Your favourite snooker commentator is back, reciting stuff off Wikipedia over an epic battle between a tubby little Badger and a camcorder, all of which was played out in front of some bemused Norwegians, a very patient Finn namely Aulikki and my globetrotting chum the Mauve Hawk.
This was the penultimate leg of our Scandi adventure, the filling in our 2017 Finnish sandwich if you will, Norway...well, the Varanger Peninsula in N/E Norway to be precise which is around about...
Here's me sneaking up on a mountain to get a shot.
And here's me looking bloody heroic on a boat.
Ain't NO party like a Moomin Party!!!
Actually the above turned in to a bit of a full on vodka session which come the morning, resulted
in missing wallets, optics and Moomin... and they look so innocent.
Scanning the sea between Vardo and the islands of Hornoya and Reinoya for Steller's Eider...
There were a few around but we couldn't find them.
Unexpected Pallid Harrier.
Singing Bluethroat courtesy of the Mauve Hawk.
Andy scanning the horizon for the little shit bag that pinched our wallets.
This part of northern Europe is as remote as it is beautiful and I certainly plan to return at some point.
My thanks as always to my friend, guide and 'fixer' Aulikki and Andy for his logistic prowess and near boundless enthusiasm and of course to Mrs Badger for her endless support.
Rough-legged Buzzard courtesy of the Mauve Hawk.
It was on the last evening that I walked down to the small quay in Ekkeroy and spent some time watching Arctic Skuas chasing Kittiwakes over the Varanger Fjord all played out against the distant backdrop of northern Russia.
The perfect isolation (to coin a phrase) combined with the eerie quiet of the dull lit small hours,
formed an epiphany, that this moment stood here, an inconsequential speck within the timespan of
this scene, that these trips are as much about the experiences as they are about the wildlife.
Over the years there had been talk...
Talk from within the county's hides and upon the very reserves they look out over.
It came from dark corners of the city's taverns and the back rooms of Indian restaurants.
The whispers were of Finnish birds and of the 24 hours of summer daylight that is
available in which to discover them.
And the whispers grew louder...
Off to Finland we go!!!
the logistics of planning and implementing a successful trip is usually heavily reliant upon a number of factors, namely online trip reports, guide books and Gosney dvd's. Much better than all of this, we were fortunate to have our very own tour guide/interpreter/fixer in the shape of Oxons much loved and respected tame Fin and honouree Moomin, Aulikki.
After several 'logistics' meetings at the Broad Face pub in Abingdon, our route through Finland was decided. We would spend the first few days near Helsinki staying at the home of some of Aulikki's
friends, whose hospitality was unrivalled. We would then bird in the capital and surrounding
sites guided by Aulikki's nephew and birding protégé Heikki whose patience and expertise was
very much welcomed and appreciated.
Myself, Andy and Aulikki would continue our jorney northwards skirting the wetlands to the
east before spending some time in northern Finland within the Kuusamo region. We were then to enter the Arctic Circle before crossing the boarder and heading on in to Norway, the second leg
of our Scandi adventure.
Our spacious cabin in the woods and base whilst in Kuussamo.
The view from the cabin with a wild Aulikki captured in her natural habitat.
There are few places I have been to that are truly quiet, and when I say quiet, I mean silent.
No distant rumble of traffic, no planes, nothing but pin dropping, epiphany inspiring,
deafening exquisite silence, the spell was only to be broken by bird song.
To be able to immerse ourselves within this world was enchanting, these ancient forests in fitful dormancy, awaiting the softening of spring to envelop the rawness of winter.
The Siberian Jays would visit us at the cabin most days, their inquisitive demeaner and relative tameness would suggest that the studying was mutual.
In recent years these birds have adopted bananas in to their diet, high energy tit bits bestowed from successive benevolent hikers -unfortunately it would seem that our pair had yet to meet such well meaning fruit baring ramblers.
Scandi Andy on the Bluetail trail.
Our adjacent lake would often host Goosander and Smew whilst several of the larger nearby lakes
would be home to Red-necked Grebes and Velvet Scoter. Further afield these waters were adorned
with deco-esq Black-throated Divers, straight lines and symmetry both above and below mirrored liquid skies.
Redundant Russian lookout towering over the eastern border.
Sitting almost equi-distance between Kuusamo and the Norwegian border was the roadside café
at Kaamanen, a nondescript building which not only provided a welcome stop off point on the journey but whose well stocked bird tables regularly attracted Pine Grosbeaks.
Pine Grosbeak Gallery:
These pastel, song thrush sized birds, are as beguiling as they were sporadic in their appearances
at the tables. The supporting cast of Brambling (finches decorated in colours nature usually consigns for creatures carrying venom) filled the spaces between the star attractions as did the Willow Tits which are of noticeably paler plumage than their U.K counterparts.
Taken on my mobile through the glass while munching chips (me not the Grosbeak).
All bird photographs courtesy of The Mauve Hawk.
Birding in Finland:
I hope to have captured the atmosphere and birding experiences during our time in some
of the most remote and beautiful parts of northern Europe and more importantly I hope you enjoy it.
Please view at 1080p50 HD
Barnacle Geese (predominately large feral flocks)
European Golden Plover
Barred Warblers have always held a certain allure over me, I'm not sure why exactly after all,
the majority of Barred Warblers we see in the U.K are drab grey first year birds.
I have been fortunate enough to have seen several Barred Warblers over the years mainly
along the east coast in the autumn, but also on the Greek island of Lesvos in the spring, I even managed to find my own, one October on St Agnes Isles of Scilly.
The one thing that all of my experiences with this chunky Warbler have had in common, is that they have been skulky and difficult birds to see for any length of time, so when word and photos of an
uncharacteristic showy bird at Titchfield Haven in nearby Hampshire arose from the cyber ether, a fiendish plan was hatched...
Apparently not that fiendish it would seem as several others from gods own county had also snuck off down the A34 for a peek at Sylv-zilla.
From left to right: Mauve Hawk, Tezzer, Anne Truby, Old Caley, Jim Hutchins.
With such incredible views of the star attraction early on, we were keen to make the most of our day in Hampshire, with Pennington Marshes a clear favourite in the list of birding options.
Thursday 12th dawned and found myself and mrs Badger plus the mutt excitedly on our way down to Kernow to spend a week with my auntie, uncle and mrs Badgers parents.
All was well as we circumnavigated the various roads and juggernauts and partaking in what has now become the tradition of The Sedgemoor services with all of its pastoral delights (see below).
Wholemeal vegetarian? Oh yes please sir!!
Cornwall in October can also be rather good for the old bird spotting game and I was very much looking forward to visiting those enchanted little valleys at the very end of Britain in search of
kinetic dancing sprites and feathered waifs.
I would also plan a few trips to the Hayle Estuary near St Ives to optically needle my way through
the throngs of wildfowl, waders and long-legged beasties that inhabit, albeit temporarily, these tidal mudflats at this time of year.
I would also hope to rekindle my love of surfing and get back on the board after all of these years
and catch a few waves.
Well this was my plan...
Cornish mizzle at Hayle.
A weekend of rest and relaxation spent within the family bosom would include time together and
enjoying the spectacle of Floki's (the newest addition to the gang) first time on the beach.
I had visions of a joyous mutt running in slow motion along the shoreline, the Black Beauty theme
tune playing in my head as I looked on all misty eyed with quivering lip and bursting pride...
This all came crashing down around me when news of a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush in Wales found me, and I had to explain to the mutt why the greatest event in dog and mans history had to end,
to be fair, man's best friend took it better than man's wife.
A30... M5... M49... M4... Sat Nav.
So having recently made most of this journey from Abingdon to Cornwall a day or two previously,
Saturdays 5am alarm duly bellowed like the evil timekeeping nazi it is, and under the cover of darkness I slipped out of the driveway like a thief in the night, the journey to the Brecon Beacons had commenced...
The nearly Severn (pound) crossing.
My journey took me up increasingly narrowing and winding roads through grey and damp scenery
before a congratulatory "you have arrived at your destination" recorded voice snapped me from my cosy and drifting solitude.
I had arranged to meet Elimenterry and the Mauve Hawk on site and eventually I found them on a hillside gazing longingly in to an empty quarry.
Mauve Hawk all chillaxed and sh*t whilst captain foreground hits the crack pipe.
I had surmised that the bird hadn't shown itself for some time due to the general milling around, any sort of milling, not only general, is never a good sign at a twitch, but people running, well that's usually a very good sign and true to form resulted in a scopeful of Rock Thrush.
(Thanks to Terry & Andy for the photos).
Rock Thrush (big) BOOM.
Rock Thrush (small) BOOM.
Rock Thrush (on twig) BOOM.
Rock Thrush on a Rock hahahahahaha K-K-BOOM!!!
wObBLy bit of video of the star bird please view at 1080p HD ish.
This was the first time I had seen this attractive Thrush in the U.K and only the second time I had ever seen one, the first was a female on Lesvos in 2016. Rufous-tailed Rock Trush (to give it its full name) are usually seen... this is where I would normally copy info verbatim from a handy guidebook or website, it would imply a near encyclopedic knowledge of European birds and I'd sound like a top bird spotter, but we're all adults here so over to you Mr Collins.
Whilst watching the bird, familiar voices started to filter through, familiar voices from Oxfordshire.
It seems that the slim ornithological pickings currently available in our county had driven a small band of desperado's to leave in search of birds, any birds.
Oz and Steve.
Living in a county so far from the coast means Oxfordshire doesn't get many rares, and geographical limitations combined with a seeming inability to manage water levels on a few of our key nature reserves within the county, sees birders running to the hills.
From left to right: Stuart Thomson, Terry Sherlock, Jon Uren, Andy Last, Steve Roby, Steve Heath, and me.
As seen in this picture, Steve still has his electronic tags on but was willing to risk going 'back inside' for the
chance to look at a bird.
So after saying my goodbyes to my birding chums, eleven a.m saw me retrace my journey, and three and a half hours later I was back in Cornwall in time for tea and medals.
Cornwall was on the whole pretty quiet for the remainder of the week with the much anticipated tail end of hurricane Ophelia bringing 80mph winds to the south west but little else.
It was even a little too wild to get the wet suit on and hit the surf at Newquay.
The Coastguards Cottages at Porthgwarra
This Short-toed Lark near Sennen was nice to see (photo taken by Darren Underhill)
I was delighted to meet up with Mr & Mrs Old Caley a.k.a Nick and Anne Truby one morning at Kenidjack to explore this delightful little valley on the edge of St Just.
Hawfinch courtesy of Nick Truby
It wasn't long until we managed a view of one of the three Hawfinch that had set up residence and were part of a larger influx from the continent.
Read more about Nick & Annes Cornish trip in due course on the fantastic Old Caley's Diary
The man the legend Old Caley in his favoured habitat.
Although the species number was fairly low October 2017 will be very fondly remembered for the
many Firecrests present they were seemingly everywhere.
Firecrest above and below courtesy of Nick Truby
Evocative calls from iconic birds...Cornish Choughs courtesy of Old Caley.
This Spoonbill was at the Hayle Estuary on the RSPBs Ryan's Field.
So another wonderful trip in October birding the valleys and estuaries and spending time
with family and friends, always different, always wonderful, thank you Cornwall.