Friday, 2 January 2015

Black-throated Accentor in a winter wonderland

Despite being off for a couple of weeks each Christmas time, it's not always easy to get out and about. A Black-throated Accentor that had been found in Finland mid-December had to wait until now. And rather obligingly, it did. This was a species that I'd never really attempted to go for previously, as they'd all gone before I could make any plans to get there. And although the species breeds in Western Palearctic Russia and is available (if not tricky) there, the peak mid June season when other people have been just isn't feasible with school holidays. So this was going to be my best chance of seeing this nice looking species.

Surprisingly, Karen fancied the trip so it was a combined twitch and winter wonderland spectacle (with some decent food and New Year's fireworks thrown in).

This was my fifth visit to Finland, and like my previous midwinter trip (when I twitched an Azure Tit), I took advantage of the Ryanair flights to Tampere and then drove the 500km north to Oulu. We landed and it coincided with a fresh load of snow. The road conditions weren't treacherous but it was a tough drive, punctuated by a typically decent ABC meal - they put our service stations to shame. Arriving at our hotel late on Tuesday evening, we crashed out ready for the short drive to the ferry to Hailuoto in the morning (the island where the accentor was).

New Year's Eve dawned late as you'd expect that far north. In fact, the ferry sailed to the island of Hailuoto at 8.30am in the pitch black - clunking across a spectacular sea of ice. Taking half an hour, and then a further 20 minutes of driving across the island, we arrived on site in the small village of Marjaniemi at 9.20am and it was just about getting light! We were fortunate too in that the temperatures compared the previous days had risen 20 or so degrees - to a rather balmy minus one!
Black-throated Accentor Marjaniemi, Hailuoto, Finland 31st December 2014
The Black-throated Accentor had been found by a local, who had been feeding the local Yellowhammers. Although relatively elusive, and taking an hour or so to see initially, it did show a few times during the morning. Relatively skittish and preferring to scrub around underneath a wood panel, it did come out a couple of times to feed. With such dull light, the photographs really expose my poor photographic skills though! A thoroughly nice bird, and much brighter than the photo above suggests - some nice chestnut tones to the mantle in real life. The longer I stayed though, the colder I got - thankfully, my feet were still with me by the time I got back to the car. My mother's apple cake was well appreciated too; nothing like an old school cake to keep the cold out.

Black-throated Accentor site at Marjaniemi - let the birds feed!
And so after enjoying the accentor, we headed back to get the 2pm ferry. And with the final hour or so of light, the ferry ride was truly amazing - the last sunset of 2014 making the sea of ice glint. Being from a more southerly latitude, this was something I'd not seen before and it really was stunning. And what's more, the Finnish government fully subsidise the service so it was totally free!

Spectacular scenery on the ferry ride back from Hailuoto - and it was free!
Once back on the mainland, we drove back south again as we'd got ourselves a nice hotel in Jyvaskyla for New Year. Getting there for early evening, booking into a restaurant and then going out to see the fireworks was a decent end to the trip - very sophisticated indeed for a twitch. Happy New Year to all.

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