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Birding in the Pandemic, Year 2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jos   

INTRODUCTION

 

All things considered, 2020 turned out to be a most excellent year. Despite restrictions and lockdown, and a desire to isolate as much a possible, opportunites arose that allowed me to spend more time than ever birding and travelling - after a year start in New Zealand and a quick trip to Israel before the world came to a halt, national shutdown in Lithuania allowed me to work remote, the result being several very pleasurable months on my land in Labanoras, a stay spanning the entire spring migration period. Thereafter, as Covid cases dropped and travel bubbles opened up, I managed trips both to the Arctic and the Alps (and battled a bout with tick-borne encephalitis). However, as summer turned to autumn, dark clouds were brewing - while Lithuania managed to scrape through the spring Covid wave relatively lightly hit, Covid cases soared from early autumn, Lithuania plunging towards the 'honorable' title of worst affected country in the world, more per capita cases than anywhere else. Still, silver linings ... with work still firmly remote, I opted to flee Lithuania and instead spend the four months in Covid-safe lands of Namibia, a fantastic way to end the year, birds, mammals and butterfles galore.

 

And that is where 2021 started - on the banks of the Okavango River in the far north of Namibia, Carmine Bee-eaters and Lechwe antelopes, Rock Pratincoles and Hippototamus. As 2021 progressed, and global travel restrictions actually tightened rather than eased, the hope was that I would be able to steer a pretty similar course through the year - safe travel where feasible, hopefully another spring in the splendid isolation of my land. So, here it is, Birding in the Pandemic, Year Two!

 

 

Part One. Namibia, The Great Escape.

(added soon)

 

 

Part Two. March in Lithuania, Isolation Rules.

 

Labanoras Isolation. 10-16 March.

 

After the coldest and snowiest winter for several years in Lithuania, I returned from four months in Namibia for the tail end of the snow and the beginning of spring.Ten days compulsory isolation to comply with Covid regulations, did three days in Vilnius, then applied for a change of isolation location and headed for my cabin in Labanoras, arriving there the evening of 9 March. A tad chilly the first couple of days, fresh snow and minus 11 outside, down to a chilly minus 7 inside my cabin at night! Still, first spring birds had arrived - a pair of Cranes in display, three Starlings flying over, Skylarks moving north. Plus too, all the woodland residents seen with ease - White-backed Woodpeckers and Grey-headed Woodpeckers drumming and vocal, Lesser Spots, Middle Spots and Great Spots active too. Managed a full suite of seven tit species, a flock of Crested Tits always a welcome,  usually fairly sporadic. 

 

Within a couple of days, moderate mildness began to prevail, temperatures climbing to a few sdegrees above zero. Open sesame, the first real push of migrants - on the 13th and 14th, many new new birds: Lapwings, abundant Skylarks and Starlings, singles of both Grey Heron and Great White Egret, one very nice White-tailed Eagle, hundreds of Bean Geese flying north, a dribble of White-fronted Geese in their midst. Also Great Grey Shrike, a drift of Common Buzzards heading over and the arrival of first Yellowhammers, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Spring is in the air!

 

So then on the 16th, a pleasant day of 7 C and sun, my first butterflies of the year in Lithuania - in sheltered woodland edge, five very nice Brimstones. Also this day, first returning Reed Buntings, first Mistle Thrushes, Woodlarks singing on territory and no less than 20 Cranes fully engaged on vocals and display. 

 

 

 

Winter Hiccup. 17-22 March.

 

Compulsory isolation over, but still nationwide restrictions on crossing municipality borders and a raft of other Covid measures in place. Coronavirus cases edging up again. No big issue for me ...quite happy to stay on at Labanoras indefinitely.  But jeepers, what happened to spring? Temperatures below zero and snow falling, a world of white again by the 22nd! Effectively halted migration, the only new birds in being Meadow Pipits and Fieldfares. Still, plenty to see - six species of woodpecker on show, one fully white Weasil, a few Brown Hares and Red Foxes, plus tracks of Badger and Pine Marten.

 

 

 

Three-toed Woodpecker. 25 March.

With experience, the various tapping sounds of the assorted woodpeckers can be identified to species, the loud hammering of the Black Woodpecker easy enough, the subtle differences between Great Spotted and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers usually readily separated, the slightly louder and more spaced tapping of White-backed Woodpecker also often distinctive, likewise the faster pace of the Lesser Spot. This day, however, a quiet soft regular tapping, a sound that immediately got my attention - was almost sure it was a Three-toed Woodpecker, so gingerly across the still firm ice I picked my way towards the sound. A White-backed Woodpecker flew up, darn I thought, was it this species off pitch? No, still the quiet tapping just yonder ...and then there it was, a very fine female Three-toed Woodpecker midway up a semi-rotten alder, happily tapping away. Not a common bird in Lithuania and my first on my land since January 2018, this was nevertheless my fifth record on my land, all previous being males in winter, one of which returned three winter seasons.

Watched it a half hour or so, steadily from one alder to another. Cracking woodpecker day, got the full flush - seven species, Black, Grey-headed, Three-toed, White-backed, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted. Nice haul.

 

 

 

The Big Push. 26-27 March.

Always one of my favourite moments of spring, the sudden virtually overnight transform from a world of snow and ice to a land basking in warm sunshine, butterflies flying and bird migrants filling the sky. And so it was this year, a blanket of snow and sub-zero three to four days earlier, but sunshine and 14 C on the 26th, 15 C on the 27th. 

And with the hike in temperature, so began the 'Big Push', a significant arrival of spring migrants - many Starlings moving over, first Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves, first White Wagtails, both Grey Herons and Great White Egrets winging towards their colony, plus an impressive little collection on a flood pool in the open meadow - not only my second ever Pintail for my land, but also my highest ever count of Mallards. No doubt attracted in part by the simple fact that all neighbouring lakes remained frozen, no less than 78 Mallards present, along with two Whooper Swans, three Wigeon and seven Teal. Further flocks of seven and 13 Whooper Swans made for a record day for this species too. Numerous Bean and White-fronted Geese also passing over, one White-fronted Goose having the good grace to drop down and pause a while on the flood pool.

And then there were the butterflies, perfect conditions for the traditionally early species ...and the result was about 40 Brimstones, 15 Small Tortoiseshells and, highlight of the weekend,  one very fine Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell. Spring truly arrived.

 

Duck Fest, New Species. 29 March.

New species for my land! On the meadow pool, joining a still impressive 74 Mallard, 11 Teal and seven Wigeon, three Common Pochard (two males and a female) bobbing about, the 188th species for my land. The last of the reasonably likely duck species that I could see here, a grand opening to the day. First Marsh Harrier of the season also seen, a male back on breeding territory in the flood forest, plus a returnee Bittern booming pre-dawn at the same locality, probably not a very happy Bittern - most of the flavoured reedbeds are still choked in ice! Later on, pretty good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfares moving through mid-afternoon, as well as first Chaffinches appearing, males all.

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 March 2021 )