Suomen Luonto
English summaries 4/2002

It sounds like spring - even the blind can study birds
By Alice Karlsson
Pages 4—9

Although Hannes Tiira cannot see the scenery in front of him, he forms a mental picture of it through sound and smell. Spring is rain and sunshine which warms everything up after the long period of cold. Then the ground is exposed. \\\"I cannot see it, but I can feel it beneath my feet,\\\" he says. \\\"It’s a great feeling! New kinds of birds keep appearing. And then, suddenly, there is a chaffinch singing!\\\"

Tiira already had defective eyesight during childhood, but he did not become completely blind until 1976, when he was about twenty years old. He remembers the things and colours he saw as a little boy and a youth. Unfortunately he has only dim memories of birds because he did not become interested in them for more than ten years after being afflicted with total blindness.

Tiira was trained as a priest. After serving the church for several years, he became a freelance writer. This work turned out, however, to be extremely demanding and tiring. Yet it was the birds that saved him. Interviewing an amateur ornithologist for a church magazine, Tiira suddenly realised that this was where his future lay.

Nature had not previously ‘connected’ with Tiira but now he began to notice sounds. The world warbled, cackled, and chirruped. On one side there were sounds of birds keeping in touch with each other, on the other warning cries. Tiira soon noticed that the same bird may have up to dozens of different utterances. In ten years of pursuing his hobby, Tiira has listened to around 260 different bird species in Finland.

Nowadays Tiira makes a living out of bird songs. He has recorded birds in the wild and then had a commercial CD and cassette made of his recordings. He supplies museums and nature reserve visitor centres with recordings and also makes ‘good spirit’ adverts. Thus far he has managed to write six books, the latest being \\\"Small songsters of the night\\\", made together with Janne Lampolahti. This book provides information about species like the thrush nightingale, Acrocephalus warblers ja Locustella warblers.

Tiira has become obsessed with birds that sing during the night and he would dearly love to be able to enjoy Finnish summer nights all year round. \\\"I only live for six weeks a year, from Mother’s Day (12th May in 2002) and the first thrush nightingale, to the rasping call of the last corncrake at the beginning of July!\\\"

Hannes Tiira actively involves himself in voluntary nature conservation work. If he were to climb back into the pulpit, he says he would preach about nature. \\\"Nature, and God’s work in the natural world, have priority in my life.\\\" He feels that Christianity and natural history are completely compatible. \\\"Christianity is based on a ‘love thy neighbour’ concept. To me garden birds, for instance, are such ‘neighbours’. It is my responsibility to see that they have enough food in winter.\\\"

Ringed seal lair count in Kolovesi National Park
By Jouko Kuosmanen
Pages 16—19

Warden Ola Jääskeläinen counts and studies lairs of the Saimaa ringed seal in Kolovesi National Park in April every year. This enables a watch to be kept on the production of juveniles by this endangered species. The author accompanied Jääskeläinen on a tour of lairs which proved both empty and occupied.

The trip was made by snowmobile along shore ice that was already starting to melt. Jääskeläinen has been park warden for ten years and knows the shores like the back of his hand. A warden’s duties are manyfold: he has to guide visitors, construct resting and camping places, carry out maintenance work, and observe wildlife. Counting ringed seal lairs comes under the latter heading.

Generally, a ringed seal will make its cave-like lair in a snow drift lying on the shore of some island or other. The lair always has an escape route into the water, from which the mother can emerge to suckle her pup. She also catches fish for herself. The searchers discovered this kind of lair, which also contained pup hair. These indicated that the lair had produced one of these endangered animals, now diving in Lake Saimaa’s dark waters. Jääskeläinen took some hair samples from the lair for identifying the pup.

Nowadays the most serious threat to the Saimaa ringed seal in Kolovesi are the fish nets hung in the winter in spring. Young pups easily become entangled in these and (being mammals) drown. Not long ago the main danger came from the snowmobiles driven along the lake shore in winter. These easily demolished the seals’ lairs. However, this form of activity has now been brought under control, reports Jääskeläinen.

What makes Finland’s climate what it is?
By Antti Halkka
Pages 32—35

Finland’s climate receives dryness from the Scandinavia Köli mountain chain, warmth from the Barents Sea, and cold from peatland drainage, says senior meteorologist Reijo Solantie. Within the boreal coniferous forest zone, Finland has a special status as it has a maritime climate. Thus, the winters are not extremely severe, neither does permafrost exist within its borders. On the other hand, the climate is not overly maritime, as it is in Scotland and Iceland, for instance, where the growing period is long but cool.

The Gulf Stream brings heat from the Caribbean to the Barents Sea, which thus remains unfrozen even in the depths of winter. Arctic ice masses remain for well into the summer along the coast in Alaska, Canada and Siberia. In the Barents Sea the ice limit lies beyond Spitsbergen. The provision of warmth by the Gulf Stream explains why forests in Finland grow 100-500 km further north than is usual at this latitude.

Solantie says that clear local climatic differences exist in various parts of Finland. As one progresses south-east rain increases. Ground frost decreases in an east-south-east direction because it depends on how low the temperature is in relation to the snow depth. Forest vegetation rigorously follows these climatic divisions and the climate and vegetation are interactive.

Mankind has altered the Finnish climate by turning forests into fields, and particularly by draining wetlands. Solantie considers that so much wetland has been drained for forestry purposes here that the total surface area lost to tree growth is equivalent to twice the area of forest originally felled for arable land. In the central boreal zone 30 percent of the entire surface area consists of drained wetland. Consequences of manmade drainage are lower night temperatures and an increase in night frosts during summer. There were many stiff frosts in the 1970-1980 period; now the drained areas have developed a forest cover which protects the ground surface from freezing.

Solantie feels there are far too few people studying the climate in Finland compared to biologists, for example. Nature conservation would benefit greatly by having more meteorologists and hydrologists ‘on board’. Unfortunately, Finland’s current science policy does not encourage the study of its own country’s climate. The Finnish Meteorological Institute, the University of Helsinki, and the Academy of Finland are pooling their efforts in a study of global climate change and the ozone layer.

The wilderness returns to the Sky Islands
By Jim O’Donnell
Pages 42—46

The USA’s South-West features deserts and mountains. These barren lands are dominated by cacti, agaves (century plants) and yucca palms, with pine and juniper forests in the mountains. The indigenous habitat was more luxuriant, European immigrants destroying it within a short time to form landscapes that these days we consider ‘natural’. Now an attempt is being made to restore the original wilderness - \\\"the wildlands\\\".

In the USA, environmentalists are working hard to restore at least part of the wilderness that covered North America before the arrival of the Europeans. Extensive areas have been brought under protection through The Wildlands Project. The project is making use of nature conservation biology, the state’s wilderness laws, and thousands of volunteers. As things stand, the South-West is now way out in front of the rest of the country in this respect.

The Sky Islands form a 37,000 ecological area extending into New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. The name comes from the surface formations. The \\\"islands\\\" are actually mountains jutting up out of prairies inhabited by grasses and herbs, a landscape type referred to as \\\"mountain and range\\\". The mountains form islands for the animals and plants adapted to living in them. The Sky Islands encompass no less than 40 mountainous areas.

In terms of species, the region supports 3000 flowering plants, 133 mammals (including as many as 29 bats), 136 amphibians, and over 400 birds. This barren area thus forms one of the world’s three most biodiverse concentrations of wildlife.
The broad array of species results from the region’s geographical location, geology, climate and height above sea level. The Sky Islands lie at the northern limit of many tropical species and the southern limit of many northern and temperate zone species. The altitude varies from a little over 1,000 metres to 3,350 metres. Winters are excruciatingly cold, while the summers are extremely hot. Although there may be as much as 1000 mm of rain a year, the mean precipitation amounts to under 220 mm. Rivers are the region’s only permanent water bodies.

Most of the area’s ecosystems have changed. Originally, forest and bush fires were important ecosystem regulators, together with large carnivores. Smaller fires spread swiftly through the grasslands and forest undergrowth, but grazing and fire control put a stop to the phenomenon of wildfire. Many plants and insects were ecologically dependent on these fires. Predation by large carnivores kept the wapiti (elk) and white-tailed populations in check. With the destruction of wolves, and serious reductions in the puma and bobcat populations, deer and wapiti stocks have swollen. These unchecked herbivores are now destroying the wetlands and open grasslands, consuming vast quantities of forest undergrowth and increasing erosion, causing rivers to silt up and destroy fish habitats. The great predators also kept down populations of smaller predators, like racoons and cats.

The wildland restoration project has established a network of interconnected wilderness areas founded on ecological, political and social factors. Precisely defined scientific criteria control activities.

One aspect of wilderness reinstatement has been the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf in the Sky Islands. This subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) of the wolf was completely wiped out in the wild. Fortunately, so many individuals remained in zoos that its genetic material was safeguarded. Slightly less than a decade ago biologists began releasing the wolves, a few at a time. Many local inhabitants vociferously oppose the Mexican wolf’s reintroduction and many false accusations against the species have been made. Consequently, during the last two years a dozen or so of the wolves have been illegally shot.