When I came back from Hungary, I found Finland somewhat warmer (warmer than before, not warmer than Budapest). It was the month of May, which means the owl chicks had left the eggs. Therefore, the adults would be outside the nest, but close, guarding the area against unwanted guests. My friend Karri, who was my guide around Hämeenlinna the summer before, has a nesting box in his garden; he invited me to check it.
He picked me up at the bus station, but first took me to Ahvenisto. There’s a beach and a swimming pool there, and both were cramped in this warm afternoon (can I use the word “torrid”? There were more than twenty degrees!); there’s also a motor race circuit, but that’s not what we were interested in.
Ahvenisto has woods as well, and a small protected area, crossed by nature trails. We were looking for Greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) and Red-throated flycatcher (Ficedula parva), but we dipped badly, without even hearing one. Karri told me that, after this long winter, forests were unusually silent.
Like the previous summer, we checked Katumajärvi from the Honkalaranta bird tower, then we went to Karri’s house.
You see, Karri’s guests were not any owl (if such owl exist), they were Ural owls (Strix uralensis), the third bigger owl in Finland after the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) and the Great grey owl (Strix nebulosa).
We went close to the tree in which the box was set, but we didn’t hear anything. After walking a bit in the area, we finally heard it: ssshhhuuu, a strong, low, aggressive hooting came from the forest. The adult was there, and it was not happy to see us.
We backed up from the nest. I tried to track the adult in the forest, to take a few pictures. Luckily, it was sunny, so I had some light to work with. My task was hampered by two things: first, there were lots of branches in this forest! It was a challenge to find a clear line of sight; in the following picture, I tried to emphasize this aspect, by including a lot of messy twigs in the frame, even in front of the owl.
The other problem I had was that owls are silent flyers. To surprise their preys, they have some kind of down on their feathers, and you simply can’t hear them fly. So, if the owl decided to fly away while I was walking around, watching the ground very carefully (there were lots of branches on the ground too!), I would have no idea where it could have gone. It was an interesting chase!
After dinner, I relocated the big bird on the other side of the clearing, perched in a spruce, bathing in sunset light. The good thing with owls is that they are rather static. I had plenty of time to set up my tripod, focus manually using the Live view (the screen) and trigger with a delay to minimize vibrations.
In the evening, we went on a trip to listen to night birds. No Eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris) sung in Hauho, but the horizon, clear of any cloud, was beautiful. No wind troubled the serenity of the moment, and I fully enjoyed the first summer evening of the year. Karri was a bit disappointed, because there weren’t many birds, but I felt elated.