Saturday 10 May 2014

A short trip to Latvia

I arrived back in Latvia last Thursday for just a short visit. Despite an early flight, once I arrived I was given a list of gardening chores to get along with. As I pulled weeds and raked the grass, a male Common Redstart sung from the trees at the back of the garden and was joined briefly by a Wood Warbler spinning his coin. A forty-five minute walk in the woods later that evening revealed up to five Wood Warblers already in song.
Yesterday Friday the tiredness hit me and I had other things to do, so no birding.
Today on our way into Riga by train I had a quick glimpse of two Hawfinches as they flew from one tree to another. A Latvian tick for me. Having done our business near the city we strolled back along the footpath that runs along side the train line. One one side is the rail track and on the other are gardens and a mix of whitethorn and hawthorn type bushes. I caught a brief snatch of Nightingale song. When I remembered what part of the world I was in I realised that it would have to be Thrush Nightingale (a lifer). It was singing very close by, but recent experiences of Nightingales in Norwich have taught me not to expect any sort of views without a lot of patience. However, I couldn't believe my luck when there it was in full view on a branch singing away. The song is of course like that of Nightingale, but different, maybe not quite so melodic or fluting. We listened and watched for a while before the bird moved away. I could still here it singing as we sat in the station waiting for the train.
We got back to Jurmala and I decided to take a stroll up to the Lielupe river area that I regularly bird when I'm here. This place never disappoints and today was no exception.
As I left the house the rain started to chuck it down. I thought about turning back but I was glad I kept going. Along the banks of the first small fish pond were ten Whinchats, a couple of White Wagtails and a single Blue-headed Wagtail. There was no sign of the male Stonechat which I found here last month, which was incidentally only the thirteenth record for Latvia. Next up was a rather sodden but pretty female Common Redstart. I hadn't much time so I tried to do a full circuit of this small reserve. I came around to a row of beech trees and willows near the allotments and picked up some movement. In fact quite a lot of movement, the more I looked the more I could see, these few trees were heaving with migrants. Presumably stalled by the heavy rain. First I had a Lesser Whitethroat, then another and another until soon I lost count of Lesser Whitethroats. Two male Blackcaps, then a female, then a Garden Warbler, then another Garden Warbler. In the tree beside me was a Tree Pipit, actually two Tree Pipits. Then, the special one!.....a stunningly beautiful male Red-breasted Flycatcher. I watched him for a while. A Wryneck whizzed past and vanished into cover. Willow Warblers were everywhere. A male Common Redstart was feeding around the base of a tree and I counted at least two Spotted Flycatchers and five Pied Flycatchers. All this in about three or four trees. There is no doubt the heavy rain had dropped them down. In the middle of all of this excitement, a Corncrake starts 'crex-crexing' from the long grass just behind while another Corncrake responds from about two hundred meters further off.
I had promised to be back by 6.30pm, I had to peal myself away from the place. For the last thirty minutes or so the rain had stopped and the bird numbers had begun to thin down as they moved on.
I got back to house in time to hear and see a Greenish Warbler singing from a pine tree along the side of the house.
Back to England tomorrow, but what a place for birding Latvia is!

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