Puzzling migration fluke brings thousands of Siberian birds to Finland

For unknown reasons, the Siberian accentor (pictured above) is being found in Finland by the thousands. (iStock)
For unknown reasons, the Siberian accentor (pictured above) is being found in Finland by the thousands. (iStock)
Birdwatchers from around Finland are flocking to the eastern city of Lappeenranta in hopes of catching a glimpse of a rare, elusive little bird known as the Siberian accentor.

For unknown reasons, thousands of these birds, which summer in northern Russia, have flown westward to Europe instead migrating to South-East Asia as usual.

There has been much excitement among ornithologists perched along the Rakkolanjoki river in Lappeenranta. They’re here looking for Siberian accentors, which have until now been extremely rare in Finland.

Before this year, there have only been 11 confirmed sightings of the species in the country. The spot where the small passerine birds have been seen in recent days is just three kilometres from the centre of Lappeenranta, a town of 73,000 near the Russian border.

Siberian accentor and other rarities

The Rakkolanjoki is a small river near the former Toikansuo dump, mostly fed by water from Lappeenranta’s water purification plant. There are small cavities in the riverbanks where these shy Siberian birds apparently hide in between trips to find seeds and other food in the snowy, subzero surroundings.

So far there have only been a couple of confirmed sightings of Siberian accentors along the river. These small birds are quick-moving and difficult to spot.

Local birder Pentti J. Hytönen visited twice without any luck, but on his third day spotted one of the visitors.

“Some of the people who’ve been here a while told me where the birds have been seen. So that’s where I spent my time and eventually got a good photo,” Hytönen tells Yle.

He notes that the birds are very fast and elusive, so “you have to have your camera on a quick shutter release, if you want to get a picture.”

Besides Siberian accentors, plenty of other species have been observed this week along the river, including wrens, willow warblers, white-throated dipper, dunnocks, yellowhammers, chiffchaffs, and hoary redpolls. Of these at least the warblers and chiffchaffs should already in warmer climes far to the south. Finland has experienced an early onset of winter this year, with heavy snow from the beginning of November in many areas.

“Utterly exceptional”

Siberian accentor sightings have only been verified 11 times in Finland before this year. So far in 2016 there have been 60 incidences.

“No-one can say why the accentors have come to Finland now. This is utterly exceptional,” says Jan Södersved, communications officer at Birdlife Finland.

According to Södersved, thousands of Siberian accentors left their nesting grounds north of the Ural Mountains, but migrated in the wrong direction.

“They should be on their way to Southeast Asia now,” he says.

Elsewhere in Europe, too, twitchers have reported seeing more Siberian accentors than usual.

“Up until this year these birds had only been seen in Europe 30 times, but this autumn there are already 200 sightings,” says Södersved.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Monitoring shows birds flying farther and faster than previously thought, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Wind farm aims to limit harm to birds, Yle News

Sweden: Swedish Coast Guard seeks answers on injured birds, Radio Sweden

United States: Starving seabirds grounded in Southcentral Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News

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