Jorma Tenovuo

Birding and digiphotos

Birds of Utö

The island of Utö

Utö – which belongs officially to the city of Parainen – is the first inhabited island by the main gateway from the Baltic Sea to the Finnish archipelago. Since the 17th century, Utö has been a base for pilots, lighthouse personnel, the customs and soldiers. The rough beauty of these wind-beaten islets is always an experience for the visitor. The sea, a paradise for boating in good weather, shows its strong power during autumn and winter storms. Due to a number of shipwrecks, these waters are often called the burial ground of ships.

Utö is located at the northern edge of the Baltic Sea, about 80 kms southwest of the city of Turku. The distance to the Swedish island of Gotland is about 220 kms and to the Estonian island of Hiiumaa about 100 kms. Utö island is quite small, only about 1.5 x 2 kms, meaning for example that large groups of birdwatchers & other tourists easily cause disturbance in case the guidelines set by the BirdLife Finland and the Turku Ornithological Society are ignored.

Under the Russian governance (1809 – 1917), the number of pilots and lighthouse keepers was raised and the number of inhabitants went up to 129, in 22 households. There was also a small customs house established on Utö. During the First World War the village underwent great changes. The Russians tore down many houses and built some new ones, and also made a cobblestone street with rails for transporting ammunition. These rails do not exist anymore.The Russian soldiers left Utö in 1918, but the presence of the Finnish army, particularly after the war, continued to characterize the life on Utö. The village life, busy in the summer when the descendants of the islanders come here for holidays, settles down for the winter. At the end of the year 2005 the military withdrew from the island. The apartments are today owned by the islanders and some of them have been rented to new inhabitants. The garrison is currently used as a hotel called ”Utö Havshotel” (www.utohotel.fi).

Birding

When the military base was closed in 2005, many previously forbidden areas on the island became available for birding. This, together with the simultaneous increase in accommodation facilities, has led to a rapid influx of birdwatchers and -photographers to Utö. The island is nowadays scanned for birds for almost around year. No ringing with nets is allowed on Utö and Utö is not an official bird station in Finland.

Light house, the oldest in Finland, and the yellow Pilot house up on the hill.

For birders it is customary to gather at the Pilot House or the lighthouse in the mornings to watch migrating seabirds, followed by searching for resting migratory birds in bushes, fields and shorelines. Special attention is paid not to cause any disturbance to the local people at the village area.

Birdwatchers at the Pilot house

Eastern meadow with surrounding bushes is an excellent area for birds

Birdlife

Breeding species
Annually about 40-50 species breed on the island or in its close vicinity. The highest numbers represent Common Eiders (some 200 pairs), Velvet Scoters (30-40 pairs), Arctic Terns (100-120 pairs) and Common Gulls (20-30 pairs). Interestingly, annually breeding species include e.g. Barred Warbler (1-3 pairs), Common Shelduck (2 pairs), Eurasian Eagle-Owl (1 pair) and often also Long-eared Owl (1 pair).

Migration
Some 215-230 different bird species visit Utö every year. A great majority is on migration and the most hectic months are April-May and September-October. The island is better than average for e.g. divers, some waders (Purple Sandpiper, Jack Snipe) and particularly many passerines. During autumn also birds of prey and owls are rather numerous. The annual migration of the Arctic species (Brent Geese, Barnacle Geese, Long-tailed Ducks, Common Scoters etc) can also be observed but in much lower numbers than on the Gulf of Finland, east of Utö.

Rarities
Utö is a good spot for vagrants due to its rather central, albeit remote, location by the Baltic Sea. The total number of species seen on the island by now (March 2013) is 297, of which 4 have been new species to Finland:

Little Egret (May 11, 1977)
Sardinian Warbler (May 4, 1986)
Blackpoll Warbler (October 23, 2008)
Red Fox Sparrow (December 20, 2012-March, 2013)

Some other very unusual species (in Finland) have been for example:

Snow Goose
Green-winged Teal
Red-crested Pochard
Hooded Merganser
Surf Scoter
Eurasian Griffon
Saker Falcon (2. in Finland)
Red Kite (twice)
Black-winged Stilt
Pectoral Sandpiper (3 times)
Grey Phalarope
Mediterranean Gull
Sabine’s Gull
Great Skua
Arctic Puffin
Pallas’ Sandgrouse
Red-rumped Swallow
Olive-backed Pipit (3 times)
Pied Wheatear (twice)
Desert Wheatear
Black-throated Thrush
Paddyfield Warbler
Savi’s Warbler
Booted Warbler (twice)
Subalpine Warbler (twice)
Hume’s Leaf Warbler (5 times)
Dusky Warbler
Firecrest
Woodchat Shrike (3 times)
Black-headed Bunting (5 times)

More regular, but rare, visitors comprise for example: King Eiders, Yellow-billed Divers, Pallid & Montagu’s Harriers, Red-footed Falcons, Gyr Falcons, Avocets, Great Snipes, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas, Little Auks, Snowy Owls, Bee-eaters, Greater Short-toed Larks, Crested Larks, Richard’s and Tawny Pipits, Red-flanked Bluetails, Stonechats, Pallas’s Leaf Warblers, Yellow-browed Warblers, Collared Flycatchers, Penduline Tits, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Rose-coloured Starlings and Little Buntings.

Collared Flycatcher is an annual visitor in Utö

All Red-flanked Bluetails have been spotted in September-October

A few Yellow-browed Warblers visit Utö every autumn

Booted Warbler has been recorded twice