Planespotting at Helsinki Airport

In May, a friend and I went planespotting to Helsinki Airport. We had borrowed a Canon L 70-200mm telelens from the Aalto Media Factory, so that we had one telelens for each of us.

Helsinki-Vantaa airport consists of two parallel runways oriented north-east south-west, and one runway almost orthogonal, north-west south-east. Runways are named with a number between 0 and 36, according to their orientation from the north: a runway 09 (=90°) heads to the east, runway 18 (=180°) heads south, and so on. Runway 360 (rather than 0) heads north. Depending on the direction you use, a runway can have two different names. Thus, runway 2 at Helsinki airport is called 15 (to the south) or 33 (to the north). These two numbers always differ by 18. Moreover, in the case of parallel runways, they get an additional letter to distinguish them. In Helsinki, runway 1 is called 04R/22L and runway 3 is called 04L/22R (L=left and R=right; C can be used for center, and it of course gets trickier with four runways or more, like in Dallas). For more information about runway use in Helsinki, Finavia has this very interesting page.

We were lucky, since runway 1 went under renovation on the 11th of May (and is still under renovation now, until the 2nd of August). We could then attend all landings on one runway, and almost all take-offs too. From a previous visit, we had noticed that the wide-bodies landed on runway 1 exclusively (provided the wind conditions were the same), with take-offs on runway 3. The day before, we had checked the timetable, to be there for both landings (at around 2pm) and take-offs (5 pm) of long-haul flights, as we wanted to spot these giants. We had also checked the best spot on the internet, including the page of the Finnish Aviation Photography association.

Flybe ATR

Flybe ATR

Here is the map of our afternoon. We took the bus to the Myllykyläntie stop (point A), then walked to the north-east following the blue path (road). Actually, we cut through uncropped fields and forest to get there faster (green path), but that is the idea. Our spotting point for landings was in the axis of both runways 2 and 3, and we were right under the planes landing on 22R. Unfortunately, we could not see the runway itself, there was a small hill. However, we could see the terminal in the distance, and the aircrafts going to take-off on runway 3. We spotted there a 787 from LOT Polish Airlines and a KLM 737 in retro livery. We arrived on spot right when a 787 from Japan Airlines landed, and witnessed the arrival of several A330 and A340, including the one in Marimekko livery (Marimekko is a Finnish fashion brand, famous for its flower patterns), as well as many A320-family aircrafts, 737, Embraers and ATRs.

Airbus A340 in Marimekko livery

Airbus A340 in Marimekko livery

Our second spot was along runway 3, for departures. It was situated right next to the Viinikankaari bus stop, and featured a beautiful tree that could accommodate two persons wanting to see over the fence. We were in the perfect location, as A330s took-off right in front of us. The A340s were slower, and took off further down the runway (they have a longer range, and were therefore probably heavier than A330s), which proved problematic when we had to rotate, perched on our branches. In the distance, we could see the planes landing, all of them running in front of us to exit the runway. We saw many Finnair planes, of course, some Flybe ATRs, Norwegian Boeings, a retro Lufthansa A321, and many others.

> Full gallery

Airbus A320

Airbus A320

Airbus A319

Airbus A319

I wished the weather was sunny this day, since I had no opportunity to go again, but well… I’ll try to pay a visit to Lyon Saint-Exupéry airport before the end of July. That’s it for today, I hope you learnt a thing or two 😉

Airbus A330

Airbus A330

Hunting owls and nightjars

This Wednesday, I met an old friend of mine in Varces, south of Grenoble. We went in the plain called “Plaine de Reymure” to check a few nesting boxes aimed at Little owls (Athene noctua). This species, partly diurnal, nests in holes in rocks, trees or buildings, but these have become rare, hence the need for nesting boxes. The monitoring program for this species in Isère has shown great results, with 28 nesting boxes occupied this year.

"Plaine de Reymure", with the "Chartreuse" mountain range in the background

“Plaine de Reymure”, with the “Chartreuse” mountain range in the background

The first box was set on a walnut tree. Nothing moved when we arrived, but we noticed a fence stake covered in droppings, indicating a perch favored by the bird. Soon, an adult landed on the fence, waited for a few minutes and then dropped to the field, catching a prey, probably an insect. It then flew to the tree, when we spotted a yougling, and then a second one. Later, the adult caught another prey and went to the box, so we supposed that some owlets (that’s the name of a baby owl, although it can also refer to some species of owls) had not left the nest yet.

Can you spot the owl and the owlet on the following picture ?

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You see them ?

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Now you do!

The second nesting box was situated right outside a small concrete cabin, under the eaves. It was initially situated inside the cabin for ten years, but was never occupied. Once outside, an owl arrived two months later. There, we had to wait for the farmor to finish the harvest of his field, but then we spotted two adults. They were not very active, which led us to think that the previous nights of hunting were quite successful. Indeed, when one night is rainy, one can later see the owls active early in the evening or late in the morning. If the night was good, they aren’t so much in a hurry.

Can you spot the owl there ?

Can you spot the owl there ?

We tried an approach to take pictures, but they flew away too quickly.

At 9 pm, we moved to the nature reserve of “Isles du Drac” (Drac being the river flowing nearby; it reaches the river Isère in Grenoble). It’s a dry, almost mediterranean area, and a renowned spot for the European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). It was dark, so no picture for you, but the show of this kind of big swallow, whose flight is really slow, so slow you wonder how it manages not to fall, was truly amazing. Perched on a tree, the male we saw delivered its distinctive trill, and then performed its in-flight wing-clapping to mark its territory.

In the distance, Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) and Scops owl (Otus scops) were singing.

FOCUS: Horned grebe

The Focus series

Definitely counting among my favorite sights in Finland, the Horned grebe (Podiceps auritus) is a small nordic water bird from the grebe family. I find it particularly beautiful, with its rufous body, black head and golden “earlike tufts” on the sides of the face (description freely adapted from the one on Wikipedia).

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Fun fact: before diving in quest for fish, the horned grebe folds up its tufts, like in the following picture.

Before diving

Before diving

I spotted the bird in Suomenoja, where there is an IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area) sheltering many nesting Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), 3400 pairs in 2008 according to Birdlife Finland. Given the noise, you can’t really miss them when you arrive there. The site also held 17 pairs of Horned grebe in 2007, making it an important area for this species in Finland.

I was there too early for that, but I saw pictures of grebes carrying babies on their back. Would have been a sweet sight. Next time, maybe 😉

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To see more Horned grebes (and several other birds, actually), please visit my Wildlife gallery.

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A walk in the mountains – Grand Veymont

The A Walk in the mountains series

Now that I am surrounded by mountains again, it is time to pay them a visit. This week-end, I went to Grand Veymont with my dad. This summit is the highest mountain in the Vercors range, which lies to the west of Grenoble.

I have made a map showing the path we took.

Gresse-en-Vercors

Gresse-en-Vercors

The walk started in Gresse-en-Vercors, down the slopes of the ski resort. The village resided down high cliffs created by erosion. It was intimidating, especially since I knew we had to go up these very cliffs. In the beginning, we were sheltered from the sun by the forest, but we were assailed by hords of flying insects. This, and the quite warm atmosphere, made it an unpleasant walk. Oh, and it was steep. Very steep.

Grand Veymont

Grand Veymont

We left the flies behind us when we reached the line between forest and pastures. The path zigzaged on the mountainside, between some scattered fir trees. Soon, as we approached the pass named Pas de la ville, it turned abrupt again, but it was nothing compared to what awaited us after the pass. We turned left and followed a rocky path wandering not far from the ridge. It was steep, and I often needed to grasp rocks with my hands to secure my ascent. The wind turned nasty, especially in some kind of natural corridor that preceded a flat area from which I got nice shots of other mountain ranges, including Ecrins, Belledone and Chartreuse in the distance.

grand_veymont

The last ascent was much easier, as we were on the side of a slope. Our efforts were rewarded by a band of Alpine ibexes (Capra ibex), youngs and females altogether, grazing in the fields a few meters from the path. They were obviously used to human presence, as two of them crossed the path right behind us. It was not too hard to take pictures!

Alpine ibex

Alpine ibex

Even ibexes use paths

Even ibexes use paths

Griffon vulture

Griffon vulture

At some point, I saw a bird of prey high in the sky, gliding in the warm air above the cliffs. Another one then many others followed it, flying north in quest of a carrion. These were obviously Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus). It had been a long time I had not spotted this species, probably one year, so that was an appreciated sight. No Golden eagle (Aquile chrysaetos) this time, unfortunately.

Alpine chough

Alpine chough

The summit of Grand Veymont was chilly, because of the wind, but we ate our pic-nic nonetheless, enchanted by the vista and by the aerial ballet of Alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) and Alpine swifts (Tachymarptis melba). The former were playing in the wind, folding up their wings to go against it and unfolding them when it was blowing from behind. They were no wilder than the ibexes, and clearly expected some food from the hikers. They got none from us, food is too precious!

We did not linger too much in the descent. It was steep and rocky, therefore very hard on knees and ankles. We crossed path with another ibex at the pass, where it was grazing next to the path, standing on it. It barely moved when walkers passed by; had I extended my hand, I could have touched it.

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Click here to see the full photo album.

BONUS

The Mont Aiguille is a mesa separated from Vercors situated in the area. It is quite unusual to see the meadows topping it, but from the summit of Grand Veymont, we were above.

Mont Aiguille

Mont Aiguille

Concert galleries

With the creation of this blog, I have undertaken the task of uploading all my pictures, formerly on Facebook, to my Flickr account. I’m glad to announce that all my concert pictures so far are there now.
To easily find all of them, you can visit the gallery index dedicated to concerts. You can also start below with a few not-so-random shots taken from my albums. Enjoy 😉

gliesers

Gliesers

Soilwork

Soilwork

Yleislakko

Yleislakko

Avra

Avra

Avra

Avra

Prayed And Betrayed

Prayed And Betrayed

It starts with an end

16th of June 2015. My last day in Finland. Indeed, I was to fly to France the day after, early in the morning. The weather was said to be good this day, so I decided to go birdwatching. My last experience in Nuuksio, in the middle of the day, exhorted me to go in the morning. The problem is, in Finland in June, the sun rises early in the morning. By this I mean, very early, like 4 am. Well, this was my last day, so I set my alarm clock to 4, slept four hours and got out of bed full of enthusiasm.

I had decided to go again to Laajalahti, a small nature reserve next to Otaniemi, where I resided. I left home at around 5. Birds were singing everywhere, and everything else was very quiet. During holidays, the campus is very peaceful.

The site: Laajalahti nature reserve, Espoo

From Otaniemi, you can access it from Konemiehentie. The closest bus stop is Konemies.

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European reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Even before reaching the reserve itself, and while the woods were still dark, I was greeted by an unknow birdsong. After playing some hide-and-seek with the bird, I identified an Icterine warbler (Hippolais icterina). It’s not common sight for me, so I thought that the day was starting perfectly. It was high, restless and camouflaged in the foliage, so I did not even try to take a picture. A Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) was also present, and gulls were circling abovehead.

After turning in the reserve, you find yourself on a path lined with birches, with reed areas to both your left and your right. This area favors the observation of warblers and European reed buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus), and the White wagtail (Motacilla alba) likes to walk on the path. I spent almost an hour on these 500 meters, trying to catch a glimpse of birds wandering in the reeds. I identified a Sedge warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), but was confused by another furtive warbler: in my opinion, it was either a Eurasian reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), a Marsh warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) or a Blyth’s reed warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum). Since it was bustling in the reed, I suspect it was the first one, but I can’t be sure.

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Common snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

     A snipe was singing from a dead tree. It looked like a Common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), but I was not totally convinced it was not a Great snipe (Gallinago media). However, when I was in the birdwatching tower, a bird landed on the rail, showing me its white belly. It was a Common snipe, a few meters from me, and it started to sing as if it was completely alone. It left after I got nice shots of it. In the water below were many ducks, gulls, Grey herons (Ardea cinerea) and Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia).

Further on in the reserve, the path turns into a duckboard trail,
between the forest and the meadows by the seashore. Although the fields were not very lively, many passerines were active in the trees. Lesser whitethroat (Sylvia curruca), Great tit (Parus major), Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Blackbird (Turdus merula) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), but above all, I saw for the first time the Common rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus). The first individual I glimpsed was unusual, with a grey-brownish cap, whereas in my book it was supposed to be red. Later, I saw a pair or normal individuals, so I was able to mark the tick. I finally saw the unusual individual again, and noticed that it was singing exactly as the ones before, so I suppose it was a rosefinch.

Great tit (Parus major)

Great tit (Parus major)

It was a great last morning in Finland (although I’m coming back for a few days in early August). The end of the day did not prove disappointing either, with a fantastic show from Gojira at The Circus. What a day…

Goodbye Finland!

The pictures can be seen in my gallery Wildlife