Hanko Bird Observatory (Halias) is situated on the tip of the Hanko Peninsula (Uddskatan) and it is maintained by The Birding Society of The Helsinki Area, Tringa ry. Activities of the observatory includes visual counts and ringing.
Data of the observatory is collected by using three different methods: (1) counting visible migration including standardized observation, (2) counting local staging birds and (3) ringing birds with mist-nets. The daily routine of an observer at Halias starts with a standard morning observation of migration for four hours starting at sunrise. The migration observing is done from the top of the old Russian bunker. All staging birds in the area of Halias including the bank of Gåsörsudden are recorded and reported. Ringing is based on 12 standard passerine nets and in the autumn eight raptor nets are also used. Waders are trapped with special wader walk in traps on the stony bank of Gåsörsudden, which is situated about 1,5 kilometers from the observatory building. Daily observations are gathered in the evening and are written on to observatory observation sheets. Observations are entered into a computer for later analysis.
The database of the observatory includes more than 20 million birds, which 280 000 has been ringed. The data have been used to monitor the migration phenology and development of passing through bird populations. During recent years the data of the observatory has especially been used in climate research. However, only minor part of potentiality of the huge database has been utilized so far. The data of the observatory is free to use for researchers and we have listed several potential research topic. These research subjects could be for instance used thesis or post-doc studies.
In case that you are interested of research in Halias, please contact Aleksi Lehikoinen, aleksi.lehikoinen(at)helsinki.fi, mobile tel. +358-45-1375732. The actions of Hanko Birding Observatory are yearly published in Tringa-magazine and national Linnut-yearbook (in Finnish).
It is possible to visit the Uddskatan nature conservation area without permit, but to get in to the observatory you need drive through the customs area of Hanko free port, which is why you always need a permit signed by the manager of the observatory. Moving in the free port area without permission is forbidden. To get a permit contact observatory manager: Kari Soilevaara, halias(ät)tringa.fi.
The yearly fee of the observatory is 25 euros for people that stay for the night. Fees are paid to the observatory bank account IBAN: FI63 1014 3000 2052 66; BIC: NDEAFIHH.
The observatory is situated in nature reserve of Uddskatan, which is managed by Metsähallitus (Finnish Forestry and Park service). Landing from the sea is forbidden through whole year and walking is allowed only along marked paths. Visitors need to follow the instructions of the observatory as well as the regulations of the reserve.
The bird year of Halias
Halias is known especially for bird rich autumns, when irruptive migration birds (such as tits, woodpeckers, nutcrackers, crossbills, owls etc.) are migrating. On the other hand great numbers of waterfowl, cranes, raptors and waders are seen every year. Halias is a good birding area throughout the year as long as the sea is not completely frozen.
In the spring time, the peninsula of Uddskatan doesn’t gather birds in as big numbers as in the autumn and therefore the ringing activities are not continuous. In spring activities are concentrated on migration counts. The observatory is usually occupied from the beginning of March till the beginning of June.
Spring migration usually starts during the first half of March, but it varies slightly depending on how cold the winter has been. In the turn of March and April migration consists on thousands of common eiders Somateria mollissima and hundreds of other ducks. King eiders S. spectabilis are seen every spring. In mid-April thousands of cranes Grus grus migrate over the Hanko peninsula and the biggest day counts exceed thousands of birds. At the same time thousands of finches are migrating and by the end of April the wader migration starts to get more intensive, when oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus and sandpipers start their migration to the arctic breeding areas. In May arctic migration continues with thousands of geese, divers and waders especially in the second half of the month. In mid-May the early autumn migration starts when goldeneye Bucephala clangula, eider, mallard Anas platyrhychos and goosander Mergus merganser males start to migrate to their western moulting areas. At the end of May several hundreds of migrating goldeneyes can be seen during one morning. At the beginning of June visible migration starts to taper off and there is time to listen the night singers like marsh warblers Acrocephalus palustris and Blyth’s reed warblers A. dumetorum. Every spring is full of surprises and during suitable weather conditions it is possible to observe amazing migration such as 50 000 thrushes or 500 Scarlet Rosefinches Carpodacus erythrinus in one day.
Autumn observation is usually started in the middle of July and it continues without breaks untill the beginning of November. Ringing, observation of migration and staging birds are the daily routines. About ten thousand birds are ringed every year at Halias and most of these are tits.
Bird migration is usually weak in June unless it happens to be a year when hundreds of common crossbills Loxia curvirostra move through the area. Autumn migration of waders starts to become stronger in the beginning of July, when many sandpipers start their southward migration. The migration of black-headed gulls Larus ridibundus culminates in mid of July. By the end of the month hundreds of waders can been seen on the bank of Gåsörsudden if the sea level is low (there is no tide in the Baltic Sea). In August, Eurasian sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus, tree pipits Anthus trivialis, yellow wagtails Motacilla flava and swallows and martins start to migrate in larger numbers. Tens of sparrowhawks can be ringed during one day.
In September the migrating diversity is highest. Cranes and different species of waterfowl, raptors, pigeons and passerines are migrating in large numbers. The biggest daily counts of cranes are more than 10000 migrating birds. At the turn of September and October the migration of many irruptive migratory bird species usually starts. The biggest numbers of tits and Eurasian jays Garrulus glandarius are seen in the first half of October, when thousands of tits and hundreds of jays can be seen. During this time more than a thousand birds can be ringed in one day. Owls are captured with night time mist-netting through out October. During the best nights more than five species of owls and over 20 individuals can be caught. October is also the best time for woodpeckers, finches and eastern vagrants. Yellow-browed Phylloscopus inornatus and Pallas’ leaf warblers P. proregulus are ringed almost every year. In the beginning of November the intense migration starts to weaken. However, good numbers of waterfowl such as goosanders can be seen as late as December. In some years when the rowanberries are abundant thousands of waxwings Bombycilla garrulus and fieldfares Turdus pilaris can be seen feasting on the berries during late autumn and winter.
Over 300 species have been seen at the observatory with many accidental vagrants. Firsts for Finland in Halias has been dusky thrush Turdus eunomus in October 1980, western Bonelli’s warbler P. bonelli in June 2000 and pallid swift Apus pallidus in October 2004. Observed spring rarities are for example great northern diver Gavia immer, pallid harriers Circus macrourus, bee-eaters Merops apiaster, red-rumped swallows Hirundo daurica, tawny pipits Anthus campestris, citrine wagtails Motacilla citreola, collared flycatchers Ficedula albicollis, penduline tits Remiz pendulinus, woodchat shrike Lanius senator, lesser grey shrikes L. minor and many others.
The rarest autumn vagrants have been glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus, ruddy shelducks Tadorna ferruginea, short-toed Circaetus gallicus and steppe eagle Aquila nipalensis, red phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius, short-toed larks Calandrella brachydactyla, Siberian accentors Prunella montanella and black-throated accentor P. atrogularis, common nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, desert warbler Sylvia nana, dusky warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus, Radde’s warblers P. schwarzi and hume’s leaf warblers P. humei and rose starlings Sturnus roseus etc.
In winter Halias is one of the best places to watch waterfowl, because the Baltic Sea surrounding Halias freezes later than lakes, the Gulf of Bothnia and the eastern Gulf of Finland. As long as there is open water in the area waterfowl try to winter there. Steller’s eiders Polysticta stelleri and even gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus have been seen several times in winter.
The latest bird observations can be found from the Tiira bird database
(Birdlife Finland) (in Finnish).