Monday 20 June 2016

Chlorantha Bee Orchids

I've been wanting to see the beautiful white form of Bee Orchid - chlorantha - for some time, and they really didn't disappoint. At least seven seen, along with three 'normal' Bees, at a site to the south of Norwich at the weekend, the chlorantha including a particularly robust specimen which towered well above all others in the vicinity.

And, just for the sake of comparison here's a regular, run-of-the-mill Bee from the North Norfolk coast a little later in the day.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Great Knot at Titchwell

Absolutely brilliant scope views on Titchwell beach - so, so much better than the Breydon bird. If this bird hangs about, someone with a big lens is going to blow it away. I had views down to about 50m and could have got far closer; some of the Knot were half that distance from me. Unfortunately the tide pushed it off before that could happen - my feeble efforts with the 400mm lens below:

Thursday 16 June 2016

Brown Bears in Finland

One of the aspects of our Finland trip that I was looking forward to most was a night in a hide on the Russian border, from which our primary hope was to see Brown Bears. Late May isn't the best time to see these beasts as it's the mating season, but the chance of sightings nevertheless remains high. We enjoyed two encounters during the night - the first of which was by far the most memorable. Quite early on (around 20:00) a nervous-looking female tentatively made her way through the bog, her hesitation becoming clear when three tiny cubs appeared around her feet. They were on show for about 10 minutes before disappearing off in to the forest towards Russia, but not before I'd taken several hundred images. Our second sighting came in the twilight at about 01:00 - a brief male that lingered only for a matter of seconds.

There was plenty to see from the hide while waiting for the bears, including at least three White-tailed Eagles and displaying waders such as Spotted Redshank and Wood Sandpiper. A handful of supremely elegant Baltic Gulls also popped in and out.

adult Baltic Gull 

Spotted Redshank in breeding finery

Calypso Orchids at Oulanka NP

Calypso bulbosa is arguably the most stunning of all Europe's orchids. Known more widely as the Fairy Slipper or Calypso Orchid, the flowering plant is a perfect design of nature. Exhibiting one or two rounded green leaves at the base a deep red stem that reaches heights of around 15cm, its appearance is one of uncluttered simplicity. This ensures that the plant's crowning glory, its sole pinkish-purple flower, enjoys undivided attention.

It's impossible not to admire this species in full fettle. It is a genuine work of art - delicate, intricate and exotic, the amazing flower of Calypso bulbosa looks like it belongs in the tropics rather than the taiga - yet it thrives in Finland's boreal forests.

At 66 degrees north, among the decaying pine needles that litter the forest floor of Oulanka National Park, excellent numbers of flowering Calypso Orchids can be found in late May and June. We were fortunate to find several tens of this spectacular species about a kilometre east of the visitor centre, some right by the main path - many thanks to the help and expertise of Sean Cole, who was back home in the UK at the time.. Here are a few photos.

Siberian Tit

After having had pretty poor views of this species on the Ural Ridge west of Severouralsk, Russia, it was nice to watch a pair attending a nest box near Kuusamo on our final morning in Finland. A few shots below.

Siberian Jay

I was previously quite surprised that we didn't see Siberian Jay on our trip to the Urals in June 2014. Having spent days walking around seemingly perfect habitat up on the Ural Ridge, and having recorded other tricky species such as Siberian Tit during that time, it seemed unfortunate that we'd not seen any. However no other team has yet recorded the jay there and having now seen how inconspicuous the species can be in the summer months, I take the surprise back!

We were in the fortunate position to be taken to see what may well be the most southerly pair of Siberian Jays in Finland (or at least the most southerly known pair), not far from Parikkala. I knew this species was tame, but I wasn't expect them to respond to whistling and subsequently exhibit such a soft spot for cheese that they'd happily take it from the hand! Given that I was keener to actually feed the jays myself, I didn't manage any decent shots of them at this site. Had we not been shown them in an entirely innocuous looking patch of forest, we'd never have known they were there and would undoubtedly have driven straight past - a fine example of the 'needle in a haystack' situation when searching for boreal specialities in Finland, and illustrating why local knowledge is essential in these endless forests.

Hannu Siitonen, Olympic javelin silver medallist at Montreal 1976, feeds one of the Parikkala jays

Siberian Jay, Parikkala

Further north we encountered a family of confiding Siberian Jays at Valtavaara, at the traditional Konttainen layby site. Though they didn't succumb to the lure of cheese like the pair at Parikkala did, they were fantastically showy and afforded great photo opportunities.

Finland's owls

One of the main attractions for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers visiting Finland is the range of boreal owls that can be seen in the country. In late spring and early summer these birds are breeding, which makes locating them a difficult task. Although it's possible to locate some of the more conspicuous species with a lot of luck and graft, using a local guide is the most sensible option as others such as Great Grey and Tengmalms are otherwise more or less impossible to see. We were indebted to Harri Hölttä for his help in seeing Ural, Tengmalm's and Great Grey Owls around Joensuu; further north we were fortunate enough to locate our own Pygmy and Hawk Owls.

Ural Owl
Single birds seen at two different nestboxes around Joensuu.

Great Grey Owl
Two nests visited (Parikkala and Joensuu), both revealing little more than the head of their respective occupants.

Tengmalm's Owl
A single individual at a nest box west of Joensuu.

Pygmy Owl
A vocal bird showed well to the south of Kajaani in the early hours of 25th.

Hawk Owl
Single individuals seen at two sites to the south of Taivalkoski, one of which proved extremely confiding.

Finland trip

In late May I spent a hugely enjoyable six days in Finland with Rob and Dan Pointon. Happily we cleaned up on all our target birds (seven WP ticks for me plus lots of quality) without any huge difficulties - largely thanks to our guide, Harri Hölttä, and the patience of Jände Nordblad, Mika Bruun  and Kari Haataja among others when it came to our persistent requests for gen. Thanks guys.

Now that I've been through all of my images it's my intention to blog a series of photo-heavy posts in the coming days. I suspect a trip report of sorts will follow but as a quite a lot of gen for this trip is sensitive to varying extents, it might be a bit vaguer than usual. In the meantime, here's some scenery.

South of Parikkala

Woods around Joensuu

Typical Finnish scene