Home arrow 2008 Diary arrow March 2008. Lithuania and the Arctic, birding contrasts.
March 2008. Lithuania and the Arctic, birding contrasts. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jos   

Common Toad

What with rain and wind, boggy grounds, a day of heavy snow and a car getting stuck no less than twice, it was a wonder I got to see any birds during early March! But see birds I did, a nighttime Long-eared Owl, a flock of seven White-tailed Eagles, a city centre Black Woodpecker and the first flutters of migrants inward bound. As mid-month approached, and sunnier days settled, migration took a turn for the better, good numbers of Cranes, an inland Common Eider and the first Woodlark, plus butterflies and amphibians. Later on, the White Storks also returning to my house, and the first Lesser Spotted Eagles.

For the month's end though, I exchanged the approaching spring in Lithuania for the sub-zero and snow of Arctic Finland and Norway, excellent birds and stunning scenery. King Eiders, Pine Grosbeaks, Steller's Jays, just a few of the goodies, but the stunning highlight was an amazing Wolverine!


1-7 March, screwball weather!

What a start to the month, the first day saw a cold drizzle turning to an equally disgusting spell of sleet come rain, all served up with a good dollop of wind thrown in for good measure. Bar nipping out to buy another Starling nestbox, I did absolutely nothing, so in desperation to see something I decided a spot of owling would be in order as darkness fell. Loaded up the car, one attendant Labrador in tow, and headed off to the forests beyond my Labanoras home. Naturally, it began to rain again! Around the forest for an hour I went, stopping to listen to an absolute silence every now and then. With nothing seen and nothing heard, and a bored Labrador beginning to jump about the car, I gave up and so let the dog out to run. Brilliant timing! Just as he went bounding out from the car, I noticed there was a Long-eared Owl on the post ahead! Of course, with one big dog hurtling towards it, there was not an owl on the post for very long! So ended the first day of the month.

Marsh TitNext day wasn't much better, but spotting my first Starlings of the year, three huddled at the top of the weather-beaten birch outside my house, it seemed an appropiate moment to put up the nestbox I'd bought the day before. What a prize idiot I must have been, it was raining like crazy, there was a gusting wind and there I was, half way up an electricity pole trying to stay upright and at the same time attach the box. Mission accomplished, I should have spent the rest of the day in the house, but a respite in the rain and the illusion of a brighter sky tempted me over to the forest to see how my feeders were doing. And very good they were, still four Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, still the Grey-headed Woodpecker, and Great and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers too.

Then, however, things conspired against me! Not for the first time, I was to learn that cars and waterlogged meadows don't mix, even less so when the meadows have been turned over by Wild Boars!  My car was in a quagmire, stuck almost to the axles in a goo that was none too pleasant! Having managed to plaster most of the field's mud across virtually every inch of my car, with the surplus ending up on either myself or the attendant dog (who found the whole thing a right amusing escapade), I realised that I had moved the car a grand total of thirty centimetres in two hours! And then it began to rain again! Enough was enough, I trudged off to a neighbouring farm, tractors are wonderful things!

White-tailed Eagles

A couple of days later, it was all change again - snow on the ground, blue skies and minus five, just the perfect conditions to head to Baltoji Voke. Plenty there to enjoy, seven White-tailed Eagles soaring over the fish pools, Cranes yodelling, Starlings atop their nestboxes and heaps of Whooper Swans, flocks in the meadows and pairs on territory. And a few mammals too - several Roe Deer and, far better, two Raccoon Dogs bounding along in the snow, right nice things. And then I got stuck again!!! Having gambled that the ice would hold, I took a shortcut across a frozen wetland area ...bad move, the ice broke and the car went down! Fortunately, I managed to winch myself out and just thirty minutes later I was off again on my merry way!

Next day saw snow all day and the next rain again! The only bird of note seen was, whilst supposedly working, I was sat in a city centre house when suddenly a Black Woodpecker flew over! Shoving a nearby child to the window to see it didn't seem to impress them as much as it had me!!!


8-11 March, sun at last.




A couple of days of warm spring sunshine and it's all happening - not only the first violets in the woods, but also the first Common Toad hopping across a road and the first butterfly, a Small Tortoiseshell





Common CraneWith the damp squid of a winter now over, Lithuania was beginning its transformation. At  Labanoras, across the meadows and forest, the haunting cries of Common Cranes echoed, another season's courtship about to begin, an impressive three pairs already on my land. Woodpeckers too, it seems, felt the spring - in fine voice, a Black Woodpecker occupied the forest edge, whilst an amazing three Grey-headed Woodpeckers yodelled away at each other, the highest total I have ever recorded. Also other woodpeckers drumming, Skylarks singing by the dozen and, on the mammal front, three Roe Deer and, crashing through the swamp and breaking remaining ice, a large beast unseen, almost certainly an Elk or Wild Boar.


By the 10th, with temperatures up to 9 C, I decided upon a little wander down to the south of Lithuania, to a the lakes of Dusia and Metelys. Not an area I visit very frequently, but both frequently hold good numbers of ducks and geese during the Common Toadmigration periods and Metelys is one of the country's best locations for breeding Ferruginous Duck. So off I went, a drive of just over an hour and I was there, on the shores of Dusia and looking out at a lake full Tufted Ducks, Goosanders and Goldeneyes, all sitting in their hundreds in rafts across the entire breadth of the lake! With the lake being several kilometres round, a full count took some doing, but by the morning's end, I had come up with totals of 966 Tufted Ducks, 370 Goosanders and 385 Goldeneyes! And in amongst all them, two Smews , a single Scaup and, impressive given the coast is over 250 kilometres away, a male Common Eider! Over at Metelys, it was still a little early in the season for Ferruginous Duck, but a few dozen Greylags were already in, as was the first Great Crested Grebe and, in the reedbeds, both Bittern and Bearded Tit. No amazing rarities, but all very nice, plus a Small Tortoiseshell fluttering past marked the beginning of the butterfly season! And Common Toads the beginning of the amphibian season!

Next day, I stuck closer to home, merely popping into Baltoji Voke for a few hours - though the weather was equally nice and quite a few Brimstones were on the wing, it was strangely quiet on the bird front! A Great White Egret flew over with a dozen or so Grey Herons, five White-tailed Eagles soared over the pools, but otherwise numbers were low and species few. It seemed a slight regression back towards winter, seven Smews not dispelling the image nor, back in the Vilnius garden, the appearance of both Willow and Crested Tits at the feeders!


12-16 March, so much for the spring!

Not entirely sure about this spring, cool and damp again this morning, but I woke to a new voice - the Starlings had returned to their nestbox in the garden, my old faithfuls back for another season. They did though seem none too impressed that I had not cleaned out their cozy box - the pair were in and out, turfing out all the old nesting material! Elsewhere in the garden, the feeders were as good as ever. With the arrival of the Crested Tit and Willow Tit, and a Coal Tit that has been resident all winter, there were no less than six tit species at the feeders this day!

Barn doorAnd so on rumbled the so-called spring, a progression of days becoming ever cooler. By the 15th, though hinting at sleet and with snow on the forecast, several new migrant species had arrived in the country. At Baltoji Voke, in flooded meadows amongst a few dozen Whooper Swans, a solitary Common Redshank marked the beginning of the wader migration, a nearby White Wagtail also a new arrival. Overhead, gaggles of geese didn't seem sure which way to go, one moment heading east, then back again. Though two Greylags sat on the pools, it was the White-fronted Geese that predominated, numbers approaching 180. Late in the morning, about 50 or so Bean Geese also flew over, by which time I was over at the fish pools, lumbering White-tailed Eagles being the main attraction, as they flushed both the small flocks of Teal and 150 or so Lapwings.  Elsewhere, six Bewick's Swans were just about the best birds of the day, though a deterioration in the weather saw me leaving the pools, so who knows what else might have been lurking!

Hen Harrier



When the sky goes dark, always look up! A barn door was obliterating the sky, struggling to gain height in the now incessant rain. Labouring its way overhead, this eagle seemed none too impressed by the day ...nor was I, time to head home! Half way back, still in the grey gloom, a male Hen Harrier passed by, a ghost hawking the meadows.





19-24 March, winter adventures in the Arctic!

Steller's EidersAn Arctic odyssey, taking in the best of northern Finland and the Varanger peninsula in Norway. In temperatures that touched minus 26 C, the birding was simply superb, the winter landscapes spectacular and the trip nothing but a success.

Flying into Oulu, then driving overnight to the far north, this short whirlwind tour of the northern taiga forests and icy Barents Sea notched up 2350 km, a journey that started at feeders dripping in Pine Grosbeaks and Siberian Jays, then moved on to the stunning fjords that harboured flocks of Steller's and King Eiders, plus white-winged gulls, Brunnich's Guillemots and other specialities such as Gyr Falcon and Ptarmigan.

In addition to some amazing birds, the trip also was memorable for its mammals, no less than nine species recorded, included a fantastic Wolverine, three Otters, a Harp Seal and a few Red Squirrels.

Read here the full Arctic story.


29-30 March, Happy arrivals, home safe and well!
Last year they stressed me out - Mister arrived rather late, only on the 9th April (a good week after neighbouring pairs) and the Missus, gawd knows where she had been, kept us both waiting till the 18th ...total stress, watching all the neighbours getting down to business while my nest stood empty, or near empty! Yep, the woes of having White Storks on your house! And, for those that remember, the stress just got worse with the stork murders that occurred later on!

White StorksWell, no such worries this year - Saturday night I arrived home, turned into the drive and there, illuminated in my headlights, both Mister and Missus together, sat proudly on their nest! Yippee.

Nest morning, round the garden they wandered, basically doing the gardening for me, picking up all the twigs and piles of grass that I had been too lazy to tidy up ast autumn. Active nest-building and courtship, superb. A glance from the kitchen window revealed much the same over at the neighbouring pairs, all four nest visible had pairs atop!

Spring was all go-go, in the garden, Starlings in four nest boxes (including the new one), Tree Sparrows in two, plus more in the base of the stork nest, House Sparrows back in the broken lamp. Super day, the first Marsh Harrier also back, a very early Lesser Spotted Eagle overhead and Bitterns booming off yonder. Yet more deights on my land - White-fronted Geese streaming north, both Mallard and Goldeneye back in the forest and, towering off into the sky, a displaying Green Sandpiper ...Baltic spring has begun.


Last Updated ( Monday, 26 January 2009 )
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