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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Estonia and Latvia, June 2011,
Ural Owl – Olgas Purvs, Latvia
From June 3 to June 20 I visited Estonia with my wife, covering the most important birding sites, and part of Latvia, looking especially for some breeding birds such as Ural Owl, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Greenish Warbler and White-backed Woodpecker. I must say that, although I was quite optimistic, having carried out an accurate internet research on the best sites and gathered info from various other birders, the success of this trip went beyond my expectations: I saw/heard Blyth’s Reed Warbler seven times, Greenish Warbler in five occasions, two Ural Owls and a confident pair of White-backed Woodpecker. Estonia and Latvia are really great countries for birding: there are superb and unspoiled wild places where Corncrake, Thrush Nightingale, Common Rosefinch, Marsh, River, Grasshopper and Icterine Warblers are amazingly common; places where Red-breasted Flycatcher is one of the most easily heard bird; and there are gems such as Citrine Wagtail, Great Snipe, and Red-necked Grebes all to be found in a relatively small area. White-tailed Eagle is a frequent sight, and Lesser Spotted Eagle almost the same!!
For preparing this trip, which included also some non-birding days in Tartu, Sigulda, Pärnu, Haapsalu and Tallinn I used:
(a) Dave Gosney’s book “Finding Birds In Estonia”, which I found very useful and with generally accurate maps (just one mistake, which I will mention later)
(b) Gerard Gorman’s “Birding in Eastern Europe”, very good too, but many locations are without a map
and the trip reports by Morten Brendstrup-Hansen (2006), Richard Webb (2007), and Henk van den Brink (2009), about Estonia, all very useful and exciting readings, and the one by Jason Williams and friends (2009) about Latvia with several helpful notes and, above all, the name and e-mail address of Andris Avotins (email@example.com) ot Teici Nature Reserve – the Ural Owl’s man! Also some Danish reports were useful (e.g. by Thomas W. Johansen, 2007, and by Erik Mølgaard and friends, 1998), in which I learnt that Gaujas National Park is the most reliable site for breeding Greenish Warbler in Latvia (and forced me to learn some Danish, too…).
Finally I must thank some people who in one way or the other helped me: first Henk van der Brink who suggested me to look for Blyth’s Reed Warbler in Estonia in “well-developed, dense lilac bushes near abandoned houses”. Guess where I saw my first Blyth’s in my very first day out? Then I wish to thank Agris Celmins for his great help about Lubana lake and nearby fishponds in Latvia. Agris also sent me very useful and detailed maps of Lubana lake, Nagli and Idena fishponds which are found at http://www.ornitofaunistika.com/kur/wtw.htm website. I wish to thank also Uku from Tartu, Thomas W. Johansen and Erik Mølgaard for kindly replying to my e-mails.
Three cautionary notes:
(a) Difference between Estonia and Latvia? Well, minor roads in Estonia are often asphalted, in Latvia never! Even yellow and sometimes red roads in our map (Euro Atlas 1:300.000) were in Latvia gravelled ones, though always in good conditions. The problem was of course the dust raised by our own and others’ vehicles!
(b) Ticks: abundant! Take care and check always your body if you go into the woods. In Estonia and Latvia they could transmit viral encephalite. People who usually work in wooded areas are often inoculated.
(c) Mosquitoes: a plague, but our repeller (30% DET) was good and we could cope very well with this problem.
Gaujas NP - Latvia
The itinerary was circular, from Tallinn I drove to Tartu, where we stayed 4 days; then crossed the border and went to Latvia, with Česvaine as a base to explore Lubana lake and the fishponds nearby, as well as to look for Ural Owl with Andris; from there I drove to Sigulda, in Gaujas NP, where we stayed a couple of days; then back to Estonia in Pärnu for Soomaa national park and Nigula reserve; then Haapsalu as a base for Matsalu bay and end at Tallinn to visit the capital of Estonia. Having plenty of time, we birded in a relaxed way.
03 June: arrival at Tallinn at about 5:30 pm. I picked-up the car at the airport and drove to Tartu (approximately 190 km). At about 9:30 pm we were in the Park Hotell, in the centre of Tartu.
04 June: relaxed morning spent visiting Alatskivi Castle (about 30 NE of Tartu) and birding along the track around the nearby lake. My first Blyth’s Reed Warbler, one Red-breasted Flycatcher and a White-backed Woodpecker drumming there. Then along the coast of Peipsi lake and afternoon spent at Aardla lake near Tartu (Gosney, page 30) with several good birds among which a Citrine Wagtail’s pair. Late evening (after 9:30 pm) at Kärevere (Gosney, page 26) for Great Snipe.
05 June: morning spent along the Ilmatsalu-Kärevere birding trail, starting from the Ilmatsalu fishponds (Gosney, page 28). A pair and a single female of White-backed Woodpecker, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, five Red-necked Grebes, one Blyth’s Reed Warbler and one White-tailed Eagle were the best birds. Afternoon and evening along the Selli-Sillaosta trail, in Alam-Pedja reserve (Gosney, page 26), with another White-tailed Eagle and a Capercaillie heard.
06 June: because of a problem with our car we could not go to the famous Kirna trail, mentioned in various reports (but not in Gosney). Only late afternoon could we go out again, to Aardle lake where, besides Citrine Wagtail, we saw also four Marsh Sandpipers and a White-tailed Eagle.
07 June: morning to Taevaskoja (Gosney, page 32, but not according his direction, see later) for Greenish Warbler, with one bird first heard and then seen well. At least seven Red-breasted Flycatchers along the short track forth and back along the river.
08 June: transfer to Česvaine, in Latvia, where we stayed in Grašu Pils manor house. A Blyth’s Reed Warbler was singing at the border of the wood and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker was in the manor house’s park.
09 June: visit to the Olgas Purvs area, near Lubana, with Andris Avotins for Ural Owl: two birds seen. A Lesser Spotted Eagle between Gulbene and Česvaine in the afternoon. Evening along the Aiviekste river.
10 June: morning around Lubana lake and Nagli fishponds (Gorman, pages 137 and 142). We did not complete the circuit around Lubana lake and so did not visit the Idena fishponds. Best birds: two Greenish Warblers, one Blyth’s Reed Warbler, seven Red-necked Grebes, one Lesser Spotted Eagle, several White-winged Terns, and a male Citrine Wagtail. Here I saw three Great Egrets, too.
11 June: transfer to Sigulda at the Kakitis Hotel. One Lesser Spotted Eagle just before Sigulda, and there, immediately, a singing Greenish Warbler during a short walk down to the river! At the Turaida Castle, in the afternoon, a Goshawk preying on a Fieldfare .
12 June: morning walk along the Gaujas river at Sigulda. Best birds a female Goosander with six chicks on her back and two Red-breasted Flycatchers. Afternoon along the river Amata, at the Zvartes rock.
13 June: transfer to Pärnu, at the Inge Villa. Afternoon at Häädemeeste and Pulgoja (Gosney, page 22) and then Nigula (Gosney, page 22); explored all the areas mentioned in Gosney in Nigula but a very strong wind made the places apparently birdless. Strong wind at Häädemeeste, too. Not a single bird near the coast (only a White-tailed Eagle) but many ducks flying north very far from the coast, I just guess Goldeneyes and Wigeons as these were still numerous at Matsalu bay.
14 June: morning at Soomaa National Park (Gorman, page 91). One of the most beautiful places where I have ever been, with meandering rivers surrounded by flower-rich meadows and ancient riverine forests. If I knew I would have spent at least a couple of days here. I walked the Lemmjõgi river spit trail, with two Hazel Grouses, one Greenish Warbler, and one Blyth’s Reed Warbler, plus the array of the usual common birds (Corncrake, Marsh Warbler, River Warbler, etc.). Based on the number of excavated holes into decayed trees I saw along the track I guess this must be a woodpecker-rich place, but June is not the best time to see them…..One Lesser Spotted Eagle was along the road between Jöesuu and Tõramaa and a Red-breasted Flycatcher along the Tõramaa-Kildu road.
15 June: transfer to Haapsalu, at the really overpriced Kongo Hotel.
16 June: morning at Matsalu Bay. Tired and satisfied, we birded only the north side of the bay, at Topu lath, Puise and Haeska (Gosney, page 10). Best birds were a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and a Barred Warbler at Puise, five White-tailed Eagles, still six Barnacle Geese and more than 60 Cranes from the tower at Haeska. Several shorebirds and wildfowls.
17-20 June: Tallinn. One hundred points at the Uniquestay Kreutzwald Hotel. 57 euros for a double room and buffet breakfast, with computer and free internet in the room.
Notes about some the places visited
1. Kärevere: both Gorman and Gosney, as in various reports, mention the poles along the track where to stand to see the Great Snipes. Well, I could not find them (the poles, I mean), perhaps they have been removed or well hidden! In any case, I drove as far as the point where the track forks and then walked 20-30 m to the left. Great Snipes (5+) were there but a bit far from the track.
2. Aardla Lake: the area to the north of the lake (Gosney, page 30, site 2) was flooded and we could walk only a short distance. Best access from Aardla (site 3) on the eastern side. The pair of Citrine Wagtail was breeding along the track between the parking place (just before the no entry sign) and the observation tower. Also the Marsh Sandpipers were in this area.
3. Ilmatsalu fishponds and Ilmatsalu-Käverere birding trail: because of the high water level, after reaching the tower we could walk only up to the bridge over the canal. The area on the other side of the canal was flooded and so could not complete the circuit as planned. A pair of White-backed Woodpecker was in the riverside forest, in an old willow tree just before the bridge, so much more ahead than reported by Gosney (site 6). A female White-backed Woodpecker was instead halfway between the observation tower and the bridge.
4. Taevaskoja: instead of following Gosney’s instructions, go further on by car from the “visitor center” mentioned by Gosney (page 21, site 3) until you reach after about 1 km the right turn for the Saesaare car park. From this parking place you reach the river in a minute. Cross the river and go uphill by the steps. As I reached the ridge I immediately heard a Greenish Warbler and then watched it for more than half an hour. It seemed to linger in that area, was it perhaps breeding? The track follows the river on one side and then comes back along the other side. I saw and heard more than seven Red-breasted Flycatchers along this track.
5. Lubana Lake and Nagli fishponds: we went to the Lubana lake (http://www.ornitofaunistika.com/kur/lubans.htm) and then to the Nagli fishponds (http://www.ornitofaunistika.com/kur/nagli.htm) from the western side of the lake, that is through Barkava. So we followed eastward the track along the south-western lakeshore (where we saw two Greenish Warblers) until reaching the fishponds. Best fishponds were G4, with a lot of White-winged Terns and seven Red-necked Grebes, and A8-A10 ponds. In A10 there was a male of Citrine Wagtail. Watching the ponds from the main roads is not a problem, but if one wishes to walk smaller dike roads, it is better to ask at the Nagli fishpond office, as all ponds and tracks are private property. As Agris (and Andris later, too) warned, “they use to charge some entrance fee, providing some kind of ticket, treating birders like fishermen”. In any case, for me, staying on the main roads was more than sufficient and I think I saw what there was to see in June there. As usual all roads here are graveled or, simply, well passable tracks.
Tha area of Lubana and Madona, with the Teici reserve (a huge bog), the forest of Olgas purvs, Lubana lake and nearby fishponds constitute a great birding area and would deserve 3-4 days to be well explored, as everything you need is there.
6. Gaujas National Park: from the Danish trip reports I found in the web, the wooded slopes along the Gaujas and the Amata rivers in this beautiful park seemed to be the most reliable spots for Greenish Warbler. Indeed, I heard one in Sigulda and a German birder I met on the tower at Aardla, told me he saw one at the Amata river campsite. I walked the initially steep track, down towards the river Gaujas, starting from the south-western end (Kakiši) of Sigulda (57° 08’ 32.88” N, 24° 49’ 24.10” E) not far from Kakitis hotel. This track, before reaching the river, splits in three tracks: the left one goes back to the starting point via a panoramic spot (Keizarskats – the Emperor’s viewpoint) on the valley. The right one follows the river bank toward the Sigulda campsite and continues up to the main bridge to Turaida. The central one first goes through a herbage-covered field (several Marsh warblers here) before reaching and following the river all the way westward to the suspended bridge and further on. The Greenish Warbler was on the slope before reaching the split. If you want to start walking from the campsite, from Sigulda go towards Turaida and just before the bridge turn left and proceeds until you reach the campsite. From there you can walk along the river and the wooded slopes of the valley until meeting the track I mentioned above.
To walk along the Amata river (again wooded slopes with a river, a good habitat for Greenish Warbler) from Sigulda take the main road (A2) eastward and some 9 kms after the turn to Ligatne, turn left toward Karli and from Karli still left towards Ligatne. After 3 km, at Krustkalni, turn left until you reach a parking place. From here you can follow the river northward up to the campsite (one can go to the campsite directly by car, of course, following the road from Karli to Ligatne) or walk instead upriver.
7. Soomaa National Park (Gorman, page 91): this park is not far from Pärnu and it takes a 30 min drive to reach the turn to the park at Joesuu. I walked only the the Lemmjõgi River Spit Forest Trail, but as I said I would have stayed one more day in this true wilderness.
The Lemmjõgi/Raudna river forest is an old riverside forest. The trail starts near the Kuusekäära farmhouse on the Tõramaa-Kildu road and is 4,6 km long. The parking place, where the path starts, is about 5.3 km from the beginning of the Kildu road, and is on the left after the bridge. First the path goes along the floodplain meadow bordering the river; then, always through a magnificent riverine forest, it reaches, after a straight section, the bank of another river and from there the meeting point of the Raudna and the Lemmjõgi rivers. From there the trail takes you back along the bank of the river (Beavers along this section). I heard a Greenish Warbler in the straight section of the track in the forest, a Blyth’s River Warbler near the car park and flushed two Hazel Grouses on the way back. The other track I intended to walk (Kuuraniidu Study Trails) this year was closed. There are many other trails in the parks (through bogs and forests). A map of the park could be obtained at the visitor center or visible in some of the parking places.
8. Matsalu bay: just one note about Gosney’s map (page 11). The Haeska tower is much more on the right than what is depicted and there is no signpost (or at least, I did not see it) to Haeska along the road to Puise. Better way to reach the tower is to follow the main Haapsalu-Lihula road towards Lihula and after about 6 kms from the turn to Puise, Haeska is well signposted on the right.
List of birds (with notes for some birds)
Cirine Wagtail – Aardla, Estonia
Grasshopper Warbler – Aardla, Estonia
Greenish Warbler – Taevaskoja, Estonia
Ernesto Occhiato, Firenze, Italy