The Big Year 2015

Whether it’s about knowing local history, cloud formations, notes on geology or botany, the more you’re able to make observations of  the nature, the richer the hiking experience. I had regret for long of recognizing mere handful of different bird species.

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A year ago I saw the movie The Big Year, which tells a warm and funny story of three bird enthusiasts and their year-long bird-spotting competition. Actually the movie is more than just that, but anyway, my inner competitor woke up; why not to try the same? What would be a better way to try to learn different bird species?

In the end, my bird year became more than successful. On top of seeing more than hundred different species here in Finland, I learned to observe the nature in a completely new way. A whole new world opened up – the world of birds. Suddenly, they meant something to me. While walking, every sound or movement at treetops could have been an exciting, new sighting. I had to start looking up to the sky as well. Most of all bird-spotting increased significantly the amount of time I spent outdoors.

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For my last hike in Wales, I took a small binoculars with me, which was an excellent decision. Walking along the coast, it was interesting to observe the rich bird life of the coastal Wales. I can easily say that knowing birds, even passably, has added a new, interesting dimension to my hiking hobby.

Here’s my list for the past year in chronological order, in case some of you share the same interest. To spot much more would require significantly more effort and having a telescope, in other words, it would get too serious for me then. I wanted to avoid the loop of buying better and better gear for this, so my only investment was Brunton Echo Porro 7×50 binoculars for 79eur. Unfortunately, most of the photos are taken with my pocket camera and as such, are not that good bird photos.

1. CROW (varis) 2. MAGPIE (harakka) 3. GREAT TIT (talitiainen) 4. JACKDAW (naakka) 5. BLUE TIT (sinitiainen) 6. BULLFINCH (punatulkku) 7. JAY (närhi) 8. GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (käpytikka) 9. BLACKBIRD (mustarastas) 10. RAVEN (korppi)

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A cute Treecreeper, creeping.

11. WHOOPER SWAN (laulujoutsen) 12. GOLDENEYE (telkkä) 13. CANADA GOOSE (kanadanhanhi) 14. SKYLARK (kiuru) 15. TREE SPARROW (pikkuvarpunen) 16. NORTHERN LAPWING (töyhtöhyyppä) 17. MUTE SWAN (kyhmyjoutsen) 18. MALLARD (sinisorsa) 19. SMEW (uivelo) 20. YELLOWHAMMER (keltasirkku)

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21. GREENFINCH (viherpeippo) 22. GOOSANDER (isokoskelo) 23. BRAMBLING (järripeippo) 24. EURASIAN COOT (nokikana) 25. TUFTED DUCK (tukkasotka) 26. COMMON POCHARD (punasotka) 27. SPARROW (varpunen) 28. WOODPIGEON (sepelkyyhky) 29. BLACK-HEADED GULL (naurulokki) 30. GOLDFINCH (tikli)

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Migrating cranes over Espoo, early April.

31. COMMON EIDER (haahka) 32. LONG-TAILED DUCK (alli) 33. OYSTERCATCHER (meriharakka) 34. COMMON GULL (kalalokki) 35. HERRING GULL (harmaalokki) 36. CRANE (kurki) 37. GADWALL (harmaasorsa) 38. CORMORANT (merimetso) 39. SPARROWHAWK (varpushaukka) 40. FIELDFARE (räkättirastas)

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A couple of Gadwalls at a nearby bird pool.

41. WHITE WAGTAIL (västäräkki) 42. GREAT CRESTED GREBE (silkkiuikku) 43. WIGEON (haapana) 44. TEAL (tavi) 45. REDHSANK (punajalkaviklo) 46. FINCH (peippo) 47. RED ROBIN (punarinta) 48. RINGED PLOVER (tylli) 49. PHEASANT (fasaani) 50. WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE (merikotka)

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First time seeing majestic White-Tailed Sea Eagles.

51. GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL (merilokki) 52. CASPIAN TERN (räyskä) 53. GARGANEY (heinätavi) 54. NORTHERN SHOVELER (lapasorsa) 55. NORTHERN GOSHAWK (kanahaukka) 56. STARLING (kottarainen) 57. WHEATEAR (kivitasku) 58. COMMON REDSTART (leppälintu) 59. PIED FLYCATCHER (kirjosieppo) 60. COMMON MOORHEN (liejukana)

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Red-Necked-Grebe on Lake Saimaa.

61. SLAVONIAN GREBE (mustakurkku-uikku) 62. BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (jänkäsirriäinen) 63. TEMMINCK’S STINT (lapinsirri) 64. REED BUNTING (pajusirkku) 65. BARNACLE GOOSE (valkoposkihanhi) 66. COMMON TERN (kalatiira) 67. BARN SWALLOW (haarapääsky) 68. COMMON SWIFT (tervapääsky) 69. WESTERN MARSH HARRIER (ruskosuohaukka) 70. EURASIAN HOBBY (nuolihaukka)

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An Osprey, like my loyal backpack.

71. SEDGE WARBLER (ruokokerttunen) 72. GREYLAG GOOSE (merihanhi) 73. GREY HERON (harmaahaikara) 74. COMMON SNIPE (taivaanvuohi) 75. RUFF (suokukko) 76. REDWING (punakylkirastas) 77. OSPREY (kalasääski) 78. LOON (kuikka) 79. WOOD WARBLER (sirittäjä) 80. EURASIAN NUTHATCH (pähkinänakkeli)

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Rare Eurasian Nuthatch climbing up and down along the tree trunk.

81. FERAL PIGEON (kesykyyhky) 82. SONG THRUSH (laulurastas) 83. COMMON SANDPIPER (rantasipi) 84. RED-NECKED-GREBE (härkälintu) 85. LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (selkälokki) 86. SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (harmaasieppo) 87. EURASIAN SISKIN (vihervarpunen) 88. WILLOW TIT (hömötiainen) 89. COAL TIT (kuusitiainen) 90. TREECREEPER (puukiipijä)

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A group of Long-Tailed Tits spotted on a walk in Espoo central park

91. LONG-TAILED TIT (pyrstötiainen) 92. WILLOW WARBLER (pajulintu) 93. BLACK WOODPECKER (palokärki) 94. GOLDCREST (hippiäinen) 95. COMMON BUZZARD (hiirihaukka) 96. HEN HARRIER (sinisuohaukka) 97. DUNLIN (suosirri) 98. ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD (piekana) 99. BRENT GOOSE (sepelhanhi) 100. DUNNOCK (rautiainen)

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A Black Woodpecker seen through my living room window.

101. GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER (harmaapäätikka) 102. WAXWING (tilhi) 103. LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (pikkutikka) 104. BEARDED TIT (viiksitimali) 105. WHITE-THROATED DIPPER (koskikara)

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White-Throated Dipper enjoying the melt stream just before Xmas.

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Trip report: Seven Brothers hiking trail

“Jukolan talo, eteläisessä Hämeessä, seisoo erään mäen pohjoisella rinteellä, liki Toukolan kylää. Sen läheisin ympäristö on on kivinen tanner, mutta alempana alkaa pellot, joissa, ennenkuin talo oli häviöön mennyt, aaltoili teräinen vilja.”

With these words begins the famous Seven Brothers novel (1870) by a Finnish national author Aleksis Kivi, and now I was standing at Jukola bus stop, south of Nurmijärvi, near Palojoki and the childhood home of Kivi and in the very same landscape that had inspired him as described above, and along the hiking trail of Seven Brothers.

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I began walking slightly after 7:30 am. The sun was already high and shining brightly, promising a sweaty day. Righ next to me both the Hämeenlinna highway and old Hämeenlinna road were noisy and it was difficult to tune myself to a mood of a previous century and the time of Seven Brothers, even though a typical Finnish countryside landscape opened up soon on the right hand side.

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After walking three kilometers I reached the Myllykoski bridge, which spanned high and wide over the Vantaanjoki river. I found the first official signs of the trail after getting down to the riverside, passing by a slope full of blooming greater stichworts.

The path was well maintained and it climbed few times higher on the river bank and to the shadows of tall pine trees. The noise of the two roads got weaker under the sound of water. Birds were signing merrily but for my disappointment I wasn’t able to identify them. Only a White Wagtail and few Great Tits were brave enough to show themselves, and the first mosquitos of the summer.

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I soon crossed another bridge and went under the highway to the northern side of Nurmijärvi. The fields were shining in yellow sea of flowers, and near an edge of another forest I saw the summer’s first lilly of the valleys. The day got hotter as the morning progressed.

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After three hours of walking I arrived to the potholes of Nurmijärvi, which the Ice Age had so precisely carved. A whole class of school kids were wondering the same together with their teacher, but as soon as “lunch break” was shouted, I was left alone. I continued soon after towards Rajamäki town, some 6km away.

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I walked through forests, which were both boring thick bushes and nicer ones with tall pine and spruce trees, along endless fields and sand roads, until I finally reached the first houses of Rajamäki and personal looking church behind them.

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I bought some fresh juice and a choko ice cream, before sitting down for a lunch break next to a local football field – a true landscape of my soul.

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I kept going soon after because I was barely at the half way, which began to feel heavy in my mind. Everywhere there was more fields, more forests, and no sign of Juhani, Eero or any other of the Seven Brothers, apart from the good signposts.

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I went through a dry pine forest after crossing the Hanko highway. The ground looked nice for camping but I didn’t want to leave so much to walk for the next day as the weather would turn worse during the night; from summer heat into a cold and stormy, barely plus ten degreeish.

I pushed onwards but felt blisters beginning to form under my toes. What was happening? That had not happened even in the Alps.

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I reached finally Hyvinkää region and the trail marks changed from red to blue, but at the same time I lost the whole trail near of a huge sand quarry. I made my way out from the forest to a road nearby through some backyards and people staring surprised. I walked a small detour following the road back to the Petkelsuo crossroads.

The route crossed then Petkelsuo marshland along well maintained duckboards. I reached also the 30km landmark and I wanted nothing else but to camp. But where to pitch your tent, the ground was not that nice and my goal, Kaksoislammit shelter, was still 7km away. Seven long kilometers full of suffering, just like many fierce adventures of the Seven Brothers had been.

My blistery feet were hurting, mosquitos were biting and the landscape wasn’t that inspiring. I began to question the sense of the whole hiking hobby, but I realized I had made a mistake by trying to walk too much considering my lack of walking lately.

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I reached the Kaksoislammit around 7pm, almost after 12 hours of constant walking. I felt a great relief when I saw the well maintained log shelter on top of a rocky cliff. I was exhausted and the evening began to cool down, but fortunately the sun would be still smiling for a few hours more. I cleaned some rubbish that previous people had left behind before boiling noodles and vedgies. I read for a while the Seven Brothers book that I hadn’t finished yet.

Few bees were living inside the shelter and I didn’t dare to bother them so I placed my tent nearby. The sun was swallowed by the clouds just before disappearing behind the tree line. Wind got stronger and the treetops were singing with a threatening tone.

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The next morning I got up early because of the birds and strong wind. At 4:30 it was light enough to walk so I began my last 8km to Hyvinkää city centre. My legs were complitely finished but the approaching stormy weather gave a boost to push forward. I saw two cranes in a field of Hyyppärä but the vicinity of Tampere highway disrupted this nature experience.

I finally reached the railway station and took a train back to Helsinki together with morning commuters, me looking tired and wild like a real Jukolan Jussi, one of the brothers in Aleksis Kivis story.

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FACTS

ROUTE: Palojoentie – Myllykoski – Rajamäki – Herunen – Petkelsuo – Kaksoislammit – Hyvinkää

DISTANCE: 37km + 8km

TRANSPORTATION: Plenty of busses from Kamppi bus station in Helsinki. The busses go towards Nurmijärvi or Hyvinkää, and depending on the line you can drop off either in Nurmijärvi or a bit earlier in the Jukola stop at the crossroads of Palojoentie -road. Takes about 40min and costs 7-8euros. Coming back by train from Hyvinkää. The birth home of Aleksis Kivi is located in Palojoki, 2km from Jukola stop to the east, if one feels like seeing that.

MAPS: Plenty of signposts along the trail, starting from Myllykoski, but I would recommend to print the maps below. Other terrain maps I didn’t need.

First part in Nurmijärvi

Second part in Hyvinkää

SHELTERS: One log shelter at Myllykoski and another one in Kaksoislammit, both well kept and having wood to make fire.

OPINION: I was excited in the beginning, but then the walking began to feel tiring and the trail boring. But this is partly because of my own exhaustion and the fact that as a Finnish I’ve seen this type of a landscape my whole life. It might be also much better for terrain bikers. Lot of noisy sections because of the main highways crossing the area.

Backyard birdwatching

Last time I visited my parents I challenged myself to photograph the birds that fly around my parents house. The idea was to capture at least one image of each of the different species and to learn to recognize them better. The task was difficult as most of these little fellows appeared only very briefly to the stage, but I’m very pleased with the results: 11 different birds and the squirrel!

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Blue Tit

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Chaffinch

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Common Magpie

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Great Tit & Tree Sparrow

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Brambling

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Yellowhammer (?)

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European Robin

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Fieldfare

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Great Tit

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Crow

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White Wagtail

I had so much fun spotting birds that it made me to appreciate more the “backyard nature”. I encourage you guys to study your nearby surroundings and to see what you could find!