Lithuania 12th to 16th of April 2001

To Lithuania

About a week before the trip I got a phone call from Matti Lötjönen: “Hello Janne, would you like to go to Lithuania?”, “Hello Matti, when we are going?”, “After one week.”, “OK!” This was about how it all started.

We left with Hanna from Parikkala by night-train in the evening of the 11th of April. We met Matti in Helsinki and continued by Matti’s small car to the ferry terminal and soon we were going towards Tallinn. On the ferry we started to keep the trip-list. On Thursday 12th of April at 11:30 a.m. we left by car to drive through Tallinn. Matti was driving and Janne reading a map always when we got to the cities. We crossed the border to Latvia and managed to drive through big Riga pretty easily. After we had crossed the border to Lithuania we still had 200 kilometres to drive to Rusne.

Rusne is the south-easternmost place of Lithuania and it is situated on the coast of Baltic Sea, it is a delta-area of the biggest river of the country Nemunas. Rusne is 5 to 7 kilometres big area and there are many fish-pools and many other good birding places too. During the migration there can be more than 10 000 White-fronted Geese on the fields.

On the way we saw mostly Lapwings, Common Buzzards, some flocks of White-fronted Geese and of course White Storks. It was already 10 p.m. when we finally were in Rusne. We called to the owner of our hostel and she came to pick us up from the village. After a couple of minutes we were in our house where a fire was warming. We paid our 2 nights stay with lunches and dinners and it was 220 litas altogether.

Birding in Rushne

On the 13th of April we did birding from the both bird-towers near Rusne fish-pools. We started from the closer tower. Once we had parked our car we heard a Savi’s Warbler singing. Bitterns were calling, Chiffchaffs singing and from the pools we found 5 Black-necked Grebes, a Red-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebes, Gadwalls, Pochards, lots of Smews, many common ducks and swans. A couple of Penduline Tits were feeding on the willows and moving slowly towards the village. Several Bearded Tits were heard and also a Water Rail was calling. White-fronted Geese were moving from Silute to Rusne fields but they were moving in small flocks. The weather was very moisture so only raptor was a Marsh Harrier. We stayed on the tower for about an hour.

Next we continued to the northern tower and on the way we saw lots of ducks and waders. Pintails, Shovelers, about 100 Teals, some Garganeys, Mallards, about 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 20 Snipes and even 2 Avocets were seen moving somewhere.

From the tower we saw to the sea and there was about 100 Whooper Swans, also Bewick’s Swans were further but the haze made identifying difficult. Mute Swans were staying closer to the tower with Greylag Geese. We also saw several Grey Herons and a White-tailed Eagle that tried to catch a hunter’s plastic duck! It tried to catch it several times flying every time slower and then landed over the duck but the duck of course was too slippery to catch. It was funny to watch! Finally the eagle gave up. On the meadow in front of us there were Black-tailed Godwits and some Redshanks and Ruffs. We also checked some fields nearby but found only more White-fronted Geese. Only some tens of Bean Geese were seen, 110 Barnacle Geese were seen in on flock.

In both Rusne and Oudra village we saw some Grey Partridges. Linnets and Gold Finches were common but we didn’t find any Serins even though we really tried.

Afternoon birding

While waiting for lunch we saw a couple of Black Redstarts in our garden. When we finally understood that we had came an hour too early we decide to sleep a little before the lunch. The lunch was very local, as starter we had raw fish-salad with jam. Then we had local soup and then good pork that had just been killed from the garden and excellent potatoes. Also the dessert was delicious.

In the afternoon we drove to the southern forest areas. Unfortunately it started to rain very hard but after some time the clouds moved away and sun started to shine. Thrushes and other passerines started to sing. We found a nice oak-forest along the Nemunas river. There we met also boarder guardians. 8 Cranes and a flock of almost 1000 White-fronted Geese were found from the fields. Geese were very shy! Grey Herons were fishing on the Russian side of the river and a Black Woodpecker was calling. A Kingfisher was seen flying along the river. Song Thrushes and Robins were very common and some Wrens were heard too. We also found a Bittern standing next to the road and it did its best to hide to the reeds.

We continued to the forest south of Silute and we saw a big flock of Cormorants, some Grey Herons and of course White Storks along the river. The road was in bad shape becouse of some resent floods. Finally we found the first Lesser Spotted Eagle and soon another eagle came there too and they landed to the field and we saw them mating! We also saw a Rough-legged Buzzard and a Common Buzzard.

After we had continued we found some deers and they are amazing fast runners, Matti’s Nissan wasn’t speeding up that well. Later we saw a Great Grey Shrike and a Collared Dove before we continued to Silute to do some shopping. The last observation of the day was a Beaver.

We had a dinner at 8 p.m. and we had again some salad and home made sausage. Then we were talking with our host and watching pictures she showed us. It was nice.

Kroku Lanka

On the 14th of April we started early and we were surprised when we noticed that it had been snowing during the night! There was a 5 cm snow-layer on the ground! Anyway we left towards Kintai pools and Kroku Lanka reed-beds and fields.

Kroku Lanka is a big bay in Kuronian Sea and it had big reed-beds and fields, the bay itself is not that good for birds. Next to the bay there is Ventes Ragas spit where is also a bird-station. Kintai is a village along the road to the spit. Neringa is a long dyne that divides Kuronian Sea from Baltic Sea.

On the way to Kroku Lanka we saw lots of Skylarks and Blackbirds. Golden Plover, Lapwings and Snipes were found from the snowy fields and also a Green Sandpiper and a Ringed Plover were seen. We continued to Kroku Lanka harbour where we saw an Oystercatcher. Birds were very tame because of the cold weather; they needed to feed so they weren’t shy at all. So we managed to see a flock of 200 White-fronted Geese very well too.

We continued towards Silute and the turned to Kintai pools. The water-level was low so it really looked good place. 100 ducks were seen, but only interesting was a strange dipper-coloured Mallard. Some Ruffs, a Green Sandpiper, Lapwings, a lonely White-fronted Goose and some swans were seen too. The signs told that we couldn’t continued to the pools that were still in use, so we turned back to old pools. Only Grey Herons, Black-headed Gulls, White Wagtails, Starlings and Lapwings were found.

Towards Neringa

We continued to Ventes via Kintai village. We saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and lots of Chaffinches. 5 bullfinches and a Sparrowhawk were new trip-ticks. In the garden of a bird-station we saw a flock of 5 Waxwings and there we saw also 3 huge fellas that were catching birds. There were some smaller ones on the shoreline but now only some mist-nets were working, because of the wind that was finally dropping down.

The younger ringer was checking the mist-nets and there were Goldcrests and Greenfinches hanging. He told us about the numbers they had been ringing and they were huge numbers! Last week they had caught hundreds of Goldcrests and even 8 Firecrests too! Unfortunately now there was almost no migration at all, but from the shore we found some ducks, grebes, mergansers and Coots. In alders we saw Robins, Wrens and tits. On a small pool in the garden there was a Moorhen swimming. The best bird was a Rock Pipit that was feeding on a grass.

Soon we had to continue towards Neringa. On the way we saw some Grey Partridges and Yellow Wagtail, Ruffs, ducks and gulls. On the way to Klaipeda we checked the fields along the road and saw Kestrels, Common Buzzards and so on. Soon we were waiting for a ferry to Neringa.

Neringa

There were ferries going every 30 minutes and the ferry-crossing takes only some minutes. It costs 15 litas to Neringa and back. After some kilometres there is a road-toll.

The biggest villages in Neringa, or maybe better name for the area is Curonian Spit, are Smiltyne, Juodkrante and Nida. The spit is 100 kilometres long and it starts from Russia near Kaliningrad. Only the northern half of the spit belongs to Lithuania. It is only 1 to 4 kilometres wide. There are good roads but you need to saty on the roads especially on dyne-area.

Black magic

We drove straight to the first bigger village to Juodkrante. And right after the village there is a huge Cormorant and Grey Heron colony! There is even a parking place and signs to the place where is even a platform from where to look at the birds. There are 1000 pairs of Cormorants and 500 pairs of Grey Herons breeding on trees! The voices are amazing! There was still snow on the trees so the picture was like from Japanese paintings. Black Woodpecker was one more black bird we saw there.

Under the trees we saw a family of Wild Boars that came to dig something to eat.

We drove next to Juodkrante where we saw 3 species of swans swimming together. While we were watching them we met a local birder that told us about a bird-station nearby. He offered us a opportunity to overnight there so we went to see the place. He told us that he had been controlling many Finnish birds in the station but also gull-rings on the harbour. After some talking we decided to stay there even though there was no electricity or water. Then we still decided to go birding for the last light of the day.

We drove south but it started to snow again. Se we went just to check the highest place of the dynes (49 metrs) which was close to the 31 km sign where next to a parking place. While we were driving back we saw Wild Boars and deers along the road. We heard that Wild Boars were sometimes stopping cars in purpose so they could get something to eat from people. On od the pigs had bitten ringer’s daughter when she hadn’t got anything to give them.

After a dinner in a restaurant we continued to the station where Vytautas (the ringer) had carried a warmer and also extra blankets. So the rest of the evening we were talking with Vytautas and having a good time.

amazing gull-migration

15th of April. We slept well even though it was very cold in our room. There was still a couple of centimetres snow on the ground and 0 degrees.

We left towards Nida where we knew there was a good migration watching place, so called Sun-clock-hill. From the hill we could see all the dynes on the seaside and normally the migration was going very near over the dynes. Now we stayed there for a half an hour but saw only some Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits. Then we continued to the shore of Baltic Sea.

We found a good place from the swimming beach and found even sheltered place behind some buildings. The northern or north-eastern wind was hard but we saw Red-throated Divers, Black-throated Divers, some Scaups, Long-tailed Ducks, Little Gulls and Wigeons migrating. But then we started to see many flocks of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Soon the flocks started to get bigger and there were flocks of 10 to 60 birds going all the time! They were migrating just over us and because of the wind they were just gliding all the time. In 1.5 hours we saw 1000 Lesser Black-backed Gulls which is a lot! They were almost all adults. We also saw a 2nd calendar-year Glauscous Gull which was the first ever in spring in Lithuania. The Lesser Black-backed Gull migration was also biggest ever!

Dynes and beaches

It was already midday when we continued to the highest place of the dynes. We climbed to the dynes and tried to find a Tawny Pipit that was breeding in the area. We had to stay on the trail of course. The erosion is very big problem here; in this wind we could see sand flying in the air. The scenery was like from Lapland because of there was snow on the dynes. Soon the sun started to shine and it was very bright. Finally we found a Tawny Pipit that we flushed almost from the top of dynes. From the top we could see Curonian Sea where Tufted Ducks and Scaups were swimming. Some flocks of Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits were still migrating. It was very different world than on the other side of the dyne. While we were walking back to our car we saw a Willow Tit and a Wood Lark.

In Juodkrante we said goodbye to Vytautas and after a short walk in a forest behind the station we drove to ferry-terminal. From the ferry we photographed tame gulls that came to feed with bread we threw to the water. Even Little and Lesser Black-backed Gulls came there.

We drove to Palanha and in a church park we found several Nuthatches. Palanga is Lithuanian Riviera with lots of hotels and avenues. There is a huge dock on the shore which was full of people. Close to this dock is a wintering place of Steller’s Eiders. We still saw about 200 Steller’s Eiders that was swimming very close to the dock. Later we heard that in a normal year they should have been gone already. On the sea we saw some gulls, ducks and divers migrating still.

We continued south along the coast and went to walk to a central park. Bullfinches, Coal and Crested Tits were found. The weather changed and soon it was getting warm. Soon we had to continue towards north.

Latvia

We crossed the border to Latvia and soon we parked to a parking place of Lake Pape bird-tower. From the tower we saw Mute Swans, Coots, Great Crested Grebes and Marsh Harriers. Next we stopped along the sea and saw still more than 200 Lesser Black-backed Gulls in one flock. From the fields we found some Greylag Geese.

We continued and about 6 p.m. we were driving in the middle of big fields in Nica. There we found a stunning 2nd calendar year Red Kite that was flying over the road several times. Hanna even managed to get some pictures of it. Also several Common Buzzards wee seen.

We drove until Liepaja where we changed away the rest of our Lithuanian litas in a new ferry-terminal.

The back-winter had really surprised everyone else too. We had been driving all the time with summer-tires too. There were buses and trucks in ditches along the road. The funniest accident was a red Ferrari that was in the middle of the muddy field and an old Massey-Ferguson was pulling it back to the road while a model looking blonde was standing next to the car in a field wearing mini-skirt and high heels.

We continued towards Riga and inland. Almost in every pond we saw Whooper Swans and the first Osprey of the trip was seen. There was even more snow inland, even 30 centimetres! So when we arrived at Riga the scenery was like from a Christmas card. We had just left summer in Palanga and were now in winter in Riga!

We drove through Riga until Saulkrasti where we found a nice hostel. Soon we were sleeping.

Through Estonia and back to home

16th of April. We woke up when the sun was rising. It was minus degrees outside. In the garden we saw a Hawfinch, Soon we wer driving towards the border of Estonia. Next to Riga-bay we saw flocks of Chaffinches and Skylarks migrating south, it seemed there was a back-winter in Finland too.

We drove throgh Audru fields where were some grey geese to Matsalu. A couple of Northern Wheatears and 300 Whooper Swans were seen before we parked to Keemu bird-tower. From the tower we saw a White-tailed Eagle and some strange looking winter-plumaged black-billed Common Terns. 4 Dunlins and 4 Temminck Stints were feeding on the shore and some Lapland Buntings were migrating. In Matsalu mansion garden we saw Nuthatches. Soon we continued towards Tallinn and in Risti we saw a 2nd calendar year Golden Eagle, a Lesser Spotted Eagle and several Common Buzzards.

In Tallinn harbour we saw a couple of Gadwalls and soon we were in a fast catamaran. So we didn’t see much from the boat. In Helsinki Matti left his home to sleep and we took a train to Parikkala. During the trip we had seen 135 bird-species, 120 of them in Lithuania. It wasn’t very much but the weather had been much colder than we had expected. Anyway we had really enjoyed our trip!

J.A. and Matti Lötjönen