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A Report from

The Baltic Coast of Lithuania and Latvia, 9th April – 17th April 2004,


by John Perry (United Kingdom) and Per Grenabo (Sweden)

The Baltic coastline of Lithuania and Latvia offers hundreds of kilometres of relatively underwatched areas of migration, and with both countries now being fully accessible and also developing an infrastructure for tourism, we decided to spend the Easter break undertaking what was essentially a ‘reconnaissance’ visit.

Highlights included excellent views of migrating Divers, Long-tailed Ducks ,Cranes, Rough-legged Buzzards and Sparrowhawks, six White-tailed Eagles, huge flocks of White-Fronted Geese and a small flock of  Tundra geese and the monument to Frank Zappa in Vilnius!.

Along the way, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the fascinating and beautiful landscapes of both countries and enjoyed excellent hospitality and food!


We flew with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Manchester to Vilnius via Copenhagen. (We chose to start and finish in Lithuania because car-hire rates are considerably cheaper there than in Latvia).

We spent the first night in Vilnius partly to get over a horribly early start from Manchester and also to do a little sightseeing in Vilnius. We arrived early afternoon in light drizzle (the only rain we were to see for the entire trip) and spent the rest of the day sightseeing (including the only statue in the world erected to Frank Zappa) and sampling the delights of coffee-houses and (in the evening) restaurants and bars.

Car hire and accommodation in Vilnius was arranged through Litinterp a very friendly and efficient company who accept Visa and Mastercard and whose staff were all fluent in English. They also offer a pickup service from Vilnius airport for €14. (They also offer accommodation in other areas of Lithuania).  The room we had was above their office in the Old Town of Vilnius (just a 2 minute walk from the main Old Town area) and was clean, comfortable and quiet. A twin room with private facilities and breakfast was €41 for two people.

The car provided was an almost brand new Renault Megane which was perfect for the two of us plus luggage, scopes etc.  The cost, including full waivers, two drivers and insurance to drive in Latvia was €485 for 8 days.


For our two nights on the Nemunus Delta we stayed at Vilkenu Malunas Hotel in Sveksna  (0037 044148371)  This is a fascinating hotel made from an old watermill with many of the original water features still in place.  The room we had was superb…a twin en-suite room its own large and comfortable sitting room – ideal for relaxing with a whisky while doing the log!  Sveksna is a small village about 20 mins drive from the main delta area but has the advantage of the roads not being flooded – an unknown quantity when travelling around the Delta in Spring.  The hotel served a hearty breakfast and had its own restaurant.  Unfortunately, they do not have email and the staff did not speak very much English although we did manage to book the room by phone from the UK.  However once there we needed a combination of Russian/English and pointing at a Lithuanian phrase book to communicate! The staff were very friendly and helpful and did their best to please.  The cost of the hotel was a very reasonable €29 per night for two people. Although they advertised that they took Visa, their machine would not accept either of our cards and we paid cash.

Our two nights on the Curonian Spit where in Nida, a very pretty town which is predominantly a German holiday resort in the Summer. As a result, there are plenty of restaurants etc with staff who speak German and also English.  We booked via the Hotel Smilte  and were placed in the comfortable Villa "Banga Guest House where we had a twin ensuite room with breakfast for €35 per night for two people.  Again, there was no facility for paying by Visa.

We had not booked accommodation for the middle night of the trip as we were unsure whether we would wish to stay longer in Lithuania.  However we decided to head for Latvia and  stay the night in Pavilosta.  This was not such a good idea as it turned out.  Sea watching opportunities were very limited and accommodation even more so!  The only accommodation was a half-built motel with limited facilities at the relative expensive price of €20 per person per night for a twin room.  With hindsight we should have either stopped at Liepaja or continued to Ventspils.

Our stay at Kolka was very different and in many ways the highlight of the trip.  We stayed at the Usi Guesthouse, ( booked via ) a small farm guesthouse run by two delightful sisters who speak good English and are excellent cooks! The cost for a twin room with breakfast and evening meal was €41 for two persons per night.  Credit cards not taken. 


We could find very little literature available for Latvia and even less for Lithuania. For general information about the countries and finding accommodation we used The Lonely Planet Guide to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  We also found a website about the Nemunus Delta

For Latvia, there is more information available and we found the website Latvian Birding  very useful, especially its links to Birding Sites which has good maps and information.

Thomas Cook publishes a phrase book in 8 different Eastern European languages including Lithuanian and Latvian.


Not many people other than young people spoke English. Apart from their native languages, the most widely understood language was Russian although it was not always received warmly…particularly in Lithuania.  German was particularly useful on the Curonian Spit.  However, the phrase book referred to above was a good standby.


Apart from drizzle on arrival in Vilnius, the weather was dry and mostly sunny.  Early mornings were usually below zero but by mid-morning temperatures of 10C were reached. On the last day we had a mini heatwave of 18C and actually used the a/c on the car!

Daily log

11th April 04

We left the hotel at dawn having had to scrape the car free from ice. It was -4°C and the whole area was shrouded in a freezing mist.  We drove towards the delta and as we approached the Nemunas National Park, the mist lifted and it was dry, sunny but still very cold.  We drove straight to Vente Ragas which was deserted. The impressively large Heligoland traps were closed and the only bird life was a raft of 100 Coot and about the same number of Tufted Duck.  We drove slowly back to the Hotel for breakfast and had a flock of 10 Tundra Geese by the roadside. After breakfast we returned to the Delta and spent sometime at the first bridge on the Silute to Rusno road just south of Silute.  This is an excellent spot to scope the wetlands as there is easy offroad parking and good uninterrupted views.  There was a mixed flock of ducks including  Garganey, Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon as well as Whooper Swans either side of the road as well as large numbers of White Fronted Geese .  Throughout the day we estimated a minimum of 7000 geese were present in the delta.  The day was spent slowly exploring the small roads around the delta area.  A Black-throated Diver was seen just west of the first bridge and a total of at least 3 White-tailed Eagles ( 2 adults and a juvenile) were seen at three separate sites.  2 Bitterns were heard booming during a tea break in the reedbeds close to Uostavaris. 

Selected Species Count for the day:

Black-throated Diver 1
Cormorant  3
Grey heron 15
Bittern 2
Mute swan 20
Whooper Swan 10
White-fronted Goose 7000
Tundra Goose 10
Greylag Goose 2
Barnacle Goose 6
Pintail 30
Garganey 10
Pochard 4

Scaup 15
Tufted Duck 50
Goldeneye 10
Shoveler 10
Teal 15
Goosander 6
White-tailed Eagle 3
Marsh Harrier 10
Common Buzzard 2
Common Crane 2
Green Sandpiper 1
Curlew 1
Herring Gull 10
Stock Dove 2

12th April 04

Another early-morning ice-scraping before heading straight to the bridge on the Silute to Rusno road.  There were fewer geese in evidence but excellent light on a wide variety of wildfowl.  After breakfast drove to Vente Ragas were there were good numbers of Scaup, Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck and 2 White-tailed Eagles.  We had planned to follow small roads alongside the lagoon up to Klaipeda, but none of the roads we could find gave any views of the lagoon and we eventually abandoned that idea and drove straight to the ferry terminal for the Curonian Spit.  The ferry service operates every 30 minutes and the crossing time is 10 minutes.  The whole of the Spit is a National Park and a small charge is made to enter it.  The landscape is amazing, at no point is the Spit more than 4km wide and between the few small holiday villages that have been developed the scenery is entirely one of sand dunes which in places has been afforested by pines.  Most of the holiday activities obviously take place on the lagoon side of the Spit which was pretty uninteresting birdwise.  However, the Baltic side (which is largely undeveloped) had excellent passage of divers and ducks.  On arrival at Nida we spent the remaining time checking suitable seawatching sites for the following morning.

Selected Species Count for the day:

Great Crested Grebe 50
White-fronted Goose 1500
Greylag Goose 2
Barnacle Goose 10
Shelduck 3
Garganey 1
Pochard 10

Scaup 100
Tufted Duck 200
White-tailed Eagle 2
Marsh Harrier 1
Common Buzzard 1
Curlew 2
Great Grey Shrike 1

13th April 04

The regular ice-scraping began at first light before driving 1km to a beach viewing spot we had identified the previous day. The light was excellent and there were rafts of Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter and Red-throated Diver sitting close in to shore with additional numbers passing through.  There was also a large number of Long-tailed Ducks sitting or feeding. After a couple of hours of excellent seawatching with a variety of wildfowl (and Woodlarks singing overhead) we decided to explore the West Coast whilst the sun was in a good position for viewing and discovered an excellent sea watching tower just 2 km further north than where we had been earlier.  The elevation was very good but there was only room for two people with scopes (which was fine for us).  In the afternoon we explored close to the Russian border (Kaliningrad) which is an area of amazing dunes and looks more Saharan than Eastern European. A flock of migrating Common Crane flew overhead just to remind us which continent we were in!

Selected Species Count for the day:

Red-throated Diver 172
Black-throated Diver 2
Slavonian Grebe 30
Great Crested Grebe 5
Red-necked Grebe 1
Grey Heron 25
Whooper Swan 7
Barnacle Goose 120
Shoveler 2
Wigeon 23
Teal 6
Scaup 1
Tufted Duck 6

Common Eider 2
Common Scoter 60
Velvet Scoter 200
Long-Tailed Duck 600
Goldeneye 1
Goosander 5
Red-Breasted Merganser 30
Common Crane 41
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Black Redstart 1
Long-tailed Tit 1
Treecreeper 1
Yellowhammer 1

14th April 04

An early morning seawatch from the tower found yesterday produced a big passage of Red-throated Divers and Long-tailed Duck, but with fewer birds sitting on the sea.  Drove back towards the ferry terminal, stopping at a Cormorant reserve on the way.  This is the largest breeding site in Lithuania and has over 1700 pairs breeding, alongside  large numbers of Grey Heron.  An excellent (and thankfully covered) viewing platform has been built which gives good views of the whole site.  Returning to Klaipeda, we drove North into Latvia and to Lake Pape.  This is a very good reed/wetland area with a comfortable hide.  Unfortunately there were virtually no birds showing and so we left and continued North having decided to spend the night in the coastal village of Pavilosta, which on the map looked as if it would be an interesting seawatching place.  At this time of year there is hardly any accommodation available for tourists.  The houses which take in guests in the summer do not do so this early in the year and the sole place to stay was a half-completed and overpriced Motel.  The shoreline of Pavilosta is not as accessible as it appears on the map but we did find identify one dune spot for the next day.

Selected Species Count for the day:

Red-throated Diver 474
Black-throated Diver 2
Slavonian Grebe 2
Great Crested Grebe 6
Greylag Goose 6 (Lake Pape)
Gadwall 2
Pintail 2
Shoveler 6
Wigeon 23
Teal 17
Garganey 14

Scaup 6
Common Scoter 70
Velvet Scoter 85
Long-Tailed Duck 764
Goldeneye 3
Red-Breasted Merganser 15
Marsh Harrier 5
Common Buzzard 10
Kestrel 1
Great Grey Shrike 1
Bullfinch 1

15th April 04

Early morning seawatch was difficult because although the weather and light were both good, the birds were passing very far out from land.  Drove North to Kolka stopping at various coastal points on route, arriving in Kolka at lunchtime.  The afternoon was spent at Kolkasrags, the absolute tip of the Cape jutting out into the Baltic.  The light and views were wonderful and we immediately became aware of a steady number of raptors (mainly Sparrowhawk) migrating through.

Selected Species Count for the day:

Red-throated Diver 18 (Pavilosta) 3 (Kolka)
Great Crested Grebe 10 (Pavilosta) 10 (Kolka)
Shelduck 2 (Kolka)
Pintail 2 (Pavilosta)
Wigeon 100 (Pavilosta)
Teal 50 (Pavilosta) 10 (Kolka)
Garganey 1 (Pavilosta)
Eider 2 (Kolka)
Velvet Scoter 100 (Pavilosta) 5 (Kolka)
Long-Tailed Duck 50 (Pavilosta) 50 (Kolka)
Goldeneye 2 (Pavilosta)
Goosander 1(Pavilosta)

Red-Breasted Merganser 3 (Kolka)
Marsh Harrier 1 (Pavilosta)
Rough-legged Buzzard 4 (Kolka)
Sparrowhawk 10 (Kolka)
Oystercatcher 1 (Kolka)
Ringed Plover 2 (Pavilosta)
Sandwich Tern 2 (Kolka)
Commic Tern 2 (Kolka)
Woodpigeon 150 (Kolka)
Mistle Thrush 10 (Kolka)
Great Grey Shrike 1 (Kolka)

16th April 04

At Kolkasrags for dawn.  Virtually no wind and temperature just below zero.  Only a few Sparrowhawk moving with very little movement on the sea.  There was however some passerine activity in the woods around the Cape with flocks of Fieldfare, Linnet, Jay and Woodpigeon all attempting to move.  In the afternoon large numbers of Common Crane migrated very low overhead, filling the air with their unmistakable call.

Selected Species Count for the day:

Red-throated Diver 7
Black-throated Diver 1
Great Crested Grebe 10
Cormorant 20
Shelduck 3
Teal 2
Eider 20
Common Scoter 100
Velvet Scoter 10
Long-Tailed Duck 100
Goosander 2
Red-Breasted Merganser 6
Rough-legged Buzzard 3
Common Buzzard 3

Sparrowhawk 10
Kestrel 1
Common Crane 2000
Oystercatcher 1
Curlew 450
Woodpigeon 300
Black Redstart 2
Mistle Thrush 15
Fieldfare 300
Willow Tit 10
Jay 10
Starling 100
Linnet 75
Siskin 20

17th April 04

Another fine, windless morning but this time considerable movement at sea as well as Sparrowhawk migration and a small flock of Common Crane. After the first hour of daylight flocks of passerines also began to emerge from the woods including a large flock of Jay, Chaffinch (mixed with a few Brambling), Woodpigeon and Fieldfare.  Late morning we drove to Riga calling in at Mersrags and Lake Endure on route. The potential for these spots is obvious but there was little bird activity apart from a booming Bittern and 2 Red-necked Grebe at Lake Endure.

Selected Species Count for the day:

Red-throated Diver 98
Black-throated Diver 4
Cormorant 8
Shelduck 2
Eider 10
Goldeneye 2
Common Scoter 20
Velvet Scoter 20
Long-Tailed Duck 100
Goosander 2
Red-Breasted Merganser 3
Marsh Harrier 1

Rough-legged Buzzard 2
Common Buzzard 1
Sparrowhawk 15
Common Crane 27
Stock Dove 1
Woodpigeon 100
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Fieldfare 100
Jay 70
Chaffinch 1000
Siskin 40
Hawfinch 2


As an initial exploratory visit, we were very impressed with the potential offered by both Lithuania and Latvia for future visits.  The timing of the trip was dictated by the Easter holidays and the amazing lack of waders was presumably down to the fact that we were too late for some and too early for others.  We were very 

impressed with the movements of wildfowl in both countries and would certainly wish to revisit, probably for longer periods in each country.  We did not have the time to explore either country away from its coastline, but there is clearly excellent habitat for a wide range of species. 

The abiding impression we left with is that both countries offer enormous opportunities for high quality birding, have a developing tourism infrastructure which given the hospitable nature we encountered, can only lead to increased business and we fully intend to return quickly to explore in more detail.

Systematic list

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisigena
Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
White Stork Ciconia ciconia.
Mute Swan  Cygnus olor
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Tundra Goose Anser fabilis rossicus
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Wigeon Anas Penelope
Gadwall Anas strepera
Teal Anas crecca
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Pintail Anas acuta
Garganey Anas querquedula
Shoveler Anas clypeata
Pochard Aythya farina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Scaup Aythya marila
Eider Somateria mollissima
Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Goosander Mergus merganser
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus.
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Coot Fulica atra
Common Crane Grus grus
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Curlew Numenius arquata
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Commic’ Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea
Feral Pigeon Columba livia
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Blackbird Turdus merula
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Mistle Thrush Turdus vicivorus
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Willow Tit  Parus montanus
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
Great Tit Parus major
Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor
Jay Garrulus monedula
Magpie Pica pica
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Rook Corvus frugilegus
Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix
Raven Corvus corax
Starling Sturnus vulgaris
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Siskin  Carduelis spinus
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Yellowhammer Emberiza citronella
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

John Perry
Per Grenabo


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