More sounds of spring

Since the days are really hectic this time of year it takes ages to get my recordings processed – even superficially. Therefore the following sounds now presented are from Sunday, April 11th. They are brought to you by a cool new feature on Xeno-canto.

It was a typical warm April day in a sense that on a windy site by the seashore it was freezing cold and on a sunny and sheltered location I could take my jacket and wool cap off. Something I’ve wanted to record ever since I got my gear is a "concert" of thrushes. These concerts can be heard in early spring and the songsters can include Fieldfares, Redwings or both. I believe that the flocks giving these concerts can be on migration and they may move on further north later on, but obviously I can’t be sure of that. The purpose of this behaviour is unknown to me, so far I haven’t done any research. Maybe the whole thing is explained in literature, I don’t know. My approach to it is one of an aesthetic – not scientist. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that this isn’t territorial song. Obviously. After all, it’s a flock of birds that aren’t dispersed on their individual territories. This recording was recorded on a sunny and sheltered location by a small field. I had taken my jacket and wool cap off. The first butterflies of the spring were flying. The recording includes a flock of both Fieldfares and Redwings singing frantically, that’s what it sounds like anyway.

The other recording from the same day is of a single Common Crane that landed in front of me on a flooded field as I was watching a very pale Common Buzzard. I wanted to put it here because I’ve always felt that Crane’s calls are really strong in creating ambiances. And that is something I like.

Sunday soundscape

On Sunday I took off pretty damn early for my birding/recording -trip. But due to the long drive I still missed the dawn, I was still in the car when the sun came up. At the first site I stopped at I mounted my mic on a tripod without the parabolic reflector, hit record and walked away to drink a cup of coffee. This was at 7 am. After a half an hour I came back to hit the stop -button.

Click the link below to hear a three minute clip of what it sounded like in Bromarv in Raasepori that morning. It’s a cut from the middle of the recording. It hasn’t been altered in any way. Size of the file is about 2,5 mb.

Car park twitch

Crested Lark is a species that has a tendency of turning up in not-so-picturesque locations. When it decides to visit Finland that is. Abroad on their breeding areas they frequent more normal lark habitats. So, when there was a report on an early Skylark in Vantaa that was hanging around by the main entrance of a big shopping mall, at least one person was smart enough to go check if it was actually a Crested Lark. It was. On hindsight, I’m sure, many birders thought to themselves: "Of course it’s a Crested Lark if it’s at a place like that!" Myself included.

On thursday afternoon I got a call. Do I wanna go see a Crested Lark? OK, I said. I’m not very good at saying no. There were also two other questions. Do I have a car? Do I have binoculars? Yes to both. So, half an hour later I’m on my way going twitching with a poorly equipped fellow birder. I had never been to Jumbo (the name of the mall) let alone it’s car park. But now I was truly getting familiar with the place, as we drove around on the upper deck of the complex. Everyone else (everyone sensible) had parked on the lower levels.

Eventually we saw a familiar figure in a far corner. We drive closer. He waves us to halt and points ahead. It’s a bit hard to understand why. All we see is snow. He keeps on pointing and we finally get it. We jump out and walk to him. And there it is, inside an empty shopping trolley shelter. We get to watch it from a few meters distance. After a while it grows restless and takes to its wings. The twitchers that arrive later end up chasing it a lot more than we did as it changes place.

Before I leave, I buy a bag of millet seed and sprinkle some on the car park’s upper deck. By the main entrance where it was sometimes seen pecking the ground there seemed to be little more than cigarette butts.

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Postcard from Finland

Now that day and night are equally long (sunrise 6:29, sunset 18:29) in Helsinki, it’s a good time to wake from winter’s slumber.

This winter has been absolutely fantastic for someone like me, who likes it when winters are cold and snowy. A kind of a stereotype of "winter in Finland." They haven’t been like this for a few years now. Maybe for a couple of weeks at a time, but not like this winter. We’ve had it white and beautiful from December thru March. Without snow on the ground winter is dark and depressing.

Mind you, this winter hasn’t been as favourable for owls as it has for us snow enthusiasts. The massive vole populations of last year have pretty much crashed, as they tend to after a sharp peak. In the autumn there were huge numbers of owls on the move, because of excellent breeding success. Even here on the south coast all of our breeding owl species could be seen (Snowy Owl being an exception). Some of them were also easily heard, like Pygmy-owls – it was a species impossible to miss if one was out and about in a forest at dawn when they call. But that was autumn. Winter hasn’t exactly been kind on the owls, they’ve been starving. Many species have been seen during daytime, which is a good thing for the photographers only and not for the owls themselves. Many have been found dead (not the photographers, they’ve survived quite well, due to the thick layers of fat they’ve been able to accumulate on their waists). One Tengmalm’s Owl was actually photographed, as it fell down from a perch exhausted, it apparently died soon after, despite attempts to save it by feeding.

In my local area at least one Hawk Owl has survived the winter and the Eagle Owls that breed in downtown Helsinki (I can hear one calling on some nights to my home) are going strong. Pygmy Owls are capable of hunting birds, so they’re not that dependent on voles. But for Tawny Owls it’s a different story. I checked the previous week’s (7 days back counting from today) sightings on my local area. Of the eleven (11) reports of Tawny Owls four (4) concerned dead individuals. The days are already getting warm, and the surface of snow melts a little. At night it’s still well below freezing so the wet snow freezes and forms a hard crust on the snow. You can almost walk on it, it’s so hard. This is good for the voles under the protective snow cover, but very bad for a Tawny Owl hoping to catch one.

On a more positive note, the conditions for cross-country skiing are fantastic. So that’s what I did on the weekend. Pretty soon it won’t be possible anymore.


Best means of transport in these conditions. Without’em you sink waist deep.

I podcast (with a little help from my friends)

It didn’t take too long to get advice on how to get this podcasting -business to work. Thanks a lot to Andy for the advice!

So, being a fledling sound recordist I decided to publish one of my very first succesful recordings. Yes, I’m actually so new to this recording stuff that when an internationally acclaimed finnish pro-birder and a fellow sound recordist heard when I started he said: "It’ll take two years until you’ll get your first good recordings." I wish.

This autumn I spent a half a dozen evenings at Vanhankaupunginlahti -bay (the birding hotspot in Helsinki) listening to Bitterns as they take off from the reedbeds. They call actively in flight as they fly around over the bay. In August I heard the first calls about an hour after sunset, so it wasn’t completely dark yet. It is so dark however that the call is the best giveaway and the way to initially find them. After hearing the call it’s often possible to also see the birds in flight. Some nights it seems that they just take off from the reedbeds and head south on migration. At least by listening to their calls I’ve gotten that impression. My theory is that they use the bay as a migration stopover -site and that quite a few Bitterns move through the area during one season from August to October.

So, on August 22nd I was there with my microphone and recorder. I heard at least two but maybe even four or five different Bitterns. One of them flew over me and circled quite low inspecting a curious figure with a plastic satellite -dish in hand. Time was 22:22. At that moment I was alone with the bird hovering above. About a mile away there was a music festival going on. The Flow Festival. Performing were the legendary pioneers of electronic music: Kraftwerk. So, on the recording as background noise you can hear (in addition to the Barnacle Geese that spend the night on the bay) Kraftwerk performing live. Enjoy!

Bullfinches (now with sound)

This post is mostly a test of publishing bird sounds on my blog. First time ever. I’m using the podcast -function and I haven’t the faintest idea how it works. So here goes.

The recording you will hopefully be able to listen to features a small group of Bullfinches calling from a group of trees. First off quieter sounds and then louder ‘trumpeting’ sounds – they possibly got exited due to my presence. Yes you got it – they are what have become known as trumpeting bullfinches. Although I must confess that because I don’t know of an exact definition to the term ‘trumpeting bullfinch’ I can’t be completely sure…

Anyway, these guys (both males and females involved) were recorded on the bird observatory -island of Rönnskär in the Gulf of Finland on October 20th. They are a truly finnish phenomenon since they are calling next to the islands’ sauna. In Britain they might cause a lot more excitement but at least this autumn in Finland they weren’t rare – at least I heard plenty of them.

Oh heck! This probably won’t work so here’s a link to the clip on Tarsiger.com.

Bittern

The dry ones seem to defy gravity as they slowly float down towards the ground. Some glide down in long swoops ending up far from where they left the tree. Some come down in a spiralling motion. The wet ones fall strait down. If the wind is still, you can hear them parting with the branch and the bustling sound as they hit the lower ones in the tree-top on their way towards the ground. The sound they make as they hit the green and lush grass resonates with your soul. Some are red, maples have yellow-ones, alders don’t care about drama and let them go while still green. Autumn leaves.

I waded through a thick carpet of yellow maple-ones on my way towards the Lake. There were plenty of Coots and Wigeons. Among the flocks of the more common waterbirds there were ten Smews, driven south by the cold weathers in the north. I combed through the flocks floating further on the other side of the lake in hope of something special – there were a few Pintails and a small group of Grey Herons on the opposite shore – when a peculiar sight made me stop turning the telescope. On the shore among the reeds there were vertical stripes of black and brown and on top of the stripes a dot – an eye! It was a Bittern. It was stretching itself straight and long and obviously enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. I watched it for a while preening itself, it was in no hurry to go anywhere and it was still standing in the same spot in the sunshine when I left driven away by the cold – for my side of the lake was in the shade.

Sunday, part three (caught a Red Kite again)

Now that next Sunday is about an hour away, I guess I better write the closing chapter of the slightly megalomaniac series on last Sunday’s birding trip. I’ve found out that some people actually read this, and I know some of those poor bastards have been waiting for… the story of the Red Kite.

The road is called highway 51. It’s got nothing to do with the lame nightclub Studio 51 (in Helsinki), which has nothing to do with the legendary Studio 54 of New York. A slight sidetrack, pardon me. We were heading East on the ol’ 51, practically homebound already. Luckily we decided to make one more stop in Inkoo and go watch out to sea in Kopparnäs. So we drive the small and winding road there and climb on top of the hill and I get comfortable and sit down and get my thermos out and prepare to pour me some of that coffee… when the cursed cell-phone beeps.

There’s a Red Kite heading West in Pikkala. This means that we’re to the Southwest from the bird and South from it’s route. So the thermos goes back in the backpack and the backpack goes back in the trunk of the car and we drive back to the 51. And sure enough, after about 30-40 minutes wait we’re on the route of a Red Kite (just like last spring). It comes from the North taking its time, over the road and then it heads West low over the large field we’re standing by. It seems to be in no hurry as it passes us at a distance of about 50-100 meters. It’s all red and black and white, long wings drooping down it flaps slowly ahead. It’s obvious it can fly – well.

By this time there’s already a small crowd of people present, everyone getting good views of the cool hawk. Even an internationally famous (notorious?) birder stops there, before driving to his nearby home to get a window-tick of the bird. When the bird is far to the West, we turn our backs to it and head East and home. And to get me some of that coffee.

And later, when people ask me: "You saw a Red Kite – again?!?" I say, "Yes."

Some photos can be seen at Tarsiger.com.

Sunday, part two (Grey-headed Woodpecker)

Driving back from Hanko, the city of Tammisaari was a natural place to stop. There were nice amounts (hundreds) of waterbirds of the early and common kind, such as Tufted Ducks, Goosanders and Goldneyes. Four Grey Herons flew past.

The next stop was Fagervik in Inkoo. Finding the wintering Dippers was easy. There were two of them and the other one was singing and the other one was just plain being one of the coolest birds there are. One minute it was flying low over the stream and the other floating like a cork amongst the white foam and then diving in the cold dark water and then popping up on a moss-covered rock pumping its body up and down. The little athlete. Great show! If there’s a fan-club for the Dipper, consider me a member. Dipper! We salute you!

After watching the Dippers for a while we whistled for Grey-headed Woodpecker. No response.

So we continued towards home. On the way there was a beautiful small lake and the view caught my eye in way that got the artist in me to wake up. A quick u-turn and a stop later I was out with my camera. Antto stayed behind on the road. So I photograph my heart out. At some point I hear a whistling similar to a Grey-headed Woodpecker. I remember thinking it must be Antto whistling. After a while Antto comes and asks if I heard it. I sure did. It turns out it’s the real thing.

We go get a closer look and get the woodpecker to come real close by whistling to it a few times. It’s real curious and seems confused because there’s no other woodpecker to be found where the sound came from, just two assholes on the ground with a green car. We get good views of it and after a while it gets fed up with us and flies away. Another good find on the same spot is a pair of Parrot Crossbills.

This is what I was photographing…

…when this started shouting.

Sunday, part one (The fog)

Last Sunday, before dawn, in the dark, we headed for Hanko. It got light along the way, and somewhere in Tammisaari it became clear that the weather wasn’t clear – this was one of those foggy days… Days that always seem to be on the weekend, and Monday through Friday when you’re sitting indoors doing your work whatever it may be, outside the sun is shining…

In Tammisaari on a certain field that gathers good numbers of geese and swans (often over a hundred) both spring and autumn, we found two – a pair of Whooper Swans. From somewhere among the mist a Lapwing shouted a few times. We continued towards Hanko.

In Hanko the fog made searching seabirds nearly impossible and the southerly wind made standing still by the shore pretty chilly. We was chillin’ … Respect!

Anywho, Hanko wasn’t at her finest. Sure, there were spring birds around. Some, like Skylarks in fairly good numbers as well. A pair of Greylag Geese were among the few species to fly to my yearlist. But still, it would have been nice to be able to see further out to sea. So, in the afternoon we headed back East.