Sunday 9 December 2012

Fox Sparrow in Estonia

Late last Sunday, news filtered out of a Fox Sparrow at Haapsalu, Estonia - the third for the WP and the first for 51 years so with it lingering through the week, the trip was a bit of a no brainer with reasonable flight prices going Friday evening, coming back Sunday morning. So I teamed up with Josh J, Lee G and Ernie D and caught a flight to Helsinki Friday evening (yeah, I know this isn't Estonia - just wait a sec...).

Having negotiated our way through Helsinki to the ferry terminal, it was brass monkey time as we tried pretty unsuccessfully to sleep in the car in the sub zero conditions. But true to form with Finnish efficiency, the 7.30am ferry left bang on time and we docked at Tallinn at 9.30am (shortly after first light!). The drive southwest was rapid, and uneventful, bar the odd comment about how pretty the place was and how great our winter tyres were in these icy conditions...
Driving through the Estonian countryside - winter wonderland style
As we arrived on site at Haapsalu water treatment works, Chris B and Andy C were just leaving saying that the Fox Sparrow was showing on and off every few minutes. And, true to form, it didn't take long to get some quality views of this ultra rare WP bird - in fact, the only other Red Fox Sparrows I'd seen were in equally snowy conditions near New York a few years back. This chunky long-legged and long-tailed sparrow was continually scraping for food, pretty bullish except for when the resident Blackbird came in. A juvenile Goshawk in the adjacent conifer plantation was pretty stonking too.
Fox Sparrow Haapsalu, Estonia 8th December 2012
Site shot of the sparrow feeding area - lots of seed deposited in the alley straight on
With fingers and toes getting a little numb and the views as good as we were going to get, thoroughly happy we headed the short distance to Vonnu Park - as it was just shy of two o'clock, we knew in these lands there was only an hour or so of light left. Highlight for me here were a couple of white-breasted Nuthatches - always nice to see - plus a group of 25 or so Mealy Redpolls that allowed some nice views of their undertail coverts (variable but no surprises), a trumpeting Northern Bullfinch and a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, while Josh was fortunate to have some decent views of a Black Woodpecker flying past.
We weren't sailing back to Helsinki until 10.30pm, and so with it dark by 3.30pm we headed into Tallinn's old town to do the tourist thing in what seemed to be a really pretty, decent city. A nice pint of beer, and some Estonian sausages and mash completed the experience before we headed to the ferry, got our heads down, and then back to Helsinki airport. Early morning flight back to London, and it was just shy of midday that I was reacquainted with the ghetto superstar: -
Med Gull, Burgess Park 9th December 2012
Once again, remarkable how much you can cram into a weekend.

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