki National Park) is a Siberian Jay, one of my most favourite birds that I had the chance to see a handful of times in Lapland and although it is obviously not a British bird it is one of my greatest birding encounters so far.

Just a note, all pictures shown are from the actual encounters that I will be describing.

So to the highlights...

The start of the year during January was in the middle of a white-winged gull invasion across the whole of the Britain. Many numbers of Glaucous and Iceland gull were being recorded everywhere and here in the Black Isle was no exception. I saw my first ever Glaucous Gull, a 1st-winter bird, at the local fish factory in Dingwall and a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull just a week later. Both birds were seen several times over the following few weeks.
1st-Winter Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)
2nd-Winter Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)
Iceland Gull in flight.
I also managed to see my first Scaup, a group of about 30 birds close into the shore at Arturlie Point in Inverness.

Scaup (Aythya marila)
A lot of fuss was caused during January by a mega-bird located near Loch Fleet. It was a Greater Yellowlegs, a North American vagrant, and it stayed around for quite some time. A couple weeks after it had first been found and was still being reported I decided to go on my first twitch to see if I could find it. Unfortunately I didn't but I still had a great day seeing my first ever Red-throated Diver off Embo pier and my first Purple Sandpipers on Dornoch beach. I also saw my first Common Scoters offshore.

Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)
During February I had a very nice day out at Chanonry Point and Rosemarkie beach on the South side of the Black Isle. I saw groups of Common Guillemot and Razorbill fairly close to the shore, more Red-throated Divers and a Grey Seal that was lounging on the beach.

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)
I also had my first experience with the Highland Ringing Group. I joined some members of the group on a outing to the Moray Coast looking to ring and GPS tag some Purple Sandpipers as part of a long-term study. We saw a group of about 30 but the weather was awful and the birds weren't co-operating unfortunately. As part of one of my modules at college our class went on a field trip to Landmark in Carrbridge where I saw my first Common Crossbills from the top of the fire tower as they sat on top of the surrounding Pine trees. I finished the month with another first. A small group of Pintail ducks off the old pier at Redcastle on the Black Isle.

Into March and I was fairly successful with Geese as there are always good numbers around this general area and there were huge groups of Pink-footed geese seen regularly on the Cromarty Firth.. A bit of exploration in the woodland and fields just 1km away from my house resulted in a surprise encounter with my first confirmed Pink-footed Geese and European White-fronted Geese not 10 metres away as I climbed to the top of a steep bank at one of the field margins.

Pink-footed & European White-fronted Geese
Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus)
European White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons albifrons)
I also had a nice first down at my local river in Conon Bridge in the form of a pair of Goosander. The month was generally quite quiet as college work had started to build up and I finished the month with a conference for students in Carrbridge on Integrated Land Use but unfortunately no time for any birding down there.

Into April and the Spring properly and the Blue Tits had started nest building in the newly located bird box in garden.They came and went for the next couple weeks and I observed them coming and going with plenty of food too but there was no sign of any fledging for some reason.

In the second weeks my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip down to the Cairngorms as I had never actually been to the top even though I have lived up here for over 20 years. On the way a stop at the infamous layby 151 to check for Ring Ouzel (a real bogie bird that I hope I can see in 2013) but no luck but I did see my first Peregrines, two infact. At the top of Cairn Gorm there was white out conditions and lots of snow so no birds but I did also see my first Red Grouse from the carpark. Two days later 3 Ring Ouzel were recorded in that very same carpark, typical!

Back to local birding and I started to explore the Heights up behind Dingwall for the first time. It's really beautiful up there and I visited a few times during April. One trip with perfect clear sunny weather I managed to see my first Wheatear of the year, a pair but it proved harder to get a record shot. Also had some great views of Red Kite. My first ever Red-legged Partridge were seen crossing the road on the drive home.

The Heights - Dingall
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
The end of April saw my girlfriend and I spending a weekend at Dornoch & Embo and what a great weekend it was. We visited several local areas including the Falls of Shin. Great views of Dipper and Grey Wagtail were had at the Big Burn Walk in Golspie and two Osprey nests spotted in the area. An inland colony of Fulmars and another single Osprey seen over Loch Buidhe. Wheatear and Common Sandpiper also seen. We came across a dead Puffin on Dornoch beach and I hoped it wouldn't be the only one I saw this year.

Male Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Osprey on nest in Dornoch / Golspie area.

May was very quiet due to coursework becoming pretty intense again but I did have one trip to Glenmore where I had good views of Willow Warblers and I did decide to create a small patch of wildflowers in the garden from free seeds that were on offer from several campaigns. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the results this year as I had to leave for Finland. The Swifts were also back screaming above the houses.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
In June college was finally over and I had passed my HND. It was also time for our end of year Forestry tour to the South of England. We were based in Newbury, Hampshire and visited various neighbouring sites. We visited the New Forest and I heard my first Cuckoo of the year and managed my very first Green Woodpecker a bird I wouldn't get the chance to see up North. Our campsite for the week was next to a small woodland copse and I was lucky enough that it was full of Nuthatch, another new bird for me that I couldn't see back home.

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
In my own time I visited Greenham & Crookham common nearby hoping to see Dartford Warbler. I didn't, but I did see more Green Woodpeckers, Kestrel, Stonechats and my first Common Whitethroats of the year.

Male Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
On the final day we visited Langley Wood Nature Reserve managed by Natural England and I was able to see Poplar Hawkmoth, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Broad-bodied Chasers, Brimstone and Mistle Thrush.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
Pearl-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)
By this time during June I found out that I had been accepted at the University in Finland and my exchange was going to happen. Plenty to sort out, organise and research for the trip!

I had an interesting outing to Ferry Point, Dingwall in mid-June. Plenty of Lapwings, Gulls, some unseasonal Whooper Swans, summering Canada Geese and a great view of a lone Osprey right over my head.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

The month finished with a trip down to the local river and me seeing my first ever Spotted Flycatchers, a pair catching flies believe it or not around one of the very old Larch trees down there.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
In July I undertook my first visits to my new WeBS survey areas. I applied to take part before I knew I was going to Finland thinking I would be able to take part when the survey restarted properly in the coming Autumn and Winter months. I had been assigned some small starter sites that included Loch Achility, Loch Kinellan and Kinellan Scrape. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. I started at Loch Achility that was quiet but after took a walk through Achility Oakwood where I saw my first ever Tree Pipit. Moving on to a circular walk around Loch Kinellan, a small loch at the back of Strathpeffer, and I saw my first ever Slavonian Grebes and Whinchat.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
The rest of July and the first week of August was spent down at my Dad's near Alnwick on the Northumberland coast. When I wasn't working at the hotel I spent most of spare time taking walks along the coast lots of birds, butterflies and flowers. A trip to Cullernose point near to Craster allowed to me see a breeding colony of Kittiwakes and Fulmar up close plus plenty of Gannets diving offshore.

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
I visited Low Newton and the nearby scrape a few times. A blog I follow from a local birder of this area shows this area to be very productive if the conditions are suitable for waders. There were plenty of Swallows, House Marting and Swift around the houses. My first visit gave me my first Shoveler ducks, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwits of the year.

Black-Tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa)
Low Newton scrape.
The scrape was very productive during my time down there with Pectoral Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Little Egret all reported and believe it or not I did not seen any of them. A Stilt Sandpiper was also seen two days after I headed back North. Although some very distant, heavily cropped photos from one trip caused an interesting discussion on Birdforum with some pretty sure I had recorded at least one Pectoral Sandpiper and Ruff but not enough to be conclusive for me so I didn't count them. Just a reminder of how much a beginner I still am to all this and a call for more wader ID practice. At the end of July I also recorded my first Jays of the year (little did I know that this was not the only Jay species I would see by the end of 2012) on a day out at Hulne Park.

Moving into the first week of August and my third week in Northumberland I was joined by my girlfriend for the week and we booked a boat trip around the Farne Islands and we really lucked out with the weather, it was sunny, warm and as still as you could imagine. We departed from Seahouses harbour. There will still plenty of birds to see even though it was a bit late in the season. On the way out to the islands I saw my first (live) Puffins of the year plus plenty of Shag on the rocks.

Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
Had a very close encounter with a colony of Grey Seals, loads of them lounging on the rocky islands and swimming all around the boat.

We landed on Inner Farne itself for an hour and had very close encounters with Arctic Terns (first of the year), Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes and Shags, some with young birds still.

Sanwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)
Into the second week of August now after returning home to the Highlands I had just enough time for one more mini adventure before setting off on the big Finland adventure. I was off to the Forsinard Flows RSPB reserve in Sutherland, a couple hours North of my home in Conon Bridge, for some residential volunteering.

I had a really great week, learning a lot and meeting some great people including Will and Paul, long-term dedicated volunteers who I was sharing the cottage accomodation with. I spent the week working on various tasks from installing dipwells, to monitoring water levels and constructing the dipwells themselves. For more details on what I was doing there see my original post HERE. I managed to see my first ever Hen Harrier (albeit a very brief sighting), added Snipe to my year list and the highlight of my week was seeing a family group of 3 Merlin through a top of the range scope which was superb! I was originally supposed to stay for two weeks but again I had applied for this well before knowing about Finland.

Stunning and globally important habitat.
And so this brings me to the end of August and my Finland adventure. I set off from my Dad's about 2:00am to get my first flight to Helsinki from Manchester and as we left my Dad's hotel a large bird was sitting on one of the hedgerows lit up by the car headlights giving a great view. It was my first Tawny Owl! A nice bird to leave the UK on. I would be in staying in Lapland, Northern Finland for 4 months as an exchange student. In terms of birds it was fantastic. I didn't see a lot of birds (it was Winter after all) but the bird encounters I did have were truely amazing and I will never forget them. There is far too much to write here on a post that is already quite long! I will be posting a review of my time over there soon so come back again if you are interested or even made it this far without getting bored.

As I mentioned near the start I added 9 new species to my life list including some of my most favourite birds in the world. The 9 were as follows: Bluethroat, Common Redpoll (I tried really hard for Arctic but no luck), Hazel Grouse, Lesser Whitethroat, Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak, Siberian Jay, Waxing and Willow Tit. Another great record for me was seeing the Northern race of Long-tailed Tit. But as I say more on all of this in another post.

Male Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)
 So, looking back now, it has been a really varied and interesting year for me. I have really enjoyed it and feel like I have learned so much. This next year is shaping up to be another interesting one with possible visits to Poland and maybe Czech Republic and I finally finish my degree and who knows where I will end up after that but I am sure I will be writing it about it here.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the journey, I sure did! 

All the best for 2013.