Finnish word of the day: järvi = lake
Last week, I went birdwatching around Hämeenlinna, a town situated approximately one hour of driving north of Helsinki. The bus left the capital at 06.15, arriving at a comfortable 07.30. There, I met Karri, a birder from the region I had met on BirdingPal; even though July is a very quiet period in the region, he offered me to visit a few birding spots, an offer I quickly accepted, as you might guess 😉
Until 3 in the afternoon, we toured the region, watching lakes, rivers and forests in quest for birds. It’s interesting to note that there are many bird towers there, and we used them extensively, especially in the morning. I have made a map that shows our peregrinations, with the car parks and the towers, click here.
Our first objective was Katumajärvi. Located next to the town, it is used for leisure activities and is surrounded by buildings, but one part of the shore has been preserved by a keen landowner, who asked the birdwatching association to build a bird tower. The reedbed we crossed was still wet from the night’s condensation, but the sun was shining. In the trees, a Wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) sang, but we never managed to see it. Karri is very knowledgeable about bird voices, and he spotted Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) before we could even see them. I listened to him carefully, trying to remember all this information. On the lake, gulls rested on some rocks, soon to be joined by a lone Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus).
The Whooper swan is the official bird of Finland, it’s featured on the Finnish one-euro coin. A winter visitor in Denmark (I’ve seen it in Staunings Ø or Vestamager, for instance), it is rather common here, and aggressive: Karri told me that, when the local pair of Whooper swan would fly to the lake, the brave Mute swans (Cygnus olor, national bird of… Denmark!) who had ventured in the area could be seen flying away, fleeing the menace. In recent years, the Whooper swans have increased in numbers. They mostly live on lakes, while the Mute swan favors open waters; baby Mute swans take so long to grow up that they can’t be raised on waters that freeze durably during winter; that is not the case of Whooper swans, which are therefore present in more northern latitude than their more common (globally, not in Finland) cousins.
The second spot was Hattelmalanjärvi, to the west of Hämeenlinna. Before reaching the bird tower, we crossed a small forest, looking for squirrels and woodpeckers. From his phone, Karri broadcast bird recordings he had made, trying to attract Goldcrests (Regulus regulus), Greenish warblers (Phylloscopus trochiloides) and Hazel grouses (Tetrastes bonasia), but we only saw the Goldcrest, with some Coal tits (Periparus ater).
The lake produced Red-necked grebes (Podiceps grisegena), Coots with kids (Fulica atra) and several noisy Common terns (Sterna hirundo). In the bush behind us, a Common chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) wandered while we ate the chocolate cake I had made the day before.
As we were about to leave, an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) appeared, and displayed a wonderful fishing show, flying low over the water and suddenly dropping, then taking off again and repeating. It was not successful, and ended up ousted by the terns. Karri had brought two scopes; it was extraordinary to follow this bird with them.
The third place was my favourite for the day, but not the easiest to access: we took the wrong path, and ended up going through the forest, sometimes walking in the mud, sometimes going over fallen trees… I got a long cut on the leg, but eventually we managed to reach the tower that overlooks the river Toivanjoki. The scenery was gorgeous, the sun quickly dried my wet and muddy feet, and a pair of Common cranes (Grus grus) walked in the fields, noisily trumpetting for a moment before calming down.
We stayed there for some time, and saw a Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo) hunting insects, a Western marsh harrier (Circus aeroginosus) and finally a European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus). Again, a Wood warbler sang, and again, we did not see it.
Then, we visited Röyhynsuo, an area where peat is extracted from the soil. One part was flooded, and a bird tower built for birders to enjoy. Before we even reached it, two Ospreys circling in the sky forced us to stop and watch. Standing in the tower was not very comfortable, as the sun struck us directly; the heat was barely bearable, and we didn’t stay long. I had time to meet a nasty beast though, the elk fly. A fly, basically, except slapping it doesn’t produce any tangible result: you need to crush it with your nail to kill this tough insect. It can stay in your hair and survive a shower, or in the pockets of your jeans and survive a laundry… charming, isn’t it?
To conclude this good day, Karri drove us to some small lakes lost in the forest, around Tuulos. I confess sleeping a bit in the car; the drive was long, and although I’m used to getting up early for birds, I usually don’t spend long in the bus. This drive had a soporific effect on me, but I woke up easily when Karri talked about Red-throated divers (Gavia stellata). They breed in small ponds lost in the forest, but it still took us a few minutes to spot the young diver that occupied this one. The parents were probably feeding on a larger lake, they would come back during the night to take care of the chick.
After that, we surveyed some more forest areas, but apart from a Willow tit (Poecile montanus) attracted by Karri’s phone, we didn’t see anything special, and we drove back to Hämeenlinna. In the bus, I fell asleep again…