Part I: Introduction to the Island and total list of
Part II: The Landscape
Part III: Autumn and Winter
Part IV: The Spring, Marvellous Spring
Isosaari in Finnish means "Great Island". The island is not great by size, but very well a great place for birds - unfortunately not for birders, because the island is a military fortress island and not allowed for visitors. I had the extreme pleasure to spend there one year, and the following observations are made by the author and Mikko I. Marttala from autumn 1994 till summer 1995.
The situation of the island is in the Finnish Bay, about 10 kilometres south from Helsinki coast, and about 80 kilometres north from Estonian coast. The island is very rich of different habitats which have remained quite untouched and natural because of the military presence. Also the fact that beach tourists are missing makes the island a good place for birds. Besides, it is situated in crossroads of migrating routes - the arctic and Siberian migrators are passing it along the bay and the Finnish passerines use the island as a resting point when crossing the bay from the Baltic countries in spring. Maybe our observations give you some picture of what you can see on available islands off South Coast of Finland as well as they give a repport from area not usually reported.
At first, here you can find the total list of the 143 species of birds that we saw on the island. Note that such species like House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon and Magpie are missing and Jackdaws we only saw once, passing the island.
Great White-billed Diver - Gavia adamsii - jääkuikka
Black-throated Diver - Gavia arctica - kuikka
Red-throated Diver - Gavia stellata - kaakkuri
Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus - silkkiuikku
Red-necked Grebe - Podiceps griseigena - härkälintu
Slavonian Grebe - Podiceps auritus - mustakurkku-uikku
Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo - merimetso
Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea - harmaahaikara
White Stork - Ciconia ciconia - kattohaikara
Mute Swan - Cygnus olor - kyhmyjoutsen
Whooper Swan - Cygnus cygnus - laulujoutsen
Brent Goose - Branta bernicla - sepelhanhi
Barnacle Goose - Branta leucopsis - valkoposkihanhi
Greylag Goose - Anser anser - merihanhi
Bean Goose - Anser fabalis - metsähanhi
Bar-headed Goose - Anser indicus - tiibetinhanhi
Common Shelduck - Tadorna tadorna - ristisorsa
Eurasian Wigeon - Anas penelope - haapana
Eurasian Teal - Anas crecca - tavi
Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos - sinisorsa
Northern Pintail - Anas acuta - jouhisorsa
Northern Shoveller - Anas clypeata - lapasorsa
Greater Scaup - Aythya marila - lapasotka
Tufted Duck - Aythya fuligula - tukkasotka
Long-tailed Duck - Clangula hyemalis - alli
Common Scoter - Melanitta nigra - mustalintu
Surf Scoter - Melanitta fusca - pilkkasiipi
Steller's Eider - Polysticta stelleri - allihaahka
Common Eider - Somateria mollissima - haahka
King Eider - Somateria spectabilis - kyhmyhaahka
Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula - telkkä
Smew - Mergellus albellus - uivelo
Red-breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator - tukkakoskelo
Goosander - Mergus merganser - isokoskelo
White-tailed Sea-eagle - Haliaëetus albicilla - merikotka
Western Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus - mehiläishaukka
Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo - hiirihaukka
Rough-legged Buzzard - Buteo lagopus - piekana
Northern Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus - varpushaukka
Northern Goshawk - Accipiter gentilis - kanahaukka
Northern Hobby - Falco subbuteo - nuolihaukka
Common Merlin - Falco columbarius - ampuhaukka
Capercaillie - Tetrao urogallus - koppelo
Eurasian Crane - Grus grus - kurki
Palearctic Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus - meriharakka
Eurasian Woodcock - Scolopax rusticola - lehtokurppa
Greater Snipe - Gallinago media - heinäkurppa
Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago - taivaanvuohi
Western Curlew - Numenius arquata - isokuovi
Eurasian Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus - pikkukuovi
Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica - punakuiri
Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos - rantasipi
Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus - metsäviklo
Wood Sandpiper - Tringa glareola - liro
Common Redshank - Tringa totanus - punajalkaviklo
Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia - valkoviklo
Purple Sandpiper - Calidris maritima - merisirri
European Dunlin - Calidris alpina - suosirri
Temminck's Sandpiper - Calidris temminckii - lapinsirri
Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres - karikukko
Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus - töyhtöhyyppä
Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula - tylli
Lesser Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius - pikkutylli
Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola - tundrakurmitsa
European Golden Plover - Pluvialis apricaria - kapustarinta
Arctic Jaeger - Stercorarius parasiticus - merikihu
Greater Black-backed Gull - Larus marinus - merilokki
Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus - selkälokki
Herring Gull - Larus argentatus - harmaalokki
Mew Gull - Larus canus - kalalokki
Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus - naurulokki
Common Tern - Sterna hirundo - kalatiira
Little Auk - Alle alle - pikkuruokki
Black Guillemot - Cepphus grylle - riskilä
Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus - sepelkyyhky
Stock Pigeon - Columba oenas - uuttukyyhky
Short-eared Owl - Asio flammeus - suopöllö
Long-eared Owl - Asio otus - sarvipöllö
Common Swift - Apus apus - tervapääsky
Little Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos minor - pikkutikka
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major - käpytikka
Great Black Woodpecker - Dryocopus martius - palokärki
Common Skylark - Alauda arvensis - kiuru
Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica - haarapääsky
House Martin - Delichon urbica - räystäspääsky
Tree Pipit - Anthus trivialis - metsäkirvinen
Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis - niittykirvinen
Eastern Water Pipit - Anthus littoralis - luotokirvinen
Tawny Pipit - Anthus campestris - nummikirvinen
Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava - keltavästäräkki
White Wagtail - Motacilla alba - västäräkki
Bohemian Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus - tilhi
Great Grey Shrike - Lanius excubitor - isolepinkäinen
Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes - peukaloinen
Hedge Accentor - Prunella modularis - rautiainen
River Grasshopper Warbler - Locustella fluviatilis - viitasirkkalintu
Sedge Warbler - Acrocephalus schoenobaenus - ruokokerttunen
Garden Warbler - Sylvia borin - lehtokerttu
Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla - mustapääkerttu
Lesser Whitethroat - Sylvia curruca - hernekerttu
Common Whitethroat - Sylvia communis - pensaskerttu
Icterine Warbler - Hippolais icterina - kultarinta
Wood Warbler - Phylloscopus sibilatrix - sirittäjä
Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus - pajulintu
Spruce Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita - tiltaltti
Greenish Warbler - Phylloscopus trochiloides - idänuunilintu
Goldcrest - Regulus regulus - hippiäinen
Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata - harmaasieppo
Pied Flycatcher - Ficedula hypoleuca - kirjosieppo
Whinchat - Saxicola rubetra - pensastasku
Northern Wheatear - Oënanthe oënanthe - kivitasku
European Robin - Erithacus rubecula - punarinta
Orange-spotted Bluethroat - Luscinia svecica - sinirinta
Common Redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus - leppälintu
Redwing - Turdus iliacus - punakylkirastas
Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos - laulurastas
Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus - kulorastas
Fieldfare - Turdus pilaris - räkättirastas
Blackbird - Turdus merula - mustarastas
Bearded Timal - Panurus biarmicus - viiksitimali
Willow Tit - Parus montanus - hömötiainen
Great Tit - Parus major - talitiainen
Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus - sinitiainen
Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus - pyrstötiainen
Northern Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris - puukiipijä
Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs - peippo
Brambling - Fringilla montifringilla - järripeippo
Western Greenfinch - Chloris chloris - viherpeippo
Eurasian Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis - tikli
Spruce Siskin - Spinus spinus - vihervarpunen
Linnet - Linaria cannabina - hemppo
Northern Redpoll - Acanthis flammea - urpiainen
Scarlet Rosefinch - Carpodacus erythrinus - punavarpunen
Northern Bullfinch - Pyrrhula pyrrhula - punatulkku
Reed Bunting - Emberiza schoeniclus - pajusirkku
Yellowhammer - Emberiza citrinella - keltasirkku
Ortolan Bunting - Emberiza hortulana - peltosirkku
Starling - Sturnus vulgaris - kottarainen
European Jay - Garrulus glandarius - närhi
Spotted Nutcracker - Nucifraga caryocatactes - pähkinähakki
Jackdaw - Corvus monedula - naakka
Hooded Crow - Corvus corone cornix - varis
the Raven - Corvus corax - korppi
The list excludes a bird, which we called the "Redthroat". It resembled the Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope), a very rare vagrant, but because the specimen in Isosaari lacked the white eyebrows, it remained totally unidentified. We didn't even make any announcement, because of our duty. Now the time has passed over our military service and maybe sometimes the species can be identified according to our very detailled notes and drawings of the bird which we saw also very closely. If someone who knows possible robin-like cagebirds and possible Siberian vagrants is reading the following description and has a realistic identification, pls contact me: The bird was alone. We saw it at first time something like 24th May. It has concolorous warm brown chestnut-hue plumage without big difference between slightly darker back and slightly lighter belly. The throat was bright red, but the red area was limited only to a little area, the very throat - like redstart's black throat. It was about the size of robin, but its shape was quite different: our Redthroat was thin and it kept its body in horizontal plane, like wagtail. The bill was very thin, almost like a warbler's bill. It made significant moves with its tail - like a wheatear - and at the same time it made a curtsey. It was mostly moving near ground, in little willows and young birches, but it also sat on human-made objects. There were no significant stripes or spots in its tail and wings. The voice was like that of a thrush: "djap" or "chak". The bird was not cautious and disappeared during the next days. We suspect it came with an invasion of Bluethroats and Restarts in the night. Our prognosis was after all that it could have been a very strange-coloured redstart or bluethroat - cause Bluethroat was the bird most resembling our Redthroat of the Finnish birds by action and habitus, and Redstart female is the one nearest to our Redthroat by colour. Maybe there could even be a possibility of some hybrid of closed thrushlet species.
I can't tell everything of the island's geography and I can't give a map, because it's a military area, but I can tell some general things of the landscape. The island is not very big. You can peacefully walk around it in a couple of hours. In the northern side there are buildings and little bays and capes. There's an excercise area surrounded by groves of willow and alder. Around the main buildings there's a birch forest.
Most of the area is covered by a mixed forest dominated by spruce. In the eastern parts of the island there are old pine forests with thick moss and old ruins from the war periods. Some of the ruins are coverred by groves and birds were of some reason liking very much the ruins. There were even Mew Gulls and Wigeons breeding in ruins in the middle of the forest. In the deepest part of the mixed forest there's an old burn ruins of a war-time hospital or jail. There's also graves of soldiers died in past wars and of an English sailor. The howling which can be heard in the night from the forest is however not a ghost but the foxes which live in the island. The forests have been let as their natural condition and they are full of birds.
The southern parts of the island are coverred by dry moors. There are moors with heather and junipers, moors with grass and sandy areas with a plant whose name I don't know in English. The moors end to stony areas and finally to the spectacular coastal rocks. After the southern coast rocks there's only the blue sea - and somewhere far away the coast of Estonia. Deep in the sea lie the bodies of some ships sank during the wars. On the moor area we saw so many arctic birds normally living in Lapland only, that we believe for example Bluethroat to breed on the island's moor, where is even a little swamp surrounded by birches.
Around the island there are some little islets, only pale rock and some grass, except a smaller island called Kuivasaari which is forested like Isosaari. The closest islets are Bändaren and "English Stone", both full of resting seabirds.
On the coasts there are also groves, mostly of alder, willows and birch. In the west there's a shooting area, which is coverred by meadow and bushland. In the east there was a long cape coverred by rocks, little meadows where the little local Starling colony visited every day, and an isolated pine forestlet which where was the nest of the Hobby Falcon. On north coast there are sandy beaches with alga thrown by the waves. Across the island's forested area goes a geometrically straight little street which is called "the Boulevard".
The island is so diversive, so beautiful and isolated that even the most common species look interesting there: for example the Bullfinches breeding in a juniper on the heather moor. The resident birds of the island were also individuals, and their strategies to cope in such a place were so creative that we lost the last possible thoughts of "bird-brain".
After all, as a landscape, the island was a barren, wild, windy, desolate, incredibly beautiful paradise of elemental impressive strength and certain melancholy, in the sunny summer days with magnificent heavenly brightness. It's true that time stops to move there (a joke also, because mostly we were waiting to get away from the army at the same time as we hoped to be still able to stay on the island). It takes your heart with the originality of its nature and nowhereness. It was a natural thing that we, common students, decided to write a book when staying there.
The observations from the autumn are quite non-systematic and I only noticed some rare birds and didn't pay attention on the common species yet, because there was not much free time for bird-observation and I was the only bird-interested in the island. If I would have paid some attention on the late wandering birds, there would be many more species of tits and Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) on our list. Also all the autumn migrants of July, August and September are missing because these months we haven't been in the island. Therefore many sandpipers and other waders are missing.
The island was quite a nasty place in the autumn: the sea was stormy and weather cold so late in the autumn. In October I saw some Spotted Nutcrackers (Nucifraga caryocatactes) wandering to the island. I suppose they belonged to the Siberian subspecies macrorhynchos, which made a vast invasion to Finland next autumn. There were also some Jays (Garrulus glandarius), which was not a common species in the island in winter and in summer. The Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) were typical late autumn wanderers. Later in the winter the other wanderer species reached the island: there were quite moderate numbers of Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus), but many Spruce Siskins (Carduelis spinus) and Redpolls (Acanthis flammea). There were no Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra, L. pytyopsittaca and L. leucoptera). This year's autumn must have brought also crossbills to the island.
Great flocks of Geese passed the island and so did the Cranes and Swans. Also a migrating Merlin (Falco columbarius) belonged to our autumn observations. The noisy family of the Hobbies (F. subbuteo) which breeds in the island left for South in October.
In October there was a single Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) staying alone in windy coast rocks and beaches. It looked quite odd when standing alone on a stone or stone islet in the autumn storms and rain. It didn't leave the island until very late.
The waterbirds moved in the winter towards south slowly, pressured by the ice. The Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) and Goosanders (Mergus merganser) were numerous in winter months and there were also some wintering Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) and of course lots of Herring Gulls, Greater Black-backed Gulls and Mew Gulls (Larus argentatus, L. marinus and L. canus). The Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (L. ridibundus and L. fuscus) migrate to southernmore areas and they were not present in Isosaari in winter. In the winter the gulls were searching fish especially on the border areas of ice. Of course they also continued following boats.
In November the rarest vagrant which we accepted to the list visited the island: a single Little Auk (Alle alle) stayed in the North coast of the island. There's no possibility of confusion with this species. Besides Little Auk the Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) which was breeding on the nearby lying islets was the only Alcid we saw in the island. We didn't see any Razorbills (Alca torda) which has suffered some catastrophes in Finland some years ago. This year at least Common Guillemot (Uria aalge) has been seen in the island, but we didn't see the species in our times.
In the winter months the island's bird world was quiet. There were tits and woodpeckers, redpolls and waxwings, on the sea seagulls and goosanders. Sometimes the Hooded Crows (Corvus corone cornix) visited the island but the regents of the island in the winter months were the Ravens (Corvus corax). Their majestic silhouettes could be seen in the trees and in the sky even in the worst snowstorms. Every morning in the same time, about 7 - 8 o'clock a.m. the ruling pair of the Ravens flew from the forest to a tiny islet made of pale rock, situating near the island's coast. They carefully examined the whole islet, inch by inch, collecting every dead fish or piece of rubbish carried by the sea. The Ravens of Isosaari were real marine birds. They even robbed food from Herring Gulls like Jaegers do, which shows how marvellous flyers these magnificent and intelligent birds are. Once we saw how a Raven gave a lesson to a Crow, which tried to be too social - when the Crow flew above the Raven, the latter suddenly turned in the air and scratched the Crow with its nails so that the grey feathers blew up. In spring the Ravens changed to predators, killing Snowy Hares (Lepus timidus) which was surely the most common mammal species in the island (after man). We also observed that the Ravens killed Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) and Muskrats (Ondatra zibethica) and you don't believe how much skulls and bones of smaller mammals we found around the Ravens favourite places and nest. In the winter the Ravens also made some excursions to a closed island called Kuivasaari ("Dry Island"), where another couple of Ravens was breeding. Could be relatives or just good neighbours.
One strange inhabitant of the island was a lonely female Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus). How she had come to the island, we had no idea, but we saw it several times, always alone, and didn't find footprints or shit of any other individuals - so we suspect it really lived there alone. A last survivor of former population or a onely oldmaid lost to open sea...? Who knows.
The winter in Isosaari is not so hard of temperatures, in compare with northern areas of Finland. Most of the winter the island is also not coverred by snow - an exception was February. However, the storms, especially snowstorms sometimes coverred the whole island into a one-metre-deep snow in less than hald a day. During the snowstorms we didn't see where the Boulevard was, and the visibility was absolutely zero. Still we saw the Raven playing its games on top of a pale leafless birch, making such noise that we heard it even through the howling stormwind. Under the water the seals were making their eerie barks and howls.
The mid-winter was really a sleeping time. The Ravens and the Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) were the only living creatures making some voice out of them. However, there were quite rich winter fauna of passerines, in compare to the continent in the north - excluding all the birds which winter in human habitation. In Isosaari there were from February huge amounts of Greenfinches (Chloris chloris) and Greenfinch was the commonest bird species of the island before the main groups of Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) and Willow Warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus), the two commonest bird species of Southern Finland, returned. Besides Greenfinches there were basic numbers of Great Tits (Parus major), Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus), Willow Tits (Parus montanus) in the old forest parts, Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) which were also very common, because of the flocks which had come from the continent, Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and Bohemian Waxwings sharing the rowan berries with the Bullfinches and the few staying Blackbirds (Turdus merula), Northern Treecreepers (Certhia familiaris) which was also very common in the island, Spruce Siskins and Redpolls and Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella).
At the end of February the sun started to shine and melt the snow. Both Ravens and Crows - let me remind that always when I speak about crows here, they are hooded ones - were arranging their air shows and actually the Ravens already lay eggs in March - besides the Crossbills and Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaëtos) and City Pigeons the Raven is only bird species breeding in winter in Finland. The last real snowstorms we suffered in March, after the first migratory birds had already arrived. At first came the seabirds; large flocks of Gulls, Eiders and Goosanders to make company to the lesser amounts of their fellows who had been wintering in coastal waters of Isosaari. Also large flocks of Crows came back from Germany and Baltic States to join all the Crows wintered in Finland. The only flock of Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) we saw to pass Isosaari without landing, coming from Estonia and going towards Helsinki. The species was missing in the island, though there would have been lots of good breeding places for them. After we many times saw how the Ravens were treating their lesser Corvid cousins, we thought they keep the rivals out of Isosaari.
At first the snow melted on the rocks and on the moors, and there we saw the first arriving Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) and Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Both the species arrived mostly in March. In March we also welcomed first Chaffinches, who made company to the vast crowds of Greenfinches, the "Greenies", who however didn't lost their domination until in May. Then of course came the native species of pigeons, the quite rare Stock Pigeon (Columba oenas) and the very common and abundant Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus). Both are originally migratory birds, which they still are in Isosaari. When the first Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), the first Teal (Anas crecca) and the first White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) appeared, we started to make notes of arriving migratories and we also formed the list of the species seen in Isosaari. From Christmas namely there were two of us, when we first time discovered our common hobby and thus decided that maybe we could have a very pleasant spring in our duty - what we actually did I can't tell but technically we had a kind of world's best place for bird observing.
The waterbird migration was of course the real highlight, especially the arctic species, and Siberian masses of common Eurasian species. It's unforgettable experience to see hundreds of thousands of geese, swans, ducks, divers, cormorants, waders and of course common migratory birds passing you - when you can watch them like we could. Looking at a White-tailed Sea-eagle (Haliaëetus albicilla) from three-metre distance, it's unforgettable. Looking at flocks after flocks of birds which you have always thought to be rare habitants of distant Siberia, it's unforgettable. The first hours after six o'clock were the best: then came the huge open flocks of Black-throated or Arctic Divers (Gavia arctica), some single Red-throated Divers (G. stellata) among them. Next there were the Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), in their discipline lines. Of course the huge lines and rows of Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima), Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and Goosanders (Mergus merganser) were even more military. Very tight. The most numerous species of the arctic migration, the "arctica", was certainly the Long-tailed Duck. Also Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra), which is a bit later, was very numerous, especially on more distance from all coasts. Surf Scoter (Melanitta fusca) was surprisingly not so common, but on the other hand it's more moderate in flock forming. The great flocks of Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula), Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Teals (A. crecca) and Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) came to the coasts and rested in big numbers on the rocks and on the islets. The most numerous species was Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) which came as huge whistling flocks in the evening, rested the next day on the island coasts and continued towards far north after that. A few pairs stayed and one pair breeded on the golf yard of the officers' club. From the coastal rocks you could watch Long-tailed Ducks, Mergansers and Eiders diving under the fresh water. It was the greatest pity that photographing was not allowed.
Maybe most spectacular were the big birds; Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) which also breeded on the island, and Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), Greylag Geese (Anser anser), Bean Geese (Anser fabalis), Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) and so on. Some White-tailed Sea-eagles passed us almost every day, both young and old, the young ones often staying in the island a few days. Also the big waders were quite nice to see in great flocks - the Western Curlews (Numenius arquata), the Palearctic Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) and the most beautiful of them, the splendid red Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica). About the waders, as well as the duckbirds, it was one phantastic experience to watch them against the full moon and see the exact silhouettes of the pass-flying flocks and individuals.
In May there was a big explosion in the numbers of the birds. Second May was a highlight day. Then we started the morning by seeing our first Great White-billed Diver (Gavia adamsii) as the last member of a flock of some twenty Black-billed Divers. It was the first in my life. After a week or so my friend saw the second one. During May we saw totally six sure specimens of this spectacular, goose-sized diver. But the first White-billed Diver was not everything for that date. When we walked on the moor in the morning hours, as we almost every day did after the sunrise observation hours, we saw a snipe on the moor. The lines in wings, the low flight to another place, a bit bigger size and so on. We had to make harm to its rest and see it over and over again before we believed our own eyes. It was a Greater Snipe (Gallinago media), in spring migration a very rare bird in Finland nowadays. And over a week before we saw the first Common Snipes (G. gallinago) of the island. From 2nd May all the rest of our staying in the island was celebration. We were "high" enough to have time for birding, and saw at least one new species for our island list every day.
The ducks were getting all the time bigger and bigger flocks, at the same time when the Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) and Barnacle Geese (B. leucopsis) were passing the island as a continuous stream of flocks. On the coast waters there were still great amounts of the common species, already mentioned, Long-tailed Ducks and Eiders having their mating ceremonies with lots of noise. There were Wigeons, Teals and Northern Pintails (Anas acuta), Shovellers (A. clypeata) and only three Greater Scaups (Aythya marila), larger numbers of Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks and things like Mallards. The spectacular and noble Smew (Mergellus albellus) was always a nice bird to see and there were several of them. The other mergansers, the Goosander and the Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) were both so common that in late May the Red-breasted Merganser was surely the commonest duckbird on the island. Also there were lots of grebes: not so many Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus), but several Red-necked Grebes (P. griseigena) and surprising masses of Slavonian Grebes (P. auritus), which was the commonest species of grebe. Divers were still present, without end in their stream, and so were the Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle). Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) was not common. Among all the species of gulls that we saw, we also saw the predator of sea, the fine flyer Arctic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus), mostly light form.
Then the highlights of the waterbirds, all from May. First we saw a Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri) male among Red-breasted Mergansers and Slavonian Grebes. Then later, a couple of King Eiders (Somateria spectabilis), besides all participating in Common Eiders' ceremonies and seeming to search breeding places. However, it's very unlikely that this arctic species would breed in the Baltic Sea. The strangest waterbird we saw was surely the Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) which passed us in a flock of six probably Baltic resident Barnacle Geese, flying towards Suomenlinna, where Barnacle Geese nowadays breed as a colony. The individual was obviously either an escapee or a specimen from some introduced colony - there are them in Norway, for example, and one specimen was found breeding in Finnish Lapland this year. Both the rare eider species were new for us.
Besides the Sea-eagles there were also other migrating birds of prey: many Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) and Steppe Buzzards (B. vulpinus) and intermediate forms of them. These two species or subspecies of Buzzard are intergrading in Finland. We also saw some Rough-legged Buzzards (B. lagopus) which breeds in Lapland, and a Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus). Northern Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) was resident in the island and besides we saw lots of migrating them. Also the Hobby (Falco subbuteo) was resident. One strange sight was seeing a Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) coming from the open sea, from the direction of Estonia. It shouldn't migrate at all. Of course we hoped to see a Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) and thus made it absolutely sure that it really was a Goshawk - this time seeing a common species was much more an odd observe. Also one White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) passed the island in May without landing.
Then to waders: they loved the sandy beaches with large masses of alga thrown there by sea. They also loved the little islets. There were many resident waders like Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Oystercatcher, Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) and the Woodcock - all these species breeded in the island or on the near islets in case of the Turnstones. Besides these there were at least the following species represented as resting on the beaches on their migration: Common Snipe, Western Curlew, Eurasian Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Bar-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Wood Sandpiper (T. glareola), Common Greenshank (T. nebularia), Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima), European Dunlin (C. alpina), Temminck's Sandpiper (C. temminckii), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Lesser Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) and European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria). Besides, the Grey Plovers (P. squatarola) just passed the coast when one of us was visiting the island in June.
On the moor there appeared two very interesting predators in April: the Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) which massacred both mise and tired passerines very efficiently, and the brown quiet ghost, the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus). Later we found one of the Shrikes killed by the Owl from the Owl's resting stone. Sad, but such is it. Kill AND be killed. Another Owl species of the island was the Long-eared Owl (A. otus). We, however, found no evidence of any of the owls to be breeding on the island. In May we made excursions to other military islands and found for instance Tengmalm's Owl (Aegolius funereus) breeding in Järvö and Northern Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) breeding in another island which I don't name. So it seems owl species are varieting quite much from island to another in Finnish Bay.
The dominating woodpecker species of the island was without any suspicion the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). In the Central birch forest there was a Little Spotted Woodpecker (D. minor), but we didn't see its pair, neither any sign of breeding. The majestic Great Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) was breeding in the old pine forest.
Then some notes about the passerines. Please refer to the list of species to know the species which we didn't pay so much attention.
The pipits: Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and Meadow Pipit (A. pratensis) were resident. So was the Eastern Water Pipit (A. littoralis), which was quite common in the island's coasts and rocks. The Tawny Pipit (A. campestris) visited the island once and though the moor would be a suitable place to it, we think it was a vagrant only.
Common passerines: There were some species, which were significantly common in the island, in compare with continent, like Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca), Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Wheatear (Oënanthe oënanthe), Eurasian Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) and Scarlet Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus). All these species are common in continent, too, but in Isosaari they were among the most common species, the Robin was appearing in unbelievable masses like Greenfinch, too. Something tells that Robins had nest even in a stony rock slope, in Wheatear habitat. The Scarlet Rosefinch became in the late May so common that there were them everywhere in the bushes, and knowing it's normally hard to see and very beautiful, they were as jewels in Isosaari. Icterine Warbler, Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) and other deciduous forest species were all common in Isosaari. Extremely common were the thrushes, besides their vast migrating masses there were nests of Blackbirds and Fieldfares everywhere, and also very much Redwings (Turdus iliacus). Song Thrush (T. philomelos) was not so numerous, though still common. Mistle Thrush (T. viscivorus) was probably a one-pair or so resident in the old pine forest.
Moor passerines: The moors seemed to be an area to find great flocks of resting Lapland birds, like Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla), Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) and marvellous singers Bluethroats (Luscinia suecica). The Bluethroat was very numerous. The males seemed to form revires - we left the island too early to see if they really breeded there. The Bullfinch was breeding in a juniper, as did the Linnet (Linaria cannabina) too. There were very much Whichats (Saxicola rubetra), Scarlet Rosefinches, Greenfinches, Wheatears, Redstarts, Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Buntings breeding on the island's moors.
In the mornings the passerines were along the island's coasts, so tired and uncautious after passing the sea in the night, that they let us to a couple of metres distance. After a good migration night there were such masses of passerines - for example warblers, bramblings and different thrushlet species - that absolutely every tree and bush was occupied. We saw the gulls hunting for tired little passerines coming from the sea and trying to escape to the island. We even saw a strange event, when an obvious finch-sized passerine was in water - probably tried to escape from the gulls - and suddenly jumped to flight when the curious eiders came too near, and then flew as nothing has happened to the island.
Rare passerines: The last species we added to our list on 3rd June was the River Warbler (Locustella fluviatilis), which had been singing for some nights there - if the grasshopper sound can be called singing. It's not particularly rare, but not so common. And in an isolated island always a good thing. The Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) we also found singing at the end of May. A nice bird on the list is the Bearded Timal (Panurus biarmicus). This extraordinary creature with a pingis ball voice was available as a group of three in the reeds of Santahamina, the place where the army boat for Isosaari leaves.
So, finally I releash a list of the addition species, which we rejected, because they were seen in too much distance of Isosaari (for example other islands). Many of these are very common and therefore they are likely to appear in Isosaari, too.
Eurasian Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus - tuulihaukka (Santahamina)
Hazelhen - Bonasa bonasia - pyy (Järvö)
Black Grouse - Tetrao tetrix - teeri (islands off Kirkkonummi)
Common Pheasant - Phasianus colchinus - fasaani (introduced)
Black Coot - Fulica atra - nokikana (nearer coast, e.g. Santahamina)
Little Stint - Calidris minuta - pikkusirri (in autumn probable in Isosaari, too)
Arctic Tern - Sterna paradisaea - lapintiira (surely in Isosaari, but we ignored)
Caspian Tern - Hydroprogne caspia - räyskä (off Järvö & Mäkiluoto)
Razorbill - Alca torda - ruokki (distant islets)
Feral Pigeon - Columba livia domestica - pulu (Santahamina)
Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto - turkinkyyhky (Santahamina)
Common Cuckoo - Cuculus canorus - käki (Santahamina, Järvö)
Tengmalm's Owl - Aegolius funereus - helmipöllö (Järvö)
Tawny Owl - Strix aluco - lehtopöllö (Santahamina)
Northern Eagle-owl - Bubo bubo - huuhkaja (kept in secrecy for protection)
Wryneck - Jynx torquilla - käenpiika (Gåsgrundet)
Sand Martin - Riparia riparia - törmäpääsky (Järvö)
Red-backed Shrike - Lanius collurio - pikkulepinkäinen (Santahamina)
Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus - rytikerttunen (Santahamina)
Red-throated Flycatcher - Ficedula parva - pikkusieppo (in Isosaari quite surely)
Thrush Nightingale - Luscinia luscinia - satakieli (Santahamina)
House Sparrow - Passer domesticus - varpunen (Santahamina etc.)
Red Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra - pikkukäpylintu (Järvö)
Black-billed Magpie - Pica pica - harakka (Santahamina)
The following species were observed on Isosaari by observers other than the author:
Arctic Tern - Hirundo paradisaea - lapintiira
Common Guillemot - Uria aalge - etelänkiisla
Razorbill - Alca torda - ruokki
Snowy Owl - Nyctea scandiaca - tunturipöllö
Tawny Owl - Strix aluco - lehtopöllö
Northern Hawk-owl - Surnia ulula - hiiripöllö
Redbreasted Flycatcher - Ficedula parva - pikkusieppo
Boreal Warbler - Phylloscopus borealis - lapinuunilintu
Snow Bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis - pulmunen
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