Thursday 21 June 2012

Birding in Latvia - Part 1

It was holiday time at last. Polina had gone to Latvia for 3 weeks and I joined her for 2 weeks. In July 2011 we spent a fortnight there and birded both locally and further afield in the eastern part of Latvia near the Russian border. This time all the birding I did was local patch stuff. Mostly around the back garden, local woods and nearby river. However as you will see, for a visiting Irish birder, there was plenty around to tickle my fancy. We stayed with Polina's mum in Jurmala which is about 25 kilometers from the capital Riga. Jurmala is on the coast facing out onto the Gulf of Riga. There is a long beach that stretches from the Lielupe river for almost 40 kilometers.

Beach at Jurmala, Latvia, June 2012

Jurmala is a beach resort which in Soviet times was a favoured destination for many high ranking Communist party officals including Nikita Khruschev and Leonid Brezhnev. The neighbourhood consists of plenty of old style houses with mature gardens and plenty of native forest, mainly spruce but with an under-story of oak, beech and birch. So perfect for many woodland species.

Local woods about 50 meters from the house - great for woodland species

About 500 meters from the house was a small nature reserve along the banks of the Lielupe river. Mainly a place for walking and fishing but plenty of good birds to be seen and heard there too.

Nature reserve at Lielupe river

Birding is not big in Latvia, hunting and fishing are the main outdoor pursuits. I never met anyone else birding while I was there and clearly drew some odd looks from locals as I strolled around with bins and camera. As I said there were a lot of mature gardens in the neighbourhood and one of the nicest and juiciest looking was that of the Russian embassy, however I thought better about pointing a big camoflage covered lens into that garden!! In any case Polina's mum's back garden had more than enough gems to occupy me.

Some shots of the back garden

Saturday 2nd June

Arrived at 6am to Riga airport. The weather was cold and wet! While waiting to be picked up I spied a distant falcon being mobbed by several Hoodies which turned out to the the one and only Kestrel I have ever seen in Latvia.
I grabbed some sleep after the flight and that evening ventured out to the local woods but the weather was still cold and wet, the woods were very quiet but at least there was a female Common Redstart in the garden. Hopefully there was a male around somewhere!

Sunday 3rd June

The weather had picked up a bit. The garden across the road had a singing Common Whitethroat which stayed around for 3 days and also a female Whinchat briefly. Not bad garden birds!

Common Whitethroat - sang for 3 days before moving on.
We took a trip into Riga for supplies and had a nice White Stork feeding on the grass verge between both lanes of the motorway. That evening as we BBQ'd the sun came out and a Blackcap singing from the back of the garden was soon joined by a singing Icterine Warbler.

I burn the meat while P listens to the Icky singing
Monday 4th June

Back into the city centre again. Plenty of Common Swifts and quite a few Tree Sparrows in the local parks.

Tree Sparrow - plentiful
That evening I took a stroll up to the Lielupe river, at about 7.30pm the light was really warm and soft. And the Acro's were out in force!! Quite a few singing Marsh, Sedge and Reed Warblers and this smashing and very showey Great Reed Warbler.

Great Reed Warbler - Lielupe river, Latvia, June 2012
He remained there in song for almost 2 weeks. Never really bothered by my presence and was quite happy to put on a show for me several times.

Singing Great Reed Warbler movie clip

Tuesday 5th June

We took a very brief drive to the Kemeri National Park about 44 kilometers from Riga. At a spot we'd been to last year we had singing Icterine Warbler (which showed briefly but otherwise they seem to sing from deep cover).

Icterine Warbler, Kemeri National Park, Latvia, June 2012
Also several Marsh Warblers including one quite vocal and confident individual.

Marsh Warbler, Kemeri National Park, Latvia, June 2012

There were plenty of Common Whitethroat around here too, interestingly in July 2011 I saw none and quite a few Lesser 'throats. This time in early June it was the opposite way around, I saw no Lesser 'throats at all!

Common Whitethroat, Kemeri Nationa Park, Latvia, June 2012
The rain came in though and we had to cut our visit to Kemeri short. Following a clearance and some nice evening sunshine, we hired bikes and cycled around the local neighbourhood in Jurmala.

Bike rental, Jurmala, Latvia, June 2012
Apart from feeling like kids on our bikes again we had 3 singing male Common Redstarts in various gardens and a pair of Fieldfares. No camera with me then though!

More in part 2................

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