Return to Konnevesi

Winter is finally over in Finland (although you wouldn’t always guess it from the weather) so the bird population in Konnevesi can once again relax and get on with the important things, like having babies.

Last year I posted a rather morose description of our struggles to catch enough birds following two bad breeding seasons. I’m happy to report that we did in fact get a decent season in 2016, in fact midsummer was actually sunny! As a result catching was much easier this winter.

Exhibit A – a slightly blurry Willow tit 

But the joy is somewhat short-lived as this May has been one of the coldest on record. I won’t actually be working with the birds this coming winter (I’m off to warmer climes) but I hope this cold weather hasn’t hit them too hard…

More fun with tiny dinosaurs

Winter has come to Finland in all its snowy glory and that can mean only one thing. Back to Konnevesi!





































I already did one experiment with the Great Tits before Christmas, but now I am back to working with the Blue Tits, and all the joys and frustrations that entails. To celebrate the arrival of WiFi in the bird house I decided to live-tweet one full day of bird fun.

I started by introducing my participants for the day…

(Getting photos of them proved tricky)

We were all set to go, but problems began almost immediately.

Still there was some good news.

and soon we had our first success of the day!

By this time is was already midday and B48 still hadn’t eaten.

But even that was not enough.

So with not much happening it was time for some random facts!

As well as a discussion of the relative merits of Blue vs Great Tits.

All the while the Blue Tits continued to be uncooperative.

I started to consider bring out another bird. B42.

And the troubles continued.

Frustrations started to show.

But finally…

And we had our second success of the day.

But with the afternoon almost gone would that be the last?

It was time for a new addition.

But would B6 come through for us?

With one final success it was time to finish for the day. I normally aim to do 4 birds a day so 3 isn’t so bad.

The benefits of working on Finnish holidays

1. Building is basically empty, no-one to notice you singing in the lab

2. No queue for coffee machine

3. Can get the best table in the break room

4. It’s raining anyway

5. …and all the shops are closed

6. Finns will be impressed with your work ethic

7. Can show up late, leave early, procrastinate like hell and still feel virtuous because you are “working a holiday”

It almost makes up for all the times someone in the UK asks “Do you guys have a bank holiday today as well?” while posting photos of themselves drunk in a park.

Oh and happy Juhannus!

ICBB2014 (or “Impostor syndrome raises it’s ugly head again”)

At the beginning of August I attended the international butterfly behavior conference (ICBB2014) in Turku. This was my first time at this conference as I admit I wasn’t even aware it existed until this year! In my defense, I’ve never worked on butterflies (and in fact still don’t!) but thankfully it seems standards are slipping and they now happily tolerate moth researchers in their midst. Despite the slight mismatch, it was a really good opportunity for me to catch up on what’s going on in the field, and get a better handle on the biology of my new system; butterflies being a lot closer to moths than bugs are!


Cute butterflies at Lammi
Cute butterflies at Lammi
I am now also better acquainted with the rockstars of the butterfly world. I was already aware of the extensive ongoing work on Heliconius thanks to various entomology and genetics conferences, but I never realised the sheer amount of cool work on Bicyclus anynana (other wise known as the squinting bush brown). The Glandvill fritillary, famous for it’s use in the study of meta populations, was also well represented. This at least was one system I was already familiar with, having visited the home of the Glanville Fritillary Project at Lammi back in April (we were there to check out their impressive butterfly-rearing facilities). From the perspective of my current work on the maintenance of polymorphism in aposematic systems there were a lot of very relevant talks, but Erica Westerman’s talk, in particular, on biased mate-preference learning got me thinking more on the role of learning in reproductive interference as well.
Female Bicyclus anynana. Photo taken by Gilles San Martin. From Wikimedia Commons.
Female Bicyclus anynana. Photo taken by Gilles San Martin. From Wikimedia Commons.

So overall it was a very useful and enjoyable experience for me. That said there were moments when I felt very much like an outsider. I’m sure this is hardly an uncommon experience when attending a meeting for the first time, or moving into a slightly different system. For me this feeling tends to surface more at small meetings and in this case was probably made stronger by the references to the meeting’s long history and tight-knit community. To be clear, this is not a criticism. I’m certain the only intent behind these was to highlight both the success of the meeting, and the benefits it has, and will continue to bring, to the field. I wonder if I’m alone however in feeling subtlety excluded and, more importantly, how I can stop feeling that way. I think not having anything to present (either as a talk or a poster) certainly contributed. With a bit of luck I will soon have enough data to ensure I don’t find myself in that position again for quite some time. Still it seems my impostor syndrome hasn’t retreated quite as much as I thought. Bother.


I don’t want to end this post on a down note though, so I will take this opportunity to mention the awesome Marimekko bags we got with our registration packs! As well as making fellow conference-goers easily recognisable, even from considerable distances, they have made those of us who went the envy of our whole lab group. 🙂 I’m still sad that the different colours were not, in fact, an experiment on density dependent selection (several people expressed a desire for the rarest colours). Maybe next time?

No electricity for Foreigners (i.e. moving countries is hard)

I hate asking for help. Well…that’s not quite true. From a small subset of people I am quite happy to ask for help, as my long-suffering PhD office mate will attest, but from people in authority? People I want to make a good impression on? Strangers? Forget it.

Thus it was probably not my smartest idea to move to a country where I don’t speak the language. I’m going to start by saying I am well aware that it is way way, easier to be a non-Finnish speaking person in Finland than it is to be a non-English speaking person in the UK. For starters people here don’t get mad at you for not speaking Finnish. They also don’t say Finnish words very loudly at you in the hope that this will magically make you understand. Most organisations have an English section on their website, even if it is a bit limited, and most Finns under the age of 40 speak English. (Quick hint, if a Finn says they speak “a bit” of English it means they are practically fluent.) That said though, there are still problems. Foremost among these is Finland’s apparently unofficial policy that foreigners can’t have electricity.

So you have an apartment sorted? Congratulations! You even managed to do this without asking for much help (though you still needed some, to your eternal shame). Now you need to open a contract with the local electricity company. Unlike in the UK, you need this contract before they will turn on the power to you apartment. Say you want to move straight in when you arrive in Finland? You should probably call the set up the contract about a week before you move. Step one is getting past the Finnish robot voice to find someone who speaks English (if you have a Finnish-speaking friend in the UK you’re going to have to ask for yet more help), but here’s where the fun really starts. In order to open your contract you need to have a Finnish ID number. In order to get a Finnish ID number you need TO ACTUALLY BE IN FINLAND. Once I arrived getting it only took me a couple of days in the end, but it involved a trip to the police station and then to the town hall, all accompanied by a helpful Finn (who also called the electricity company for me after my hilarious failed attempts to communicate with them). Nevertheless, this meant several days of darkness. Good job it’s not winter!

You kind of need an ID number for everything here. It leads to a weird system where you can’t get an employment contract without a number, and you can’t register for a number without an employment contract. Thankfully, the University is wise to this and simply puts a temporary number on your first contract to neatly sidestep this issue.

My current issue is getting a tax card; actually issue makes it sound harder than it is. As you will soon see this particular problem is entirely of my own making. All the online advice says to simply fill out a tax form and take it to the local tax office. Easy right? So form in hand I (eventually) located the nearest tax office and paid them a visit. I walked in, looked at all the different desks and waiting areas, read the (entirely Finnish) signs, dithered for a bit, and then walked out.

Yeah, I suck. I should have just found a staff member and asked them what to do. Failing that I should ask a Finn to come with me and translate the signs. Instead my new plan is to try and send the form in the mail, thereby neatly avoiding any human interaction whatsoever. Problem is I first need to ask someone how the mail system here works….

Maybe I could just pay 60% tax instead? How bad could it be?