My spring in Suomenoja

Beware, this is a long story. This is the tale of a known place discovered again, explored and enjoyed in new ways. I’m flying today to Lapland and Varanger, for two weeks of birding and photography. Talk to you soon!

I discovered Suomenoja when I was still a student in Helsinki, three years ago. I actually do not remember how I came to know about this pond, but I was amazed by the quantity of birds, and the proximity with the exciting Horned grebe (Podiceps auritus). I was so enthusiastic I wrote a “Focus” article about this species… before you click here, be warned: I was a very early beginner at bird photography, so the photos you will see there are, well… not up to the standards I keep nowadays, let’s say.

I went again last spring, but only once: it’s a bit far from where I live (1 hour, bus or bike). In addition, I wasn’t very comfortable with the shooting method I should employ. You see, in bird photography, eye-level shooting is often primordial, to ensure connection between subject and viewer. Problem: all the target birds in Suomenoja (grebes and ducks, essentially) are waterfowl, so they glide on water, and unfortunately, water is often at a lower level than ground. There’s no way to shoot standing: one should go on their belly, close to the water’s edge, but even that’s not enough. The ideal, and that’s something I’ve dreamt about, is a floating hide, to go into the pond and have the camera just above the surface. I’m not equipped for that (yet), so the shore would have to be.

Northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata)

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Among the reeds

In the end of February, Bearded reedlings (Panurus biarmicus) were all the rage on Finnish nature social pages. Wherever I looked, I saw loads of pictures of these adorable buggers. Naturally, I wanted to make my own images, especially since I didn’t have any of that specific species at the time.

When I noticed my friend Mika had seen and shot them twice in Espoo, I asked him for some info. I had been to Laajalahti once, but hadn’t managed to spot any reedling. This time, though, the hottest place was Kaitalahti, much further west, and several sightings had been reported to Tiira, the Finnish bird sighting database. On a Saturday morning, I embarked on an epic bus trip through the second most populated municipality of Finland. One hour and forty minutes later, I was carefully treading my path over an icy road.

Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus)

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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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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