My friends Jan and Anita contact me and we agreed that they will visit Lithuania again in February during their holiday. They arrived on the 14th of February and after 50 minutes delay of flight me and Povilas Bagdonas took them from Vilnius airport. Left them at the hotel and Povilas at his sister’s home and go to have rest before the trip begin.
As we arrange last evening we met at the lobby at 9 a.m. We took the highway to Ukmergė and had first observation of flock of Common Linnets. The weather was improving, but as there is no snow we had very less birds for the season. The European bisons also were back to the forest. And we stop at the gas station for some quick lunch. I arrange short photo hide session by the local friend Kastytis Vainauskas. The guest had great fun with many birds and close encounters with grey-headed, middle and great spotted woodpeckers. After 1 1/2 hours we just came back to the car and Jan and Anita show up too… we drove 31 km to meet my friend A. Stakė and he join us to a loop trip on the icy forest roads of his ranger station. But unfortunately the wind was not calming down so we didn’t herd or saw any of the target species. We drove back after sun set and have a cup of tea and home made cheese and honey.
But it was time to get to the hotel. We drove 93 km to Biržai and our hotel was waiting for us after checking in we drove to the town for dinner. We just sat when the waitress bring us the bad news that the kitchen is not working since it was 21:00. A quick stop at pizzeria and it was time to have some rest as we start early tomorrow.
“The Ditch guys” day 2
We had early breakfast and as our local guide Armandas was a bit late we went to the car and wait for him. He arrived and we sit in the car and headed to the gas station for refilling the LPG tank. And soon got the Biržai forest and the route 66 was hell of the ice roads with some luck we were looking at a male White-backed Woodpecker. At the frozen snow was all kind of tracks starting with illusive Lynx, big bad Wolf gang and early badger. As we got the car back on the icy forest roads we moved to other area where we were looking for last trip successful search for Tree-toed woodpecker, but unfortunately this winter morning was not the expected and all we got was 5-6 Wild boars that fly over the snowy road. We search the patch but only red squirrel was spotted before we went back to the car. A flock of Common Crossbills calling from the tree tops. Red deer and more other animal’s tracks were everywhere. We also checked the opposite site of the area, but only male Great Spotted woodpecker almost made me believe it is the rarer relative pecking til I got him in my binoculars. After we all got back to the car it was lunch time. With careful speed of 15-20 km/h we were looking forward to get safely out of the forest. At least the Biržai forest was showing much more wildlife in compare with yesterday’s area. Wind was still a limiting factor. We drove to the last night restaurant that we were late for dinner. Jan got the opportunity to get some photos of Fieldfares in the middle of the crossroad. But today we were lucky and got big lunch and even me and Jan had deserts.
After lunch we visit the local geological attraction a group of sink holes. It was getting late so we decided to drove back to the icy forest roads and try to find some owls before it become too dark. We drove again very slowly as it was extremely slippery. We struggle finding any birds but we met the Owl expert Saulius Skuja. He and his assistant demonstrate us the Ural Owl’s nest box. We split and after unsuccessful search we were heading back for dinner. We took different route but suddenly we spotted a car and two silhouettes. It was the owl team and they had great news for us – 10 min ago they heard a Pygmy Owl and just few minutes later it was calling from a top of the tree above the road where we were waiting. What a nice end of this intensive day. Everybody were tired so we arrange dinner at the hotel. We discussed the plan for tomorrow and left for some deserved rest. Tomorrow morning another try in the forest and after lunch heading to Palanga and Kintai. Good night…
An early breakfast, our guests finally find out why there alarm clock was not ringing – it was using Dutch time… But after yesterday extreme birding we decided to start earlier and check the south part of the forest. We had just 3 hours to explore, and as the forest roads were pitch iced, we were moving safely at 15-20 km/h… This has been not only better for the safety of the trip, but also has advantage for the birding success… As soon as we enter the forest we got two new species for the trip a pair of Nutcrackers were displaying at their territory and soon our local guide Armandas and the rest were listening to the call of Hazel Grouse just next to the road, very hight pitched whistling sound, that is difficult to catch for some birders. Anyway time was running fast at next stop we walked in to a patch with hope to find some more woodpeckers. Soon we heard a en-longed pecking from the near by forest, we get closer, there was a very skittish Three-toed woodpecker, so some of us managed only to hear it, as we were getting closer it flushed deep in the forest. Anyway it was great to hear it and to know it is still in the forest, we came back to the car and check one more familiar site. Here last year we got nice photos of a male Three-toed Woodpecker, unfortunately this year only we got here was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, a flock of Yellowhammers, and few Greenfinches. As we wanted to get back to the hotel by 12 to check-out, we start moving towards the edge of the forest, we stopped here and there, we slide once or twice but I was keeping the situation and the car on the road. We got back to the hotel and check-out and after crazy drive after flying Armandas we visit his bird-feeder, many Eurasian Tree-sparrows, Greenfinches and Great Tits… But it was time to hit the road as we had long drive towards next location – Kintai Fishponds. We were running out of gas and there was time for lunch, so after we got to Šiauliai we stopped by the first gas-station, and ate spongy baguettes and buy some drinks. We drove to Palanga, left the car and as we promise to be at the hotel before 18 o’clock we had to check the sea really quick, unfortunately the wind was very unpleasant and there was no trace from the Steller’s Eider. What a shame, but at least we saw some birds – Long-tailed Ducks, Goosanders, Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneyes. We rush back to the car and we were about to make it at 18 o’clock, but then the train stop us and we lost at least 5 minutes. Anyway, we managed to get only 7-10 minutes and Adomas our host was waiting for us. Jan and Anita got the most luxury apartment in the hotel and we let them prepare and it was time to go for dinner, we took my wife and have fantastic dinner. Just my poor friend Povilas went to have some rest, as he had tired from this long trip… I hope we will have luck with the weather tomorrow and I will write more in the evening. Good night.
As the breakfast was late today, we decided to make early start and get back at 10 a.m. for the breakfast. So at 7 a.m. me and Povilas drove to the hotel and we took Jan and Anita. Early start at the forest was good idea, especially for wildlife watching, we first had a wild boar, than two Roe Deers, and even two Fallow Deers too. But the weather was not as previous days, we had 100 percent cloudy skies and severe icy wind. So birding was not at the highest level as I was expecting to be at this time of the year. We barely found one Great Spotted Woodpecker and only Siskins were all over the place we stopped in several places. But all we heard was the noise of the bending trees. We spotted few more woodpeckers, some Great tits and as the time was running we get back to the fish-ponds where on the ice there were more than 20 White-tailed Eagles and few gulls, Hooded Crows and Ravens. Jan and Anita were so excited, as they claim they never seen so many “flying doors” and so close… We get back just on time for breakfast. A Common Buzzard landed on the tree beside the hotel. After this enjoyable morning meal we drove to Minija settlement, where we found a flock of 32 Gray-lagged Geese at the pasture. A Great Grey Shrike was sitting on the wires and an adult White-tailed Eagle was resting at the it’s favourite Oak tree. Here we stop for some shots.
We headed towards Šilutė as the LPG tank was almost empty again. We stopped to check the White-throated Dipper and to refill. We drove to the other Dipper area, but the changing weather and high water level push the Dippers away. So all we got here was singing Wren at the edge of the reservoir. Time was running fast and we drove to Susgalviai where a mixed flock of Whooper and Mute Swans were feeding at the ice free patches on the flooded meadow. Soon we got lucky as a family of Whooper Swans landed just next to the roadside. Jan took some decent photos and after all it was good to be here. Only the road to Žalgiris was still flooded so we drove back to Pagryniai and then we were getting to the biggest island of Lithuania – Rusnė. Here the situation was not very exciting, we stopped at Uostadvaris observation tower, but the wind almost blow me off my legs, so we moved forward. We had some Roe Deers and even a fascinating moment when a Great Grey Shrike caught a big rodent in front of us. It was difficult to fly in this wind but also carrying a mice that size was real challenge. We stopped for a beaver nest photos, some more Swans at Rupkalviai and also a short walk in Žalgiris forest bring us to a very calm Roe Deer, that let us get to less than 200m without any signs of distraction. It was time for early dinner as we decided earlier to skip the lunch and we try new restaurant the Povilas recommended and it was really worth it. Later we had a desert and coffee in the bakery. The day was really nothing spectacular, but anyway I try my best to visit the best sites and I hope to see Jan and Anita again in spring again… Tomorrow will be the biggest challenge for me as a driver as we having early start and me and Povilas have to get back the same day from Vilnius in the late evening. So the last day adventures will be shared in Friday… Good night to everybody.
As my friend Povilas said, mother nature was sad that Jan and Anita had to go, but anyway we try our best and we get there at 8 a.m. and make a short session with the White-tailed Eagles for an hour before the breakfast. It was dark and raining at first look. We had at least 10 birds on different ponds. Soon the light condition become reasonable so I took my camera from the backpack and join Jan for burst shoot of the eagles. Even the light was so magical we must go back for breakfast. The masterpiece made by Agnė were very appreciate by my guests, so they even promise to comeback only for this special breakfast in future, so after check-out we put everything in the car, at the entrance we had a good number of Bullfinches and after Jan took some photos, we continue our journey through Kintai forest. a band of 10-12 Fallow deers were the highlight of the morning. We checked also Dreverna fields but with no success to find something more special than flock of Goldfinches and Hooded Crows. Turning towards the Parking we spotted two Hawfinches and first “spring” guest – a Common Starling. We stop for a while at gas-station for restroom and snacks for me and Jan. At the gates of the port we had severe waves and many Common and Herring Gulls, Long-tailed Ducks. A Goosander and Three Cormorants cross the sea north and south. We later had the chance to take some few hundreds shots of Long-tailed duck in close to the shore of the lagoon. Time was flying so we couldn’t stay more than this, I was driving all the way to the airport and it was time to say goodbye for our guests. Thanks Jan and Anita, I really hope you enjoyed the trip and even there were some issues – like bad weather and wind…Ural owl didn’t show. But I really hope to see you again and hope you got a great time and next time we will be together again. Another successful trip finished and it is time to have a rest. Cheers,