2 Jun 2016

2 Jun 16 - You Don't Have To Be Mad To Live Here, But It Helps

Only a few hours sleep again, before the alarm went at 01:45 for an early breakfast. The bags we quickly packing the bags into the car as we weren't going to have time to return to the chalet after the Finnature tour finished. We were first to the meeting point in Kuusamo, with the other three punters appearing a few minutes later & finally our guide, Olli, appeared just after 03:00. After a quick discussion on key species, we were heading off to cruise a few roads on the edge of Kuusamo in the hope of Hazelhen. But again, we were unlucky. Next on the list was Willow Grouse, the continental versions of the UK Red Grouse. We pulled up on a road just outside of the town, with five metre high Conifers & Birch trees on either side. It looked completely wrong for a Red Grouse cousin. But Olli played a tape & almost immediately a Willow Grouse came bounding out of the trees & landed on the road. Why couldn't a Hazelhen have been so obliging.
Red (Willow) Grouse: Unlike our Red Grouse subspecies which stay brown all year, Willow Grouse have a brown & white plumage in the summer & turn all white with just a red eyebrow in winter
It was still quite distant & so Olli said he would play the tape again as it had yet to do its party trick.
Red (Willow) Grouse: An out of focus photo after it had flown past us which shows how much white they retain in the summer 
Red (Willow) Grouse: It quickly responded to the tape & then decided on the obvious place to land for its party piece of sitting on top of a lamp post: I had though he was taking the piss when he said that's where it likes to perch
Red (Willow) Grouse: In the early morning sunshine
We had to push on. The next stop was a Black Grouse lek, where they come out of the forests to an open grassy field. It was possible to park on a side road next to this field. It is difficult to call it a lek on this occasion, as we only saw one male in the field & another briefly flying around the distance trees. But I guess we were late in the season.
Black Grouse: The views weren't close, but given it's a species we had all seen on various occasions in the UK, we weren't too bothered at the views
We carried on & the next stop was a ski centre. Olli said there were a number of cross-country skiing tracks & we were heading along the start of one of the tracks for his next target species.
The ski centre
Me at the ski centre: Modelling the latest must have clothing range
The ski centre: Andy, Edge & Simon: the Southampton boys
The ski centre: There was some good forest in the area
The ski centre: There was some good forest in the area
After walking for a few minutes up one of the tracks, Olli took off the main track & told us to wait. He then picked up a pine branch off the ground & headed over a small ridge with a running commentary. A minute or two later he reappeared with a male Capercaillie following him. The branch was to protect him from the Capercaillie, whilst not hurting the Capercaillie. He then stepped back out of its territory & the Capercaillie continued to walk up & down in front of us, call regularly & occasionally trying to attack Olli (hence the pine branch). He later explained that this was a well-known & well-liked male Capercaillie which lived close to one of the cross-country ski routes. It was well-used to people & despite regularly harassing the cross-country skiers, they had no wish to harm it. At this time of year, it probably had regular visits from Olli to show his punters. Fortunately, there isn't the same problem here, as has occurred on a number of occasions in Scotland where dog owners have failed to control their dogs & the dogs have attacked & killed Capercaillies. This behaviour by Olli would be clearly be illegal in Scotland where Capercaillie numbers are declining, but Capercaillies are a common species in Finland & they are hunted in the early winter.
Capercaillie: Male. Uncropped
Capercaillie: Male
Capercaillie: Another uncropped photo of this totally stunning, but crazy male
Capercaillie: A final uncropped photo
After a few minutes, we decided to leave the Capercaillie in peace & victory, until the next Finnature tour. We carried along the main footpath to a viewpoint over the forest. We did see a Red-flanked Bluetail singing from one of the tops of the pine, but far too far away for any photos.
Waxwing: While we were looking for the Red-flanked Bluetail, our only Waxwings flew over & briefly settled near to where we were standing
One of the key species we were keen to see was Siberian Jay, as we had failed to find that ourselves on the previous afternoon. Fortunately, a small party of Siberian Jays appeared to make up for our dip the previous day.
Siberian Jay: We had good views of three individuals, but this was the best photo I managed to take
Black Woodpecker: This was the only photo before it flew & disappeared out of sight
It was only 06:30 in the morning & I was already feeling tired. However, we had several more hours of Birding left before our guided tour was over. I'll cover the rest of the species in the next Blog Post.